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Log in to Witsby: ASCD’s Next-Generation Professional Learning and Credentialing Platform
April 1, 2001
Vol. 58
No. 7

The Promise of After-School Programs

New funding resources have produced an explosion of after-school programs. How can we meet the staffing and financial demands and implement the best instructional practices?

It's 3:00 pm. Do you know where your students are? Faced with high-stakes testing, published results, and other high-pressure policies, many educators are looking at how students spend the hours after the school bell rings. After-school programs are emerging as a popular strategy for improving student performance. After-school programs are relatively easy as school reforms go: They don't require major changes in institutional structure or practice and they receive broad public support. Moreover, because students spend most of their waking hours outside of school, it seems logical to harness some of those hours to extend learning. During the past few years, widespread support has translated into action as thousands of schools across the United States have initiated after-school programs.

Increased Funding

New funding streams for after-school programs have been growing rapidly. Funding for the U.S. Department of Education's 21st Century Community Learning Centers program, which provides three-year grants to schools, has increased from $1 million in 1997 to more than $800 million in 2001. In addition, at least 26 states plan to increase funding for extra learning opportunities (National Governors' Association, 1999). California's $85 million After-School Learning and Safe Neighborhoods Partnership Project, Kentucky's $37 million Extended School Services, and Maryland's $10 million After-School Opportunity Fund are just a few examples.
Many cities also have stepped to the plate, including New York, where private philanthropic and municipal funding has resulted in approximately $116 million invested over three years in collaborative programs, bringing community-based organizations into more than 143 schools. San Diego's "6 to 6" extended school day program expanded from $1.7 million in general funds in 1998 to a current budget of more than $15 million that comes from multiple funding sources. The result: programming in every elementary and middle school in San Diego.
Various intermediary organizations, from the National Academy of Sciences to small youth-development and family support groups, are now involved in the field. Private foundations, led by the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation's $83 million investment, are increasing their support at the program, policy, and research levels. New projects focus on promising practices, research databases, cross-city leaders' networks, community collaborations, and policy development. Not surprisingly, an industry of entrepreneurial after-school educational services has arisen, offering everything from glossy curriculum units to turnkey educational enrichment programs.

The Power of the Hours

What is the potential contribution of after-school programs to education? Growing evidence suggests that after-school program participation is associated with higher grades and test scores, especially for low-income students (Hamilton & Klein, 1998; Ohio Hunger Task Force, 1999; Schinke, Cole, & Poulin, 1998). A wide variety of studies focused on various program models link after-school program participation with improved attitudes toward school, higher expectations of school achievement, better work habits, and higher attendance rates, especially for low-income students (Brooks, Mojica, & Land, 1995; Posner & Vandell, 1994; Schinke, Cole, & Poulin, 1998; Witt, 1997).
Viewing out-of-school time solely as an opportunity to enhance basic skills, however, does a dis-service to the students who stand to benefit from the full range of after-school programs. Programs can serve other important prevention and developmental functions; for example, educators know that antisocial behaviors and social rejection can interfere with school achievement. The most impressive research on the results of after-school programs links participation to significantly lower involvement in risky behaviors, including a lower incidence of drinking, smoking, using drugs, having sex, and becoming involved in violence, as well as increased positive behaviors—such as better social and behavioral adjustment, better relations with peers, and more effective conflict resolution strategies—and increased parent involvement (Beuhring, Blum, & Rinehart, 2000; Miller, 1995; Pierce, Hamm, & Vandell, 1999; Zill, Nord, & Loomis, 1995).
To examine the potential of after-school programs, though, we need to look at the literature on school failure, especially the achievement gaps associated with socioeconomic and racial differences. Large-scale studies have shown that school experiences explain only a portion of these gaps (Traub, 2000). Two other explanations account for these differences in achievement: (1) the access of middle class students to a wide range of developmentally supportive experiences and opportunities after school, from music lessons to team sports participation; and (2) the difficulties faced by students who encounter a school culture at odds with their home and community culture.
If the first explanation is correct, there is good news. The new public funding for after-school programs, especially those in low-income communities, may expose disadvantaged students to a variety of activities. The schedule for one 21st Century Community Learning Center program reads like a parent's dream: Spanish lessons, electric guitar lessons, chess club, creative cooking lessons, gymnastics, Boy Scouts, choir, and softball, plus daily homework help and tutoring. Many of the new programs begun under federal, state, and municipal funding follow this model, with as-yet-untested results.
But if the achievement gap is more a function of some students' need to negotiate the complex and often unstated chasm between cultures, after-school programs may play a very different role in educational success. Lisa Delpit (1995) argues that, for many students, school failure results from inadequate access to the rules of the "culture of power" and the lack of awareness on the part of those in the dominant culture of the existence and meaning of these power differences. Unless schools can support students' cultures while simultaneously providing access to required skills, young people are likely to see school as a place where success requires loss, and even denigration, of one's family and community.
Evidence shows that after-school programs can link the values, attitudes, and norms of students' cultural communities with those of the school culture (Cooper, Denner, & Lopez, 1999). In the more informal setting of an after-school program, students can connect with teachers and other adults as they explore an interest in hip-hop music, Mexican folk dancing, community service, or astronomy. In effective youth-development programs, young people play decision-making roles; create products and performances that have public visibility through an exhibit, activity, or presentation; and have regular opportunities to reflect on their experiences as a group (Heath, 1994).

Types of Programs

To meet the needs of different students and communities, after-school programs take on many forms but can generally be categorized into three types: school-age child care, youth development, and educational after-school programs (see fig. 1).
Figure 1. Types of After-School Programs

The Promise of After-School Programs - table

School-Age Child Care

Youth Development Programs

Educational After-School Programs

Major GoalsProvide supervision for children of working families Support child developmentPromote youth development Prevent risky behaviorsImprove academic achievement Decrease gaps in academic achievement
Accountability FrameworkLicensing AccreditationOutcomes-based evaluationState standards-based tests School achievement
StaffChild care staffYouth workersTeachers Paraprofessionals
Major Sources of FundingParent fees Child Care Development FundPhilanthropic funds State and federal crime and drug prevention dollarsState and federal grants Local district support Tuition for for-profit academic programs

School-Age Child Care

By 1991, at least 50,000 school-age child care programs across the United States served an estimated 1.7 million children (Seppanen et al., 1993). These programs are sponsored by a heterogeneous assembly of providers, including proprietary child care chains, community education departments, grassroots organizations, parent-run nonprofits, and churches. Many programs are located in schools. Over the past two decades, the field of school-age child care has become increasingly professionalized, creating a national membership organization, developing standards for quality, and implementing a national accreditation system. Programs often articulate their roles in relationship to schools as complementary and supplementary—providing enrichment opportunities, especially in creative arts and recreation that may not be offered in school, while also supporting the school curriculum, most commonly through homework assistance and literacy-focused activities.
School-age child care programs use funding streams not always tapped by other after-school programs. The major source of child care subsidies in the United States—the Child Care Development Fund—has expanded rapidly in the past decade to more than $3 billion annually, approximately 30 percent of which is used to subsidize care for school-age children. In addition, other funds devoted to moving low-income parents into the workforce, especially the federal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) dollars, have been transferred to child care accounts in many states.

Youth Development Programs

In the 1970s and 1980s, youth-serving organizations and many other social services organizations received infusions of categorical prevention funding to battle such problems as drug abuse, teenage pregnancy, and school dropout rates. During the 1990s, practitioners—led by a number of national organizations—developed the new, asset-based framework of youth development. Proponents of a youth development approach argue that all students need similar supports for their development, regardless of their background; that youth programs can provide these supports; and that the youth development approach transfers to a wide variety of programs and places.
Youth development programs generally serve middle and high school students and vary in structure, location, and sponsorship. Programs are offered by such national youth-serving organizations as the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts, Ys, and 4-H, or by such local groups as libraries, museums, parks and recreation departments, grassroots organizations, and police departments. Activities range from the mentoring programs of Big Brothers Big Sisters to single-focus art or sports activities to drop-in recreation. What ties these programs together is their philosophy that young people are resources to be developed, not problems to be solved.

Educational After-School Programs

Schools have historically provided many after-school services: tutoring, extra-curricular clubs, sports, and homework help. Many schools have also sponsored more formal after-school programs—often administered by the community education department—that are similar to school-age child care programs. The difference is that these programs and activities, considered opportunities that might enhance students' lives, were not seen as part of the school district's educational mission. Now, schools often promote after-school programs as an effective strategy for enhancing student achievement.

Challenges Ahead

No matter what forms the programs take, to reach their potential for supporting student learning, staff of high-quality after-school programs need to develop strong connections to schools. They need to understand the mission of the school, the expectations of students at each grade level, and the research on learning, and they must be willing to share in accountability for a range of results.
When the after-school program is part of a community-based program rather than a school-run program staffed by certified teachers, creating and maintaining such links can be a challenge. Such new initiatives as the Boys and Girls Clubs of America's Project Learn and the complex partnerships between schools and community organizations being hammered out in New York, Kansas City, and San Francisco are exploring how schools and after-school programs can collaborate. Educators in schools should also remember that youth development programs often offer resources to build students' competence and initiative and to build strong connections among the students, the school, and the community.
Despite their potential, only a minority of after-school programs today are able to meet students' educational and developmental needs. Inadequate funding, poorly trained leadership, transient staff, inappropriate facilities, and a lack of a clear mission plague many programs. To meet the needs of today's students, after-school programs must have the necessary resources. At a minimum, the field will need to address three major elements of success: staffing, sustainable funding, and a knowledge base that creates the foundation for positive results.
Staffing. Most after-school staff members work part-time for the program. Yet these workers need a wide variety of skills and knowledge, from building literacy skills to understanding diverse cultures. Some teachers are well suited to such work and welcome the added income, but many others see it as an additional burden to their existing responsibilities of improving classroom practices and incorporating new curriculums. There is also concern that overworking teachers may slow down or derail school improvement efforts (Brown, 1999).
Certified teachers are probably the most appropriate staff for certain roles—helping older students with homework, for example, or providing additional academic learning time for small groups of children—but they are unlikely to form the core workforce for expanded after-school programs. Yet if community-based agencies are to continue to provide the vast majority of after-school programming, how will a part-time workforce create the kind of programs that will meet the goals of parents, educators, and community members?
The answer to this staffing paradox has yet to be discovered, but experiments are under way. The Harvard-RALLY Program creates full-time jobs in middle schools for prevention practitioners who work with at-risk students across their social and environmental contexts, both during the school day and in the after-school program. The Young Achievers Pilot School in Boston serves students in a seamless program from 8:00 am to 5:00 pm and hires both credentialed and noncredentialed staff members. Other groups share staff members with museums, schools, and other community organizations.
Finding the money to pay qualified staff is a major problem in hiring and training staff members. Many credentialed teachers accept significantly lower salaries to work in after-school programs. Non-credentialed staff members receive significantly lower salaries than they would in other occupations, given their background and skills (Helburn & Howes, 1996), hence the estimated 40 percent turnover rate.
Funding to create a career development infrastructure—higher education courses, full-time jobs with decent salaries, a consensus on core competencies—is lacking. The Making the Most of Out-of-School Time Initiative, managed by the National Institute on Out-of-School Time and funded by the Wallace Reader's Digest Fund, has supported work on staff development and compensation in Chicago, Boston, and Seattle. Nationally, the National School-Age Care Alliance has led the work on credentialing. Local efforts, especially in cities with large-scale after-school initiatives, provide a variety of exemplary models.
Sustainable funding. Despite the money flowing into the field, after-school programs are increasingly funded through short-term grants. These grants create programs for as many as two million students in thousands of schools across the country. In addition, the new grant-funded programs, including the 21st Century Community Learning Centers, create access to programs for students in middle and high schools who are not eligible for subsidies through the federal Child Care Development Fund.
The sustainability challenge for these programs is overwhelming. The assumption that local public funding will take the place of federal and state grants, over a one-to-three year time line, has little basis in experience. Local school districts, counties, and municipalities are increasing their monetary and in-kind support for programs, but they are unlikely to assume the full cost of programs, which runs between $2,000 and $3,000 per student per year for part-time programs and up to $4,000 per student per year for full-time, year-round programs (Halpern, 1999).
Knowledge base. All of this activity and funding will be in vain unless after-school programs meet the public's rising expectations. The newly-formed Afterschool Alliance will promote expansion through a public awareness campaign, but such efforts will not succeed without evidence of real changes for students.
As programs multiply, we need more information about what works, how, and for whom. Program evaluations and studies linking positive outcomes to after-school program participation are not enough. We need to know what outcomes are linked to what program models; what approaches are most successful for students of varied ages, interests, needs, and backgrounds; and what staff development activities and working conditions promote the strong relationships between staff and students that are crucial to student resiliency. Finally, we need to examine the ways in which active and informal learning environments can support enhanced cognitive outcomes and social and emotional competence. Answering these questions will require a focused, financed research agenda that builds on the current knowledge base.

Building Support

Despite the focus on after-school programs, most students still do not attend such programs. Sixteen percent of students ages 6–12 attend after-school programs on a regular basis, while 21 percent of students spend some time each week in self-care, usually for short periods of time (Capizzano, Tout, & Adams, 2000). Moreover, access to after-school programs and activities still depends largely on the financial means of individual families. Sustainable funding will require creativity and flexibility—for example, looking to existing funding sources, such as Title I, as well as the creation of new ways for schools and communities to maintain quality programs. After-school programs seem to be the latest silver bullet solution to social and educational challenges, but support will be short-lived unless programs meet expectations. If we really want after-school programs to become at least a part of the solution, we need to provide them with the financing, staff, and knowledge base to become highly effective programs.

Beuhring, T., Blum, R. W., & Rinehart, P. M. (2000). Protecting teens: Beyond race, income, and family structure. Minneapolis, MN: Center for Adolescent Health.

Brooks, P. E., Mojica, C. M., & Land, R. E. (1995). Final evaluation report: Longitudinal study of LA BEST's after-school education and enrichment program, 1992–1994. Los Angeles: Center for the Study of Evaluation, UCLA.

Brown, C. G. (1999). The role of schools when school is out. The Future of Children, 9, 139–147.

Capizzano, J., Tout, K., & Adams, G. (2000). Child care patterns of school-age children with employed mothers. Washington, DC: The Urban Institute.

Cooper, C. R., Denner, J., & Lopez, E. M. (1999). Cultural brokers: Helping Latino children on pathways toward success. The Future of Children, 9, 51–57.

Delpit, L. (1995). Other people's children: Cultural conflict in the classroom. New York: The New Press.

Halpern, R. (1999). After-school programs for low-income children: Promise and challenge. The Future of Children, 9, 81–95.

Hamilton, L. S., & Klein, S. P. (1998). Achievement test score gains among participants in the Foundations School-Age Enrichment Program. Santa Monica, CA: RAND Corporation.

Heath, S. B. (1994). The project of learning from the inner-city youth perspective. New Directions for Child Development, 63, 25–34.

Helburn, S., & Howes, C. (1996) Child care cost and quality. The Future of Children, 6, 62–82.

Miller, B. M. (1995). Out-of-school time: Effects on learning in the primary grades. Wellesley, MA: Center for Research on Women, National Institute on Out-of-School Time.

National Governors' Association. (1999). Extra learning opportunities in the states. Washington, DC: Author.

Ohio Hunger Task Force. (1999). Urban School Initiative School-Age Care Project: 1998–1999 school year evaluation report. Columbus, OH: Author.

Pierce, K. M., Hamm, J. V., & Vandell, D. L. (1999). Experiences in after-school programs and children's adjustment in first-grade classrooms. Child Development, 70, 756–767.

Posner, J. K., & Vandell, D. L. (1994). After-school activities and the development of low-income urban children: A longitudinal study. Child Development, 65, 440–456.

Schinke, S., Cole, K. C., & Poulin, S. R. (1998). Evaluation of Boys and Girls' Club of America's Educational Enhancement Program. Atlanta, GA: Author.

Seppanen, P. S., Love, J. M., deVries, D. K., Bernstein, L., Seligson, M., Marx, F., & Kisker, E. E. (1993). National study of before & after school programs (Final report). Portsmouth, NH: RMC Research Corporation.

Traub, J. (2000, January 16). What no school can do. New York Times Magazine.

Witt, P. (1997). Evaluation of the impact of three after-school recreation programs: Executive summary [Online]. Available: www.rpts.tamu.edu/rpts/faculty/pubs/wittpub2.htm.

Zill, N., Nord, C. W., & Loomis, L. S. (1995). Adolescent time use, risky behavior, and outcomes: An analysis of national data. Rockville, MD: Westat.

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