The Importance of After-School Programs

— American Association of School Administrators
Updated on Feb 25, 2011

The opportunity for school administrators to transform the quality of education that students receive today in public schools may be as close as the growing focus on afterschool programs.

AASA’s magazine, The School Administrator, thoroughly developed the case for afterschool programs in its May 2005 issue. Well-structured afterschool programs effectively expand learning time for students, provide opportunities for collaboration with the broader community, and constructively fill those hours that, at best, are spent idly and, at worst, entice unsupervised youngsters into delinquent or high-risk activities.

While the Bush Administration’s No Child Left Behind legislation primarily promotes the academic/ tutoring aspect of the afterschool picture, other organizations and individuals have taken a more expansive view of the possibilities, suggesting that afterschool programs not only bolster the academic agenda but also provide — within a structure that differs from the regular school day — time for social, emotional and physical skill building that students must have to achieve life success.

This broadening of the mission, much different than just expanding the course offerings, was the subject of comments by Karen Pittman of The Forum for Youth Investment in a Youth Today column. She explained how a group of hand-picked educators, practitioners and policy experts, attending a conference at the behest of the U.S. Department of Education, were attempting to identify outcome indicators for improved achievement that could be used to evaluate afterschool programs.

“Our brainstorming session netted more than 50 outcome indicators, ranging from reduced violent episodes to increased enthusiasm about learning,” she wrote. “Some were specifically about school, such as attendance. Others focused on nonacademic goals, such as interacting with youth from other backgrounds.”

“The connections became clear," Pittman continues. “Academic achievement is dependent on engagement, motivation, behavior and attendance. All of these are dependent on youth feeling safe and supported and are reflected in literature on academic achievement, and achievement in general."

“We decided that afterschool programs should first define their full set of goals in each outcome area and then agree to be measured against academic indicators — but only after they create program activities connected to those goals. . . . The tension between academics and youth development did not materialize. The groups affirmed the notion that both goals are equally attainable. Former U.S. Department of Education Sec. Roderick Paige, C.S. Mott Foundation President Bill White and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger announced our progress in a press conference immediately following the summit," Pittman said.

Policy analyst Richard Rothstein, in his 2004 book Class and Schools, sees afterschool programs as a way to balance the inequity that exists between poor and middle class students, not only in terms of academic achievement, but also in the enhancement of critical personal skills. When middle class students leave school in the afternoon, he points out, they have a host of places to go, such as Girl and Boy Scouts, religious groups, Little League and classes in art, music and dance. Less-advantaged students are more likely to watch television or play informally. Thus they miss out on the structured activities that help students learn social responsibility, improve academic proficiency and develop the organizational skills and discipline that make them more effective.

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