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.