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Connecting afterschool learning with Common Core State Standards

By Jen Rinehart

While volunteering in my daughter’s kindergarten classroom recently, I noticed a stack of kindergarten math workbooks that proudly advertised, “Aligned with the Common Core State Standards.”  It was a clear sign that the Common Core standards have arrived in classrooms across the country and a reminder to me that the Afterschool Alliance can help afterschool providers better understand Common Core and what roles afterschool stakeholders can play in supporting learning under the Common Core.

So what are the Common Core State Standards?  They are a set of standards in reading/language arts and math that resulted from several years of collective thinking by teachers, researchers and leading experts in the education field about what students should know and be able to do in mathematics and English language arts.  Prior to the Common Core, most states had their own individual sets of standards. 

Why do the Common Core State Standards exist?  Proponents of Common Core argue that with the adoption of the standards, students who move from state to state, and especially students in military families who might make multiple moves in a K-12 career, will have a smoother transition because the schools in each state will be working from the same set of high expectations about what kids in each grade should be able to do.  They also point out that states can share instructional resources like textbooks and even assessments, which are currently under development and expected to be rolled out during the 2013-2014 school year.  As you might imagine, there are alsoeducation leaders who question the value of Common Core, particularly since the Common Core were not pilot tested prior to roll out to nearly all states, and who view Common Core and the related assessments as costly (both for the country and our children’s futures) experiments in learning. 

What does Common Core mean for afterschool?  Whether you agree or disagree with Common Core, these standards are the reality for students, families and educators in nearly every state.  While the goals of afterschool go well beyond academic support, given the importance of Common Core to educators and the ways in which Common Core will impact the learning experience for children and youth, the Common Core will surely affect afterschool providers as well.   

How can you help prepare afterschool programs and staff to support learning under the Common Core State Standards?

  • Educate yourself about Common Core and the role of afterschool.  Achieve has a variety of resources on Common Core, including guides for elementary and secondary school leaders and guidance counselors.  In addition, there are briefs focused on the role of afterschool that share examples of programs and recommendations for supporting learning under the Common Core.
  • Help parents better understand the Common Core and what it means for their children.  The National PTA and the Council of Great City Schools both have parent resources on Common Core available for download.  Given the strong relationship that afterschool providers have with parents and families, programs are well positioned to help educate parents about the Common Core.
  • Promote opportunities for professional development and sharing among afterschool staff and school staff.  Expanding Minds and Opportunities includes an article on Common Core and expanded learning that features a couple of examples:
    • In Wisconsin, district and local expanded learning programs are connecting with school curriculum online and directly with teachers.  Programs include current and retired teachers on their staff to facilitate effective engagement with schools and the academic content students are learning.
    • The New Jersey State Afterschool Network, NJSACC, in cooperation with the New Jersey State Department of Education, completed a statewide pilot training program on the Common Core for afterschool program leaders. Training sessions focused on how to align student activities and curriculum with the Common Core.
  • Check out examples of afterschool providers who are helping students reach Common Core.
    • The Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) and America’s Promise Alliance have an upcoming webinar on May 6 that will explore the ways in which afterschool and summer programs can help students achieve under the Common Core standards.  Examples from New Jersey and Wisconsin will be highlighted and case studies, best practices and lessons learned will be featured. 

As the recognition of the valuable role that afterschool and summer programs play in supporting student learning continues to grow, it is essential that afterschool providers demonstrate how they can expand on and complement the learning that happens during the school day.  Throughout the rest of 2013 and beyond, we’ll be working to provide the afterschool community with resources related to Common Core and the role of afterschool in helping all students succeed in school and out.