Screen Shot 2015-08-31 at 2.02.10 PMA new report published by the Wallace Foundation provides useful information for all of us who are working to build a citywide STEM ecosystem.  The report, “Growing Together, Learning Together” highlights best practices, essential elements of healthy afterschool systems, considerations for choosing data management systems, and examples from various cities.

The four key elements that exist uniformly across successful afterschool networks include:

  1. Buy-in and leadership from strong stakeholders
  2. A coordinating entity – this can actually consist of multiple partners that function in a coordinating capacity, or one entity
  3. Data – the grease that keeps the work moving smoothly
  4. A focus on program quality.

One of the essential questions the report poses – a question that has been
echoed in Chicago’s STEM Learning Ecosystems meetings – is: What is quality?  How do we define it as an ecosystem, and how can it be improved?

The report offers the following ideas to consider when envisioning system-wide approaches to quality, which are likely to be beneficial as we in Chicago consider our approaches:

  1. What types of data are likely to drive the kind of improvements we’re seeking?
    • Socio-Emotional Learning?
    • Demographics and attendance?
    • Changes in attitude?
    • Other factors?
  2. When and how quickly to data need to be collected and analyzed in order for providers to be able to get the most use out of them?
  3. Should our program providers assess themselves, or should they be evaluated externally?
  4. How can we make the data we collect meaningful?

In Chicago, we have been working diligently to strengthen and cultivate the four elements of a strong STEM Learning Ecosystem.  A focus on system-wide quality is certainly on the horizon, and the information contained in this report provides a way of thinking about tackling such a large issue.  This report is required reading for all who are participating in Chicago’s STEM Learning Ecosystems development.