New Report Praises Pairing After-School Programs, Competency-Based Learning

By Marva Hinton — February 01, 2016 3 min read
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The American Youth Policy Forum is calling for more collaboration between after-school programs and competency-based learning initiatives in order to better prepare students for college and work.

“Students need a range of knowledge, skills, abilities and dispositions in order to be successful,” said Jennifer Brown Lerner, the forum’s deputy director. “In order for students to be able to gain those things, we have to create a variety of different types of learning experiences for all students.”

Lerner is the co-author of a white paper on the topic the forum released last month. “The Intersection of Afterschool and Competency-Based Learning” examines what the forum calls the “emerging concept” of after-school programs informing competency-based learning and vice versa.

The forum defines after school broadly to include any learning opportunities outside the normal school day. And, through competency-based learning, a student can only advance once he or she has demonstrated mastery of all the course standards or objectives.

Lerner says both areas are student-centered.

“In after school, a student selects the opportunity that they would like to pursue,” said Lerner. “In competency-based learning, again, the student is able to take ownership or control of how they demonstrate their mastery of the learning.”

She and her co-author, Jenna Tomasello, a forum program associate, say one of the biggest benefits to students is preparedness for life after graduation.

“We think that because this facilitates anywhere, anytime, any pace learning that these two fields coming together better prepares students for college and careers,” said Tomasello.

The paper lists two programs that are “intentional and transparent” about the development of students’ readiness for college and work. They are Urban Alliance and After School Matters, Chicago.

Competencies as Currency for Course Credit

But the report acknowledges that it’s been difficult for school systems to create sustainable initiatives whereby competency-based experiences in after-school programs lead to academic credit. It cites two examples of this model working successfully: the Providence After School Alliance and New Hampshire Extended Learning Opportunities.


The report also explores the impact of issuing badges or other certifications to students who show competencies in after-school programs. It notes that while badges may not be accepted by the K-12 education system yet, they may be valued by “employers, higher education institutions, and other institutions.” The forum also praises digital badges as being particularly valuable to young people. The paper explores two badging programs, OregonASK Digital Badge Pilot and Kansas EPIC Pilot.


“We are organized around schools being the primary provider of the educational experience, or the educational experience that is credentialed,” said Lerner. “This begins to challenge that notion.”

The white paper notes that for these collaborative programs to work there must be policies in place to allow them at both the state and district level, and these policies must be adhered to and understood.

The report also asserts that for after-school programs and competency-based initiatives to work together, other agencies must often get involved. For example, the U.S. Department of Labor may be called upon to ensure that an internship program is safe for students.

To read the full report, click here.

Photo: Sixth graders at Woodland and Kenneth C. Hanrahan elementary schools in the Jennings, Mo., school district take part in an after-school chess program. (Courtesy Jennings School District)

A version of this news article first appeared in the Time and Learning blog.