Out of School Time Programs Research Paper Starter

Out of School Time Programs

(Research Starters)

This article discusses after-school education or Out of School Time in U.S. public education. Out-of-school time (OST) is a broad term that includes organized activities after school, before school, during lunchtime, on weekends, holidays, and in summer school programs. There has been tremendous growth in this relatively new field, and public support for OST programs is strong. However, along with the increase in funding comes a new interest in accountability for the tax dollars spent. Thus, the demand for rigorous research to determine best practices and characteristics of effective programs is high. Except for one early national evaluation of OST programs, the results are generally positive, and tend to support programs that offer a wide variety of enrichment opportunities, rather than focusing exclusively on academic achievement. This paper also includes a description of 13 exemplary OST programs, as well as recommendations for more rigorous research.

Keywords After-School Education; After-School Programs; Enrichment Activities; Extended School Day; Extracurricular Activities; High Risk Students; In Loco Parentis; Out-of-School Time; Summer School; Supplemental Educational Services; Youth Programs


Out of school-time (OST) is a broad term that refers to any program, activity or opportunity that occurs during non-school hours where children and youth, aged 6 to 18, are supervised by adults who are promoting their development (Trammel, 2003). Out-of-school time can happen after school, before school, during lunchtime, on weekends, holidays, and in summer school programs. The term OST is a departure from older references to after school programs that typically had a narrower focus on after-school academic assistance (Trammel, 2003).

Out of school-time programs have been around for over a century (Gayl, 2004), but the federal government did not become involved in OST programs until the mid-1990s (James-Burdumy, Dynarski, Moore, Deke, Mansfield, Pistorino & Warner, 2005). Therefore, OST programs are a relatively new field. Since 1994, OST programs have doubled in number (Miller & Snow, 2004), and a number of societal and regulatory factors can be attributed to this growth. Indeed, some authors even refer to this grassroots phenomena as the after-school movement (Afterschool Alliance, 2004). The many, varied organizations involved in some way with out-of-school time include libraries, parks departments, YMCAs and other private program providers, housing agencies, police departments, city hall, and, of course, schools (Journal of Staff Development, 2011).

Growth of OST

In 2005, 40% of K-8 students attended an OST program at least once a week; however, there are not enough spaces available to meet the current demand. According to a household survey, approximately 61% of those children enrolled in OST programs attend a school or center-based program in a public school. Schools and community organizations often implement OST programs in order to meet the needs of at-risk students; unfortunately, due to lack of availability the programs struggle to reach the disadvantaged students who would most likely benefit from OST activities. Besides lack of availability and out-of-pocket expenses for families, children and youth often lose interest in OST programs, and attendance is patchy.

One reason for the growth of OST programs is that more parents are in the workforce, so there is greater need for adult supervision of children and youth outside of school time (Gayl, 2004; Hollister, 2003). Today, both parents often work outside the home, and there is also an increase in single-parent households (Trammel, 2003; Kleiner & Chapman, 2004). Second, there is research to show that OST programs deter youth from crime, and have positive effects on their social skills (Gayl, 2004). Dobbins (2005, p. 1) quotes from a Department of Justice report that the hours of 3:00 to 6:00 pm are "prime time for juvenile crime." Lastly, the push from the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (NCLB) to raise educational standards has led many to believe that OST programs can improve academic achievement by providing extra learning opportunities (Miller & Snow, 2004).

Public Support for OST

In addition to the tremendous growth in OST programs, public support for OST programs is strong (Lumsden, 2003a; Afterschool Alliance, 2004). Public support encourages politicians to support OST initiatives, and now governments at both the federal, state and local levels fund a variety of OST programs. In 1994, Congress authorized the 21st Century Community Learning Centers (CCLC) program as part of the re-authorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. The CCLC program grew from a budget of $40 million to $1 billion in 2002; however, there were no significant increases since then (James-Burdumy et al., 2005).

Increased funding for OST programs has also led to increased demand for accountability of the tax dollars spent (McComb & Scott-Little, 2003; Afterschool Alliance, (2003). In addition, an often-cited reason for OST programs is to help meet the needs of low-income children (Miller & Snow, 2004). Besides these two reasons for gathering data to support OST programs, an important study in 1999 reported few positive and some negative results in a multi-year evaluation; this report created quite a stir among OST providers and evaluators, and even led the George W. Bush administration to propose a funding cut.


Need for Safety of Children

There are many reasons children and youth need OST programs, but there are three main outcomes described in the literature. First, the safety of children is a primary concern. According to Lumsden (2003b, p. 2), "more than 28 million school-age children have parents who are employed, and between seven and fifteen million of these children go home to an empty house on any given day." Younger children who are unsupervised after school have their personal safety and emotional security at risk (Lumsden, 2003b). Older unsupervised youths are more likely to experiment with high-risk activities like drugs, alcohol, sex, and crime (Reisner, White, Russell & Birmingham, 2004).

Improved Academic Achievement

A second desired outcome of OST programs is to improve students' academic achievement (Afterschool Alliance, 2003; Peter, 2002). After passage of the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) in 2001, there was greater necessity for educators to help their students reach benchmark academic standards (Gayl, 2004). Lawmakers agreed that academically focused OST programs would help their state achieve the standards set by NCLB. In addition, NCLB requires Title 1 schools to offer supplemental services (i.e., out of school time) for students in schools who fail to meet adequate yearly progress (Miller & Snow, 2004; Department of Education, 2007).

Enhanced Life Skills or Psychosocial Development

Third, some of the most consistent positive outcomes found in OST research relate to enhanced life skills or psychosocial development (McComb & Scott-Little, 2003). In general, OST programs based on holistic youth development rather than management of problems tend to have more outcomes that are positive and cover a broader array of domains. Politicians tend to focus on academic achievement, but others are concerned about programming that provides opportunities for physical activity, creativity, and fun (DeAngelis, 2003). Students who regularly attend OST programs seem to enjoy school more, have more positive attitudes to learning, and better in-school behavior according to their teachers’ reports ("Moving Beyond," 2004). The National Institute on Out-of-School Time reports that opportunities to engage in physical activity out of school are an important way to combat the recent rise in childhood obesity ("Making the Case," 2005; Hall & Gruber, 2006), as the percentage of overweight children ages 6 to 17 tripled in three decades (Ferrandino, 2007). In addition, children and youth not enrolled in OST programs tend to have too much idle time, which leads to excessive TV viewing. According to Ferrandino (2007, p. 19), "one-third of children under age 12 spend more than four hours a day watching TV, as do one-fifth of 12th graders on weekdays." In one study, youth who reported learning new skills, learning about college, and learning about jobs through activities in the program were more engaged, as were youth who found the staff caring and competent. Results demonstrated that the link between learning content for the future and engagement was stronger for older youth than younger youth (Greene et al., 2013).

Helping Parents

Finally, although not an outcome for students, helping parents is another psychosocial benefit of OST programs, and some authors mention this specifically as an important benefit (Afterschool Alliance, 2003; Miller & Snow, 2004). OST programs allow working parents to worry less about their children's safety, to save time in their busy lives, to have greater awareness of community agencies, and to improve their attendance at work (Afterschool Alliance, 2003).

Further Insights

According to a National Household Education Survey in 2005, 61% of children in kindergarten through grade eight (K-8) attended a school-based or center-based after school program at a public school (Carver & Iruka, 2006). The remaining approximately 39% of OST programs operate among private schools (10%), community centers (8%), programs in their own building (15%), and other locations (5%). Community-based and school-based OST programs may have different approaches, but the goal of helping students reach their potential and make positive gains are the same for any organization ("Promising Practices," 2007).

Meeting the Needs

In 2005, 40% of K-8 students attended an OST program at least once a week (Carver & Iruka, 2006). However, some estimate that only one-third of children needing after-school care are receiving it (Gayl, 2004; "Making the Case," 2005). Unfortunately, OST opportunities are more limited for low-income and minority children when compared to the space available to white and higher income children (Wright, 2005). Thirty percent of parents whose children are not in an OST program would enroll them in one if it were available to them ("Making the Case," 2005).

Positive Environment

In general, the research shows that OST programs can help youth develop in a positive environment. However, often the children who enroll in these programs are those who would receive adult supervision and enrichment activities even if the program did not exist. The result is that OST programs struggle to reach the disadvantaged students who would most likely benefit from OST activities (Gayl, 2004). Ironically, the main reason schools and community groups develop OST programs is to meet the needs of low-income children (Miller & Snow, 2004).


OST programs generally cost less than after-school care by non-relatives (Carver & Iruka, 2006).

Barriers to OST Program Participation

Besides lack of availability and expenses for OST programs, there are other reasons children and youth lose interest in the programs. The Harvard Family Research Project ("Moving Beyond," 2004, p.3) lists five barriers to OST program participation:

• Due to the impact of NCLB, there are more stringent demands for achievement in school, and students often prefer to relax and just be with their friends after school.

• Teens often want to work outside the home; lower income families may rely on this income as a necessity.

• Older students may have family responsibilities such as caring for younger siblings.

• Students find the...

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