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When Schools Stay Open Late:  The National Evaluation of the 21st Century Community Learning Centers Program

NCEE 2004-3001
October 2004

Executive Summary

After-school programs have grown rapidly in recent years, spurred by rising employment rates of mothers, pressure to increase academic achievement, and concerns about risks to children who are unsupervised during after-school hours. The percentage of public schools offering "extended day" programs (which include before- and after-school programs) more than tripled from 1987 to 1999, from about 13 percent to 47 percent.

The federal government's investment in after-school programs has grown rapidly as well. Funding for the 21st Century Community Learning Centers program, created in 1994, rose from $40 million in 1998 to $1 billion in 2002. The program now provides funding to 2,250 school districts to support school-based programs in 7,000 public schools.

Some studies of after-school programs have found that these programs increase academic achievement and student safety, as well as reduce negative behaviors such as drug and alcohol use. However, other studies have found that after-school programs have no effect on—and even worsen—certain outcomes, leading to debate over whether the evidence supports increased investment in after-school programs.

In 1999, the U.S. Department of Education contracted with Mathematica Policy Research, Inc., and Decision Information Resources, Inc., to evaluate the 21st Century Community Learning Centers program. The evaluation team collected student outcome data in five areas: after-school supervision, location, and activities; academic performance and achievement; behavior; personal and social development; and safety. Because the purpose of the 21st Century Community Learning Centers program by law is safe and drug-free learning environments for students that support academic achievement, this evaluation focused on student and school outcomes. It did not explore the full range of parental needs and satisfaction that might be affected by the availability of after-school programs. It did collect parent outcome data on involvement in school activities and employment status.

In its first year of data collection, the team gathered data for roughly 1,000 elementary school students in 18 schools in 7 school districts, and 4,300 middle school students in 61 schools in 32 school districts. The elementary study was based on random assignment, in which outcomes of students assigned to the program were compared with outcomes of students not assigned to the program. The middle school evaluation was based on a matched-comparison design, in which outcomes of students who participated in programs were compared with outcomes of similar students who did not. Findings from these data were presented in the study's first report (hereafter referred to as the "first report"), which was released in February 2003.

For the second year of data collection, researchers gathered additional data in two ways. First, they added more elementary school programs and students. Second, they followed middle school students for a second year, which enabled the evaluation to explore whether there were outcome differences after two years. The results are summarized in this new report, which contains findings from this second year of data collection. A third report will analyze impacts for elementary students after two years.