How to Make Afterschool an Election Issue - Extended Learning Time and Afterschool
One of the most noteworthy aspects of the Blueprint for Reform—the Administration’s proposed framework for the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA)—is its shift in focus from afterschool to expanded learning time (ELT) models. Though each model provides additional learning time, they are in very different stages of development, making it difficult to rate one over the other. No matter the decision on ELT, one thing is certain: afterschool programs are imperative for youth to grow and thrive. To see why afterschool needs to remain in the picture, it is important to have an understanding of each model:
An afterschool or summer program typically grows out of a community need. It may be located at a school, or off-site, but with a school link. It is typically overseen primarily by a community organization or a school, with programs built on a school-community partnership. Programs provide a variety of activities, but an engaging, hands-on learning approach and less formal environment are common across all programs. Afterschool and summer programs have over a decade of research illustrating positive outcomes in both academic and social/emotional development, and they are well understood and supported by the public.
Expanded learning time is an emerging concept that begins with a school site extending its hours or school year. The models currently being tested take many forms, from simply increased classroom time to more innovative models that build off the successes of afterschool programs, tapping the afterschool research base and leveraging the of community partners. The research varies by model, and is early in its development. The variance of models makes it hard to gauge public support; however, in general parents are not widely supportive of more classroom time.
What is the solution?
There is no “best” candidate in this race. Due to the novelty and varying structure of numerous ELT models, it is impossible to gauge total effectiveness. While ELT can be a promising new model, it does not mean that traditional afterschool programs are no longer needed. Most sites in the pilot ELT program in Massachusetts end by 3:30 or 4 p.m., meaning traditional afterschool programs are still needed to fill the gap until 6 pm, when most parents return home from work. Diverting afterschool dollars to a new purpose would also result in a loss of services, jobs and opportunities for innovation in learning.
Federal funding sources such as 21st Century Community Learning Centers are essential to help states and local communities establish support systems that make afterschool programs and the extra learning time they provide an expectation, not an afterthought. Particularly in these difficult economic times for working families, and with millions of kids unsupervised and at risk each day, we need to increase the funding for expanded learning opportunities, not pit one approach against the other.