Congress’ Chance to Help Students Get 21st Century Skills

Guest post by Jennifer Peck

At the local level, it has become increasingly clear that as states, districts, and schools are raising standards and increasing their focus on graduating students that are prepared for college and careers, there is a need to build capacity within the education system. Many districts and schools have already begun to address this need by partnering with effective community-based partners, and investing in expanded learning opportunities; programs that keep students engaged and excited about learning while improving academic achievement. While local efforts to improve education have been effective, systemic change has been difficult because of feederal inaction. That, however, may be changing.

Congress is now moving forward on reauthorizing the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). Representative Kline, Chairman of the House Education and Workforce Committee, introduced the Student Success Act (H.R. 5) and it was brought to the House floor on July 18th. The bill passed with 221 votes, with all Democrats and 12 Republicans voting against the bill. While we are supportive of the strong partnership language that requires local education agencies to partner with community-based organizations, business or nongovernmental entities under the Local Academic Flexibility Grant, we are disheartened that the bill eliminates the 21st Century Community Learning Center (21st CCLC) program that would provide direct funding for much needed and expanded learning programs. Senior Democratic member, Representative George Miller, offered a substitute amendment that strengthens the 21st CCLC program by including provisions that require school-community partnerships and allow grant renewals for the programs that are innovative and demonstrating results. Unfortunately, this amendment failed by a vote of 193-233. Continue reading

Carnegie or Competency?

One method measures learning by class or instructional time, the other requires demonstration of mastery in a specific skill or learning outcome. One is a traditional yardstick, the other comparatively new-fangled. Either way, the debate is growing about whether “seat time” (measured by the Carnegie Unit) or competency-based assessment is more suited for today’s 21st-century economy, in which young people need to have a broad range of knowledge and skills and be able to apply them to complex and novel situations to succeed.

In states like New Hampshire, Oregon, and Rhode Island, districts have formally begun to adopt competency-based systems in place of time-based ones. Such systems allow greater flexibility to gain credit for activities beyond the school day. On Monday, the American Youth Policy Forum hosted a webinar on one such system in Providence, RI. The Hub is a collaborative initiative between the Providence After School Alliance (PASA), Providence Public Schools, and community providers, in which high school students can earn school credit for “expanded learning opportunities” (ELOs)—rigorous learning experiences that take place outside of school.

Patrick Duhon, Director of Expanded Learning for Providence Public Schools, commented that schools desire an alignment between expanded learning programs and the Common Core State Standards (CCSS). ELOs can offer this. Courses range in content, from mobile app development to photography to debate, and many of the community-based organizations offering them have already aligned their work with industry, college-readiness, and Common Core standards. Students demonstrate competency through a variety of means, including blog writing, online portfolios, digital badges, and end-of-term community presentations, which also help them meet the CCSS. Currently, students can receive only elective credit for these courses, but there have been conversations about offering credit for core content areas in the future. Continue reading

Building Better Afterschool: Dispatch from Madison

Yesterday, BetterTogethercoverimageThe Wallace Foundation released Better Together: Building Local Systems to Improve Afterschool (A Conference Report). This report shares lessons from national experts and teams from 57 cities who came together in February 2013 to share lessons on expanding access to high-quality afterschool programs, especially in low-income areas, through coordinated citywide systems. Watch a video of the conference’s opening session.

In the following post, the Honorable Paul Soglin, Mayor of Madison, WI, reflects on how participation in the Better Together conference impacted his city’s efforts to build an out-of-school time system.

Guest post by Paul Soglin

In 2012 the city of Madison, The Madison Metropolitan School district and our non-profit partners started exploring Out-of-School Time (OST) systems. At the end of the year, an invitation arrived to attend The Wallace Foundation’s conference, Better Together: Building Local Systems to Improve Afterschool. The timing could not have been more opportune.

The City of Madison’s joint committee with the school district and Dane County was interested in piloting a version of an OST system. Around the same time, I met with a host of neighborhood center directors and articulated a vision in which all children and youth were within walking distance of OST activities. The center directors agreed to take a lead role in developing a system that would adequately serve youth throughout Madison.

There was already momentum in our community to provide system-wide programming that focused on improving attendance, lengthening the school day, involving more parents, and combating hunger and trauma. While all of the partners were experienced and committed to serving youth outside of the school setting, the development of a comprehensive system was challenging.
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New Orleans to Participate in National Initiative to Engage Disconnected Youth

Guest post by Lauren Bierbaum

Recently, the Aspen Institute announced a series of grants to bring 6.7 million young Americans back to education and the workforce. The Institute’s Opportunity Youth Incentive Fund (OYIF), whose name refers to the millions of young people between the ages of 16 to 24 who are neither enrolled in school nor participating in the labor market, is making an initial commitment of $6 million to 21 founding partners. These partners are in turn charged with harnessing the power of cross-sector collaboration to improve educational and employment outcomes for vulnerable young adults.

In the New Orleans region, which we serve, over 14,000 young people are disconnected from school and work. Though we have made great strides in reforming our schools, young people in our community who feel unsafe or unsuccessful in traditional educational settings still suffer from horribly inadequate safety nets. We have a growing economy, but lack the necessary infrastructure to develop young New Orleanians into a sustainable local workforce. We are a dynamic, culturally rich city, but still have not created equitable opportunity for all our youth.

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