ERIC Identifier: ED425263
Publication Date: 1998-12-00
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on Urban Education New
Urban After-School Programs: Evaluations and Recommendations.
ERIC/CUE Digest, Number 140.
Interest in the quality of after-school programs has been increasing. A
growing number of parents recognize that their children need a safe place to
spend non-school time and an organized program for both reinforcing the school
curriculum and cultivating strengths not developed in school. In urban and low
income areas, after-school programs are essential to counteract the effects of a
range of factors that can contribute to youth's lack of opportunities and
ability to succeed academically (Posner & Vandell, 1994). Thus, President
Bill Clinton has proposed significantly increasing funding for urban programs,
and Congress and some local governments have also advocated and funded
To date, research to determine which types of programs work best with urban
youth has been limited, in part due to a historical disinclination to spend time
and money on evaluations (Flaxman & Orr, 1996; Flannery, 1998) and in part
due to difficulties specific to investigations of after-school programs.
Recently, however, the Center for Research on the Education of Students Placed
at Risk (CRESPAR), at Johns Hopkins University and Howard University, conducted
a survey of 34 programs currently in use after school or in use during school
but with the potential for use after school. CRESPAR's "Review of Extended-Day
and After-School Programs and Their Effectiveness" (Olatokunbo S. Fashola,
October 1998) describes specific programs (and provides contact information),
common program types, and curricular and instructional strategies that seem to
be effective. This digest, updating two 1996 Clearinghouse publications on urban
after-school programs, offers a distillation of CRESPAR's findings.
TYPES OF PROGRAMS
Many local after-school programs are
modeled on national programs, using their resources and, frequently, their
technical assistance. Other programs are local or even one-site operations; they
may draw on national models, develop their design independently, or work with
local schools to help mesh the educational services of both school and
after-school programs. Programs fall into five general categories:
LANGUAGE ARTS. These programs, focusing on a single component of the
curriculum, address the need to increase urban students' literacy and language
skills. One specific program goal is to increase reading by youth, possibly as
an alternative to watching television. A parent component of some programs
encourages families to read and visit the library together, and parents to help
with their children's homework.
STUDY SKILLS. These programs, which may address all areas of the curriculum,
are specifically designed for at-risk students whose lack of study and
comprehension skills hampers their academic achievement. Specially-trained
teachers provide students with strategies for successfully organizing and
retaining information taught in the classroom and for preparing for tests.
ACADEMIC SUBJECTS. These programs address a specific curriculum area such as
science or computer technology. Many programs in this category are extended-day
programs; that is, they operate in the early morning and during school vacations
as well as after school. Some were developed as enrichment programs by
TUTORING. These programs help students improve their reading. They differ
from language arts programs in that they are comprised solely of one-on-one
COMMUNITY-CREATED OR COMMUNITY-BASED. These programs are often developed
within the community to meet local needs, although some are local branches of
national multi-focus programs, such as scouting. They are more likely than other
programs to emphasize recreational, social, or cultural activities, although
they may be housed in schools.
PROGRAM EVALUATION HISTORY AND METHODS
Specific outcomes of
after-school programs for urban students and youth of color are difficult to
ascertain. Not only have few evaluations been conducted, but those that exist
are based on middle-income white youth and thus may not be relevant for
low-income populations. Most evaluations also suffer from selection bias because
families that volunteer for after-school programs may be different enough from
those that do not to affect the impact of the program. A lack of controls also
plagues most evaluations because of the difficulty in finding a comparable
non-participating group of youth to track. Finally, correlating a youth's
program participation with improvements in academic achievement is hampered by a
lack of coordination between the academic programs of the school and the
after-school program. Also, since not all students attending a single
after-school program attend the same school, the program cannot develop its
curriculum to reinforce or supplement that of a specific school.
CRESPAR has identified several solutions to these methodological problems.
They involve use of control groups comprised of youth randomly placed on a
waiting list when they sought to enroll in a program; youth on a waiting list
because they signed up too late to be enrolled immediately; or youth who attend
the same school as program participants, had the opportunity to sign up for the
program, but did not. These controls can be employed in future studies to
produce more dependable results.
However flawed the studies determining their viability, most of the programs
described in the CRESPAR review have been shown to be effective in an
after-school setting or effective as an in-school program and easily replicable
for use after school.
Despite the paucity of rigorous
evaluations of after-school programs, it is still possible to identify
components common to the most effective urban programs and to make
recommendations for implementing them.
EFFECTIVE PROGRAM COMPONENTS
Programs that address the
following three development needs of the "whole" child (Bronfenbrenner, 1986)
ACADEMIC. Optimally, to improve the school performance of children, the
curriculum of after-school programs should be aligned with that of the school by
using regular school-day teachers as program staff. If this is not possible, the
program should employ qualified instructors who provide homework assistance and
organize activities promoting basic skills mastery, and who are familiar with
and can be held accountable for student outcomes. One-on-one tutoring projects
are particularly effective.
RECREATIONAL. After-school programs may provide the only way urban youth can
engage in recreational activities, given the unsafe conditions of many parks,
budget cuts that curtail school and community sports programs, and the lack of
local adults available to coach teams or serve as advisors to clubs. The
recreational component of an after-school program can provide children with
opportunities to develop whatever skills they choose, while also helping them
learn good sportsmanship, coping strategies, and problem solving.
CULTURAL. Like recreational activities, a program's cultural component helps
youth develop important skills not addressed by the school curriculum, and can
help develop participants' self-esteem. Cultural activities include hobbies,
such as woodworking, fishing, sewing, and playing a musical instrument. They can
also provide lessons in etiquette, interviewing skills, dressing for success,
and conflict resolution.
EFFECTIVE PROGRAM DEVELOPMENT AND MANAGEMENT
implementation of the above-described components of a successful after-school
program requires thoughtful development and strong management. Characteristics
of well-designed programs include the following:
WELL-TRAINED STAFF AND VOLUNTEERS. First, programs must recruit well
qualified and caring staff and volunteers, including parents who can benefit
from participation in family projects. Training should include how to work well
with different types of children of different ages, in addition to how to
implement specific program components. Ongoing contact with staff should include
group and individual meetings, opportunities to solve problems, and evaluation.
A SOLID STRUCTURE. Programs need clear goals, well-developed procedures and
resources for attaining them, and extensive staff development, especially those
with an academic focus (Fashola & Slavin, 1997). Programs that do not use
pre-packaged academic programs have to allow adequate time for curriculum and
program development and training. Many effective programs have a strong link
with the school curriculum.
ASSESSMENT. Evaluation of a program's effectiveness requires an initial
statement of its goals: academic, recreational, social, etc. An assessment can
then indicate specific changes in the participants, such as increased reading
scores and higher self-esteem; or improved attitudes and behavior (i.e., lack of
involvement with drugs and violence). The most valuable assessments compare the
gains of program participants with a control group of similar non-participants.
INCLUSION OF FAMILIES IN PROGRAM PLANNING. This is especially important for
programs offering cultural and recreational activities for children and their
parents, since families of participants are more likely to stay involved if they
help design projects.
AN ADVISORY BOARD. An external board helps maintain links between the
community, families, religious organizations, and the school system. It also
creates a group of stakeholders who make policy decisions about the program and
are responsible for its smooth operation.
Bronfenbrenner, U. (1986, February). Alienation
and the four worlds of childhood. Phi Delta Kappan, 67(6), 430, 432-36. (EJ 333
Fashola, O.S., & Slavin, R.E. (1997). Promising programs for elementary
and middle schools: Evidence of effectiveness and replicability. Journal of
Education for Students Placed At Risk, 2(3), 251-307. (EJ 554 842)
Flannery, D.J. (1998, February). Improving school violence prevention
programs through meaningful evaluation. ERIC Digest No. 132. New York: Teachers
College, ERIC Clearinghouse on Urban Education. (ED 417 244)
Flaxman, E., & Orr, M. (1996, December). Determining the effectiveness of
youth programs. ERIC Digest No. 118. New York: Teachers College, ERIC
Clearinghouse on Urban Education. (ED 412 297)
Posner, J.K., & Vandell, D.L. (1994, April). Low-income children's
after-school care: Are there beneficial effects of after-school programs? Child
Development, 65(2), 440-56. (EJ 483 924)
Study Skills Across the Curriculum. (1991). Submission to the Program
Effectiveness Panel of the U.S. Department of Education. Washington, DC: U.S.
Department of Education.