"How could we know as much as we do, spend as much as we do, care as much as we say we do and accomplish so little for so many kids over so long a period of time?"
That is one powerful statement by Ralph Smith, managing director of the Campaign for Grade-Level Reading. For anyone interested in the achievement gap, I encourage you to listen to his speech during this year's Ready by 21 National meeting. You will ride the wave of deep sadness to hope all in this 30-minute presentation. He had me at the first line, but the whole speech is thought provoking.
No one who understands the reality of education and youth work would say that educators don't care deeply and work hard. But I wonder- are we working smart? Smith talks about how in programs we will hold dearly to one that has a specific outcome for a specific population. Often times we know that this program doesn't have lasting power and it certainly isn't sustainable if scaled up. Sound familiar?
So here's where I argue with myself when it comes to the goal of programs:
- The youth program part of me says that we should develop responsive programs to the needs of audiences. In fact, that's what Extension is all about. Sometimes getting a handful of kids to master a new skill or grow in their social emotional learning is at the core of what youth work is really about. It doesn't have to be a "one size fits all" model.
- On the other hand, the evaluator side of me says it's important to have programs with demonstrated positive outcomes. Without testing our programs to see the impact that they have on our target populations, we are cheating our main audience - the young people themselves.
I love the idea of communities coming together to support young people. With this mindset, organizations can focus on what they do well and then work with other agencies to help to fully support youth in all areas of development.
What do you think? Should programs be responsive to needs or scalable? Should we focus on the success of individual programs or the collective impact of many?
Does any of this matter? Yes. If we know that many children are not getting what they need, it does matter. In fact, it matters a lot.
-- Samantha Grant, assistant Extension professor, program evaluation
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