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Evidence for Afterschool and Expanded Learning

Saskia Traill

Saskia Traill is Senior Vice President of Policy & Research at ExpandED Schools.

In fact, there is demonstrable evidence that after-school and expanded learning programs are helping kids do better in school. We’ve compiled a short list for the White House budget chief.

Regarding more time to learn:

  • Farbman, D. (2012). The Case for Improving and Expanding Time in School: A Review of Key Research and Practice. National Center on Time and Learning. As Farbam writes “Both research and practice indicate that adding time can have a meaningfully positive impact on student proficiency and, indeed, upon a child’s entire educational experience. The evidence makes clear that expanded time holds this potential because more time confers three distinct, though overlapping, benefits for both students and teachers:
    • a. More engaged time in academic classes, alongside broader and deeper coverage of curricula;
    • b. More time devoted to enrichment classes and activities that enhance students’ educational experiences and engagement in school; and
    • c. More dedicated time for teacher collaboration and embedded professional development that together enable educators to strengthen instruction and develop a shared commitment to high expectations.”

  • Lavy, V. (2012). Expanding School Resources and Increasing Time on Task: Effects of a Policy Experiment in Israel on Student Academic Achievement and Behavior. NBER Working Paper No. 18369. Lavy notes: “Separate estimations of the effect of increasing the length of the school week and the subject specific instructional time per week also show positive and significant effects on math, science, and English test scores…Additional results suggest that the effect on test scores is similar for boys and girls but it is much larger for pupils from low socioeconomic backgrounds…The evidence also shows that a longer school week increases the time that students spend on homework without reducing social and school satisfaction and without increasing school violence…”

  • Redd, Z., Boccanfuso, C., Walker, K., Princiotta, D., Knewstub, D. & Moore, K. (2012) Expanding Time for Learning Both Inside and Outside the Classroom: A Review of the Evidence Base. Child Trends. Synthesizing across a large body of research, Redd and colleagues found that “The majority of studies reviewed (20 out of 27 studies) found mostly favorable relationships between ESD [Extended School Day] programs and academic outcomes…Findings from research on ESD, ESY [Extended School Year], and ELO [Expanded Learning Opportunities] models suggest that ELT [Extended Learning Time] programs may be more advantageous for low-income, low-performing, ethnic minority or otherwise disadvantaged students. Results of this research, in turn, suggest that these programs may hold promise to help narrow persisting achievement gaps.”

  • Pattal, E.A., Cooper, H., & Allen, A.B. (2010). Extending the School Day or School Year: A Systematic Review of Research (1985–2009), Review of Educational Research, 80 (3), 401-436. Synthesizing evidence for over 24 years of research, Pattal and colleagues note that “Findings suggest that extending school time can be an effective way to support student learning, particularly (a) for students most at risk of school failure and (b) when considerations are made for how time is used.”

  • Rocha, E. (2007). Choosing more time for students: The what, why, and how of expanded learning. Washington, DC: Center for American Progress. “Initiatives that expand learning time have facilitated school and classroom innovation to enhance teaching and learning. Through the expansion of learning time, teachers, for example, can provide students with more one-on-one instruction, teach in longer blocks to emphasize subject content, help students develop portfolios of their work, or utilize hands-on learning activities such as science labs and projects to help facilitate learning through application.”

  • Farbman, D. and Kaplan, C. (2005). Time for a change: The promise of extended time schools for promoting student achievement. Boston, MA: Massachusetts 2020. In their analysis of public schools adding at least 15% more time to the conventional schedule, Farbman and Kaplan reported that “In practice, will additional time in school really make a difference in the degree to which all students can achieve proficiency on high standards? Research strongly suggests the answer is yes and that there are five distinct, but mutually reinforcing, means by which more time in school can actually boost learning.”

  • Smith, B., Roderick, M, & Degner, S.C. (2005) Extended Learning Time and Student Accountability: Assessing Outcomes and Options for Elementary and Middle Grades. Educational Administration Quarterly, 41(2), 195-236. “The strongest case resided in our analysis of third-grade students where clear positive effects between Lighthouse [extended learning time] programs and achievement gains were found. Our sixth-grade findings were positive but were more clearly significant in math than in reading. In both third and sixth grades, we also found greater learning gains in Lighthouse programs serving a large percentage of their enrollment. This goes against the grain of common opinion where smaller, selective support programs are generally thought of as more effective.”

  • Aronson, J., Zimmerman, J. & Carlos, L. (1999). Improving student achievement by extending school: Is it just a matter of time? San Francisco: WestEd. “In short, time does matter. How much or little it matters, however, depends greatly on the degree to which it is devoted to appropriate instruction.

Regarding more access to enrichments and extracurriculars:

  • J.A., Weissberg, R.P., Dyminicki, A.B., Taylor, R.D. & Schhellinger, K.B. (2011). The Impact of Enhancing Students’ Social and Emotional Learning: A Meta Analysis of School-Based Universal Interventions. Child Development, 82(1), 405- 432. “This article presents findings from a meta-analysis of 213 school-based, universal social and emotional learning (SEL) programs involving 270,034 kindergarten through high school students. Compared to controls, SEL participants demonstrated significantly improved social and emotional skills, attitudes, behavior, and academic performance that reflected an 11- percentile-point gain in achievement.”

  • Mahoney, J.L., Cairns, B.D., & Farmer, T.W. (2003). Promoting Interpersonal Competence and Educational Success Through Extracurricular Activity Participation. Journal of Educational Psychology, 95(2), 409-418. “Consistent extracurricular activity participation was associated with high educational status at young adulthood, including college attendance. Educational status was, in turn, linked to reciprocal positive changes between extracurricular activity participation and interpersonal competence, and to educational aspirations across adolescence.”

  • Mahoney, J.L. & Cairns, R.B. (1997). Do Extracurricular Activities Protect Against Early School Dropout? Developmental Psychology, 33(2), 241-253. “Findings indicate that the school dropout rate among at-risk students was markedly lower for students who had earlier participated in extracurricular activities compared with those who did not participate.”

  • Reisner, E.R., White, R.N., Russell, C.A. & Birmingham, J. (2004). Building Quality, Scale and Effectiveness in After-School Programs. Washington, DC: Policy Studies Associates, Inc. The evaluation collected data on over four school years from 96 ExpandED Schools after-school projects and their host schools in New York City. Its student sample numbered 52,000 after-school participants ... analyses of data on academic performance and school attendance show that participation in after-school activities was linked to improvements in both areas, especially for students who participated regularly in the programming over two consecutive years.

  • Birmingham, J., Pechman, E.J., Russell C.A., and Mielke, M. (2005). Shared Features of High-Performing After-School Programs: A Follow-Up To The TASC (now ExpandED Schools) Evaluation. Washington, DC: Policy Studies Associates, Inc. This study examined high-performing after-school projects funded by ExpandED Schools to determine what characteristics, if any, these projects shared. Evaluators reanalyzed student performance data collected during the multi-year evaluation of the ExpandED Schools initiative to identify projects where the after-school program was especially likely to have contributed to improvements in students' academic achievement. This study reinforces the viability of an after-school model that emphasizes a wide variety of compelling youth-oriented activities, a staff with diverse backgrounds and skills, and experienced site coordinator with strong ties to the community, the administrative and fiscal support of a committed sponsoring organization, and ongoing communication and relationship building with the host school and participants' families.


And here’s some data from programs around the country that prove just how crucial an investment after-school and expanded learning programs are for students.

After-school and expanded learning programs improve attendance and graduation rates:

  • After two years of participation in Providence’s AfterZone, students were absent from school 25% less than their peers who didn’t participate.

  • After one year, ExpandED Schools in New York City reduced their chronic absenteeism rate from 17% to 15%. At the same time, the percentage of students with exemplary attendance increased from 49% to 55%.

  • In Chicago, teens who participated in After School Matters for three or more program cycles were nearly two and a half times more likely to graduate than their peers who didn’t participate.

After-school and expanded learning programs improve academic performance:

  • Low-income elementary and middle school students in cities and rural areas who regularly attended quality after-school programs demonstrated a 12-percentile increase in standardized math test scores relative to their peers who didn’t attend.

  • A 2012 study of students in three California communities showed that students who participated in high-quality summer learning programs improved their vocabulary by one-third of a grade level.

  • Students who participated in after-school programs that followed evidence-based practices for skill-building showed a 9-percentile increase in school grades and an 8- percentile increase in test scores.

After-school and expanded learning programs improve social and emotional skills:

  • Low-income elementary and middle school students in cities and rural areas who regularly attended quality after-school programs demonstrated significant gains in work habits and task persistence.

  • Teens who participated in Chicago’s After School Matters improved their ability to work in groups, communicate effectively, plan and meet deadlines, and cooperate with flexibility.

  • Nine of 10 parents of students who participated in California’s Summer Matters reported that the summer programs helped their children get along better with other children.