Education Letter to the Editor

After-School Programs Go Beyond the Academic

February 19, 2008 1 min read

The writers are co-principal investigators of the Study of Promising Afterschool Programs.

John K. DiPaolo’s Jan. 23, 2008, letter to the editor criticized our report “Outcomes Linked to High-Quality Afterschool Programs: Longitudinal Findings From the Study of Promising Afterschool Programs” because it did not draw attention to the study’s finding of no statistically significant effects on reading scores for children and youths in the programs sampled. We didn’t focus on this null finding because we had not expected a significant effect in this area.

In schools serving large numbers of low-achieving students, reading instruction dominates the school day, often with several hours devoted to reading and language arts teaching and practice every day. The small increment in literacy instruction that general-purpose after-school programs can offer makes it extremely unlikely that after-school participation will spark gains that exceed the literacy-skill development that results from regular school-day instruction. In fact, few after-school programs (and none in our sample) can afford to hire specialized reading teachers for more than an hour or two a week.

What is important is the academic and personal growth that did occur among students who participated in the sampled programs. As reported, we found gains in math and in developmental domains such as work habits and task persistence that, while essential for lifetime success, are not currently the focus of attention in schools enrolling large numbers of children and youths at risk. The math gains may have resulted from opportunities to complete daily homework, typically offered in after-school programs, and the informal homework help that programs also often provide. The sequential nature of math skill-building may mean that completing daily homework is especially important for skill mastery in math. The math gains also may have occurred because the after-school programs featured music, sports, arts, and science activities in which mathematics were embedded.

Deborah Lowe Vandell

Professor and Chair

Department of Education

University of California, Irvine

Irvine, Calif.

Elizabeth R. Reisner

Policy Studies Associates Inc.

Washington, D.C.

The writers are co-principal investigators of the Study of Promising Afterschool Programs.

A version of this article appeared in the February 20, 2008 edition of Education Week as After-School Programs Go Beyond the Academic