The 2015 Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) is the major source of federal funding for afterschool programs in the United States, especially through its 21st Century Community Learning Centers program. The law also encourages—and in some cases requires—that applicants for its various funding streams establish that their programs are backed by strong evidence of effectiveness. Under the law, evidence of effectiveness is classified into four categories, or “tiers,” of progressively more rigorous evidence. The top three tiers provide the most credible evidence, but the fourth tier can justify offering a program if it is also being evaluated.
This report, a review of research from 2000 to 2017, finds 124 afterschool programs with research that meets the research requirements of ESSA’s top three tiers, and of these half—62—showed positive impacts on students. The programs, which span grades K-12, are focused on everything from academics to physical fitness to career development. “Taken together,” the authors write, “the programs improved a variety of outcomes, ranging from mathematics and reading/ELA achievement to physical activity/health, school attendance, promotion and graduation, and social and emotional competencies.”
The report is accompanied by a detailed guide to the afterschool programs with evidence that meets research requirements of the top three ESSA tiers. The guide also includes summaries of studies of school-sponsored extracurricular programs, studies that fell short of Tiers I-III but could provide evidence at Tier IV, and studies of programs that combine afterschool and summer learning.
The authors also offer a set of recommendations for program providers, states, program evaluators and the federal government. Among the suggestions? That states take a lead role in developing a learning agenda for afterschool programs funded under the 21st Century Community Learning Center program.