For decades, a debate has quietly simmered: What kind of benefits for youth can – and should – out-of-school-time programs produce? Academic gains? Enriching experiences? Safety and homework help?

A new RAND publication based on a review of the evidence suggests an answer: out-of-school-time (OST) programs can generate all three kinds of benefits – depending on the type of programming that’s offered and its duration.

As the researchers put it: “Our overall conclusion is that OST programs are generally effective at producing the primary outcomes that would be expected based on their content and design.”

The publication suggests that funders and others consider programs as falling into three categories: specialty programs that aim to help children and youth develop specific skills like soccer or coding, multipurpose programs that often include a mix of homework help, games and enrichment, and academically-focused programs.

Each kind tends to produce outcomes directly linked to its content.

In addition, the authors found:

  • Academic programs with sufficient dosage can measurably improve student outcomes.
  • Including academics in out-of-school-time programs can demonstrably improve academic outcomes and does not necessarily reduce program attendance at the elementary school level.
  • Program quality and intentionality – that is, deciding on what the program is trying to achieve and designing it accordingly – influence outcomes.
  • Homework help can help students complete their homework, but doesn’t result in higher test scores.
  • To develop social and emotional skills, programs need to have some element aimed at that goal.
  • Youth need to attend programs regularly to benefit measurably.

The publication examines the literature on OST programs, with a particular focus on studies of academic and multipurpose programs.

The report’s recommendations include:

  • When making funding decisions, federal, state and local policymakers should consider all the benefits that OST programs provide. “In the opinion of the authors, OST programs for low-income students are worthy of public investment and should be funded at levels that support high-quality programming,” the authors say. “Policymakers, private funders and intermediaries should incentivize and support OST providers’ efforts to develop intentional, high-quality programs.”
  • Policymakers, private funders, and researchers should better catalog and assess the value of experiences offered in OST programs. The study found that benefits such as providing new experiences, helping youth build social capital through new relationships, and closing the opportunity gap are understudied and underreported.
  • Funders should expect and researchers should measure outcomes that align with program content.
  • OST programs should track and try to maximize attendance of each student.

 Points of Interest

  • OST programs are generally effective at producing the primary outcomes that would be expected based on their content and design.
    New RAND study: OST programs generally produce the primary outcomes that would be expected based on content and design.
  • Despite assumptions to the contrary, including academics in elementary school OST programs can boost academic outcomes and does not reduce attendance.
    New RAND study: Including academics in elementary OST programs boosts academics, doesn’t harm attendance.
  • Funders should expect OST programs to deliver outcomes consistent with their content and design.
    New RAND study: Funders should expect OST programs to deliver outcomes consistent with their content and design
  • Many of the benefits of OST – including building social capital by providing the opportunity to develop friendships with peers and adults, opening doors to new experiences, and closing the opportunity gap – have been underreported and not studied sufficiently.
    New RAND study: Many benefits of OST, like providing children new experiences – are underreported and understudied.
  • An overview of evidence on out-of-school-time programming cites a survey suggesting that parents of 19.4 million children not currently in an afterschool program would enroll their kids in one if it were available to them.
    Study: Parents of some 20 million U.S. kids would enroll the children in #afterschool programming if it were available.
  • Public support for afterschool and summer programming is high. A 2017 opinion poll conducted by Quinnipiac University found 83 percent of those surveyed opposed cutting public funding for these programs
    In 2017 survey, 83% oppose cutting public funding for #afterschool & other out-of-school-time programs.

 Supplementary Materials

  • Key Dimensions Linking OST Program Content to Primary and Secondary Outcomes
  • Public Support for OST Programs Has Been Fueled by Three Key Factors
  • Many Primary Outcomes of OST Programs Are Not Adequately Measured