Thursday, February 26, 2015

New Quality Standards, Program Improvement, and LIAS Learning Principles: An Interview with Michael Funk, California After School Division Director (Part 2)

By Sam Piha

Sam Piha
The 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 2 of an interview we conducted with Michael Funk. 

You can view a video that reviews the new California Quality Standards for Expanded Learning Programs by clicking hereYou can view a brief video of Michael's remarks at the recent How Kids Learn IV conference by clicking hereYou can also view a video of an interview with Tom Torlakson on Learning in Afterschool & Summer by clicking here

Michael Funk
After School Division
Q: The new expanded learning Quality Standards have been released by CDE. How are you hoping that the field of school-based afterschool programs respond to this list of standards?

A: I have already seen a very encouraging response as I have gone out to different programs and different parts of the state over the past few months and have had conversations and conducted workshops with program leaders about the new Quality Standards. We have been clear about what the standards are and the intended use of the standards. 

Leaders who have been in this work a long time have described the new Quality Standards as affirming, validating, and exciting. Many have exclaimed, “Now we really know that what we believe is important is also important to the California Department of Education.”  What I hope for is that these standards will be embraced and they will be welcomed, not as an intimidating compliance measure but rather, as a welcome framework for continuous improvement and quality. I also hope that the way programs engage with those standards will actually be organic and from the bottom up. Whatever we can do from CDE to support and give guidance on how sites are in compliance with the continuous improvement process would be just that, guidance and encouragement, and that the real driver for adopting and embracing these Quality Standards would be at the ground level.

Q: Programs are asked to use data to develop program improvement efforts that are in line with the new Quality Standards.  What kind of data gathering tools are you hoping that programs use?

A: We’re in the midst of trying to figure that out now.  In fact, in the next couple of months we’ll be working on a draft of the guidance for implementation of SB 1221, which includes the answer to that very question.  But I can tell you that intent of the language of the bill was that local decisions, communicated to CDE staff, would be our goal. We could offer examples of tools that we feel are relevant, but there are also a variety of other approaches. One program might use a very sophisticated tool. However, another small program with a small number of students and a small amount of funding might use another less sophisticated tool. There are different ways to do surveys and focus groups with students and parents and pull together information with the standards as the framework for that conversation. And so it could range widely, but there will most likely be a process where the grantees will communicate to us in advance their plan and what data they plan to use. We’ll have a chance to see what the trends are and what tools programs are finding most helpful. 

Q: How will your department consider ensuring that there’s education opportunities for programs to learn more about these new Quality Standards and processes for data-driven assessment to help drive program alignment to these standards?

A: One of our four strategic initiatives is to overhaul the system of support, as we know it. I’m hopeful that through the process we will be able to really target experiences, ranging from workshops to onsite coaching, that really help programs to engage in an authentic and effective cycle of quality improvement. There are plans to do regional-based conferences that will be focused on the standards and the implementation of SB1221, including the continuous improvement process. We will use targeted funding and ask those in our system of support to fully address this in their work plans. Over the past couple of years our regional teams, which include County Office of Education Regional Leads and CDE staff, have developed a data-driven process to identify sites that are struggling and at risk of low attendance. Using the Quality Standards in a quality improvement process will be one of the primary technical assistance strategies that these teams will use with those sites.

Q: You have been a strong supporter of the Learning in Afterschool & Summer learning principles.  How do you see these reflected in your visits around the state and in the Quality Standards? 

A: The group that pulled together the Quality Standards, which included Temescal Associates, agreed at the onset that the LIAS principles would be embedded and foundational to these new standards.  You don’t see them listed as you see them listed on the postcard with five in a row, but they are definitely there and foundational to the standards. 

As I visit different regions and talk to large groups of grantees, I explain that the standards are not meant to replace the LIAS principles. You need to think of both of them as part of the same mosaic. In essence, the LIAS principles, the Quality Standards, the standards in action, the crosswalk, the passage of SB1221 - these are all things that are intentionally designed to fit together. There will be times when it would be much more effective and strategic to train using the five learning principles than it would to do train using the 12 Quality Standards, or vice versa. I see them interlinked by design.

Q: How have the Learning in Afterschool & Summer learning principles been accepted by the field?

A: Everywhere I go it’s becoming the common language. I was at a high school afterschool program in San Diego and I walked into a weight room where there was a group of high school kids participating in a weight lifting and wrestling program. I was introduced to the activity leader. He looked at me and said, “Have you ever heard of the Learning in Afterschool & Summer principles?”  I smiled as he described to me how he has integrated them into his program, and how every club on the campus uses them. I think that’s more the norm from what I’m seeing, than not.
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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