From After School Learning to Extended Learning Time: The Evolution of The After School Corporation/ExpandED (Part 1 of 2)

Since its founding in 1998 as The After-School Corporation (TASC), ExpandED has focused on leveraging “out of school learning” to improve underserved students’ experiences and outcomes in schools.  Along the way, ExpandED helped to establish a network and infrastructure for afterschool programs in New York City. The organization’s shift from TASC to ExpandED marked a mission to advance an extended learning time model that integrates community-based partners—and, learning experiences aimed at a more holistic development of the child’s socio-emotional skills and personal interests—into the school day. Throughout its evolution, ExpandED has both shaped and been shaped by the growing interest and support for expanded learning time in the US.  As part of a continuing series of posts documenting the development of a variety of education-related organizations in the US as well as in other countries, we talked with ExpandED President Lucy Friedman, Vice President of Programs Chris Whipple, Senior Director of Program Support Rashida Ladner-Seward, and Senior Director of Research Katie Brohawn to get their perspectives on the early work of TASC, the current efforts of ExpandedED, and what they see as the next steps for expanded learning time.


Creating an infrastructure for learning afterschool (TASC 1998-2008)

Founded in 1998, TASC sought to respond to what they saw as a critical problem: only 1% of New York City’s 1.1 million students attended an after-school program, indicating an opportunity gap between more affluent, well-connected students, and students with little access to educational opportunities beyond the school day.  To address this problem, the Open Society Foundations provided a five-year, $125 million challenge grant to help TASC achieve two key goals:

“1) change public policy to make high-quality after-school options accessible to every New York City child

 2) establish a sustainable, scalable model for comprehensive, daily after-school programming”

While the objectives were oriented to educational opportunities beyond the school day, TASC saw its support for the development of afterschool programs as a means of influencing learning in schools as well. For example, in those early years, TASC partnered with Project Zero to introduce a more holistic, project-based approach to afterschool programs.  The hope was that those activities might serve as a model and inspiration for similar work during the regular school day.


A nimble approach to spandrels of opportunity

However, the passage of No Child Left Behind in 2001, shortly after TASC launched this initiative, created both a challenge and opportunity for TASC. On the one hand, it would be harder to have a trickle-down effect on learning during the school day, as partner schools felt pressure to focus directly on improving ELA and math scores. On the other hand, the emphasis on tested subject areas during school led to increased demand for afterschool programs. As Lucy Friedman explained, “a lot of principals valued us even more because they valued the arts and sports and knew kids needed that and they weren’t getting it.” Shifting their message, TASC stressed that their afterschool model could provide academic enrichment, arts and other extracurricular activities that schools were having more and more difficulty carrying out during the regular school day.


Creating the conditions conducive to its goals

To build wider access to meaningful and productive arts-based and extracurricular activities, TASC envisioned itself as a systems architect rather than a direct services provider.  As a consequence, while TASC did launch a few afterschool programs itself, its early emphasis was on capacity building and advocacy. In that role, TASC focused on identifying areas of strength and weakness in the infrastructure for after-school programming. Friedman noted that New York City had some obvious strengths as a place for TASC to carry out its mission: it had “a wealth of community organizations that had a lot of strengths, and stability, and high standards and systems.” Nonetheless, TASC identified and sought to address three primary areas of weakness including access to funding sources, professional development, and opportunities for collaboration.


Increasing funding for afterschool activities

To increase access to funding, TASC deliberately sought to raise money from both private and public sources.  In its first year of operation, in 2000, TASC matched its initial challenge grant 3 to 1 with grants from private philanthropies like the Wallace, Ford, Robin Hood, and Mott Foundations and with government funding from the New York City Department of Education, New York City Department of Youth and Community Development, and United States Department Of Education 21st Century Community Learning Centers  TASC also developed organizational offshoots, such as New York State Afterschool Network (NYSAN) and New York State’s Advantage After School Program to advocate for more funding in the field and to help consolidate funding streams, which TASC then used to provides grants for schools and community-based organizations to create after-school programming. TASC describes New York State’s Advantage After School Program, as “a dedicated funding stream that provided matching funds for after-school services based on TASC’s model for high-quality, school-based services involving a strong school-community partnership.” By requiring its own grantees to match TASC’s dollars by at least 3 to 1 and providing assistance to help grantees apply for local, state, and federal grants TASC helped to spur public investment in after-school programming, reaching a ratio of approximately six public dollars for every private dollar raised.


Building an “industry” of afterschool support

TASC also provided advice and technical assistance directly to support the development of a number of mission-aligned after school related initiatives.  These included New York State’s Extended School Day/ School Violence Prevention program, New York City’s Out-of-School Time Initiative, New York City Summer Quest, and the U.S. Department of Education’s 21st Century Community Learning Centers (whose continued funding has been a source of debate in the current US budget talks). In addition, in 2004, TASC incubated the National Coalition for Science After School, with a focus on piloting and developing effective models for after-school STEM programs.


In order to try to reach a larger group of organizations, TASC also helped to establish a variety of professional development opportunities.  As Friedman noted, at the time of TASC’s founding, there was little training available for community-based and afterschool educators. However, along with the Partnership for After School Education, TASC contributed to the emergence of what Friedman called “a new industry.” While TASC provided technical assistance on topics such as budget alignment, grant writing, partnerships with schools, and data management, university partners and the National Institute on Out-of-School Time helped to create professional development opportunities in areas such as effective learning environments and teaching styles, classroom and program management, and serving students with special needs.  Notably, these professional development offerings created differentiated learning opportunities to meet the needs of many of those involved in afterschool education including site directors, program leaders, program educators and staff.  Reflecting the expansion of support for the development of personnel and expertise throughout the sector, training even extended to include high school students working as counselors and assistants in summer and after-school programs.  While these initial efforts helped to develop key aspects of the infrastructure for afterschool programing, as Rashida Ladner-Seward emphasized, this capacity-building work also sent a strong message about the value of afterschool education and the professional nature of the work in which afterschool educators are engaged.


Providing research and advocacy

TASC also worked directly to create more supportive conditions for afterschool education by engaging in a variety of advocacy activities both in New York City and nationally.  For example, TASC helped establish the New York State Afterschool Network (NYSAN) which TASC considered “essential for keeping frontline practitioners and youth developers in constant conversation with state lawmakers and agency staff.” Noting increasing public desire for afterschool programs across the country, Ladner-Seward noted that the demand for capacity-building organizations like TASC was growing outside New York as well. TASC responded to that demand by advising on projects like the design of New Jersey After 3, the first state-wide, state-sponsored network of after-school programs in the nation. Nationally, TASC contributed to the development of the Afterschool Alliance, a nonprofit dedicated to building public awareness and advocating for policies in support of afterschool programs across the country.


TASC also advanced this advocacy work by sponsoring research and evaluations to explore the impact of afterschool programs.  This focus on research had several benefits. For one thing, the research provided information that the programs could use to make improvements. Research and evaluations also provided opportunities to try to develop tools and measures that went beyond a traditional focus on academics.  At the same time, by attending to both traditional and other outcome measures, the research and evaluations helped to demonstrate the value of afterschool programs both as part of the school day and as valuable in their own right.


From TASC’s perspective, this research and advocacy work both helped to attract further funding to the afterschool sector and helped to provide the impetus for New York City’s Out-of-School Time initiative in 2005. With the establishment of this initiative, NYC announced its public support for and commitment to a system of after-school, holiday, and summer extracurricular opportunities for the city’s students, investing $200 million and providing over 600 programs free of cost to more than 80,000 students by 2008 (up from 50,000 students in the initiative’s initial year). The announcement coincided with Lights on Afterschool!, an annual event run by the Afterschool Alliance to create awareness of the importance of these programs. Chris Whipple recalls this event as “a moment of celebration and reflection,” as many of TASC’s goals for a system-wide network of after-school opportunities were institutionalized by the City. OST continued beyond the first three years of the initiative, rebranding itself in 2014 as the Comprehensive After School System of New York City (COMPASS NYC). As of 2016, COMPASS served nearly one million NYC students through over 900 programs.


*We will post the second part of this piece next week.

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