Supporting Student Success through After-School and Expanded Learning Programs

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EFFECTIVE AFTER-SCHOOL AND expanded learning programs can play a vital role in student success. In fact, when researchers at the Harvard Family Research Project analyzed a decade of research and evaluation studies a few years ago, they concluded that "children and youth who participate in after-school programs can reap a host of positive benefits in a number of interrelated outcome areas--academic, social/emotional, prevention, and health and wellness" (Little, Wimer, & Weiss, 2008).

Quality after-school programs don't just "happen," however. Coordination among after-school and school-day personnel is essential, as is district support.

Supporting and Enhancing Academic Achievement

Numerous studies suggest that high-quality after-school programs enhance students' academic success in school. After-school programs lead to better attitudes toward school and stronger school engagement; stronger school performance, as measured by standardized test scores and grades; higher rates of school attendance; fewer behavioral problems; and lower dropout rates (Afterschool Alliance, 2008).

A meta-analysis of 35 research studies employing either quasi-experimental or experimental research designs found a small but significant positive effect of such programs on both reading and mathematics achievement, with larger effects for programs that offered tutoring in reading. After-school and summer programs were equally effective (Lauer et al., 2006).

Research and evaluation studies conducted over the past decade with LA's BEST, a school-based after-school program offered to 19,000 students in the Los Angeles Unified School District, consistently shows that participation promotes school-day attendance and engagement, such as higher aspirations toward graduation (Goldschmidt, Huang, & Chinen, 2007). Even more important, students participating in the elementary program had lower dropout rates, particularly among low-income children. A two-year study of 12 after-school programs spread across eight states with 3,000 disadvantaged children also demonstrated that regular program participation is associated with higher test scores, better work habits, and fewer behavior problems (Vandell, Resiner, & Pierce, 2007).

Evaluations of expanded learning time programs demonstrate similar benefits for students' academic achievement. One such program is Citizens Schools, a multidimensional program that includes service learning, experiential learning, mentorship, academic skill building, and homework support. Academic benefits include selection of higher-quality high schools, increased school attendance, increased promotion to the next grade, and decreases in suspension and negative behaviors. Student participants also demonstrated significant gains in some measures of grades and test scores (Fabiano, Pearson, & Williams, 2005).

Supporting Emotional and Social Well-Being

Compelling evidence suggests that afterschool programs provide a range of supports that enhance students' emotional and social well-being. Finding a dearth of literature on the impact of after-school programs on personal and social skills, Durlak & Weissburg (2007) conducted a systematic meta-analysis of 73 out-of-school-time programs employing quasi-experimental or experimental designs. These programs offered services to children ages 5 to 19 and focused on personal and social skills, including problem solving, conflict resolution, self-control, leadership, responsible decision making, and enhancement of self-efficacy and self-esteem.

Durlak and Weissburg learned that after-school programs designed to promote personal and social skills were effective in ways such as these: enhanced confidence among students; improved positive feelings toward school; increased test scores and grades; promoted positive behaviors toward peers and adults; reduced aggression, noncompliance and conduct problems; and reduced drug use. …