balancing act

IBO: Tension between quality, quantity fueled after-school cuts

Because the cost of city-funded after-school spots increased last year, the number of spots declined. After-school programs that the City Council restored are receiving less funding than city-funded programs this year.

An eleventh-hour effort by the City Council in June to maintain funding for thousands of after-school spots achieved its intended purpose — but it also inadvertently created a two-tiered after-school system in which only some programs can strive to meet higher academic standards.

That’s the conclusion of a report released last week by the Independent Budget Office about Out of School Time, a Bloomberg administration initiative to streamline publicly funded after-school programming. The report finds that the city’s simultaneous efforts to reduce costs and boost quality in OST programs induced Bloomberg’s proposal to cut after-school spots dramatically this spring.

City funding for the program rose from $61 million in 2007 to $108 million in 2009, allowing the number of seats to grow substantially, according to the report. But this year, after half a dozen rounds of city budget cuts, the proposed budget for the program fell to $76 million.

At the same time, the city had embarked on an effort to raise standards in programs that had originally operated with offering “safe and developmentally appropriate environments” as its major goal. With an eye toward using OST programs to support academic instruction, the city told programs that they would have to hire “educational specialists” to develop curriculum and lessons — increasing the cost per participant by nearly 60 percent. The increase would required the number of slots to be cut in half, meaning about 26,000 children would have been shut out of OST programs this year.

Parents, community groups, and advocates responded to the proposed budget cuts with vociferous protest. A last-minute budget deal restored the slashed spots, using $50.6 million in City Council funds.

But because the council’s primary concern was maintaining capacity, it used last year’s funding formula when it restored programs’ budgets — making it impossible for the programs whose funding had been restored to be required to follow the Bloomberg administration’s new standards. That means city children are attending publicly funded after-school programs that are operating under different sets of standards, exactly the situation the city sought to eliminate when it moved to streamline OST offerings.

“The budget agreement between the Mayor and the Council can be seen as a compromise between creating a more service-intensive system at a higher cost per slot and preserving capacity,” the report concludes. It adds, “Since the Council funding is only for this year, the debate over these goals will likely be revisited soon.”

The Bloomberg administration’s decision to begin mandating that programs hire learning specialists was based on recent research on summer learning loss, according to Samantha Levine, a City Hall spokeswoman. Researchers have pegged students’ regression — known as the “summer slide” — at the equivalent of two months of school or more.

“OST programs have always offered a mix of academic support and recreational and cultural opportunities, but the new model strengthens the connection to the school day through stronger partnerships between schools and community-based providers,” Levine said.

Programs funded by the council at the lower rate are encouraged to follow the city’s new standards, which call for a stronger focus on academic subjects, especially literacy, science, math, and technology. But according to the IBO report, they simply will not have enough funding to hire specialist personnel.

But the emphasis on quality over quantity might have been misguided, especially at a time of fiscal austerity, according to Justin Goodman, a City Council spokesman.

“It would have cost $81 million to fund the same number of seats at the new rate, with what we believe would have been an incremental increase in quality,” Goodman said.

Indeed, the city’s more stringent — and more expensive — standards represent something of a solution in search of a problem, said Doug Turetsky, an IBO spokesman.

“No one was complaining that the current after-school programs weren’t adequate,” Turetsky said.

call out

Our readers had a lot to say in 2017. Make your voice heard in 2018.

PHOTO: Chris Hill/Whitney Achievement School
Teacher Carl Schneider walks children home in 2015 as part of the after-school walking program at Whitney Achievement Elementary School in Memphis. This photograph went viral and inspired a First Person reflection from Schneider in 2017.

Last year, some of our most popular pieces came from readers who told their stories in a series that we call First Person.

For instance, Carl Schneider wrote about the 2015 viral photograph that showed him walking his students home from school in a low-income neighborhood of Memphis. His perspective on what got lost in the shuffle continues to draw thousands of readers.

First Person is also a platform to influence policy. Recent high school graduate Anisah Karim described the pressure she felt to apply to 100 colleges in the quest for millions of dollars in scholarships. Because of her piece, the school board in Memphis is reviewing the so-called “million-dollar scholar” culture at some high schools.

Do you have a story to tell or a point to make? In 2018, we want to give an even greater voice to students, parents, teachers, administrators, advocates and others who are trying to improve public education in Tennessee. We’re looking for essays of 500 to 750 words grounded in personal experience.

Whether your piece is finished or you just have an idea to discuss, drop a line to Community Editor Caroline Bauman at

But first, check out these top First Person pieces from Tennesseans in 2017:

My high school told me to apply to 100 colleges — and I almost lost myself in the process

“A counselor never tried to determine what the absolute best school for me would be. I wasted a lot of time, money and resources trying to figure that out. And I almost lost myself in the process.” —Anisah Karim     

Why I’m not anxious about where my kids go to school — but do worry about the segregation that surrounds us

“In fact, it will be a good thing for my boys to learn alongside children who are different from them in many ways — that is one advantage they will have that I did not, attending parochial schools in a lily-white suburb.” —Mary Jo Cramb

I covered Tennessee’s ed beat for Chalkbeat. Here’s what I learned.

“Apathy is often cited as a major problem facing education. That’s not the case in Tennessee.” —Grace Tatter

I went viral for walking my students home from school in Memphis. Here’s what got lost in the shuffle.

“When #blacklivesmatter is a controversial statement; when our black male students have a one in three chance of facing jail time; when kids in Memphis raised in the bottom fifth of the socioeconomic bracket have a 2.6 percent chance of climbing to the top fifth — our walking students home does not fix that, either.” —Carl Schneider

I think traditional public schools are the backbone of democracy. My child attends a charter school. Let’s talk.

“It was a complicated choice to make. The dialogue around school choice in Nashville, though, doesn’t often include much nuance — or many voices of parents like me.” —Aidan Hoyal

I grew up near Charlottesville and got a misleading education about Civil War history. Students deserve better.

“In my classroom discussions, the impetus for the Civil War was resigned to a debate over the balance of power between federal and state governments. Slavery was taught as a footnote to the cause of the war.” —Laura Faith Kebede

Weekend Reads

Need classroom decor inspiration? These educators have got you covered.

This school year, students will spend about 1,000 hours in school —making their classrooms a huge part of their learning experience.

We’re recognizing educators who’ve poured on the pizazz to make students feel welcome. From a 9th-grade “forensics lab” decked out in caution tape to a classroom stage complete with lights to get first graders pumped about public speaking, these crafty teachers have gone above and beyond to create great spaces.

Got a classroom of your own to show off? Know someone that should be on this list? Let us know!

Jaclyn Flores, First Grade Dual Language, Rochester, New York
“Having a classroom that is bright, cheerful, organized and inviting allows my students to feel pride in their classroom as well as feel welcome. My students look forward to standing on the stage to share or sitting on special chairs to dive into their learning. This space is a safe place for my students and we take pride in what it has become.”

Jasmine, Pre-K, Las Vegas, Nevada
“My classroom environment helps my students because providing calming colors and a home-like space makes them feel more comfortable in the classroom and ready to learn as first-time students!”


Oneika Osborne, 10th Grade Reading, Miami Southridge Senior High School, Miami, Florida
“My classroom environment invites all of my students to constantly be in a state of celebration and self-empowerment at all points of the learning process. With inspirational quotes, culturally relevant images, and an explosion of color, my classroom sets the tone for the day every single day as soon as we walk in. It is one of optimism, power, and of course glitter.”

Kristen Poindexter, Kindergarten, Spring Mill Elementary School, Indianapolis, Indiana
“I try very hard to make my classroom a place where memorable experiences happen. I use songs, finger plays, movement, and interactive activities to help cement concepts in their minds. It makes my teacher heart so happy when past students walk by my classroom and start their sentence with, “Remember when we…?”. We recently transformed our classroom into a Mad Science Lab where we investigated more about our 5 Senses.”


Brittany, 9th Grade Biology, Dallas, Texas
“I love my classroom environment because I teach Biology, it’s easy to relate every topic back to Forensics and real-life investigations! Mystery always gets the students going!”


Ms. Heaton, First Grade, Westampton, New Jersey
“As an educator, it is my goal to create a classroom environment that is positive and welcoming for students. I wanted to create a learning environment where students feel comfortable and in return stimulates student learning. A classroom is a second home for students so I wanted to ensure that the space was bright, friendly, and organized for the students to be able to use each and every day.”

D’Essence Grant, 8th Grade ELA, KIPP Houston, Houston, Texas
“Intentionally decorating my classroom was my first act of showing my students I care about them. I pride myself on building relationships with my students and them knowing I care about them inside and outside of the classroom. Taking the time to make the classroom meaningful and creative as well building a safe place for our community helps establish an effective classroom setting.”


Jayme Wiertzema, Elementary Art, Worthington, Minnesota
“I’m looking forward to having a CLASSROOM this year. The past two years I have taught from a cart and this year my amazing school district allowed me to have a classroom in our school that is busting at the seams! I’m so excited to use my classroom environment to inspire creativity in my students, get to know them and learn from their amazing imaginations in art class!”


Melissa Vecchio, 4th Grade, Queens, New York
“Since so much of a student’s time is spent inside their classroom, the environment should be neat, organized, easy to move around in but most of all positive. I love to use a theme to reinforce great behavior. I always give the students a choice in helping to design bulletin boards and desk arrangements. When they are involved they take pride in the classroom, and enjoy being there.”