The number of after-school programs has grown rapidly in recent years, spurred by growing employment rates of mothers, pressure to increase academic achievement, and concerns about risks to children who are unsupervised during after-school hours. After-school programs have been hypothesized to improve child and youth behavioral outcomes, but evidence on whether they do is mixed. Some studies have reported that after-school programs reduce negative behaviors (see Tierney, Grossman, and Resch 1995; Marshall et al. 1997). Other studies have shown no effect of after-school programs on behaviors (see Baker and Witt 1996; National Institute of Child Health and Human Development Early Child Care Research Network 2004). Some studies report that after-school programs or after-school care increased negative behaviors (Massachusetts 2020 and Boston Public Schools 2004; Johnson and Donley 1999; Vandell and Corasaniti 1988; Baker, Gruber, and Milligan 2005).
In 1999, Mathematica Policy Research, Inc. began a national evaluation of the U.S. Department of Education's 21st Century Community Learning Centers program. It was the first multistate evaluation of after-school programs to use an experimental design. This paper describes findings from that evaluation related to behavior. (1)
A. The 21st Century Community Learning Centers Program
After-school programs in elementary schools were generally open for 3 h after school 4 or 5 d a week. Most centers offered homework assistance and academic activities, such as teaching or tutoring. Nearly all centers offered recreational opportunities ranging from unstructured free time to organized sports. Programs also offered enrichment activities such as dance, drama, and music, as well as workshops on developmental topics such as building leadership skills and resolving conflicts with peers.
Elementary students in the treatment group attended the program an average of 81 d during the 2 yr of the study (49 d in the first year and 32 d in the second year). Average attendance in the second year was lower because a quarter of students did not have access to the program in the second year because they changed schools and their new school did not have a 21st Century center and because 47% of students who could have attended a program in the second year did not attend.
Middle school programs shared many features with elementary school programs. About 80% of middle school centers offered homework sessions and 60% offered other types of academic assistance, such as additional help in language arts or mathematics. Students typically could choose from a variety of recreational and enrichment activities, such as free time in the gym, board games, table tennis, computer lab, and arts and crafts.
Middle school students in the treatment group attended the program an average of 42 d during the 2 yr of the study (33 d in the first year and 9 d in the second year). Average attendance in the second year was lower because 59% of students did not have access to the program in the second year and because 53% of students who had access to the program in the second year did not attend.
B. Evaluation Design
Elementary Schools. The evaluation identified two cohorts of 21st Century elementary school centers that had more applicants than slots and randomly assigned students to be able to attend programs (the treatment group) or not (the control group). The control group could participate in other after-school programs such as those operated by community organizations or churches, but data indicate that the majority were at home after school with a parent or relative. In total, 2,308 elementary students who were eligible for and interested in attending a 21st Century center were randomly assigned either to the 21st Century treatment group (1,258 students) or to a control group (1,050 students). Random assignment was by center. …