Graduation is around the corner for high school seniors across the country. This is often a time of reflection; reminiscing about the past four high school years—the friendships, relationships, lessons learned, teams, clubs, dances, classes and activities. But if we asked seniors to look back at their last four years and evaluate their learning experiences, how many of them would agree that they were engaging and relevant to their lives? How many would say they felt a sense of ownership and agency over their learning? How many would have a strong and supportive adult mentor to point to that guided them through their middle adolescent years?
A new report, “Realizing the Potential of Learning in Middle Adolescence,” by Drs. Robert Halpern of the Erikson Institute; Paul Heckman of the University of California, Davis; and Reed Larson of the University of Illinois emphasizes high schoolers’ enormous potential for learning if in the right learning environment, given the necessary supports and afforded specific opportunities for growth. Yet despite the research that shows middle adolescence—the period from ages 14 to 18—is the time when young people begin to develop advanced and complex forms of reasoning and analysis; increase their capacity to understand the dynamics of systems, institutions and individuals; and learn more about their interests, strengths, voice and beliefs, the authors find that a number of high schoolers are disengaged, bored at school, lack direction, and leave or drop out of high school without the skills they’ll need in the workplace.
As another school year is coming to an end and summer break is fast approaching, Public Profit’s new report, “Summer Matters: How Summer Learning Strengthens Students’ Success,” couldn’t have come at a better time.
For many lucky kids, summertime means camps, family trips and fun enrichment activities. But for a number of children, particularly those in low-income families, summer is a time when they fall behind academically as a result of unequal access to learning opportunities. As the report finds, summer learning programs are an essential part of the solution addressing the opportunity and achievement gaps between children from higher-income and lower-income families. The study, which takes a look at the impact of summer programs in Fresno, Los Angeles and Sacramento on kids involved in the programs, found that between 65% and 90% of the programs’ students qualified for free or reduced price lunch. It also found that 3 in 5 parents surveyed in the study stated that if their child wasn’t in the summer program, they would most likely spend the summer supervised at home.
Earlier this month, Champions® and the National AfterSchool Association released their second annual “Out-of-School Time Survey.” The survey found an overwhelming majority of elementary and middle school superintendents believe in the academic, social and behavioral benefits afterschool programs provide to their students. In addition to viewing afterschool programs as an environment where children can improve their core academic skills—such as reading, math and science—96 percent of superintendents agree that the most important afterschool programs improve study skills and more than 9 in 10 superintendents surveyed agree that the most important afterschool programs increase students’ social interactions and engagement (92 percent). More than 4 in 5 superintendents say that the most important afterschool programs are those that offer activities not present during the traditional school day (82 percent).
A key take away from this survey is that school superintendents understand the true value of afterschool programs and recognize that schools and students benefit from support of afterschool programs. Schools aren’t alone in the charge to ensure that all students receive a quality and well-rounded education. Afterschool programs are able and willing partners to prepare students for success in school, career and life.
“Perhaps the most critical decision parents make in balancing their work and home life is choosing the type of care to provide for their children while they work.” We at the Afterschool Alliance couldn’t agree more with this statement by Lynda Laughlin, author of a Census Bureau report released last week analyzing child care patterns and costs. A positive and encouraging finding of the report is that the percentage of school-age kids who have no regular child care arrangement—kids in self-care—has decreased, and this is particularly true of children with a single, employed parent.
“Who’s Minding the Kids? Child Care Arrangements: Spring 2011” examined the Census Bureau’s Survey of Income and Program Participation (SIPP) data to determine the child care arrangements of preschoolers (children under 5) and school-age kids (children ages 5 to 14) and found that between 1997 and 2011, the percentage of school-age children in self-care who lived with a single, employed parent decreased from 24 percent to 14 percent. One explanation offered for this decrease was increased investment in afterschool programs. This rationale is highly probable, given that federal funding for 21st Century Community Learning Centers—the only federal funding dedicated exclusively to before-school, afterschool and summer learning programs—was first appropriated $40 million in 1998, and has grown to $1.1 billion for FY2013 and serves approximately 1.1 million kids.
We know, based on numerous evaluations of 21st Century Community Learning Centers (21st CCLC), that children who participate in these afterschool programs, especially children who regularly attend the programs, show improvement in their academic performance, engagement in school and overall behavior. The recently released report by American Institutes for Research (AIR), Texas 21st Century Community Learning Centers: Year 2 Evaluation Report, adds to the body of evidence that shows afterschool programs are making a positive impact on children’s school day performance.
AIR’s evaluation found that students participating in the Texas 21st CCLC program—also known as Afterschool Centers on Education (ACE)—saw improvements in their Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills (TAKS) reading and math scores, fewer disciplinary incidents than non-participating students, fewer school absences, and an increased likelihood of being promoted to the next grade. One statistic I found to be especially impressive was regardless if a student regularly attended the ACE program, participants in 9th grade through 11th grade were significantly more likely to be promoted to the next grade. The report found that for students who attended the program 30 to 59 days, the likelihood of being promoted to the next grade increased by 79 percent. For students who attended the program 60 days or more, the likelihood of being promoted to the next grade increased by 97 percent.
The above statistic transitions nicely to another key finding of the study: regular attendance in the ACE program matters. Students who attended the ACE program for 60 days or more demonstrated better outcomes than their peers who participated in the program for 30 to 59 days. Students who attended the ACE program more frequently showed greater improvement in their TAKS reading and math scores, lower disciplinary incidents, fewer absences from school and a higher rate of grade promotion. AIR reported that when compared to students who attended the program for 30 to 59 days, the grade promotion rate for students who participated in the ACE program for 60 days or more was 23 percent to 40 percent higher.
Regular followers of the Afterschool Alliance will have heard about our recent report, “Defining Youth Outcomes for STEM Learning in Afterschool,” which asked experienced afterschool providers and supporters to identify appropriate and feasible outcomes for afterschool STEM learning. The report also provides a framework to map how afterschool programs contribute to larger STEM education goals. Read our blog post for a quick overview of the report.
The Museum of Science in Boston also recently released a report describing the evaluation process of Engineering Adventures, a research-based engineering curriculum for third through fifth graders especially designed for out-of-school-time environments. Jonathan Hertel, Research and Evaluation Associate for Engineering is Elementary, writes about the learning outcomes they observed during the curriculum evaluation and the research team’s efforts to develop an assessment tool to capture those outcomes.
Engineering Adventures (EA) is an engineering curriculum created especially for out-of-school-time (OST) programs. In EA, children are introduced to the engineering design process as they ask questions, imagine, plan, create and improve solutions to real-world problems. More than a decade ago, the Engineering is Elementary team at the Museum of Science, Boston, began creating engineering curricula for use in elementary school classrooms. Recognizing that OST provides a different, but important and compelling opportunity to present engineering challenges, the team began development of the EA program in 2010.
Last week Alliance for Excellent Education hosted a webinar on the MetLife Survey of the American Teacher: Challenges for School Leadership. The panel—moderated by Bob Wise, president of the Alliance and former governor of West Virginia—included Laurie Barron, EdD, Principal, Smokey Road Middle School (GA); Adam Gray, Mathematics Teacher, Boston Latin School; John Jenkins, EdD, Regional Director of New York, School Leaders Network; Dana Markow, PhD, Vice President, Youth and Education Research, Harris Interactive; and Dennis White, Chief Executive Officer and President, MetLife Foundation.
It was a great discussion that featured a variety of leaders in the education field and focused on the ever growing responsibilities and challenges that school leaders face. My biggest take away from both the webinar and the survey is that as principals and teachers deal with increasing responsibilities and shrinking school budgets, and as job satisfaction among teachers and principals decreases, the role of afterschool programs is now more important than ever. Afterschool programs can be a vital partner for schools; providing instrumental support by offering additional learning opportunities to students and creating an environment where students can build on the lessons learned during the school day.
A second important piece that stood out to me in the conversation and the survey is the growing role of the Common Core State Standards in the schools. While almost all principals and teachers say that they are knowledgeable about the Common Core State Standards and are confident that teachers have the ability to teach the Common Core, a majority of both groups believe that implementing the Common Core is challenging for school leaders. As a number of schools continue to work to align their curriculum with the Common Core, it is an opportune time for afterschool programs to think about their possible contributions to support the Common Core and the part they can play to help teachers, principals and school leaders implement the Common Core.
This piece was originally published as a commentary in Education Week on March 6, 2013 (Vol. 32, Issue 23, Page 26). Read the original article here.
- Developing interest in STEM and related learning activities;
- Developing capacities to productively engage in STEM learning activities; and
- Valuing the goals of STEM and STEM learning activities.