Research: After-school programs improve academic achievement

Stock photo of child writing in a notebookSchool-age children who participate in structured after-school activities improve their academic achievement, according to new research by SMU faculty members.

The study by researchers in the University’s Simmons School of Education and Human Development measured academic performance of students enrolled in Boys and Girls Clubs of Greater Dallas.

“Boys and Girls Clubs of Greater Dallas and other structured programs are really having a positive impact,” said Ken Springer, an associate professor. “We believe that the homework support the clubs consistently provide students may be a key factor. Now we plan to extend the study and take into account more variables.”

The study looked at data on 719 students in second through eighth grade who participated in after-school activities at one of 12 clubs during the 2009-2010 academic year.

Among elementary and middle-school children who participated frequently in club activities, the researchers saw grades improve from the start of the year to the end of the year. That was especially true for elementary students. The researchers also saw improved school attendance for both age groups.

Among elementary students who participated in a greater variety of activities, the researchers observed that the students’ grade point averages improved, “but only among elementary students, and only when program participation was substantial,” said the authors.

After-school care activities can provide a child with a sense of success, even if that child isn’t necessarily successful in the classroom, said Deborah Diffily, co-author on the study and an associate professor in Simmons.

“For children who live in poverty — often those who attend Boys and Girls Clubs — the clubs can ameliorate the pressures of poverty, such as living in an overcrowded apartment or a lack of after-school snacks,” Diffily said.

The authors reported their findings in “The Relationship Between Intensity and Breadth of After-School Program Participation and Academic Achievement: Evidence from a Short-Term Longitudinal Study,” in the Journal of Community Psychology.

About 15 percent of American students participate in some sort of structured, supervised program outside of school, say the authors. Another 30 percent would participate if quality programming were available, they report.

“After-school programs are increasingly viewed as a means of supporting children’s physical, academic, social and behavioral development,” according to Springer and Diffily. Increasingly, federal funding is tied to empirical evidence that proves programs are beneficial.

Within the scientific literature, the psychological and social benefits of programs are well-documented, the authors said. Benefits observed include better social skills, greater motivation, better classroom behavior, higher self-esteem and lower rates of criminal activity.

However, evidence of any academic benefits is mixed. Some studies show benefits for grades or achievement test scores, while others don’t, said the authors. Those discrepancies have been attributed to variations in study methodologies. Rarely have studies considered intensity and breadth, as in the current study.

Written by Margaret Allen

> Read the full story at the SMU Research blog