School & District Management

Study Critiques Federal After-School Program

By Linda Jacobson — February 12, 2003 4 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

The federal government’s $1 billion effort to give elementary and middle school students a safe place to study and play after school has increased parents’ participation in school, but has had little effect on academic achievement, according to a study of the program released last week.

“When Schools Stay Open Late: The National Evaluation of the 21st-Century Community Learning Centers Program,” is available from the education division of Mathematica Policy Research. (Requires Adobe’s Acrobat Reader.)

Still, the 21st Century Community Learning Centers—an after-school program established under the Clinton administration—have helped increase the number of children being cared for by an adult instead of an older sibling during after-school hours, researchers at Mathematica Policy Research Inc. in Princeton, N.J., found.

But the study—the first of a multiyear analysis commissioned by the U.S. Department of Education—shows no drop in the percentage of children caring for themselves during those hours.

Released as President Bush was recommending a 40 percent cut in funding for the program, the study also suggests that the after-school initiative has not had a positive effect on students’ behavior. For instance, although the number of incidents was low, participants in the programs were more likely than nonparticipants to report that they had sold drugs.

“The initial findings indicate that significant work remains to be done to develop after-school programs that improve children’s academic, personal, and social skills,” Mark Dynarski, a senior fellow at Mathematica and the director of the research project, said about the findings.

Financed at $1 billion in fiscal 2002, the 21st Century Community Learning Centers program has grown rapidly from a budget of $40 million in 1998. Roughly 7,500 schools in more than 1,400 communities now take part in the program, which offers a range of academic, enrichment, and recreational activities.

For the study, researchers collected data from the 2000-01 school year. They conducted separate middle school and elementary school studies.

At the middle school level, the researchers compared students participating in the program with a similar group of students who were not participating—a total of 4,400 students. In elementary school, they randomly assigned 1,000 pupils to groups of participants and nonparticipants.

Middle school participants said that although they were encouraged to do their homework, they didn’t think the after-school centers were a good place to get it done. And researchers who visited the centers said homework was generally done in large groups, and staff members didn’t check the work.

The middle school students, however, did have slightly higher math scores than nonparticipants did. And those differences were even higher among African-American and Hispanic students, the study shows.

On the other hand, few differences were found between the program and comparison groups on the number of hours of television the youngsters watched, and on measures of behavior at school, such as suspensions and teacher reports of misconduct.

In elementary school, the authors found few differences between participants and nonparticipants on such indicators as homework completion, time spent reading for fun, and behavior in school. Elementary participants were also no more likely than nonparticipants to say they got along with their peers, were good at teamwork, and could set a goal and achieve it.

Advocates Respond

Advocates for after-school programs said they had hoped the study’s findings would be used to help programs improve—not as a reason to cut funding, as the president recommends in his fiscal 2004 budget plan. (“Bush Proposes Ed. Funding Hike—Maybe,” this issue.)

“To our dismay, the administration has chosen instead not to invest in after-school [programs]—which certainly doesn’t help us address the fact that millions of kids don’t have a safe place to go after school and that the after-school hours are when kids are most likely to be involved in violent crime, drug use, and other risky behaviors,” says a response to the study from the Afterschool Alliance, a Washington-based advocacy organization.

Judy Samelson, the organization’s executive director, said the study was based on data from a year in which most programs were still struggling with implementation issues and when academic success was not an explicit goal.

She added that under the “No Child Left Behind” Act of 2001, the design of the program has changed, with more support and training being added.

“We really need to be figuring out what works for kids,” she said, pointing out that there are many studies that show after-school programs have a positive impact on children.

She said that the study also downplays more positive findings about the program, including higher math scores for black and Hispanic students and for girls.

But Darcy Olsen, the president of the Goldwater Institute, a think tank in Phoenix, said the government should not be putting money into after-school programs and should instead be concentrating on improving what happens during the regular school day.

“The answer to low achievement is better basics,” she said.

Events

Special Education K-12 Essentials Forum Innovative Approaches to Special Education
Join this free virtual event to explore innovations in the evolving landscape of special education.
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Curriculum Webinar
STEM Fusion: Empowering K-12 Education through Interdisciplinary Integration
Join our webinar to learn how integrating STEM with other subjects can revolutionize K-12 education & prepare students for the future.
Content provided by Project Lead The Way
School & District Management Webinar How Pensions Work: Why It Matters for K-12 Education
Panelists explain the fundamentals of teacher pension finances — how they are paid for, what drives their costs, and their impact on K-12 education.

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

School & District Management Video 'Students Never Forget': Principals Call for Help After School Shootings
School leaders are lobbying Congress for more financial support for schools that experience gun violence.
2 min read
Forest High School students console one another after a school shooting at Forest High School Friday, April 20, 2018 in Ocala, Fla. One student shot another in the ankle at the high school and a suspect is in custody, authorities said Friday. The injured student was taken to a local hospital for treatment.
Forest High School students console one another after a school shooting at Forest High School Friday, April 20, 2018 in Ocala, Fla. One student shot another in the ankle at the high school and a suspect is in custody, authorities said Friday. The injured student was taken to a local hospital for treatment.
Doug Engle/Star-Banner via AP
School & District Management Opinion In School Leadership, Busy Is a Given. Chaos Is a Choice
There will never be enough time, money, or resources to solve every problem in education, so we must learn to operate within constraints.
Kate Hazarian
3 min read
Two hands attempt to hold chaos.
Vanessa Solis/Education Week via Canva
School & District Management How Sweltering Heat Disrupts Learning and What Schools Can Do
Extreme heat is becoming more common across the United States. Schools need to start preparing now.
5 min read
A boy cools off at a fountain during hot weather in Chicago, on June 16, 2024.
A boy cools off at a fountain during hot weather in Chicago, on June 16, 2024.
Nam Y. Huh/AP
School & District Management Opinion 'I Don't Know What to Do': Facing Today's Education Leadership Challenges
Here are three concrete steps for getting ahead of controversies and creating a supportive learning environment for every student.
Jennifer Perry Cheatham & Bonnie Lo
5 min read
A leader encourages a large group of people across a bridge made of pencils. Proactive leadership.
Raul Arias for Education Week