The Value of Out of School Programs

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What are the benefits?

What kind of benefits for youth can – and should – out-of-school-time programs produce? Academic gains? Enriching experiences? Safety and homework help? Studies show that out-of-school-time programs improve academic outcomes for participants. As many young people face economic and social barriers to success in school, out-of-school-time programs provide a unique opportunity to level the playing field. Research also shows that such programs can also provide valuable opportunities for social and emotional development, as well as physical activity and recreation. In recent years, there has been a growing consensus that out-of-school time programs should aim to create holistic benefits for participants. This approach recognizes that young people need a range of supports – including academic, safety, and homework help – to thrive. As such, out-of-school time programs have increasingly sought to provide wrap-around services that meet the needs of the whole child.

A new RAND publication based on a review of the evidence suggests that out-of-school-time (OST) programs can generate all three kinds of benefits – depending on the type of programming that’s offered and its duration. RAND researcher Michael D. Redd says the evidence is strongest for academic benefits, followed by social and emotional benefits, with the least support for behavioral outcomes. The programs with the most evidence of success are those that are comprehensive, focused on at-risk youth, provide a minimum of 25 hours per week of programming, and are offered during the regular school year. The programs with the least evidence of success are those that are short-term, intermittent, or lack focus.

In addition, the report found:

  • Academic programs with sufficient dosage can measurably improve student outcomes.
  • Including academics in out-of-school-time programs can demonstrably improve academic outcomes and does not necessarily reduce program attendance at the elementary school level.
  • Program quality and intentionality – that is, deciding on what the program is trying to achieve and designing it accordingly – influence outcomes.
  • Homework help can help students complete their homework, but doesn’t result in higher test scores.
  • To develop social and emotional skills, programs need to have some element aimed at that goal.
  • Youth need to attend programs regularly to benefit measurably.

The report’s recommendations include:

  • When making funding decisions, federal, state and local policymakers should consider all the benefits that OST programs provide. “In the opinion of the authors, OST programs for low-income students are worthy of public investment and should be funded at levels that support high-quality programming,” the authors say. “Policymakers, private funders and intermediaries should incentivize and support OST providers’ efforts to develop intentional, high-quality programs.”
  • Policymakers, private funders, and researchers should better catalog and assess the value of experiences offered in OST programs. The study found that benefits such as providing new experiences, helping youth build social capital through new relationships, and closing the opportunity gap are understudied and underreported.
  • Funders should expect and researchers should measure outcomes that align with program content.
  • OST programs should track and try to maximize attendance of each student.

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