The California School-Age Consortium (CalSAC) is the largest professional non-profit serving out-of-school time providers in California and is also the state affiliate for the National Afterschool Association (NAA), the nation’s leading advocate for out-of-school providers. Since its inception 26 years ago, CalSAC has provided California’s out-of-school-time professionals with a pseudo-professional organization, giving them training, advocacy opportunities, and profession-related services.
Over the past couple of years, however, CalSAC’s general mission has been misguided. CalSAC has recently shifted is focus away from professionalization and education of the field to other agendas. Most recently, undue, almost catholic emphasis has been placed on equity, diversity, and anti-bias (or, in the words of some of the most aggressive employees and associates, “anti-oppression”). While multicultural and social diversity is highly important in the training of out-of-school-time workers, it is not (and should not be) the “main course” of the diet of the professional.
What disturbs me most about the recent trends in CalSAC’s philosophy concerns the professionalization of the out-of-school-time field. For decades, we watched the struggle of early childhood educators as they reached, struggled, and, to a degree, finally received professional status amongst educators. This was brought on by powerful non-profit organizations (such as the National Association for the Education of Young Children – NAEYC) and tireless advocates who, for years, spoke to anyone who would listen about the importance of preschool education and care. The fruits of those labors have paid off. Preschool educators are now respected, professional pay is rising, and governments have invested many dollars in the field. Not surprisingly, NAEYC’s California affiliate, CAEYC, was one of the key players in bringing about this change.
All this happened while the out-of-school field was in its own “childhood” and looking on with hope and expectation that it was next to ride on the professional train. For a few years in the 80’s and 90’s, it looked like that train might leave the station.
What happened in the in-between time could be the fodder for many more posts, so I will leave that topic unexplored for now. What lit my fire to blog this post was what I read on CalSAC’s website today. I will quote pieces, but it is too long to print in its entirety. You can find the full text of “The Challenge of After School Staffing” here.
The piece begins by asking the hypothetical question, “What if an industry the [sic] larger than the size of the 120,000-person telecommunications industry one day announced it would lose up to 40% of its workforce this year – and every year after?” Good question. The parallel waiting to be drawn here is with out-of-school care/enrichment programs. The problem with the question is that the telecommunications industry (or any other large professional industry) would never have that kind of turnover. It would find a way to save its jobs, come hell or high water. Instead, we’re left to imagine that out-of-school-time is just a lost cause, not really a profession , so let’s look at how to live with 40% turnover. That’s stinkin’ thinkin’ – especially so, because it is, however subliminal, the main premise of the article.
The article then goes on to describe CalSAC’s initiative which aims to bring in new workers to the field, not as professionals, but as entry-level grunts who are being primed to use out-of-school-time jobs as stepping stones to other related fields (by inference, one concludes that the best way to staff out-of-school-time programs is to bring in these “long-term temps” and just suck it up and accept that out-of-school time will never be a profession in and of itself). To quote the conclusion of the article:These workers, in turn, receive excellent entry-level job opportunities that mesh well with post-secondary education schedules and provide an ideal pathway into a job in education, social service, health, business, and a number of other sectors that require the human relations and job performance skills utilized in the afterschool field.
So this great initiative that CalSAC has put forward does nothing to stem the overwhelming turnover that plagues the out-of-school profession. Instead, it perpetuates out-of-school time as a second-class field: a stepping stone for “real” lines of work such as social service, health care, and business. All of which keeps the status quo firmly in place and ends up hurting children, youth, and families.