All Work and No Play?
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All Work and No Play?
By M. Christine De vita, President, The Wallace Foundation
When we decided to commission this report by Public Agenda, we did so because we were struck that in the national debate over how best to help children make the most of their out-of-school time, the voices of parents and children—the consumers—were notably absent.
The Wallace Foundation’s own work in promoting out-of-school learning is premised on the conviction that access to high quality out-of-school learning experiences that actively engage participants is of paramount importance if this nation is to open the doors of lifelong opportunity to all children, regardless of their circumstances. But how can public and private funders, policy makers and providers ever hope to define or accurately assess “quality” or “participation” in out-of-school learning without a clearer fix on what the consumers themselves say they need and prefer? More fundamentally: isn’t it perilous to overlook their voices in a sector of learning where, unlike schools, kids can—and do—vote with their feet?
For the first time, these national surveys of parents and of middle- and high-school aged children systematically present these missing voices. What they have to say is, at turns, reassuring and alarming, predictable and surprising.
Those who think, for example, that most kids just want to hang out aimlessly after the school bell rings, or sit in front of a computer screen, will find some reassurance that more than 8 of 10 recognize the value of supervised out-of-school-time activities and realize they’re worse off when they’re not participating. Weary parents will find it heartening that 89 percent of the young people surveyed admit that, “even though I might complain about it, sometimes I need to be pushed by my parents to do things that are good for me.”
The findings also suggest that not only does the content of these programs matter to parents but also the quality and whether or not they pique their children’s interest. And when asked what they want from out-of-school-time programs, almost half of parents cited “teaching the value of hard work and commitment.”
But the report also provides stark evidence of the inequities in opportunities for kids to participate in quality out-of-school-time activities and programs. Indeed, readers will find here a tale of two kinds of American families.
Poorer families and those from minority backgrounds are far more dissatisfied with the availability and quality of program options beyond the school day and are far likelier to want more academic help for their kids. Majorities believe their kids are getting shortchanged in their out-of-school opportunities. More well off families, by contrast, indicate dramatically higher satisfaction with their after-school options and a good deal less interest or concern over whether those options stress academics.
There is some common ground. At a time when the policy debate about out-of-school learning has been polarized between those saying academics should come first, and those who urge enrichment, the report suggests that both parents and their children want meaningful, challenging activities that, in the long run, help kids become informed, satisfied and productive citizens.
If there’s a single most important finding in this valuable report, it’s that we need to listen more closely to these different voices as we continue to debate the future of after-school programs and where and how to invest scarce public and private resources. What they’re telling us, loud and clear, is that one size doesn’t fit all.
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