Monday, October 15, 2012

Partnership or Pilot: What is the future of Out of School Time in DC?

From California to Arkansas, states and localities are crafting agreements and funding initiatives that promote new kinds of partnerships between school districts and their neighboring communities. As reported in a recent article by Education Week, these “ joint-use partnerships” are cropping up to tackle all sorts of education and social issues while maximizing the use of public resources. The partnerships address a range of youth development  needs through programming including academic support to both teachers and students, health programming, social service provision and enrichment activities; all provided on location – at schools - by local community organizations and businesses.  These partnerships differ from historical relationships between out-of-school time providers, according to Education Week, because unlike in the past, the partners are sharing a vision for community improvement instead of being driven solely by lack of space or limited finances.

In the District the idea of the building joint-partnerships is not new. Over the last decade, many community partners working with DCPS advocated strongly for a more integrated and effectively coordinated system. This effort came to bear close to 6 years ago. In 2006, DC was one of five cities to begin the implementation of a national pilot project for OST coordination lead by RAND Education and funded by the Wallace Foundation. The three year implementation grant awarded to the District at $8 million, had the goal of developing and improving OST on the system wide level.

During this time the DC Children and Youth Investment Trust (the Trust) lead community partners and city agencies to identify a lack of programming targeted towards middle school aged youth. This finding, lead the Trust to propose the creation of high-quality OST programming, coordinated by a full-time in school coordinator that was piloted in five middle schools .The point of this pilot? “To demonstrate what better coordination and alignment might accomplish”[1].

In the last year of the Wallace Foundation grant DCPS, recognizing the strength of the programming in the pilot schools, decided to scale up the model. Schools became open to community partners during afterschool hours with janitorial and security services centrally coordinated by the DCPS Office of Out of School Time Programming. This same office became responsible for vetting the community partners and most importantly for placing Full-Time After-School coordinators in each school to work with the service providers, principals, teachers, and parents to improve coordination and service delivery. In the last two years, this office took the focus on coordination and quality a step further, initiating work with community partners, DCPS central office, principals and teachers to align what students learned during the school day (newly defined common core standards) with the academic focus and objectives of after school programming.

Since inception, the school-based coordinator model and the work of the Office of Out of School Time Programming has evolved to be a critical component of the District’s out of school time programming infrastructure. By organizing school based services, coordinating with community partners and constantly striving to ensure quality and access, the OSTP has been integral to achieving equitable access to these services.

Fast forward to today’s system of out-of-school time programming and sadly, we do not see the same rosy picture we saw in that last year of the Wallace Foundation/Rand Project implementation.

This change is linked to a new initiative called “Proving What’s Possible” which began in June 2012 when DCPS announced that grants (from an unidentified source within the DCPS budget) would go to 59 schools, with amounts ranging from $10,000 to $490,000 to implement “innovative programming”  that would improve academic achievement through some combo of three specific intervention strategies: “time, technology and talent”. The grants are meant to help accomplish one of DCPS Chancellor Kaya Henderson’s strategic goals for DCPS– to increase proficiency rates in struggling schools by 40% by 2017. 

Approximately 85% of the $10.4 million did go to the 40 lowest performing schools in DCPS (DCFPI 2012) who undoubtedly could use the extra funding to better support student level outcomes.[2]  However, not all of those schools wrote in funding for Out of School activities. While, some schools are pursuing really innovative partnerships, or targeting extended and innovative teaching to higher need students- for the rest- the overall impact remains, in many ways unclear.

Those schools awarded a PWP major grant will not have afterschool programming- and no coordinator unless they wrote this into their grant proposal. For the remaining schools- they are now operating with 3 million fewer dollars to support OST programming, a loss that significantly changed the coordination of services.  This year, there were no afterschool coordinators working in high schools. At the middle and elementary schools rather than one coordinator per school, DCPS was forced to move to a cluster model wherein each coordinator is responsible for facilitating afterschool for 2-3 different schools. PWP essentially dismantled a significant component of the best-practice system of out-of-school time service delivery that the Wallace/Rand project laid out just three years ago. 

Further complicating matters are questions of oversight, impact and quality control. For example, within the PWP grantees there were 13 different extended day programs proposed. The metrics used to assess the impact of interventions (on all three focus areas, time, talent and technology) have yet to be clearly articulated by DCPS. And while innovation can lead to incredible impact, unless there is a clear way to track how this investment has led to improved outcomes, such a rapid change in infrastructure clearly comes with risks and potential costs.

Bottom line: For parents, principals, community organizations and students many questions remain.

Is this meant to be – at least partially – a replacement strategy for OST programs coordinated with CBO’s? If so, what are the expected outcomes? How will all these various programs be evaluated? Is there a sustainability plan for the extended day or after-school models?

Why the elimination of the coordinator positions recommended by the Wallace/Rand/Trust initiative after such a lengthy (and expensive) grant implementation process?

What’s the purpose/method behind any of the various 13 different extended day programs? And what’s the real impact on out of school time program access given the cuts to the OSTP office?

We’d love to hear your experiences – both as community member organizations and parents.  What’s working?  What’s not? Are you partnering with schools -- how is it going? Are you not partnering with schools? Are your children able to access OST programming at your local school? And what are your questions and concerns about all this?

We heard a bit from a number of providers at last week's Quarterly Breakfast with DCPS, but we're sure there are people out there who still have experiences and recommendations to share about the future relationship between DCPS and community based providers. We invite you to share those with us!

If you would like to hear more about DCAYA's work around the out of school time sector,  or would like to submit a comment or set up a meeting, please contact the DCAYA Policy Team.

[1] Hours of Opportunity Report p. 24
[2] A full list of the awards can be found at DCFPI, here.