Research Points to Impact of Endangered 21st Century After-school Programs

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Studies in four states show positive results for the national after-school program currently on the congressional chopping block.

The grant program known as the 21st Century Community Learning Centers initiative is the one federal funding stream that goes exclusively to out-of-school programs.

It funds after-school and summer programs for kids in high-poverty communities through grants to school districts and other organizations in each state.

The draft legislation in the Senate, a reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, is currently before the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee and is scheduled for markup in coming weeks. It would shift the grant program’s funding to state block grants.

A similar bill (H.R. 5, the Student Success Act) has been approved by the House Education & the Workforce Committee.

In January 2014, the American Institutes for Research published an evaluation of Washington state’s 21st Century program, based on information gathered in the 2011-12 school year.

The state had 183 centers that year serving 24,379 children, with 14,966 children being regular participants. Most of the centers were located in schools.

The report found that students who regularly attended the after-school centers showed improvements in reading and math scores compared with peers who did not attend. These children also showed an increase in overall GPA compared with others.

A June 2013 report on Rhode Island’s 21st Century Community Learning Centers by the same research organization also found gains in reading and math. Rhode Island had 56 centers serving a total of 12,388 students, of whom 4,532 were regular participants.

An evaluation in Texas found that children in the state’s 21st Century centers improved their attendance at school. Compared with their peers who did not attend an after-school program, the Texas students were more likely to be promoted to the next grade. High school students who frequently attended increased their likelihood of being promoted by 79 percent, according to the American Institutes for Research study, published in February 2013.

The Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction reported in August 2012 that 66 percent of children in 21st Century centers increased their class participation and homework completions, as measured by teachers. Teachers also said 58 percent had increased their motivation to learn and their attentiveness in class.

In its report, the department said the program was a critical strategy to close the achievement gap between economically disadvantaged students and their peers.

In Wisconsin, 210 centers served more than 48,000 students, with 22,319 being regular attendees. More than two-thirds of the students were economically disadvantaged and 66 percent were students of color, according to the report.

The centers balanced academic support with other youth development activities.