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The Value of Out of School Time


Jennifer McCombs, Anamarie Whitaker and Paul Yoo

Without OST care, parents who do not have flexible work schedules are left with few or expensive childcare arrangements.

Policymakers and funders can incentivize intentional, quality programming by providing adequate resources and prioritizing funding for programs that can demonstrate intentionality of design and quality characteristics.

A combination of experiences over a course of years may contribute more to youth development, academic attainment, and life success than does one individual program.

Many of the benefits of OST – including building social capital by providing the opportunity to develop friendships with peers and adults, opening doors to new experiences, and closing the opportunity gap – have been underreported and not studied sufficiently.

Despite assumptions to the contrary, including academics in elementary school OST programs can boost academic outcomes and does not reduce attendance.

What Does the Literature Reveal About the Effectiveness of OST Programs? To examine the evidence base on OST programs and better understand the possible effects of programs, we reviewed meta-analyses and large-scale, rigorous experimental and quasi-experimental evaluations of after-school and summer programs. We focused primarily on recent (from 2000 on) evaluations of multipurpose programs (e.g., 21st CCLC)17 and academic OST programs.18 A complete list of studies reviewed and their key findings is presented in the online appendix. Before presenting key conclusions from our reviews of large-scale OST program evaluations, it is important to consider the limitations of the literature, and what these studies can and cannot tell us. Here, we cover three main points but acknowledge that other important study factors may limit conclusions, which should be considered. First, when studies evaluate the effectiveness of 21st CCLC programs, they are examining the funding stream to multiple centers and organizations implementing a range of programming, as opposed to examining a single program or curriculum. The 21st CCLC funding is not intended for programs to implement the same activities, but instead can be used to fund programs aligned with the 14 different “authorized activities” outlined in the legislation. Second, even though evaluations may randomly assign youth to participate or not participate in the OST program being studied, youth can choose not to participate or to participate in other OST programs. So, these evaluations examine whether offering the studied program produces better outcomes than “business as usual,” which can include participation in alternate OST activities and programs. Third, evaluations of OST programs are limited in size, outcomes assessed, and rigor. For this review, we focus on experimental and quasi-experimental studies and metaanalyses. We do not include small-scale, nonexperimental studies, which, while important for understanding process elements of programs that may lead to their effectiveness, do not produce generalizable findings. Larger-scale, rigorous studies, such as those that we reviewed, are less common and also have limitations, a key one being the number of outcomes assessed. Larger-scale studies are expensive and time-intensive, so researchers must make hard decisions about the outcomes to focus on, which can lead to potentially omitting a primary or secondary outcome that programs could influence. Further, even these larger studies may be underpowered to detect certain outcomes of interest. Because of these limitations, we believe it is important to examine and evaluate the whole body of evidence on OST programs and strive to understand what makes programs effective or ineffective prior to drawing policy conclusions or making funding decisions. The findings listed here represent the authors’ assessment based on the body of literature reviewed.

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