This is a surprising article coming from the leftist Brookings Institution.
Afterschool programs, or out-of-school time programs, burst into view in the late 1990s. The federal government—flush with budget surpluses of hundreds of billions—began spending more on the 21st Century Community Learning Centers (CCLC) program. The program was created by the 1994 Improving America’s Schools Act and had languished as an obscure provision to promote schools as community resources. Initially, the program received no appropriation, until Congress appropriated $40 million for it in 1998.
Spending exploded after the program pivoted to support afterschool programs. By 2002, the program’s appropriation was $1 billion. For a federal program to grow from $40 million to $1 billion in a few years happens rarely. The agency overseeing the program, the U.S. Department of Education, partnered with the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation to underwrite conferences and technical assistance for program providers, pumping millions more into the program.
In 1999, the Department of Education contracted with Mathematica Policy Research to evaluate the 21st Century program. The evaluation had elements that were both rigorous and representative. The elementary school part of the study was designed as an experiment; the middle school part was designed as a random sampling of programs around the country, with students participating in the program matched with students in neighboring schools (or the same school, in rural areas) that were not participating in the program. The evaluation collected data on a wide range of outcomes including grades, test scores, attendance, and behavior.
Ultimately, the evaluation reported on how the program affected outcomes. In a series of reports released between 2003 and 2005 (here, here, and here), the answers emerged: the program didn’t affect student outcomes. Except for student behavior, which got worse. And small samples were not an issue explaining why findings were insignificant. The national evaluation included about 2,300 elementary school students and 4,400 middle school students. The results were insignificant because the estimates of program effects hovered around zero.
In the face of these results, one course of action would have been to at least reduce program spending, if not eliminate the program altogether. The Bush administration proposed a reduction of $400 million in the program budget, advocates rallied to the cause, Arnold Schwarzenegger got involved, and ultimately Congress left program spending unchanged. To this day, the program spends more than a billion dollars each year.
If the national evaluation was thought to be unreliable or errant, a sensible next step would be to do another, possibly with different focuses or features. That hasn’t happened. Or perhaps the evaluation findings were dismissed because other research has shown that afterschool programs are effective. It hasn’t. Echoing a previous 2006 review by Zief, Lauver, and Maynard, a 2015 review of dozens of studies that were published up to 2014 concluded that “mean effects were small and non-significant for attendance and externalizing behaviors.”(This is how researchers say the evidence shows that after school programs do not improve attendance or behavior.)
Two other pieces of evidence add to this picture. First, the U.S. Department of Education continues to collect and summarize the program’s annual performance reports (each state reports on its programs to the Department). Its most recent summary noted that ‘nearly all of the performance targets for the 2009-2010 reporting period were not reached.’ Second, a recent federal study of supplemental services programs found no effects on academic outcomes. The study examined programs that are required to be offered by schools that do not meet target levels of adequate yearly progress under No Child Left Behind. They are tutoring and academic support service programs offered outside the regular school day that have a stronger academic focus than the 21st Century programs (which can offer snacks, recreation, and youth development activities), and yet they still did not improve academic outcomes.
I am linking to this because I want people to understand that not every problem has to be solved by the government. It is possible that when politicians tell us that they want to solve a problem by taxing us and spending our money, it’s possible that what they spend our money on does not work. Normally, when it comes to government spending on children,it’s very hard to cut spending because compassionate people do not want to take money away “from the children”. Most Democrat voters do not even realize that money spent by the government either comes from taxation or borrowing from the next generation does not work, it can be very hard to cut funding for those those programs, because the powerful pro-government party has no interest in cutting government spending in any area. They get contributions from people who are very interested in big government.