For many kids, getting on track toward success in college and adulthood depends on getting more time and opportunities to learn right now, while they’re still in elementary or middle school. The U.S. lags behind other developed nations in the time we devote to school and multiple ways of learning.
That’s why TASC is putting our resources, energies and reputation on the line in a quest to expand the school day to meet the needs of New York City kids. Based on our 12 years of developing research-tested after-school programs, we know the most effective way to expand the school day is to partner schools with community organizations.
A school day of roughly 8 AM to 6 PM is a radical change from the norm, as is putting teachers to work side-by-side with staff from community organizations. But we need to make radical change to yield radically improved results in student achievement, and to help kids develop skills for a lifetime of problem-solving and creative thinking.
Recent Congressional action demonstrates growing support for giving students more time and opportunities to learn. The Senate Appropriations Committee has proposed to increase the major federal after-school funding stream – 21st Century Community Learning Centers – by $100 million, to $1.266 billion. The House is proposing to increase funding for 21CCLC by $35 million. These Congressional actions reflect the growing body of research which shows that high-quality out-of-school learning initiatives support higher student achievement and development of the whole child.
Currently 21CCLC funds may be granted by states to community organizations as well as to schools. These funds have helped create, and should continue to support, a nation-wide network of high quality after-school programs. We believe the best way forward for expanded learning time – and the only way to bring richer and fuller learning days to scale at a cost public funding can sustain – is for schools to partner with community organizations to enrich and re-design the school day and year.
It would be a major setback for America’s children to undermine the importance of community organizations in 21CCLC. Given that they prioritize keeping kids safe and engaged for the full time-span of 3 to 6 PM, their involvement is critical to working parents. So is their attention to youth development, which translates into helping kids identify their passions and talents, engage with sports and culture, and develop foundational social and emotional capabilities. Community organizations bring important depth and variety to kids’ learning through creative, project-based experiences in the arts, service-learning, hands-on science inquiry and many other realms.
The Senate Appropriations Committee has proposed using 21CCLC to expand the school day and year. Federal policy should clearly state that:
• Schools that expand learning time before or after school or during summers should partner with community organizations.
• Community organizations have a right to apply for 21CCLC funds and manage initiatives that include high quality after-school and expanded learning time programs.
• States and localities will have flexible choice in how they deploy 21CCLC.
We also encourage Congress to consider creating incentives for Title I funds to be used to expand learning time through school-community partnership models.
The evidence is compelling that the social, emotional and other supports community organizations offer students contribute significantly to their cognitive growth and academic success. New York’s great settlement houses and community agencies have been pushing kids up the ladder since the days of Ellis Island. They know how to deliver what families need now and what kids will need to thrive in a world of constant change.
The best expanded learning time approaches will embrace and build on what effective after-school programs have accomplished for kids and families through genuine, fully integrated school and community partnerships.
Lucy Friedman is is President of The After-School Corporation.