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New Guide to Help Cities Improve After-School Programs

A new guide to help cities and communities improve their after-school programs through a systemic approach has been released by the Forum for Youth Investment, a think tank based here in Washington that focuses on preparing children to be college- and career-ready.

The report, commissioned by the Wallace Foundation, offers guidance to out-of-school programs in a self-evaluation process that helps their leaders target strengths and weaknesses and develop improvement plans to raise quality in a cost-effective way. (The Wallace Foundation also underwrites coverage in Education Week of expanded and extended learning time.)

For the approach, known as a "quality improvement system" (QIS), cities and other intermediaries form a network with out-of-school staff, a strategy based on research the forum conducted in six cities/communities in the U.S.: Atlanta; New York; Chicago; Austin, Texas; Palm Beach County, Fla.; and Hampden County, Mass. They are profiled in the report.

"Community leaders are drawn to improving quality because higher-quality programs will mean better experiences for kids and because quality is uneven across and even within after-school programs," said Nicole Yohalem, the forum's director of special projects and lead author of the guide in a press release.

I interviewed Nicole this past year for a story I wrote on improving professional development and quality of out-of-school staff. Another staffer at the forum, Charles Smith, who works as the executive director at its David P. Weikart Center for Youth Program Quality, which developed the program-quality model, served as a guest on my accompanying webinar.

The report comes alongside increasing attention to how localities can affect and improve education quality for students, from new, emerging partnerships to the community schools movement to alternative sources of school funding. The Wallace Foundation has also looked in the past at other citywide efforts to better out-of-school programs.

The Providence After School Alliance in Rhode Island is one such example of a citywide effort to provide high-quality after-school opportunities. Research found Providence's model improved both academic and social outcomes for students enrolled in its AfterZones, "campuses" that include schools and community facilities where students attend after-school programs.

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