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Monday, March 23, 2015

21st Century Community Learning Centers: Effective support for local afterschool programs

Written by Jodi Grant

For more than 15 years, the 21st Century Community Learning Centers (21st CCLC) initiative has provided resources for local afterschool programs, which in turn support student success, keep children safe and are a lifeline for working parents. Not surprisingly, parents report that they are pleased with their children’s afterschool programs: close to 9 in 10 parents with a child in an afterschool program say they are satisfied with the program overall. Further, an overwhelming body of research shows that afterschool programs help increase school day attendance, improve grades, narrow the achievement gap and contribute to social and emotional well-being. In particular, afterschool programs supported by the 21st CCLC initiative are helping raise student achievement, as shown by more and more studies published each year.

I was surprised, therefore, to read that one researcher from a prominent think tank is harkening back to a controversial 21st CCLC study he led, released more than a decade ago to a critical response, as a reason to question federal support for the initiative. He also points to a meta-analysis of existing research on afterschool programs released earlier this month, even though the authors state that their results “…cannot be generalized to draw conclusions about the effect of after-school programs beyond the outcomes examined in this study.” Many of the outcomes examined in the meta-analysis were not even stated goals of the programs reviewed.

It is a proven fact that afterschool programs work incredibly well. New research from Dr. Deborah Vandell, previewed at the Society for Research in Child Development last week, shows that afterschool programs are on par with early childhood programs in supporting reading comprehension and math achievement. And a number of recent state-level evaluations of 21st CCLC make a convincing case that this federal initiative is succeeding in positively impacting students and families:

  • An evaluation of Texas 21st Century Community Learning Centers found that the initiative positively impacted students’ school day performance. Students attending afterschool programs—both students with low levels and high levels of participation—were more likely to be promoted to the next grade; the likelihood of being promoted increased by 43 percent for students with low levels of participation in the program and by 47 percent for students with high levels of participation. Additionally, afterschool students saw improvements in their Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills (TAKS) reading and math scores (American Institutes for Research, 2013).
  • Students regularly attending Washington’s 21st CCLC-funded afterschool programs saw improvements in their reading and math achievement, as well as a positive impact on their overall GPA, compared to their non-participating peers (American Institutes for Research, 2014).
  • A statewide longitudinal evaluation of the After School Safety and Enrichment for Teens (ASSETs) program—California’s high school component of the 21st CCLC initiative—found that students participating in the ASSETs program received higher ELA and math assessment scores, and performed better on the ELA and math sections of the CAHSEE than non-participants (CRESST, 2012).
  • Teachers of students participating in Wisconsin 21st CCLC-funded programs reported that more than two-thirds improved their class participation, 60 percent saw improvements in their motivation to learn and 55 percent improved their behavior in class. Teachers also reported that 48 percent of students improved in volunteering for extra credit or responsibility (Wisconsin Department of Instruction, 2014).

Today’s afterschool programs use evaluations to continuously improve their offerings, as do the state education departments that administer 21st CCLC grants.

21st CCLC-funded programs are comprehensive afterschool programs, providing enrichment activities that include hands-on learning, science experiments, arts, music, dance, tutoring and homework help. To cut funding for the 21st CCLC initiative would be devastating to the 1.6 million children and youth participating in these programs and to their families and communities. We would see more children unsupervised after the school day ends, which is when juvenile crime peaks. We would see more students without the mentors, academic support, and learning opportunities that help them thrive in school. We would see more parents worrying about where their children are in the hours after school and before they get home from work. Without 21st CCLC funding, students, our education system and our country would suffer.

With House and Senate education proposals seeking to eliminate the dedicated afterschool funding stream, the future of federal funding for afterschool is in grave danger. Your voices can save the program: now more than ever, parents, educators, and friends of afterschool programs are encouraged to reach out to their Members of Congress to share their experiences of how afterschool programs and 21st CCLC have helped their children and families.

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