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New York City
June 2002

After-School Programs: Lively Exchange at Open Society Institute
By Joan Baum

The After-School Corporation (TASC), in just four brief years has moved to the forefront of one of the country's most concerted efforts to reform public school supplementary education. Since its initial funding in the form of a challenge grant by George Soros' Open Society Institute, TASC, has managed to attract public and private money, wide parental and community involvement, and the increasing attention of education administrators and lawmakers across the state. In New York City alone TASC is already part of 150 schools. The goal, says TASC president Lucy Friedman, is to expand “in the shortest time possible” into every public elementary, middle and high school district, and sustain “high quality” programs.

This first Conference on Supplementary Education, which took place recently and was co-sponsored by Teachers College at Columbia University and The College Board, drew an impressive array of prominent educators, researchers, and political leaders. It could not have come at a more timely juncture for the city. As keynote speaker Alan Gartner, the Mayor's Director of Policy Research told Education Update, “we don't have many more turns at bat.” He noted that his title has no adjective or parenthesis. “Research” for the Mayor means research into education, which is “at the top of his agenda” and is directly related to welfare reform and a “whole range of other serious issues” before the new administration.

The Associate Commissioner of Education for the State of New York, Sheila Evans-Tranum, tapped the same theme. This is a “critical time,” she told conference participants, “an age of accountability.” If we cannot show improvement in the performance of children, we will not get funding, we will not be able to move ahead. In effect, she was saying that without demonstrated progress in students' academic performance, public schools would not be able to compete with the growing number of private and alternative schools. As Lucy Friedman pointed out in her welcoming address, parents are choosing to send their students to schools that have after-school programs, increasingly seen as central in efforts to improve academic performance. Putting considerations about the presidential message aside, Gartner told Education Update, President Bush's message “leave no child behind,” was a significant statement, an expression of commitment to education “that has not been heard since the days of Lyndon Johnson.”

Like others around the conference table, the Commissioner defended the use of the term, “supplementary education,” recognizing its vagueness and even unfortunate connotation as something less than essential (some participants said they preferred the term “continuous” or “seamless” day). It was Edmund W. Gordon, Director of the Institute for Urban and Minority Education, and Professor Emeritus of Teachers College and Yale, whose “vision” it was that there be such a conference, who, with measured passion, distinguished the term. “We don't want to supplant public schools but supplement them.”

But how? Refreshingly, participants, who had read the conference papers in advance, were respectfully frank and critical. There was no disagreement, however, on why supplementary education was important. After-school programs function typically from 3-6 p.m., a time that coincides with two dire facts: a) this is a high-crime period for kids, “the kids themselves say this,” Lucy Friedman noted; they're alone, hanging out, without supervision at home; and b) for disadvantaged kids particularly, a typical school day has wasted hours. As Irving Hamer, Manhattan member of the Board of Education and its technology czar pointed out, students are in school 12 percent of the day and sleeping 33 percent. So, what's going on with that remaining 55 percent? What might go on? And what should go on that will not compete with what the Internet or private corporations such as Kaplan have been providing for years?

Semantics aside, participants agreed, the substantive disagreement over the meaning of “supplemental education” turns on how one defines need. The poorest schools the Comm-issioner noted, are not necessarily those whose students have the poorest academic performance. Still, there is no denying the connection and the “severe gap” in New York State between rich and poor in all senses and the extent to which richer schools can afford supplemental education. Enter TASC. But money isn't everything. As Jeanne Pryor, Assistant Superintendent for the Montclair Public Schools observed, well trained teachers and tutors are critical to the success of any after-school program which includes, not just supplemental instruction in reading and math, but engagement witý those aspects of a child's life that are rarely dealt with any more in the schools or at home: art, sports, citizenship. Teacher turnover, however, in after-school programs, is about 50 percent” staff cannot stay after 3:00 pm; many of them are in school themselves.

It was the district Superintendent Carmen Fari“a who prompted some of the headiest discussion. Once students leave, after their 5th or 6th period, she pointed out, they won't come back. How will an extended 9 or 10-period day have value if it continues what has gone before? Case in point: if language acquisition is key, how do we model an after-school program if we provide those in need only with the company of others with the same need? Like groups of disadvantaged students preclude peer mentors and role models. Case in point #2 was made in effect by Gartner as he wondered what difference could be made if a seamless day merely fused inadequate onto inadequate? The core structure may need to be changed more than the length of the day, he told Education Update.

Other participants, other questions followed. What constitutes an acceptable after-school site? What if church-related facilities do not want to provide sex education? As Ed Gordon challenged, what partners should TASC have, how do we engage them, what are the benefits, the drawbacks? The research is coming in. The second TASC Conference is bound to be as lively as the first.#

Education Update, Inc., P.O. Box 20005, New York, NY 10001.
Tel: (212) 481-5519. Fax: (212) 481-3919.Email: ednews1@aol.com.
All material is copyrighted and may not be printed without express consent of the publisher. © 2002.