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Extended-Learning Programs Want Funders to Take a Longer View

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A new report finds a disconnect between philanthropies and the extended-learning-time programs they support, especially when it comes to top goals and influencing policy. 

The report, released last month by Grantmakers for Education's Out-of-School Time Funder Network, found that one key mismatch is that foundations are less interested in workforce development and advocacy than the groups they support would like them to be. 

Kathleen Traphagen, who coordinates the out-of-school time network, said that includes leadership development, creating career pathways for people working in the field, and improving the quality of the programs that take place before and after school, on weekends, and during the summer.

One expert interviewed for the survey summed up the concern, explaining that the people who work in these programs are expected "to excel at the most difficult forms of teaching—such as project-based learning and inquiry-based approaches—without anywhere near the resources or training available even to K-12 teachers, who also struggle to use these approaches well."

This is the third survey that Grantmakers for Education has conducted on the issue since 2004. The group invited 238 large and small philanthropies interested in out-of-school time (OST) programs to participate, with 40 percent responding. 

For the first time, the organization also conducted separate interviews with 18 leaders in the extended-learning field, from the Afterschool Alliance to the Partnership for Children and Youth.  The responses from both groups are being used as part of a strategic planning process for the OST Network, said Traphagen.

While there is a lot of agreement in what program leaders and funders each want for children, how to get there isn't so harmonious. OST as percent of grantmaking.jpgGrantees say they don't get enough money—or time—to allow their programs to grow and thrive. 

"That's always a tension," said Traphagen.  "What is the window allowed to prove or show benefits?"

She said many of the community-based organizations that run OST programs say traditional grant cycles are simply too short to give them time to develop other partnerships and build the long-term capacity they need to survive.

The bulk of the grants run from $10,000 to $95,000, and are typically given by family foundations to local organizations. It's not a terribly high priority for most foundations, the report says, usually representing about 20 percent of their budgets. 

"Many funders do not understand the cost of quality and why it's important," said one of the program experts interviewed for the report.

Foundations can do this by focusing less on individual programs and more on systemic efforts to improve quality by fostering partnerships to share effective practices, lessons learned, and assessments, said the extended learning time leaders interviewed for the report.

Priorities also vary. Foundations tend to value more tangible outcomes that can be evaluated by tests and other measures, according to the report. Two-thirds of them said they want their money to improve academic achievement. Increasing student engagement and promoting positive youth development came in second and a distant third.  Program leaders would like to see more emphasis on those life skills.

top priorities of grantmakers.jpg

They also want foundations to use their clout to get the expanded-learning-time experts a place at the education reform table. 

The field has "evolved over time to become more sophisticated," said Traphagen, adding that many people who run extended-learning-time programs believe that they have "a valuable perspective to bring to education reform." 

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