After-School Programs for Adolescents: A Review of Evaluation Research

Article excerpt

This literature review describes the goals of after-school programs and examines the degree to which programs have achieved those goals. Early enthusiasm for after-school programs led to rapid growth in their numbers but has not been accompanied by research sufficiently rigorous to produce unambiguous conclusions. Although numerous studies have been conducted, few satisfy the criteria necessary to be considered methodologically sound. While this review includes studies of varying quality, the impact of each study's findings is weighted in proportion to the quality of the research.

The Impetus for After-School Programs

Several factors energized the after-school movement. Community pressure for utilizing school buildings following the end of the school day led Congress in 1994 to fund the 21st Century Community Learning Centers (Dynarski et al., 2003). Parents demanded help in caring for their children during the period between the end of school and the time when parents arrived home from work (Kane, 2004). These demands grew as increasing numbers of caregivers entered the workforce, and large numbers of youth were left without adult supervision during the after-school hours. The National Institute on Out-of-School Time (2003) estimated that approximately eight million children between the ages of 5 and 14 were often unsupervised after school in 1999. Estimates from this time period suggest that over two-thirds of school-age children did not have parental supervision after school (Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2000; Long & Clark, 1997). The specific type of care requested by many parents reflected growing emphasis on academic performance and accountability, due in part to the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (Dynarski, et al., 2004; Lauer et al., 2004).

Interest in after-school programs increased markedly following reports that juvenile crime peaked between 2 p.m. and 6 p.m. on school days (Snyder, & Sickmund, & Poe-Yamagata, 1996; Gottfredson, Gottfredson, & Weisman, 2001). Research documented an association between the presence of parental supervision and lower levels of delinquent behavior, substance use, and high-risk sexual behavior (Biglan et al., 1990; Block, Block, & Keyes, 1988; Cernkovich & Giordano, 1987; Dishion, Patterson, Stoolmiller, & Skinner, 1991). Other research demonstrated an association between lack of adult supervision and an increased likelihood of risk-taking behaviors, victimization, and poor academic performance (Chung, 2000; Dwyer et al., 1990; Newman, Fox, Flynn, & Christeson, 2000; Osofsky, 1999; Posner & Vandell, 1999; Richardson et al., 1989).

Consequently; both private foundation and government funds increased to expand the number of after-school programs. Funding for the 21st Century Community Learning Centers jumped from $40 million in 1998 to roughly $1 billion in 2002 (Dynarski et al., 2004). The rapid growth of after-school programming resulted from lobbying and grass roots efforts and was not based on strong empirical findings (Fagan, 2007; Zief, Lauver, & Maynard, 2004).

Types of After-School Programs

Reviewers of the literature on after-school programs have adopted differing criteria as to what actually constitutes such programs. To date, no consensus exists in the field, and no formal typological scheme grounded in theory has emerged. Investigators have categorized after-school programs by program structure, content areas, and goals. For example, Hofferth, Brayfield, Deich, and Holocomb (1991) grouped after-school programs based on six goals that the programs were trying to achieve: (1) providing adult supervision and safe environments; (2) providing a flexible, relaxed, and homelike environment; (3) providing cultural or enrichment opportunities; (4) improving academic skills; (5) preventing behavior problems; and (6) providing recreational activities. Fashola (1998) surveyed after-school programs and grouped them according to five content-based categories: (1) language arts, (2) study skills, (3) academic programs in other curriculum areas, (4) tutoring for reading, and (5) community-based programs. …