ERIC Identifier: ED458010
Publication Date: 2001-11-00
Author: Shumow, Lee
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on
Elementary and Early Childhood Education Champaign IL.
Academic Effects of After-School Programs. ERIC Digest.
The current emphasis on performance standards and testing has led schools to
look to the after-school hours as time that can be spent developing children's
academic skills (National Institute on Out-of-School Time, 2001). Previously,
principals and teachers tended to focus on after-school programs as a means to
provide supervision for children whose parents were employed during the before-
and after-school hours. Research has substantiated educators' concerns that
children who are unsupervised during the after-school hours can suffer an array
of negative developmental outcomes, especially when those children come from
Few children attend after-school programs. Fourteen percent of primary grade
children attend formal after-school programs compared with 27% of children who
are cared for by relatives or by family child care providers after school
(Brimhall, Reaney, & West, 1999). Most families who need care for their
elementary school children depend on a patchwork of programs, lessons,
structured activities, and self-care each week. Although federal government and
private foundation funding has increased recently for after-school programs,
research indicates that there are not enough programs available to meet demand
(Halpern, 1999; National Institute on Out-of-school Time, 2001). This Digest
describes types of after-school programs and discusses recent research on who
participates and the effects of participation on children's school performance.
TYPES OF AFTER-SCHOOL PROGRAMS
After-school programs are
sponsored and operated by for-profit businesses, community organizations, public
schools, private schools, church groups, and by government agencies such as
municipal park and recreation departments. More importantly, with respect to the
impact of school-age programs on children's academic adjustment, after-school
programs vary in terms of their philosophy, goals, and programming. Many
programs continue a tradition of providing safe places for children to have fun.
Such recreational programs tend to emphasize sports activities. Other programs
focus on academics by providing tutoring in school subjects and by assisting
with homework completion. Yet other programs center on enrichment, providing
children with opportunities to develop skills and interests in activities such
as dance, music, science, or arts and crafts. Some programs pursue multiple
goals and offer an array of activities.
RESEARCH ON PARTICIPATION IN AFTER-SCHOOL PROGRAMS
studies of after-school programs reported inconsistent results in comparing
children who attended programs with those who did not. Researchers have
determined that where children go after school, what they do after school, and
how their activities affect them depend on characteristics of the children,
families, communities, and programs.
In general, between first and fifth grades, children's participation in
formal after-school programs declines while their participation in lessons and
in self-care increases greatly. Children's maturity and prior adjustment also
predict their activities after school. For example, one study of low-income
children found that children with better academic skills in third grade were
more likely to select and attend enrichment activities in fifth grade and less
likely to spend time with peers in unsupervised settings. The same study found
that less well-adjusted children were more likely to remain in formal child care
programs until fifth grade, probably because their parents recognized that they
needed supervision (Posner & Vandell, 1999). Gender is another factor in
children's after-school activities. Boys participate in more sports activities
than girls; girls are more involved in academics, art projects, and socializing
(Hofferth & Jankuniene, 2001; Posner & Vandell, 1999). Race may be yet
another factor in children's participation. In one study, program participation
was similar for White and African American third-graders, but by fifth grade,
the number of White children attending programs decreased dramatically while the
number of African-American children attending programs increased (Posner &
Parents with higher educational levels and more income tend to influence
their children to participate in educationally beneficial activities and can pay
for more enrichment lessons than can parents with lower education and less
income. However, some parents living in inner-city neighborhoods expend great
amounts of energy to seek out resources for their children. Importantly,
after-school program attendance provides children from low-income families with
access to the types of enrichment activities that middle-class children
typically experience (Hofferth & Jankuniene, 2001).
Community characteristics also bear on who participates and how this
participation affects them. Program shortages are most pronounced in urban and
rural areas, and programs for children from low-income families struggle with
limited funding and resources. These limitations affect their quality (Halpern,
1999; National Institute on Out-of-School Time, 2001). There is some evidence
that after-school programs are more beneficial for children from high-risk
communities than for middle-class children.
RESEARCH ON ACADEMIC EFFECTS OF AFTER-SCHOOL PROGRAMS
evaluating the effects of programs on children's school performance, it is
important for researchers to consider the individual, family, or community
differences in children participating in programs in their research design so
that the effects of those preexisting differences among participants and
nonparticipants are not mistakenly attributed to programs. The research on
program effects cited here does consider possible selection effects but is based
on small, nonrepresentative samples of children.
Attendance is an important factor in evaluating the effects of after-school
programs on children's school adjustment. Some researchers (Pettit et al., 1997)
found that children who participated in some (1-3 hours a day) activities after
school were rated by their teachers as having better social skills and fewer
acting-out behavior problems than children who participated either in no
activities or more activities each week. Pierce and Vandell (1999) demonstrated
that academically at-risk children who attended after-school programs more
frequently, as compared with children who attended less often, developed better
work habits in their school classrooms, attended school more often, and endorsed
less aggressive strategies to resolve conflicts with peers. Program attendance
was related to program quality. That study and others found that children resist
attending programs where staff is negative and activities are limited, boring,
Some research has established links between regulatable program features,
staff-child interactions, activities in programs, and children's school
adjustment. Lower adult-child ratios and higher levels of staff education are
associated with more positive interactions, less negativity, and more flexible
and age-appropriate activities in after-school programs. Pierce, Hamm, and
Vandell (1999) found that classroom teachers reported that boys had fewer
behavior problems when staff were more positive with the children in their
after-school programs. Exposure to more negative emotional climates in
after-school programs was associated with lower reading and mathematics grades
for boys. Those boys who attended programs that allowed them to make choices
about activities were rated by their first-grade teachers as having better
social skills with peers in the classroom than were boys enrolled in less
The specific activities that children engage in after school are associated
with where children are after school and with how well children do in school.
Not surprisingly, reading after school is the activity most predictive of higher
student achievement. Throughout elementary school, children in a nationally
representative sample did more studying and reading at home than they did in
programs (Hofferth & Jankuniene, 2001). On the other hand, several
researchers have found that children watch far more television at home after
school than they do at after-school programs. Time viewing television in
numerous studies has been associated with lower reading achievement and more
frequent behavior problems among children.
Posner and Vandell (1999) studied low-income and working-class urban children
and found that those who attended after-school programs engaged in more nonsport
extracurricular activities in third through fifth grade and more academic
activities in third and fourth grades than nonprogram children. They then
investigated the adjustment of fifth-grade children based on how they had spent
their after-school time over a 3-year period. For the low-income
African-American children in their sample, time doing nonsport extracurricular
activities after school was associated with better teacher-reported emotional
adjustment in school, time socializing was associated with better academic
grades and work habits, and time in coached sports was associated with lower
academic grades (Posner & Vandell, 1999). For the White children in their
sample, time in unstructured activities outside was associated with lower report
card grades, poorer work habits, and poorer teacher-reported emotional
adjustment in school.
The research indicates that children from
high-risk backgrounds have both the most to gain from after-school programs in
terms of educational opportunity and the least access to after-school programs.
Research findings also indicate that if educational benefits are the goal of
after-school programs, then attention needs to be focused on the quality of
programs and the activities that are offered. First, a positive emotional
climate devoid of harsh, punitive, controlling adult supervision should increase
attendance. Programs cannot benefit children who do not attend or resist
participation. Second, the changing needs and interests of older elementary
school children need to be considered in programming. Third, experts caution
that the goal of improving children's school performance will not necessarily be
attained by extending the school day with traditional classroom lessons and
routines. Some research suggests that giving children activity choices, engaging
them in enrichment activities, and supporting socialization with peers will pay
academic dividends. Projects offer the potential to enhance children's learning
(Alexander, 2000) as do activities such as music, art, theatre, computers,
reading for pleasure, and writing for an audience (Hynes, O'Connor, & Chung,
2000; Vandell & Shumow, 1999), but the benefits of those approaches still
need to be substantiated by research.
FOR MORE INFORMATION
Alexander, D. (2000). The learning
that lies between play and academics in after-school programs [Online].
Wellesley, MA: National Institute on Out-of-School Time. Available:
Brimhall, D., Reaney, L., & West, J. (1999). Participation of
kindergartners through third-graders in before- and after-school care.
Statistics in Brief. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education, Office of
Educational Research and Improvement. ED 433 147.
Halpern, R. (1999). After-school programs for low-income children: Promises
and challenges. Future of Children, 9(3), 81-95. EJ 600 564.
Hofferth, S. L., & Jankuniene, Z. (2001). Life after school. Educational
Leadership, 58(7), 19-23.
Hynes, K., O'Connor, S., & Chung, A. (2000). Literacy: Exploring
strategies to enhance learning in after-school programs [Online]. Wellesley, MA:
National Institute on Out-of-School Time. Available:
National Institute on Out-of-School Time. (2001, March). Fact sheet on
school-age children's out-of-school time [Online]. Wellesley, MA: National
Institute on Out-of-School Time. Available:
Pettit, G., Laird, R. D., Dodge, K. A., & Bates, J. E. (1997). Patterns
of after-school care in middle childhood: Risk factors and developmental
outcomes. Merrill-Palmer Quarterly, 43(3), 515-538. EJ 554 329.
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(3), 756-767. EJ 595 706.
Pierce, K. M., & Vandell, D. L. (1999, March). Safe Haven program
evaluation. Madison: University of Wisconsin Center for Educational Research.
Available from Deborah Lowe Vandell (email@example.com).
Posner, J. K., & Vandell, D. L. (1999). After-school activities and the
development of low-income urban children: A longitudinal study. Developmental
Psychology, 35(3), 868-879. EJ 586 559.
Vandell, D. L., & Shumow, L. (1999). After-school child care programs.
Future of Children, 9(3), 64-80. EJ 600 563.