Voices in Education

The False Debate Over In-School and Out-of-School Time
Over the past few months, education policy wonks have engaged in a debate over the relative importance of in-school and out-of-school factors in student success. The debate was symbolized by two manifestos, coincidentally released on successive days in June.

One group, called the Education Equality Project and led by Joel Klein, the chancellor of New York City’s schools and the Rev. Al Sharpton, focused squarely on schools. This group called for stronger accountability for student results--including holding teachers accountable for improving learning. The EEP noted that schools have demonstrated that they can succeed with students from low-income homes, as Karin Chenoweth showed in her book, “It’s Being Done.”

Another group, calling for a “Broader, Bolder Approach to Education,” emphasized that schools alone cannot close achievement gaps. This group, led by Helen Ladd of Duke University, Pedro Noguera of New York University, and Thomas Payzant of the Harvard Graduate School of Education, called for investments in early-childhood education, out-of-school learning supports, and health services in addition to school improvement efforts.

A third group, calling for a “Community Agenda,” joined the debate in September. This group, closer to the Broader, Bolder approach, stressed the need for school-community partnerships to support student learning in and out of school. One of the signers of the Community Agenda was Randi Weingarten, the new president of the American Federation of Teachers, who called for community schools--in which schools provide services for children and families--in her inaugural address to the union in July.

The debate, which has gotten heated at times, is in many ways a false one. Many schools that succeed with low-income students provide services outside of the traditional school day--extended-day and after-school programs, health and social supports for children and families, classes for adults and much more. And the advocates of community and out-of-school supports recognize the centrality of schools in student learning.

The key is a system that effectively links high-functioning schools with out-of-school supports. Now, in most places, such links are ad hoc and most likely to be accessed by those with the knowledge and wherewithal to navigate their way through them--another reason students from more affluent families tend to out-perform their low-income peers.

What would such a system look like? In City Schools: How Districts and Communities Can Create Smart Education Systems, my colleagues and I describe some of the components of such a system and show nascent examples in Dallas, Chattanooga, New York, and other places. Yet questions remain:
  • How do school-community partnerships hold one another accountable for their role in improving student outcomes?
  • How can existing efforts expand to provide services and supports at scale, so that all children and families can benefit?
  • How can city agencies and community organizations negotiate the power dynamics that often stymie potential partnerships?
And more. What do you think? Is this a worthy approach? How would you answer these questions? How can we get started?

About the Author: Robert Rothman is a principal associate at the Annenberg Institute for School Reform at Brown University and the editor of its journal, Voices in Urban Education.