By Nina Agrawal, Policy and Communications Coordinator, CBASS
What does it take to build a city-wide system of after-school programs that meet a high standard for effectiveness?
In its latest publication, Building Citywide Systems for Quality: A Guide and Case Studies for Afterschool Leaders, the Forum for Youth Investment (FYI) looks at the experiences of six cities, including Austin and New York, in building systems devoted to improving program quality.
On a webinar co-sponsored by The Wallace Foundation, National League of Cities, Forum for Youth Investment, and the Collaborative for Building After-School Systems (CBASS), presenters discussed common elements of these city-wide quality improvement systems, including:
1) A shared definition of quality. There should be agreement within and across organizations about what constitutes high quality and common language used to reflect that standard.
2) A focus on continuous improvement. In contrast to traditional accountability methods such as publicizing ratings and making funding contingent on performance, a continuous improvement approach sets a standard for high-quality performance, makes use of an assessment tool, and offers aligned supports for improvement such as planning, coaching and training.
3) Information system(s). The quality improvement system can only be effective if it leverages relevant data from assessments, participation tracking, and student outcomes.
The process of building a quality improvement system can be divided into three stages: forming a work plan and engaging stakeholders; designing and building support for a continuous improvement model; and adjusting, expanding and sustaining the system. These resources provide a wealth of help:
- Building Citywide Systems for Quality: A Guide and Case Studies for Afterschool Leaders describes the elements and stages of quality improvement systems.
- From the National Collaboration for Youth, A Shared Vision for Youth: Common Outcomes and Indicators.
- The RAND Corporation, in Tough Times, Tough Choices in After-School Funding: Pathways to Protecting Quality, notes how building quality can help sustain investments.
- Measuring Youth Program Quality: A Guide to Assessment Tools describes the New York State Afterschool Network quality self-assessment tool, adapted by the New York City Department of Youth and Community Development for use in program evaluation, and nine other tools.
- AfterZones: Creating a Citywide System to Support and Sustain High-Quality After-School Programs, a study by Public/Private Ventures and The Wallace Foundation, examines the strategies used by a citywide system in Providence to engage and retain middle-school youth, ensure high program quality, and sustain program activities over the long term.
- CBASS and FYI highlight the value of adopting common youth-, program- and system-level measures for quality and impact in Speaking in One Voice.
- A Policy Studies Associates, Inc. report evaluates the first three years of the New York City Department of Community and Youth Development’s Out-of-School Time initiative (PDF, 452 KB)—in particular, the associations among program quality, youth participation, and youth outcomes. An earlier report presents the results of DYCD and partner efforts to increase program quality and scale (PDF, 373 KB).