Ongoing research on out-of-school time programs is essential to help shape our practice and ensure ongoing support from policy makers. Dr. Deborah Lowe Vandell, founding Dean Emerita of Education at the University of California Irvine, has been a leading researcher on expanded learning programs since 1985. Dr. Vandell appeared in our video on the Learning in Afterschool & Summer Learning Principles and our documentary on the History of Afterschool in America. She also shared her thoughts in a plenary presentation and workshop at the How Kids Learn VIII conference and has been interviewed for past LIAS Blogs.
In a recent article from the Mott Foundation she was interviewed about the release of a 26- year study on the impacts of early childhood and afterschool programs. “As one of the principal investigators with the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) Study of Early Child Care and Youth Development, she has conducted an intensive study of the development of 1,300 people from birth to 26 years. This work is viewed by many social scientists as one of the most comprehensive studies of the short- and long-term effects of early care and afterschool education to date.”
Below we quote some excerpts from the interview with Dr. Vandell published by the Mott Foundation. You can read the full Mott interview here.
Q: What has research on afterschool programs revealed since you first started working in this field?
|Deborah Lowe Vandell|
Photo: Steve Zylius
We’ve also identified many of the key ingredients needed for out-of-school time to have positive effects. This work has shown that consistent and sustained participation in high-quality afterschool programs is linked to positive academic and social outcomes for both children and adolescents. However, findings are less clear (and sometimes even negative) when participation is sporadic or activities are lower in quality, so we have to pay close attention to program quality and to participation over time.
Q: Tell us about your latest study. What were the biggest questions?
A: My latest study is one that circles back to that first afterschool study. This latest study looked at children’s early care and education and their organized afterschool activities in elementary school and asked how these two sets of experiences (early care and afterschool care) are related to children’s academic and social functioning in high school.
In this study, my coauthors and I followed almost 1,000 children over time and asked if both early care and education (ECE) and afterschool organized activities during elementary school are related to how students are doing in high school — both academically and socially. We focused on ninth graders because the high school transition is challenging for many adolescents, and we wanted to know if children’s early care and afterschool activities in elementary school could help adolescents to meet these challenges.
Q: What did you and your coauthors find?
Children who received higher quality ECE and who had sustained participation in afterschool organized activities demonstrated higher academic achievement in high school. These effects on academic achievement were additive — with the effects associated with afterschool programs building on or adding to the early care effects. Importantly, the effects associated with early care and afterschool care also were exactly the same size, indicating that both are good investments.
In this paper, we also found that early care and out-of-school time were related to different aspects of behavioral development. Higher quality ECE predicted fewer behavioral problems in adolescence, whereas afterschool organized activities were linked to greater social confidence.
We found that consistent participation in afterschool was important for building children’s social competence — including feeling more confident about meeting new people and interacting with peers and adults — which bodes well for students’ future success in school and in the workplace. These benefits were not associated with ECE experiences, suggesting that afterschool programs serve a unique role in this respect.
Q: What makes this body of work unique and its findings important?
A: There are several factors that make the study noteworthy, I think. The first is the effort to examine early care and education and out-of-school time in relation to later development. For the most part, these two important developmental contexts have been studied separately.
Second, the study finds effects of these earlier experiences on longer term outcomes in adolescence. These effects, evident in the 15-year-olds, suggest that the benefits of early care and elementary school activities do not fade away, but persist over time. Now we are asking if the effects continue to be evident in adulthood.
Third, the sample in this study was economically, geographically and ethnically diverse, suggesting that these findings on the benefits of afterschool programming have wide generalizability for children in the United States.
This work is consistent with and extends prior research by showing that sustained participation in high- quality afterschool programs in elementary school is linked to positive academic and social outcomes in high school and that those effects persist.
Q: What does the study imply for post-COVID-19 recovery?
In one set of studies released by NWEA, a nonprofit research organization, researchers documented a significant widening of academic achievement gaps by income and race last spring, which was further exacerbated by school closings and disruptions this fall. Other researchers are reporting increases in students’ social-emotional problems as a result of the trauma and disruptions brought on by COVID.
The work by NWEA and others is highlighting that children growing up in under-resourced families and communities are going to be in particular need of high-quality afterschool and summer programs. However, because of the financial disruptions being experienced by many low-income and working families — and because of the budget shortfalls facing many communities — children who most need high-quality afterschool programs will likely have less access to these programs and services. To address these serious issues, a coordinated response is going to be needed — one that brings together the resources of early childhood programs, afterschool programs and schools.
- "Our Moment is Now" by Jodi Grant, Afterschool Alliance
- "3 Ways to Plan for American Rescue Plan Funding" by The National Afterschool Association
- "American Rescue Plan: How will the funds flow? What do I need to do?" by Erik Peterson, Afterschool Alliance
- "Just In: Ahead of School Summit, Biden Announces Delivery of $81 Billion to Aid States in Reopening Classrooms, Launch of National ‘Summer Learning & Enrichment Collaborative’" by The 74 Million