Experts discuss status, future of expanded learning

Before billions of dollars in expanded learning funding was approved by Gov. Gavin Newsom via Assembly Bill 86, researchers, practitioners and policy influencers met to discuss the status of expanded learning in California and how it is meeting student needs during the pandemic.

The Feb. 9 webinar “Expanded Learning Partnerships: A Foundation for Reimagining and Rebuilding,” hosted by Policy Analysis for California Education, covered topics including expanded learning in current policy context, partnerships and integrated whole child supports, insights from practice and policy implications.

Jennifer Peck, president and CEO of Partnership for Children and Youth, shed light on how expanded learning programs can be used to address challenges faced now and in the coming months. During a traditional school year with typical instructional hours, children spend roughly 80 percent of their waking hours outside of school, Peck said. “We know that the way kids spend that time, the opportunities they’re given and the ways they’re supported has a huge impact on their school and life trajectory,” Peck continued. “Our expanded learning sector had played a really big role in filling this gap in time and opportunity over many decades and has become very sophisticated in the ways in which programs support social-emotional development, skill building, leadership, academic skills and more.”

As noted throughout the meeting, there is a wealth of knowledge available on what works for expanded learning in terms of producing positive student outcomes.

“In this moment when the state and federal government are about to invest billions of dollars in expanded learning as part of COVID recovery and rebuilding, it is absolutely essential that we pay attention to the vast body of research and experience in this field to guide investments,” Peck said at the time.

Community partners can help lead to success

California must make clear the necessity for districts and community partners to engage with one another, Peck said. For example, Baldwin Park Unified School District’s relationship with nonprofit Think Together has resulted in in-person learning hubs among other services.

State educational agency policy should emphasize that school relationships with partners are not just a contract for particular services but should be true partnerships where community organizations participate in a program’s design and operation, according to Peck.

“We have to remember that in addition to all the expertise they already bring, that this particular year it has been community organizations that have shouldered a lot of the work of supporting highly vulnerable students in person through learning hubs across the state,” she said. “They have developed experience operating small group cohorts, implementing safety protocols and other things that may really continue to be necessary into the summer and fall.”

She noted that community providers bring value in connecting with families — something schools are going to need as they try to help families feel comfortable bringing their children back to in-person learning. This will be especially true in communities of color, who have been most severely impacted by the pandemic. It is also important not to focus solely on academics in extended learning, Peck said. Schools should leave room for enrichment and fun.

“For any of the things I’ve mentioned to happen well at scale, we also have to ensure the right investment is being made in technical assistance and support to districts who will be implementing these new investments,” Peck said. “Especially with the compressed time frame we have in front of us between now and the summer, we believe additional resources should be invested in our existing expanded learning system of support with operations regionally through county offices of education.”

AB 86 includes $4.6 billion to fund expanded learning opportunities including mental health services, summer school and tutoring.

The entire webinar can be viewed on PACE’s website.

For additional resources:

Expanded Learning Partnerships: A Foundation for Rebuilding to Support the Whole Child – PACE policy brief

Community Schools: Addressing the whole child one step at a timeCalifornia Schools Magazine, summer 2020

Learning Hubs: In-Person Learning for the Whole Child – PACE policy brief