Thursday, February 26, 2015

Expanded Learning, SB 1221, and More: An Interview with Michael Funk, California After School Division Director (Part 1)

By Sam Piha

Sam Piha
California's afterschool and summer learning movement has evolved under the new leadership of Tom Torlakson, California Superintendent of Public Instruction, and Michael Funk, Director of the After School Division. Below is part 1 of an interview we conducted with Michael Funk. You can read part 2 of this interview on the LIAS website/blog.

You can view a brief video of Michael's remarks at the recent How Kids Learn IV conference by clicking here. You can also view a video of an interview with Tom Torlakson on Learning in Afterschool & Summer by clicking here

Michael Funk, Director
After School Division, CDE

Q: The term “expanded learning” is used differently by different people in different parts of the country. Can you give your definition of “expanded learning time and programs”?

The California Department of Education defines expanded learning as "Before and after school, summer, and intersession learning programs that develop the academic, social, emotional, and physical needs and interests of students. Expanded learning opportunities should be hands-on, engaging, student-centered, results-driven, involve community partners, and complement learning activities in the regular school day/year."

Q: In your mind what is the difference between the terms “expanded learning” and “extended learning”?

This is a discussion that continually takes place because for those of us in the expanded learning movement, we see a large difference between those two. Extended learning is sometimes viewed in a negative way because it typically refers to doing more of what the students have been experiencing all day, more time in traditional classroom settings.

Expanded learning really means expanding the opportunities and the way kids learn, not just more of what they’re experiencing for most of the day. Even if what they’re experiencing during the school day is high quality and kids are learning, that doesn’t mean more of it in a longer day is effective. We all know that kids and adults need the type of learning experiences described by the 
Learning in Afterschool & Summer (LIAS) learning principles and demonstrated in quality expanded learning programs - learning that also complements what happens during the school day.

Q: Are you hoping that the field begins using "expanded learning" programs to replace "afterschool and summer" programs?

 Yes. You’ll see that in our statewide strategic plan it is an expanded learning plan, and in our vision statement it talks about California’s expanded learning programs.  So to the extent that it’s helpful, we are trying to use that phrase.  But we also have to be mindful that if we’re trying to communicate to parents or people who are not familiar with the term "expanded learning," the brand that is recognizable is still afterschool and summer programs.

Q: The California legislature recently passed 
SB 1221, which focuses on ASES, ASSETs, and California’s 21st Century Learning Centers.  What do you believe are the most important changes as a result of this passage?

I think there are two significant shifts. The first is that SB 1221 takes out some accountability language for outcomes that were not really effective in driving or even measuring quality for expanded learning programs. This bill replaces the old accountability outcomes with a requirement that every program conduct an annual, data driven, quality improvement process based on California’s newly-released Quality Standards for expanded learning. For those of us that have been afterschool practitioners for decades we know the incredible value of the cycle of quality improvement as one of the characteristics of a high quality program. In essence SB 1221 is laying the groundwork for programs to do this across the state. Many high quality programs already do this in some way. This emphasis on the Quality Standards and emerging and existing tools can help them think of a way to do this process with more intent and even better results.  

The second important change is that SB 1221 really incentivizes year-round programming in a variety of ways. 

The mechanics of both of these changes are in the process of being worked out, but those are the primary features.  There are some other features that deal with data collection and a biennial report to the legislature. There are also some very specific, targeted pieces to benefit very remote, rural programs related to minimum grant size and transportation funding assistance.
Michael Funk, a practitioner and policy advocate for after-school programs in California, is the Director of the After School Division at the California Department of Education. Before joining CDE, Michael was the Founder and Director for 16 years of the Sunset Neighborhood Beacon Center in San Francisco, a program of Aspiranet, a human services and after-school provider. He was also Director of Aspiranet's After School, Youth, and Community Development Division. Funk received a Bachelor of Arts degree in Education from Northwest Nazarene College in Nampa, Idaho.

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