Raising Standards After 3 PM

This month, the New York City agency that built one of the nation's largest after-school systems shared a vision for how schools, community organizations and parents could forge closer partnerships to prepare many more of our kids to succeed in what the agency calls "a complex work environment that demands problem-solving, teamwork, and critical thinking skills."

The Bloomberg administration launched the citywide Out-of-School Time initiative in 2005. Since then the city has served as many as 85,000 students a year through after-school programs operated by community organizations with deep neighborhood roots. Now New York's Department of Youth and Community Development (DYCD) is preparing to support a new round of daily after-school programs. In a newly published concept paper, city officials lay out explicit standards and expectations for how school-community partners can and must support students' academic progress as well as their social and emotional development.

Why should anyone beyond New York care what our city leaders think about how to evolve after-school to improve student outcomes? First, because the proposed new standards neatly encapsulate what a decade of independent research has told us: that in order to truly benefit kids, after-school program activities should be based on planned and sequenced curricula that support specific learning and developmental goals. Kids should be involved in active, project-based learning, especially middle school students who desperately need to feel like they own their own learning and that learning is relevant to their lives -- otherwise they'll stop attending. Program staff members need to intentionally support the development of kids' social and emotional skills.

New York would now hold municipally-funded programs to these standards, while also directing them to engage kids in the science, technology, engineering and math learning experiences that will prepare them for success in the information age.

The city also proposes to lower the bureaucratic barriers between city agencies, schools and community organizations, a shrewd path to greater efficiencies when every public dollar has to stretch to its limit. New York now proposes that all organizations that operate after-school programs must enter into partnership agreements with the principals of the schools their students attend. Schools and their community partners will "interact on multiple levels," sharing a common vision for what kids will do in the hours between 3 and 6 PM through learning and developmental activities led by teams that can include both teachers and community educators.

The partners will also be expected to actively engage parents, in part by providing them guidance in navigating the school system, understanding new educational requirements and reinforcing academic and developmental lessons. This expectation also grows out of research that shows the correlation between parents' involvement and students' improved academic achievement, social skills, school attendance and graduation.

These are all essential elements in The After-School Corporation's initiative to expand learning time through school-community partnerships that support longer learning days. For the past three years, we've partnered with DYCD and the New York City Department of Education on a 17-school Expanded Learning Time pilot initiative. Together we've seen how schools and community organizations that once might have preferred to operate in separate time zones -- schools owning the hours from 8-to-3, after-school owning 3-to-6 -- are stronger when they work together, more efficient, and more effective in helping kids do and be their best.