his is the first in a series of three blog posts written by students in the Urban Education Policy program cohort who completed research projects in the summer of 2017.
Part 1: New Bedford Housing Authority: A Logic Model for Effective After-School Programming
Charlie Thompson, Steven Tedeschi, Zachary Charette, and Esther Rhie are master’s degree candidates in the UEP program.
A major goal of education reforms is to address longstanding race- and class-based gaps in academic achievement. Increasingly, education stakeholders have reframed these gaps as opportunity gaps rather than achievement gaps.
To address structural disparities in resources that undermine the chances of success in historically disadvantaged communities, many initiatives have arisen that aim to supplement missing foundational academic skills and school readiness. After-school programming has emerged as a key means to address the consequences of these systemic inequities.
About Our Study
Amid this push for after-school engagement and out-of-school supports, the New Bedford Public Schools (NBPS) collaborated with over 20 community partners, including the New Bedford Housing Authority (NBHA), to help advance these initiatives. The NBHA then approached the Urban Education Policy program (UEP) at Brown University to create a logic model to guide them in their pursuit of an after-school program that could serve as an exemplar for academic support systems embedded within housing authorities.
The NBHA sought to implement evidence-based practices around data analysis and management and then select an evaluation tool that would allow them to scaffold their after-school educational programming with fidelity. Our team aimed to answer the question: What makes an after-school program effective for a New Bedford student? Our study combined a review of the literature with our own qualitative research, drawing from interview data collected from key people within the NBPS and NBHA.
The Importance of Building Social-Emotional Skills in the School Setting
We found that the measures that best targeted the needs of a population with a high number of English language learners from disadvantaged socioeconomic backgrounds were those that increase curricular alignment, teach explicit social-emotional skills, provide authentic family outreach, and engage in effective evaluation. The interviews revealed the push for NBPS to increase its focus on social-emotional learning (SEL) frameworks and bring these into the scope and sequence of the curriculum and school culture.
District leaders also identified this need and began to include core social-emotional values on student report cards, starting in elementary schools. Teachers and principals in the district agreed that normalizing SEL skill building was essential for NBPS, and school walkthroughs conducted by the research team demonstrated the school’s efforts to connect with the community. Throughout the school, evidence abounded of best practices, including multilingual literature, formal parent engagement spaces, and a fully operational parent resource center accessible to families within the school and throughout the school day. Parents connected with school personnel at school-based parent group meetings.
Applying the Findings to After-School Programming
The school district’s new efforts in this area could serve as a benchmark for our recommendations to NBHA. In contrast to these positive emerging SEL scaffolds, our team discovered that much of the existing NBHA after-school program design was less structured and more informal, suggesting that the NBHA had not yet clearly defined an after-school program framework. The absence of this fundamental structure challenged the creation of a substantive, shared understanding of the agency’s overall vision for its youth programming.
By clarifying, cultivating, and targeting this vision, the NBHA would have the capacity to elevate academic alignment, family engagement, and accountability structures within the after-school program. We found that the most effective way to help NBHA’s programmatic framework achieve the holistic success found in other communities would be to incorporate the evidence-based approaches of quality implementation shared in the literature review, along with data collected from future community outreach and feedback.
Our summer partnership with the NBHA encountered a few key challenges that limited the scope and potential of our impact. Limited resources were the central limitation, stemming from both the short time of the summer session and the lack of fiscal capacity and human capital within the organization itself. The concentrated time allotted for the summer practicum constrained our ability to collect multifaceted qualitative data that was truly reflective of the practices implemented by the NBHA afterschool partners. Likewise, a conference at the same time limited the availability of our NBHA point of contact.
With regards to fiscal capacity and human capital, we found that the strategic opportunity of engaging with wraparound services and existing support systems is emerging as a set of best practices throughout Massachusetts, yet the built-in information silos limit institutional capacity of these agencies. The desire to partner is there, but some of the infrastructures for information sharing are still emerging.
Looking Ahead: Strong Partnership Potential
The NBHA can only take advantage of these opportunities if they have people in place to both spearhead these efforts and undertake the training to use these resources to their full potential. The NBHA has a solid foundation of community engagement and visibility throughout the schools. This foundation has the potential to become a streamlined feedback loop, in which NBPS best practices and student data are used to inform instruction in the after-school program and NBPS teachers and administrators collaborate with NBHA to gather feedback and monitor the program’s development. A dearth of resources, however, significantly impacts the NBHA’s potential for implementation, despite the organization’s strong community ties and prioritization of best practices for the community.
Our research and experience with the NBHA highlighted the strong desire to collaborate with school districts that exists within non-educational agencies. There is also a clear potential, especially for social service providers, to offer educational supports for students outside of the classroom. The challenge for educators, policy-makers, and non-educational public service providers is determining how best to formally create these partnerships and ensuring that each stakeholder possesses the capacity to contribute effectively to these efforts.
Imperative in this approach will be the framing of partnership development around a mindset of opportunity rather than one of deficit: each partner agency must ask what it can and will do to increase and enhance access to learning for the students in the community who stand to reap the greatest benefit, often English learners and students living in poverty. Improving this work will also require asking who in this framework will represent the collective voice of the parents and community, a commonly underrepresented cohort.