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The Evaluation of Enhanced Academic Instruction in After-School Programs

NCEE 2008-4021
June 2008

Executive Summary

This report presents findings, after one year of program implementation, from the Evaluation of Enhanced Academic Instruction in After-School Programs — a two-year intervention and random assignment evaluation of adapted models of regular-school-day math and reading instruction in after-school settings for students in grades 2 through 5. The study, which is being conducted by MDRC in collaboration with Public/Private Ventures and Survey Research Management, was commissioned by the National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance at the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences (IES).

Federal support for after-school programs is provided through the 21st Century Community Learning Centers (21st CCLC) program, established in 1999 and now a stateadministered grant program. A primary purpose of the 21st CCLC program, as expressed in Title IV, Part B, is to “provide opportunities for academic enrichment” to help students meet state and local standards in core content areas. Findings from a previous National Evaluation of the 21st CCLC program indicate that, on average, the 21st CCLC program grants awarded between 1999 and 2002 had a limited academic impact on participating elementary school students’ academic achievement.1 A possible factor is the finding that most academic activities at the evaluation sites consisted of homework sessions in which students received limited additional academic assistance (such as reading instruction or assistance with math homework). In addition, participant attendance was limited and sporadic. However, analyses comparing the academic outcomes of frequent and infrequent participants suggest that increasing attendance alone is unlikely to improve the academic findings. Therefore, the limited academic effects in combination with the low levels of formal academic assistance offered in these programs highlight the need for improved academic programming.

In response, IES has supported the development and evaluation of instructional resources for core academic subjects that could be used in after-school programs. This study tests whether an intervention of structured approaches to academic instruction in after-school programs (for reading and math) produce better academic outcomes than regular after-school services that consist primarily of help with homework or locally assembled materials that do not follow a structured curriculum.2


1 M. Dynarski et al., When Schools Stay Open Late: The National Evaluation of the 21st Century Community Learning Centers Program, First-Year Findings. Report submitted to the U.S. Department of Education. (Princeton, NJ: Mathematica Policy Research, Inc., 2003).
2 The evaluation is not studying the impacts of the overall after-school program or the enrichment and youth development aspects of after-school services.