Panel: When rethinking school governance, afterschool is a piece of the local puzzle

by Jillian Luchner

On January 19th, the National School Boards Association and the National School Boards Action Center hosted a forum in Washington, DC “Public Education Agenda for America’s Success” with representatives from both conservative leaning and liberal leaning policy and research institutes to discuss what to expect under a new administration and congress.

Federal Government Expected to Pass the Baton to the States

The 2016 Presidential Campaign did not focus much on education issues, and even after the election, besides a few conversations around child care and school choice, not much has been advanced. Panelists at the NSBA forum discussed what to expect moving forward. Gerard Robinson of the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) mentioned that although education wasn’t a focus of Trump’s attention directly, many of the issues being prioritized by the incoming (now current) President, including safety, the economy, and the military are, in truth, education issues.

With a President’s Budget expected somewhere in or before March, many panelists emphasized that the federal government’s focus on education should remain on disadvantaged children. The initial federal role motivating the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) authorized under President Johnson in 1965 focused on education as a part of the War on Poverty. Under No Child Left Behind (NCLB), the 2002 law which reauthorized ESEA, the federal role was considerably expanded through accountability measures in student proficiency, school improvement and teacher quality. However that role, panelists suggested, might be significantly diminished under this new administration.  

Many on the panel assumed the administration will look to return as much decision making on data, performance, and implementation as possible to states, which resonates with the theme of the Every Student Succeeds Act (which again reauthorized ESEA and replaced NCLB) passed by Congress and signed by President Obama in 2015. All panelists seems to expect a return to local control.

Even the very concept of local control is changing, hypothesized Andy Smarick of AEI. In the past, local control meant the ultimate decision makers on issues of education should be local school boards and districts rather than the state or federal government. Smarick now believes local control is reaching down to the level of the parent and family. Yet with federal (and state) money flowing to districts and students, other panelists responded, accountability will always have to be two-fold: at the school and parent level with student achievement, but also at the federal, state, and local level with how public tax dollars are being spent in the public interest.

A few panelists expressed concerns that for many state agencies the devolution of power from the federal government with accompanying needs for data and accountability would be challenging, especially in the face of declining state education expenditures in many states.

Included in the discussion, the panel considered whether the federal Office for Civil Rights would take a less proactive role than in the past and instead aim to play a more circumscribed role of responding only where and when people bring complaints, rather than issuing regulations.

Brainstorming Student Supports, Afterschool as a research based piece of the puzzle

With all the uncertainty, the last few minutes of the panel centered around what school boards could do to help student achievement. Panelists discussed community-efforts, use of evidence based practices, and studies of high performing low-income schools as methods.

Robinson, of AEI, said there will be a role for the federal government’s Department of Education with regards to out-of-school effects, such as the hunger or poverty or environments that surround students in their lives outside the school day. Robinson pointed to research on when crime spikes for youth, the hours right after the school day ends, and mentioned the federal effort in funding out-of-school time/afterschool programs as a research-based example of getting students engaged in productive activities during these times. Robinson mentioned these programs are often a collaborative result of school boards, mayors, businesses and foundations working together to provide these opportunities for youth. Michael Hansen, of the Brookings Institution, agreed that locally oriented wrap-around services had the potential to be better tapped moving forward.

Afterschool at the Table:

Many afterschool providers and partners are already working closely with their local school boards and superintendents. The Every Student Succeeds Act provides additional motivation to work with local level education advocates to help them plan for student achievement at partners. Those afterschool programs looking to engage in the ESSA conversation may find the Afterschool Alliance ESSA Playbook to be a useful tool in the effort. Remember to stay visible and keep telling your (and your student’s) story. We may not have the tea leaves to the future, but we can be sure people will continue to look for community solutions and afterschool and summer programs can be expected to play an essential role in local decision-making and student support.

© 2013 Afterschool Alliance