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Today, more than 28 million school-age children have parents who work outside the home. An estimated five to seven million and up to as many as 15 million "latch-key children" return to an empty home after school. In response, many communities have created after-school programs to keep children out of trouble and engaged in activities that help them learn.

According to recent surveys, most people think it is important for children to have an after-school program that helps them develop academic and social skills in a safe and caring environment, and many parents are willing to pay more in taxes to increase the availability of after-school programs.

But the demand for such programs far exceeds the current supply. One recent study found that twice as many elementary and middle school parents wanted after-school programs as were currently available.

After-school options include child care centers, tutoring programs, dance groups, basketball leagues, drop-in clubs and activities offered in conjunction with public facilities such as libraries and recreation centers. Quality programs can provide safe, engaging environments that inspire and expand learning outside the regular school day. While there is no single formula for success in after-school programs, both practitioners and researchers have found that effective programs combine academic, enrichment, cultural and recreational activities to guide learning and engage children in wholesome activities.

Common elements of quality programs include:

  • Goal setting, strong management and sustainability
  • Qualified after-school staff
  • Effective partnerships
  • Strong involvement of families
  • Enriched learning opportunities
  • Evaluation of progress and effectiveness.
Evaluation of after-school programs has been limited, but preliminary analysis indicates that:

  • Younger children (ages 5 to 9) and those in low-income neighborhoods gain the most from after-school programs, showing improved behavior, work habits and academic performance.
  • Young teens who participate in after-school activities achieve higher grades in school and engage in less risky behavior. Because these programs are voluntary, however, participants are likely to be among the more motivated youngsters in a given population.
  • Participation in after-school activities is associated with improved attendance, the development of new skills and interests, decreased time watching television and increased time spent on homework, and the development of higher aspirations, including plans to complete high school and go on to college.
State and federal budgets for education, public safety, crime prevention and child care provide some funding for after-school programs. A major source of funds is the U.S. Department of Education's 21st Century Community Learning Centers program, which provides three-year grants to schools, and whose budget has increased from $1 million in 1997 to more than $800 million in 2001. In addition, at least 26 states plan to increase funding for extra learning opportunities. California's $85 million After-School Learning and Safe Neighborhoods Partnership Project, Kentucky's $37 million Extended School Services and Maryland's $10 million After-School Opportunity Fund are just a few examples.

Various organizations, from the National Academy of Sciences to small, local youth development and family support groups, are now involved in extended-day programs. Private foundations are increasing their support at the program, policy and research levels. Not surprisingly, an industry of entrepreneurial after-school educational services has arisen, offering everything from individual curriculum units to comprehensive enrichment programs. While many new funding sources have emerged in recent years, fees paid by parents remain the major source of support for after-school programs.

Sources: U. S. Department of Education (2000, September), After-School Programs: Keeping Children Safe and Smart; The David and Lucile Packard Foundation (1999, Fall), When School is Out; Donna Trousdale (2000, Summer), First-Year Evaluation of an After-School Program for Middle School Youth, Educational Research Service; Beth M. Miller (2001, April), The Promise of After-School Programs, Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

 

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