By Sam Piha
The California Office to Reform Education (CORE) is a collaborative effort between 8 of California’s largest school districts to improve educational outcomes for students. They are working together to integrate practices that support social emotional learning (SEL) and character building. They are being assisted by the Partnership for Children and Youth (PCY) to do this in a way that includes the whole school – the classroom as well as their afterschool programs.
We asked Katie Brackenridge, Vice President of Programs at PCY, about this work. Katie and PCY is part of the Expanded Learning 360°/365 project. Below are her responses to our interview questions.
Q: Can you tell us more about the CORE Districts?
A: The CORE Districts came together around a successful waiver application from No Child Left Behind (NCLB) requirements that included the development of an innovative accountability system with 40% based on growth in SEL outcomes and school climate indicators, and the other 60% based on academic indicators. (Here’s a helpful infographic about CORE.) As part of this system, they created and implemented SEL outcomes in the 8 districts – that have been part of a sometimes heated national conversation about how and why to use SEL outcome measures… but that’s another topic.
PCY was very excited about CORE’s interest in SEL because we have always felt that school districts and expanded learning programs should work more closely together to support better outcomes for kids. However, in the NCLB world, any chances for alignment seemed only to be about improving test scores and getting homework done. In our view, those weren’t authentic reasons to collaborate because a) test scores and homework are dubious goals in and of themselves; b) strictly academic work is not the best fit for the uncredentialed afterschool teaching staff; and c) most importantly, those types of results completely ignore the incredible assets and resources that expanded learning programs and staff DO bring to the table in terms of caring relationships, supportive environments, meaningful learning opportunities… in short the Learning in Afterschool & Summer (LIAS) principles.
When the CORE districts started talking about SEL outcomes like Self-Management, Social Awareness, Self-Efficacy, and Growth Mindset, we recognized an opportunity for authentic partnership around the types of outcomes that align well with youth development strategies and the practices defined by the California Quality Standards for Expanded Learning Programs. In other words, staff who are focused on relationships, positive learning environments and engaging skill building will support and motivate students to manage their behavior, interact positively with peers and adults, care about their learning and believe in their own success.
When we talked to the CORE office about this partnership, they were excited about the possibilities. After all, the CORE districts hold about $220 million of California’s $700 million in expanded learning funding. So, there is natural synergy and resource for the districts and expanded learning programs to partner around.
Q: SEL and character building have increasingly been deemed as important for afterschool programs and in-school learning. How do you account for this? What changes brought SEL to the forefront?
A: I would echo what a previous blogger, Mary Hurley from OUSD, said. It has to do with the convergence of several education policies:
– Common Core implementation – which requires and reinforces SEL in students – and also resulted in the suspension of STAR testing in CA;
– The Local Control Funding Formula – which includes student engagement, school climate, Common Core in educational priorities;
– Federal ESSA guidelines – which include a fifth non-academic accountability measure.
Together, these policies signal that schools need to start working differently with students and prioritizing a broader set of outcomes for student success.
Q: What specifically is PCY doing to assist the CORE Districts in promoting SEL? What form is this taking on the ground – things that students and/or families would experience?
A: The Expanded Learning 360°/365 (360 degrees of a child/365 days of the year) Professional Learning Community (PLC) launched in January 2015, with funding from the Bechtel Foundation. It includes 6 CORE districts (Los Angeles, San Francisco, Oakland, Sacramento, Santa Ana, Fresno) and 3 other districts (San Rafael, San Leandro and Visalia). The purpose is to better align SEL practices across the school day and expanded learning so that students have a consistently positive SEL experience from 8 am to 6 pm and through the year. The districts put together teams of 3 to 8 participants that include school-day and expanded learning representatives. The PLC meets quarterly to share practices and explore new ideas. Each team has an action plan and an assigned consultant to support their action plan implementation. We purposely included 3 non-CORE districts to see how the work would be different in districts without an SEL mandate. The CORE Office sends a representative to every PLC meeting to provide updates about CORE efforts and to learn about expanded learning opportunities (ELO)/school day alignment efforts.
It’s been far more impactful work than we expected. Many of the relationships between ELO and school day staff are new, even when people were just sitting down the hall from each other. They’ve learned so much about each other’s approaches and have taken concrete steps (for example, shared professional development, aligned observation tools, district-wide PLCs on SEL, new accountability frameworks for administrators, getting school leaders to champion SEL and ELO) to better align their strategies. There is, of course, so much more to do, but the district teams are very excited about what they’ve already accomplished.
A critical next step is getting practice to change at the site level. Some of the 360°/365 districts have already been able to do this through staff development and quality improvement at the site level. San Leandro, for example, put significant effort into including the Boys and Girls Club staff in district professional development around SEL, and they introduced a new site observation tool that is helping afterschool staff understand the connection between quality afterschool practices and SEL.
As this work continues, students should experience more consistency around the practices that teachers and afterschool staff are implementing, and the hope is that these practices will be better. It’s very much about continuing and deepening the quality improvement work that afterschool programs are already doing – under their California Department of Education (CDE) grant requirements.
Q: There are a number of terms (non-cognitive skills, growth mindsets, etc.), lists, and frameworks that are synonymous with SEL. Is there a specific list or framework that you use in your work with the CORE Districts?
A: We worked with stakeholders from across California to create the 360°/365 framework – see Student Success Comes Full Circle – that specifically identifies 6 outcomes that expanded learning programs are particularly well-suited to support. These are grouped in 3 buckets:
With input from our district partners, we recently adapted these buckets to “We are, We belong, We can” which represents a more collectivist, rather than individualist, approach to the world. We’ve also been completely flexible with the 360°/365 districts, allowing them to use the SEL framework that works for their existing systems. The CASEL districts use that framework and the CORE districts focus on their four outcomes. For us, the important thing is clarity around the outcomes they are trying to reach so that strategies and practices can be intentionally aligned.
All of this is exciting work, particularly seeing how districts are willing and able to build relationships across traditionally siloed work areas and learn from each other. There’s a lot of commitment, energy and big visions in these districts.
Katie Brackenridge is Vice President of Programs at the Partnership for Children and Youth. She oversees direct technical assistance to Bay Area after school and summer learning programs, managing efforts to improve the quality of programming and the infrastructure that supports programs. Katie also develops policy recommendations and advises decision-makers about policies related to challenges and opportunities found in the field. As part of this role, she oversees Expanded Learning 360°/365, which helps districts coordinate their social-emotional learning strategies across the school day and expanded learning time. She also oversees the Summer Matters campaign, a statewide effort to expand and improve summer learning programs across the state. As co-chair of the California Afterschool Network’s Quality Committee, she works with the California Department of Education to provide advice about CDE’s role in improving the quality of expanded learning programs.
Sam Piha is the founder and principal of Temescal Associates, a consulting group dedicated to building the capacity of leaders and organizations in education and youth development.