Quality Standards: Plan │ Building Quality in Afterschool

Effective and thoughtful planning is the first step in developing afterschool quality standards. In this phase, you will build a strong case for establishing quality standards. You also will recruit partners who will be critical in crafting standards that meet the needs of diverse providers in your state.

In the sections that follow, we outline the principal components of planning to develop quality standards:

Resources: Planning for Quality Standards

Establish the Importance of Quality

Prior to developing quality standards, it is likely that many afterschool stakeholders will want to understand the reasons for undergoing this process and investing in quality. Educating stakeholders on how a commitment to quality can benefit young people, as well as having a shared language for quality, will increase buy-in for the standards development process as well as eventual implementation of the standards.

Networks have communicated about the importance of quality in a variety of ways, including infographics, briefs, blog posts, presentations, and testimonies. Networks report finding it helpful to create talking points or an “elevator pitch” to help facilitate in-person communication and alleviate the pressure to create new messages to share each time you meet with new stakeholders. Talking points also add consistency to written communications.

For more information about making the case for quality afterschool programs, visit the Afterschool Alliance’s Communications Resources.

Form a Quality Standards Committee

The Arkansas Out of School Network identified a diverse set of stakeholders because the state wanted the standards to be universal in terms of their practical application in the field.

Network leads and their staff should not do this work alone! Start forming your quality standards committee early in the process. The goal of a quality standards committee is to develop and refine statewide quality standards. The group can do this through one large committee or smaller subcommittees, through a series of in-person working meetings or a combination of in-person and virtual meetings with “homework” in between. The committee members can determine the actual process.

The Indiana Afterschool Network had 26 organizations on their committee, with representation from schools, afterschool programs, state agencies, universities, and intermediaries.

To get started, identify a diverse group of stakeholders to invite to the committee to kick off the standards development process. Identified stakeholders should represent the various audiences of afterschool programs in your state. Potential committee members include

  • strong advocates for quality in afterschool programs;
  • networks or individual youth-serving organizations that are actively engaged in quality improvement;
  • trainers and technical assistance providers;
  • researchers and evaluators with expertise in youth development;
  • parents and families; and
  • youth.
In Illinois, the ACT Now Coalition involved a range of sectors in their development process, including afterschool, child care, philanthropic, education, research, mental health, and state agencies.

Now it is time to use the talking points you developed about the importance of quality. We encourage you to tailor the talking points to the priorities of potential committee members, keeping their main interests or objectives in mind. The talking points may evolve across time to provide answers to anticipated questions, resonate with a broader audience, or more effectively communicate the importance of afterschool program quality.

Fund and Manage Quality Standards Development

Illinois’ network lead recommends that states identify priorities for funders and other potential investors.

Network leads who have led or participated in a successful quality standards development process recommend having a plan that clearly defines the funding and managing of the standards and the development process from the beginning.

When developing your plan to manage the standards, it is helpful to consider the following:

Minnesota’s network lead recommends that states decide “where standards live.” Minnesota’s standards are owned by the network, but other states have standards produced by the state education agency or another commission. Decide where your state’s standards should be housed to give credibility and support their use.
  • How will the work be funded?
  • What agency or organization will lead the quality standards development committee (and take on the staffing responsibilities)?
  • What is the estimated timeline for the standards development work?
  • Where will the standards “live”? Common places include the network’s website, a state agency page, or another entity in the state.

The statewide afterschool network is well poised for—and often takes on—facilitation and staffing responsibilities, using its role as a state-level convener to bring together a diverse group of afterschool stakeholders. Funding for quality standards development often comes from various places, including state departments of education, local foundations, national afterschool foundations, and corporate funders.

Decide on the Approach to Accountability: High or Low Stakes?

New Mexico’s network recommends that all states make a thoughtful decision about whether standards are voluntary or required.

Quality standards are applied to practice through quality improvement policies. For many practitioners, quality improvement policies are tied to accountability, often in ways that can feel or seem like very high stakes. States will need to decide what level of accountability should be tied to the use of the new afterschool standards. We recommend using a “carrot” (incentives) approach rather than a “stick” (sanctions) approach, building buy-in and adoption of the standards without connecting the standards to a punitive accountability or funding metric. Increasingly, the afterschool field is moving toward using quality standards as part of a continuous quality improvement process, in which the standards are used to identify both strengths and challenges in program practice, and the policy response is to provide supports for continuous improvement.

Convene the Quality Standards Committee

The New Mexico Out-of-School Time Network and the New Mexico Public Education Department spent five years working with their stakeholder groups to develop guiding principles for quality. In their standards development and engagement process, they acknowledged New Mexico’s specific characteristics, including a largely rural school system, multiple native tribes, a high population of immigrants, and the need to consider a variety of cultural norms.

The last step in the planning stage is to convene the quality standards committee. At this point, you want to address the framing, logistics, and general timeline for the quality standards project. In the Design section, we detail several facilitation methods that can be used with the committee to draft the quality standards. Convening the committee can be time consuming. It is important to enter into this endeavor ensuring that everyone understands the commitment.

Ensure that every meeting has the intended impact by following a few best practices: provide reading material in advance of the meeting so that stakeholders can come to the meeting prepared, clearly state the purpose of each meeting, ensure that each meeting builds on work accomplished in prior meetings, build in activities that promote dialogue and collaboration among the stakeholders, and assign action items and follow-up after the meeting.

Resources: Planning for Quality Standards

The following resources are meant to help you as you begin to plan for developing statewide quality standards. If you have resources you referenced or created while planning for quality standards development in your state, please be sure to share them with us via e-mail (SANSupport@air.org). We will post additional resources here.

Afterschool Quality Matters: A Call to Action (PDF)This succinct call to action by the National AfterSchool Association can be used as is or modified to educate stakeholders about the importance of quality in afterschool programs. These talking points also provide a strong example of what to keep in mind when crafting your own talking points about quality in afterschool programming: Be specific, clear, and concise.

Guiding Questions for Planning Convenings (PDF): In this resource, AIR provides a set of questions to guide the beginning stages of a quality committee design process. You can use these questions during any phase of the development of quality standards, but they will be particularly helpful during the planning phase.

Quality Standards in Afterschool: Talking Points (PDF): AIR developed this resource to complement Afterschool Quality Matters: A Call to Action by offering specific talking points that focus on the merits of quality standards. These talking points can be used in discussions with potential partners.