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Coordinating the work of the many different institutions involved in after-school activities – including schools, nonprofits and municipal agencies like parks and libraries – holds the promise of making programs better and more accessible to urban children and teens who need them, according to a new RAND Corporation report.
The study, Hours of Opportunity, examines the coordinating efforts put into place by five cities that sought to improve and widen the reach of out-of-school-time programs – after-school programs, summer school and other efforts offered outside standard classroom hours. Each region studied received funding from a Wallace Foundation out-of-school-time initiative launched in 2003.
“This initiative provided a proof of principle – that organizations across cities could work together toward increasing access, quality, data-based decision making and sustainability,” the report says. The three-volume study is available for free at www.wallacefoundation.org
“Cities that offer high-quality, highly accessible after-school and out-of-school-time programs can help children develop to their fullest potential,” said Jennifer Sloan McCombs, the report’s lead author and an education policy researcher at RAND, a nonprofit research organization. “Our research finds that the most successful efforts coordinate their assets and resources citywide, enjoy strong support and leadership from their mayors, and they use rich data systems to assess and deliver their programs.”
At the same time, the report cautions that the efforts are too new to have withstood the test of time, and it is uncertain how they will fare once Wallace funding ends, especially as state and local governments are cutting funding for schools and other municipal services. Moreover, these efforts are not easy to put together and face a number of challenges. Perhaps the most prominent are the restrictions government and foundations placed on funding.
The cities participating in the initiative – Boston, Chicago, New York, Providence, Rhode Island, and Washington, D.C. – received Wallace grants ranging from $5 million to $12 million. Like many other regions, the cities faced this problem: the many institutions involved with out-of-school-time programs typically work in isolation from one another so that services are too fragmented to ensure high-quality opportunities for children citywide. This means there often is not enough programming in neighborhoods where it is badly needed, and too much of what is available is of poor quality, according to researchers.
The Wallace-funded efforts sought to change this by developing what amounts to citywide out-of-school-time systems that draw the institutions together to work as a coherent whole. The work also involved introducing features to help the overall system run well, including: quality standards applied to all the out-of-school-time programs; staff training to improve program quality; incentives for program providers to meet attendance targets; and regular computerized collection of data through newly-installed management information systems.
These information systems, which gathered data on basics such as how many kids were enrolled and daily attendance, allowed communities for the first time to make timely and informed decisions about programming, according to the study.
One key finding is that local system-building efforts get an important boost when mayors strongly back them by taking steps such as creating advisory positions to improve cooperation between different municipal agencies and by demanding information on progress.
Hours of Opportunity demonstrates that with the commitment of mayors, cities can play a powerful role in ensuring that children have greater access to high-quality out-of-school-time programs,” said M. Christine DeVita, president of The Wallace Foundation. “The report outlines key steps – including tracking children’s participation, setting goals for attendance and setting quality standards – that we hope other cities will consider taking.”
The study is in three volumes, the first covering overall lessons, the second management information systems and the third profiles of five city-based efforts. Other key findings include:
- Cities that used system-building strategies were able to increase participation in out-of-school-time programs. New York City almost doubled the number of students served (45,000 to 80,000), Providence nearly tripled (500 to 1,700), Boston launched out-of-school-time programs in five schools serving almost 1,000 students, and Washington D.C., which began its effort in a handful of middle schools, has gone on to offer programs in every city public school.
- Each city had unique circumstances that helped determine who would lead the effort and what the initial undertakings would be. In some cases, the efforts were located in schools or city agencies, while in other cases they were based in nonprofit organizations. “The decision about who will lead the effort and the structure of coordination needs to take into account the assets at hand, the locus of control, and the skills and talents of leaders,” the study found.
- Through early planning, cities were able to develop a vision and goals shared among the various out-of-school-time players. This planning considered the specific resources in place, the organizations involved, the challenges faced and the funding available. This allowed those involved to identify common problems that better out-of-school-time programming could help ease, as well as agree-upon targets for improvements.
- Investments in data collection and analysis have multiplier effects. Management information systems that collect data on student enrollment, attendance and demographics allow cities to assess success, improve programs, and make the case for continued or increased funding.
- Support from schools was crucial, both to permit the use of school facilities and because principals and school staff could help encourage attendance at after-school programs.
- Cities were able to communicate with families and students about out-of-school-time program opportunities in order to increase enrollment. Chicago and New York City launched Web-based program locators, which allow families to identify programs by location, theme and grade level.
The Wallace Foundation has invested $58 million in city system-building since 2003, to help develop, identify and disseminate knowledge about the key steps cities can take to increase access to and the quality of after-school programs for children and youth. In January 2008, the Wallace Foundation commissioned the RAND Corporation to document the progress through spring 2009 of these cities toward their goals and to examine the development and use of management information systems to improve the quality of programs. The researchers also studied data systems in three additional cities – Denver, Louisville and San Francisco.
RAND Education, a division of the RAND Corporation, is a leader in providing objective, high-quality research and analysis on educational challenges that is used to improve educational access, quality and outcomes in the United States and throughout the world.
The Wallace Foundation is an independent, national foundation dedicated to supporting and sharing effective ideas and practices that expand learning and enrichment opportunities for all people. The Foundation maintains an online library of lessons at www.wallacefoundation.org about what it has learned, including knowledge from its current efforts aimed at: strengthening educational leadership to improve student achievement; helping disadvantaged students gain more time for learning through summer learning and an extended school day and year; enhancing out-of-school-time opportunities; and building appreciation and demand for the arts.