Top 10 Lessons From State Legislative Staff

Saskia TraillHosted by the National Conference of State Legislatures, I spent the weekend in sunny Tampa at a meeting with legislative staff who focus on education issues. Seventeen states were represented. We spent the weekend taking “A Look at the Research and Policy around Time and Learning,” considering how to use expanded learning opportunities to further state education goals. Presenters included TASC and many of our colleagues: PASA, RAND, National Center for Time and Learning, BELL, Citizen Schools, National Summer Learning Association, Child Trends, The Finance Project, and others.

At the end of the meeting, the legislative staff met in small groups and then recounted some of their takeaways after two days of talking about expanded learning. Here’s what I heard from them:

1. Local flexibility is key to designing effective and sustainable programs.

2. Staff are concerned about designing expanded learning models that are effective for districts that are rural and urban, large and small.

3. Many schools and school districts are struggling with school reform fatigue, creating potential resistance to new initiatives, no matter how promising.

4. It is critical for those outside the education system to be able to say to education leaders at all levels that initiatives will help meet accountability targets—that’s where the education leaders’ focus is, even as they are also committed to developing the whole child for success in college, career, and adulthood.

5. Poorly drafted legislation leads to uneven implementation and no demonstrated outcomes.

6. Staff reiterated the need for discussion among diverse stakeholders in their states, both across public agencies and among practitioners, to get the necessary buy-in for expanded learning.

7. Evaluations need to look at short-term gains to meet political timelines as well as long-term effects to understand the impact on children and families.

8. The political landscape in most states means priority should be placed on mapping out existing funds and looking for ways to use those funds in a more coordinated and effective way. (They loved our fiscal map!).

9. Designing state-level models that allow for incremental changes towards a larger goal allows for innovation in a tough political climate.

10. It’s clear the real question is not how to extend time, but how to remove the clock so that kids are learning throughout the day, everywhere.

The event was funded by The Wallace Foundation. Thanks to them for allowing this interesting discussion.