May 2010 Archives

"How to Improve Urban High Schools at Scale," an online Commentary, offers interesting insights into what it takes to lift performance in troubled schools. Among its points—the ability to be flexible about learning time in order to meet the needs of students who are struggling. David Linzey, the former chief academic officer of the Alliance for College-Ready Public Schools, in Los Angeles, writes: "Our mentality was to produce success no matter how long it took. If students did not learn and weren't able to demonstrate achievement within the school day, we offered them after-school tutoring. Saturday "academic-achievement academies" were...


Even as some districts cut summer programs, others are launching new and creative summer initiatives, the National Summer Learning Association says. NSLA officials announced that Cincinnati, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Minneapolis, and other areas are exploring new summer programs "thanks to creative partnerships between school districts and community organizations, and an infusion of public and private funding," much of it in the form of federal stimulus dollars. The news dovetails with NSLA's larger mission to rethink summer school as a time for engaging academics mixed with enrichment, not a punishment or remedial program. With support from the Atlantic Philanthropies, NSLA has launched ...


Only one in four U.S. children attend summer learning programs, according to a new analysis by the Afterschool Alliance. That means this summer that approximately 24 million schoolchildren who likely would enroll in such programs will go without. "For millions of children in America, when schools close for the summer, safe and enriching learning environments are out of reach, replaced by boredom, lost opportunities, and risk," the alliance found in revisiting data from the study, "America After 3 P.M." The study's findings are based on a survey of nearly 30,000 American households in 2009. The summer learning ...


A teacher who describes herself as a "sucker" wrote last week about the extra time she puts in with students before and after school (and during lunch) for no extra pay. While Laura Reasoner Jones also says in the Teacher Leaders Network piece that she loves what she does, she adds: "after more than 34 years of teaching, I have come to realize that I am a sucker—and I am very unhappy." This, I suppose, is another side of expanded learning. Ms. Jones sounds like an exemplary teacher: I planned and ran eight GEMS Club sessions for 42 5th ...


Teacher Magazine blogger Tamara Fisher has an interesting piece on summer learning opportunities for gifted kids. You can check it out here. Tamara notes that many programs offer scholarships for needy students. Earlier in the month, Tamara wrote about summertime professional-development opportunities for teachers. Great leads in Tamara's pieces. Also, kind of makes me wonder what's available for all kids—not just those identified as gifted....


Forty-five mayors wrote Congress this month, urging members to continue and expand federal support for the 21st Century Community Learning Centers program. The mayors—all affiliated with the U.S. Conference of Mayors—addressed their letter to Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, the chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, and Sen. Michael Enzi, R-Wyo., the committee's ranking minority member. The mayors wrote: "As mayors working in cities all over the nation, we understand how critical this program is to providing support for more than 1 million children in all 50 states and the District of Columbia."...


More budget-crunch news, this time from the Washington-based Council of the Great City Schools. "Investing Wisely and Quickly," a study the council released this week, explores how the nation's big-city school districts used federal stimulus dollars to sustain programs—including expanded-learning initiatives—and avoid firing teachers. But the report also predicts a huge funding decline—"at least $4 billion in revenue for the nation's urban districts"— for the 2010-11 school year, unless additional federal money materializes, my colleague Dakarai I. Aarons reports on his District Dossier blog. That's alarming news for expanded learning when you consider the programs supported...


There's been a lot of news coverage lately about possible cuts to the education budget in New Jersey. What got me about this story is its potential impact on the poorest kids in the Garden State. According to the Associated Press, Gov. Chris Christie is proposing cutting $5.5 million in state aid to nutrition programs. Advocates say the cut would mean fewer poor children would get free breakfasts at school or that the quality of school meals would suffer. Now, I recognize that breakfast programs aren't traditional "expanded learning" offerings, but I see them as part of a larger ...


Education Week has a fascinating story online today related to 4th grade reading skills and poverty. A report, "EARLY WARNING!: Why Reading by the End of Third Grade Matters," is being released today by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, which plans soon to unveil a 10-year initiative to ensure that more children become proficient readers by the time they leave 3rd grade. Fascinating, yes, but why am I writing about it? The answer lies in the report, which, among other things, "targets the disproportionate learning losses experienced by poor children over the summer as another area ripe for improvement," my ...


I'm thinking about starting a new feature here on Beyond Schools—the weekly round-up of news about expanded learning. Today, I'm giving it a first shot with a short list of headlines from around the country. Again and again in recent weeks, I've seen headlines about school boards and town and city councils weighing cuts to after-school programming because of tight budgets. I've only picked up a few stories here, but they give you a sense of some of the happenings in the expanded-learning community. Feel free to add other news of note in comments. I hope to turn this...


Federal officials are seeking peer reviewers for the Obama administration's new Promise Neighborhoods grant program. As many of you know, Promise Neighborhood grants will support comprehensive, community-wide programs serving children in poor areas. Much like the Harlem Children's Zone, Promise Neighborhoods should take "a comprehensive approach designed to ensure that children have access to a continuum of cradle-through-college-to-career solutions, with strong schools at the center that will support academic achievement, healthy development, and college and career success," the department says. Reviewers, who will receive honoraria for their work, must independently read and score grant applications, and provide written comments on ...


Sometimes, I'm amazed by the sheer volume of federal programs with an after-school angle. Take, for instance, the National Institutes of Health's "We Can!" campaign to help 8- to 13-year-olds stay at a healthy weight. "We Can," it seems, stands for "Ways to Enhance Children's Activity & Nutrition." The We Can! website encourages organizations and communities to sign up for free tools and information on encouraging healthy eating, boosting physical activity, and reducing the amount of time kids spend in front of a TV or computer screen. We Can! officials also urge organizations to become partners in the initiative. Among those ...


The U.S. Department of Education has released a series of reports outlining the research behind its plan for reauthorizing the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, including its proposals for serving kids after school and during the summer. The "Successful, Safe, and Healthy Students" report points to research on extra learning time and high-quality enrichment programs and states that: "Preparing students for success requires taking innovative, comprehensive approaches to meeting students' needs, such as rethinking the length and structure of the school day and year." The Education Department says its ESEA proposal would support "programs that redesign and expand the ...


The National Summer Learning Association is making the case for a greater policy and funding focus on innovative summer school in the pages of Education Week this week. Much as they did when they stopped by the Education Week offices recently, NSLA leaders point to the essential role that summer school can play in overall school reform. NSLA Chief Executive Officer Ron Fairchild and Jeff Smink, the group's vice president of policy, write: "Imagine, for example, a summer school program that would provide accelerated and engaging instruction in the morning, fresh local food for breakfast and lunch, and afternoon enrichment ...


A new National Physical Activity Plan released this week includes recommendations for before- and after-school activities. The plan, which was unveiled by a panel representing major health organizations, seeks to get Americans more active in all aspects of life, including education. In addition to promoting high-quality physical education during the school day, officials also want students in before- and after-school programs to get moving. This starts with encouraging Safe Routes to School that allow kids to walk or bike to school. In addition, the plan recommends: Encouraging states to adopt standards for including physical activity in after-school programs. Requiring a ...


If you're looking for some interesting reading on expanded learning, check out this conversation on the Center for American Progress website. Jeff Riley, the academic superintendent for middle and K-8 schools in Boston, tells the Center about the expanded schedule educators have put in place at Boston's Edwards Middle School. When the state's education department offered 26 schools the chance to add time to their days, Edwards adopted "a 'layer cake' approach where we took our traditional school day and kept it intact, and then added on an extra academic piece and an extra enrichment piece," Riley says. The staff ...


Want to learn more about the Obama administration's new Promise Neighborhoods program? Here's your chance: The U.S. Department of Education is hosting free pre-application Webinars—tomorrow and next Monday, May 10. Much the way the widely praised Harlem Children's Zone has worked to reach children in tough circumstances, Promise Neighborhoods should offer children in low-income communities "a continuum of academic programs and family and community supports, from the cradle through college to career, with a strong school or schools at the center," the department says. The department also recently released rules for the Promise Neighborhoods program. To learn more,...


Cities seeking role models on the after-school programming front need look no further than Providence, R.I. According to a new study, in a relatively short time, Providence has put the pieces together for a strong network of after-school initiatives targeting middle school students—traditionally, a challenging group to enroll. "AfterZones: Creating a Citywide System to Support and Sustain High-Quality After-School Programs" explores the community-based options Providence began knitting together for 6th, 7th, and 8th graders in 2004. The city, which was awarded a grant from the Wallace Foundation to support after-school programming, has benefited, the report says, from strong...


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