Forum Focus: Quality Counts
In this first issue of Forum Focus, we summarize emerging research and practical evidence that quality matters and push forward to ask the questions: Is quality measurable? Is it malleable? We bring a youth-centered lens to our review, looking for examples that define quality from the perspective of what young people need to heal, grow and contribute.
The programs, experts and research studies highlighted have a bias toward the out-of-school time areas of the allied youth fields. The lessons, however, have broader relevance. Increasingly, youth-centered quality measures are being used outside of the world of youth programs.
The KnowledgeWorks Foundation in Ohio, for example, recently embedded the features of positive developmental settings described in the NRC report in a tool they developed to survey teachers, students and parents about the quality of classrooms and high schools as learning environments. Other instruments developed primarily for use in youth programs have also been piloted in and adapted for schools, such as the High/Scope Educational Research Foundation’s Youth Program Quality Assessment and the Program and Activity Assessment developed by Shep Zeldin and colleagues.
In the research update feature, we explore the range of roles that the research community and evidence itself play in demonstrating that quality matters, that it is measurable, and that it is malleable. In on the ground, we zoom in on the New York City Beacons and their commitment to quality.
Voices from the fields features an interview with Robert Granger, president of the William T. Grant Foundation. We hope to demonstrate clearly that quality matters, is measurable and is malleable — that programs, given feedback and resources, can make improvements. What remains less clear is whether quality is marketable from a political perspective. At a time when budgets are being cut and needs are increasing, there are strong incentives to reduce per-youth program costs to keep the numbers up. Quality becomes the enemy of quantity when a “something is better than nothing” mentality creeps in. Marketing the idea of quality may require just that — marketing. If we can convince the American public that spring water is significantly better to drink than tap water and that it is worth $2.00 a bottle, we should be able to convince them that it is worth a few additional dollars a day to increase the odds that a young person has safe, engaging opportunities to learn and grow.