An Evaluation of the After School Matters Program

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Northwestern University

Although many policy makers and those in academia concur that after-school programs are important for students, participation in these programs among high school students remains at a very low level. This study notes the need to develop more attractive after-school programs for students in high school, which makes the After School Matters (ASM) program, one of the largest among high school students, an important program to study.

ASM offers paid apprentice-type opportunities for students in many different areas including sports, technology and the arts. Each specific apprenticeship involves work that helps them learn and make use of relevant skills to accomplish a given task. There are instructors present who provide students with information, feedback and guidance and also introduce the students to the standards, culture and language of that line of work. Apprentices are paid a stipend of $5 an hour during the study.

This report presents results from a three-year, random-assignment evaluation of the ASM program. The study assessed 13 apprenticeships and their respective control groups for a total of 535 youth. The study selected apprenticeships focusing on those instructors who have a history of implementing the ASM model well. Researchers were able to identify such instructors by using ASM nominations and prior evaluation data.

ASM advocates had led researchers to believe that few alternative after-school programs were available to youth in schools and communities around the research area that encompassed 10 public schools in Chicago. However, researchers discovered that 91 percent of the control groups were involved in an organized after-school activity or paid work. According to the study, the majority of participants involved in ASM were African-American (77 percent) and low-income (92 percent received free, or reduced-price lunch).

There were no statistically significant differences between the groups for marketable job skills or academic outcomes and there were no differences that favored the control group over ASM.

The study found that youth in the treatment group reported significantly higher self-regulation than youth in the control group. In addition, youth in the treatment group reported significantly fewer problem behaviors than youth in the control group.

Looking at the positives, the study shows ASM was able to obtain significant results on important outcome variables, including higher self-regulation for youths in the program compared to those who were not. In addition, students in ASM had fewer problem behavior incidents than those not in the program.

Some of the negatives of ASM are that there were few significant effects found as a result of ASM and the size of those effects was relatively small.  The study also noted that a more representative group of ASM instructors – rather than a hand-picked few – might eliminate the few positive impacts the study identified.

The researchers concluded that to achieve the results sought through ASM, some parts of the apprenticeship element must be changed to provide a more lasting effect on youth who participate.

For the full, free 115-page report, click here.