Unique potential of expanded learning programs
After the California State Board of Education adopted the Common Core State Standards in 2010, the CDE made significant investments to develop the infrastructure, guidance and communications around the CCSS implementation. California’s CCSS systems implementation plan, in particular, provides a timeline for implementation as well as an overview of seven key guiding strategies for districts.
While most of the strategies refer to K-12 levers to advance implementation, guiding strategy four calls for collaboration with external partners, including expanded learning providers. Based on a scan of other states by the Partnership for Children and Youth, a non-profit research and advocacy organization, California is the only state to have expanded learning partners called out explicitly in its Common Core implementation plan.
According to the “Common Core State Standards System Implementation Plan for California” (October 2012), the strategy recommends districts to “integrate the CCSS into programs and activities beyond the K-12 school setting” and suggests “professional development to district administrators, school principals, and after school program directors on how to collaborate to incorporate into after school/extended day programs activities that enrich and extend the CCSS-related learning initiated during the regular day.”
This recommendation is not surprising, given the positive outcomes for students that can result from strong collaboration between expanded learning programs and their school partners, as well as the rich after school infrastructure present in California.
Most districts have begun work toward transitioning to the new CCSS, with primary emphasis on teacher training and preparation. And this work will continue to be both time-consuming and focused to reach the 2014-15 goal of full implementation of the new standards. The education system will be hard-pressed to meet the common core standards in isolation. The expanding learning field can provide support as a key partner in CCSS implementation, as it has additional space, time, flexibility and specialized staff to engage students and families.
While this work is still in its infancy in California, there are a handful of promising examples of CCSS links with expanded learning programs. This connection begins with a robust system of field support. California is broken down into 11 support regions, as identified by the California County Superintendents Educational Services Association. Each region has a lead County Office of Education (Regional Lead) that works with CDE staff members and other external entities to provide needs-driven technical assistance to expanded learning programs throughout the state.
This important infrastructure supports compliance and quality implementation, and ensures accountability measures are in place. Unique also to California is a statewide system of support for technical assistance providers, called ASAPConnect, that builds the capacity of Regional Lead county offices, Department of Education staff, and the more than 250 external technical assistance providers to better train, coach, mentor and broker resources at the local level.
In Fall 2011, CCSESA Region 5 (Monterey, San Benito, Santa Clara and Santa Cruz counties), the After School Regional Lead and local County Office Coordinators began scaffolding CCSS trainings with expanded learning program staff throughout the region. After school program grant managers and program directors were the first to receive training to build a common language base around the education reform, as well as a deeper understanding of the standards.
The Site Coordinator and Frontline Staff trainings culminated in intense, three-hour sessions on concrete educational strategies that could be used in the after school setting to support in-class math and language arts instruction. While these trainings were a critical first step, the real work is the current and on-going coaching support needed to ensure learning is transferred and sustained into daily practice.
In Santa Ana Unified School District, staff from the expanded learning time provider, THINK Together, sit on the district’s Common Core Task Force. By being involved in planning and coordination from the beginning, THINK Together will be better prepared to complement the district’s efforts, and the two partnering entities will be well situated to leverage each other’s training and planning resources.
Deputy Superintendent Cathie Olsky said, “The district sees THINK Together, as well as other extended school time providers, as a major asset in our efforts to implement Common Core effectively by capitalizing on and mobilizing the hours and days beyond the regular school day and year. We are looking forward to building on our partnerships, including THINK Together, to support student learning toward the Common Core standards.
In the San Francisco Unified School District, the Department of Children and Youth is organizing a learning circle of middle school expanded learning providers to focus on new math practices, best practices in integrating STEM learning into applied and project-based learning, and how OST providers can support the district’s transition to the new math standards (Devaney & Yohalem, 2012).