Wallace Foundation Finds Out-of-School Programs Are a Success
Over the past several years, the Wallace Foundation has undertaken major projects in five American cities to improve and monitor out-of-school time (OST) activities. In October, the first results and reactions were revealed in a three-volume, 255-page study by the RAND Corporation, titled “Hours of Opportunity.”
The goal of the project was to figure out how all municipal and community resources could best be organized and administered to provide children with high-quality after-school, weekend and summer programs. The RAND report provides an affirming evaluation, concluding that Wallace’s efforts were successful and that cities can effectively marshal their myriad OST activities to provide better and more enriching services.
“The RAND study found improvements in access to programs and in program quality because of the citywide changes implemented,” said Edward Pauly, director of research and evaluation at the Wallace Foundation, a private charitable foundation that promotes educational and cultural programs. “We take particular pleasure in the RAND finding that all five cities made important progress. They did it in different ways and in very different contexts, but all five cities were able to build a citywide level of support for out of school programs, and other cities can do the same.”
The five cities in question were Providence, New York (which both joined the study in 2003), Chicago, Boston and Washington, D.C. (which joined in 2005). Each city offered different challenges and frameworks. The population range, Pauly pointed out, from roughly a couple of hundred thousand in Providence to eight million in New York, offers usable examples for other cities across the country to follow. Each city was awarded grant money ranging from $5 million to $12 million.
Among the major findings was that there is no single best method of improving OST programs. Rather, different approaches work better in each city because of local conditions. Providence, for example, focused on expanding and improving existing activities while adding transportation and coordination. New York, on the other hand, emphasized improving programs in high-need areas, increasing data collection and adding better staff training. Outcomes were measured in different ways in each city: for example, Chicago used school records, while New York relied on participant evaluations. The RAND study also found that “management information systems” were essential in organizing programs more effectively, monitoring outcomes and directing funds in an efficient manner.
“In New York, attendance and participation data were used to trigger check-ins by city agencies for quality control purposes,” Pauly said. “Having the first clear reliable data sources on the number of kids enrolled, their attendance, which programs they attended, and how long they were in those programs was essential in allocating funding. Data doesn’t cause more money to be allocated, but if you don’t have the data the people who do the allocating are going to be more skeptical.”
Support from school and city leaders, especially from mayors, was also an essential characteristic of successful programs. “Support from mayors was sustained throughout the study,” Pauly said. “One of the findings was the central role that mayors play on this issue.”
Challenges remain for the five cities in Wallace’s project and others around the country that would implement similar programs. Pauly acknowledged that logistical difficulties like transportation, safety and liability are still barriers. And the seed money provided by the foundation is not something easily replicated on a wide scale, especially in a time of budget cutbacks.
But RAND’s report affirms the study’s success and offers other cities a path to achieve similar results. #