Commissioned by The Wallace Foundation, the guide is based on decades of social science research on child development, teaching and learning, and organizational management, as well as the Forum’s experience working with over 70 afterschool efforts around the country. It draws heavily on efforts in six communities to build systems to improve the quality of afterschool programming: Atlanta, Ga.; Austin, Texas; Chicago, Ill.; New York, N.Y.; Palm Beach County, Fla.; and Hampden County, Mass. Each city’s effort is profiled in a case study.
The guide, Building Citywide Systems for Quality: A Guide and Case Studies for Afterschool Leaders, explains the emerging practice of quality improvement systems (QIS), which aim to raise the quality of afterschool programming in an ongoing, organized fashion. The approach is based on “continuous improvement”: the idea that organizations should regularly take stock of themselves against a standard; develop plans to improve based on what they learned; carry out those plans; and begin the cycle over again so that the quality of their work is always improving.
“Community leaders are drawn to improving quality because higher-quality programs will mean better experiences for kids and because quality is uneven across and even within afterschool programs,” said Nicole Yohalem, the Forum’s director of special projects and the guide’s lead author. “This guide for the first time explains how communities can get started building a QIS or how to further develop existing efforts.”
Policymakers and funders are increasingly embracing quality in afterschool programming. City and county agencies, United Ways and local foundations are investing significantly in quality improvement. Mayors and other public officials also have invested in afterschool systems, with quality a major focus.
“Millions of parents and guardians rely on afterschool programs to provide their children safe and enriching experiences that build academic, social, and emotional attributes and skills. However, those benefits don't come unless programs are of high quality," said Lucas Held, director of communications at The Wallace Foundation. "This guide is the first to describe how cities and intermediaries can work with afterschool providers across an entire neighborhood, city or region to build quality system-wide, and is part of our effort to share lessons nationwide about effective afterschool systems."