Wednesday, May 02, 2012

Why Are We Devaluing Community Partners at a Time When We Need Them the Most?

At Mayor Vincent Gray’s budget townhall meeting onTuesday night, a student asked the Mayor “why (did) his budget only include $3 million for out-of-school time programs?” The Mayor’s response was interesting. He explained that we shouldn’t be looking at things as “after-school vs. during school” and that the direction the District’s schools should really be moving is toward an extended day model -- one where we utilize community based-organizations to provide services and extend the amount of time students spend engaged in academic activities.

The Mayor has obviously been doing his research. The type of extended day the Mayor suggests where expanded learning opportunities exist through structured partnerships between schools and community-based organizations (CBOs) is exactly the type of model that has seen success in other jurisdictions (TASC in NYC, ProvidenceAfter School Alliance). We applaud the Mayor’s vision to implement this kind of education reform here in the District.

In fact, the District could easily achieve an extended school day model (at least at DCPS) by better utilizing the DCPS Office of Out-of-School Time Programs to leverage new and pre-existing relationships with high-quality CBOs to add valuable hours to the school day. Quality CBOs are already aligning their curriculums with that of DCPS.  They are already using contextual and activity based or experiential learning to reinforce what happens during the traditional school day. They are also showing measurable gains on student achievement, attendance and many other factors, such as health and public safety. What’s more, the current out-of-school time community in the District has a quality assurance mechanism already built in via the Children and Youth Investment Trust Corporation (CYITC). Despite being largely defunded by the city government in recent years, CYITC could easily be revitalized in support of a larger educational reform agenda involving multiple partners.

So this all sounds like great news! Unfortunately, Mayor Gray is not following his words with actions.

Last month DCPS announced a new grant program called ProvingWhat’s Possible (PWP)  that could have very serious implications for the out-of-school time in the District.  PWP will reduce the infrastructure supporting the capacity of CBOs to get into schools, will erase many of the relationships CBOs have already established with schools and may result in simply adding on an additional half hour of instructional time rather than maintain the robust array of services and supports we currently have in place. A couple of years ago, national education analyst Elena Silva presented a caveat on the need to extend the school day in the District: “DC cannot expect to just add time and stir, and 30 minutes aday is unlikely to be enough to close the gaps that keep widening throughout the year and especially over the summer. Butif the right kinds of staffing structures and partnerships are created–--wherecommunity-based organizations, universities, and businesses are integrated into school-based learning--longer hours and an extended year shouldabsolutely be part of DC’s education plan.” We agree with Ms. Silva’s point, which makes it all the more discouraging that now more than ever community based organizations are being shut out of school buildings and devalued by our local education officials.

Improving the academic attainment and closing the achievement gap for our students are not just nice goals, they are an economic imperative for the District. Mayor Gray knows, and has made laudable investments in the District’s public education system. However, if we really want to achieve meaningful educational gains we need all hands on deck when it comes to our young people. Ideally there would be financial resources available to community and neighborhood providers, but as that seems increasingly unlikely in the current budget climate, the very least the administration could do would be to foster stronger relationships between institutions like schools and community providers. Mayor Gray’s response to the student’s question at last night’s town hall seemed to assume this was happening, so why isn’t it?

Questions about this blog post may be forwarded to Anne Abbott, DCAYA policy anlayst.

For more information on the Out-of-School time sector here in the District, please visit