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Program Design, Development, and Quality

After School Programs Need to Keep Improving

program improvement more funding

I write this post on the heels of spending a day working on the outline of THINK Together’s i3 fund application.

Ironically, the Governor is signing AB1130 today which is one of two bills that will make California eligible to compete for Race to the Top Funds (RTTT). The i3 Fund is the companion piece to RTTT in the U.S. Department of Education’s Innovation Fund that Local Educational Agencies’ (LEAs) and non-profit organizations can receive directly.

In the i3 guidelines, the Secretary states “We intend for the priorities, requirements, definitions, and selection criteria to support the efforts of local educational agencies (LEAs) and nonprofit organizations (as defined in this notice) that have strong track records of improving student achievement (as defined in this notice) to expand their work; identify, document, and share best practices; and take successful practices ”to scale.”

The requirement that the non-profits have strong track records of improving student achievement (and the rigor to which this needs to be proven) leaves most Community Based Organizations out of this lucrative funding stream.

It should also be a shot across the bow of after-school programs across the state that want to compete for federal funds of all stripes in the years ahead. The thinking represented in these guidelines will likely shape many federal education funding efforts going forward. Secretary Duncan has talked about drastically improving the quality of after-school programs and these guidelines start to fill in the blanks as to what he means by that. There also appears to be a convergence of philanthropic funding around this same thinking.

Just like California and its teachers’ unions need to re-think their intransigence toward linking student performance data to teacher performance metrics in order to compete for RTTT funds (and more importantly improve their performance), so must California’s after-school providers move beyond their current “youth development only” paradigm. Stronger academics and alignment with the school day must be a part of a comprehensive after-school program model. It is a “both and” approach rather than an “either/or” approach that needs to carry the day.

If after-school cannot take the resources it has (student time and federal/state/private funding) and use them more effectively to help close the achievement gap, then ultimately those resources will be at-risk.

I am struck by the parallels of the circumstances surrounding the RTTT Funds and the i3 funds.

Teachers’ unions are adamantly opposed to the accountability surrounding RTTT and after-school leaders (the teacher’s union of after-school?) are just as adamantly opposed to the thinking outlined in i3. This “protect the status quo” thinking poses a threat to all of us in the field as we seek to compete for scarce resources to serve our students. We need to continue to innovate, to improve our programs, and document how our programs contribute to improved student achievement. If we try to operate outside of the convergence that is creating this new paradigm, we will do so at our own peril.

My breakfast was a bowl of granola with sliced banana and 2% milk with half a glass of OJ and three newspapers.

Author: Randy Barth

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