- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 19, 2003

More than a billion dollars a year of federal aid for after-school programs in 7,500 public schools nationwide has not helped most children academically, a federally funded study concluded.
Children who attend after-school activities at public elementary and middle schools are more likely to encounter bullies, vandals, thieves and drug users than those who do not, said the study, conducted for the U.S. Education Department.
"While after-school centers changed where and with whom students spent some of their after-school time and increased parental involvement, they had limited influence on academic performance, no influence on feelings of safety or on the number of 'latch-key' children; and some negative influences on behavior," said a report by Mathematica Policy Research Inc. of Princeton, N.J., and Decision Information Resources Inc. of Houston.
Middle school participants were "more likely to report that they had sold drugs 'some' or 'a lot' and were somewhat more likely to report that they smoked marijuana 'some' or 'a lot' (though the incidence was low)," the report said.
The report, titled "When Schools Stay Open Late: The National Evaluation of the 21st Century Community Learning Centers Program," is the result of a study throughout in the 2000-2001 school year at 96 centers in 48 elementary school and middle school districts in all regions of the country.
"The initial findings indicate that significant work remains to be done to develop after-school programs that improve children's academic, personal and social skills," said Mark Dynarski, senior fellow at Mathematica and research director for the study.
Judy Y. Samelson, executive director of the Afterschool Alliance, criticized the report as too negative.
"It is terribly disappointing that the report highlights only negative findings and that the Bush administration is using this study to justify a deep, indefensible cut in the federal after-school program," she said.
The 21st Century Community Learning Centers Program started in 1998 with a $40 million congressional appropriation. Last year, with passage of President Bush's "No Child Left Behind" school-reform law, it was funded at $1 billion for fiscal year 2003, which ends Sept. 30.
Mr. Bush has proposed fiscal year 2004 funding of $600 million with reforms to strengthen the academic focus of after-school programs.
Key findings of the study include:
Grades and reading test scores of elementary students in most subjects were not higher than nonparticipants. On average, programs had no impact on whether students completed homework or assignments to teachers' satisfaction.
For middle school students, grades in math were slightly higher, but there was no difference in other subjects.
Black and Hispanic students in after-school programs showed increased effort in the classroom, reduced lateness for school, and increased math grades. "None of those impacts was evident for white students."
According to student questionnaires, participants were more likely than nonparticipants to "sell illegal drugs," "smoke marijuana," "smoke cigarettes," "break something on purpose," "punch or hit someone," "steal from a store" and "get arrested or detained by police."
"For students with fewer behavior problems [in the baseline year], centers increased effort in the classroom and math and social-studies grades. None of these impacts [was] evident among students that had more disciplinary problems," the report said.
"Participation also increased the extent to which female students were victimized, either by being 'picked on' after school or by having their property damaged. Among males, participation did not significantly affect either of these outcomes," the report said.
The cost of the program at each center averaged $196,000, or $1,000 per student a 16 percent spending increase, according to the study. Three of five center staff members were day-school teachers who were paid an additional $16 to $17 per hour for their after-school services.

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