Journal Issue: When School Is Out Volume 9 Number 2 Fall 1999
Evolving Roles for Schools
The increasing demand for new uses of school facilities has its roots in the changing demography and social context for child rearing. (See the article by Cappella and Larner in this journal issue.) Working parents seek child care; educators concerned about student achievement call for an extended school day; and the need for safe havens and positive extracurricular activities is increasing both for young children and teenagers. More and more schools are responding to these needs by housing after-school child care, tutoring, and recreation efforts in school buildings.Forces for Change
After-school programs that focused on child care were introduced during the Second World War to give working mothers, new to the labor force, a place to leave their children. Nearly 3,000 extended-day programs located in school buildings served 100,000 school-age children during the war.2 In most states, these centers closed after the war ended, but over the past 20 years, the availability of extended-day programs in schools has increased again. (See the commentary by Seligson in this journal issue.) The 1991 National Study of Before- and After-School Programs yielded estimates that approximately 1.7 million of the nation's children in grades K-8 were enrolled in some 49,500 before- and after-school programs. About 13,500 of these programs (close to 28%) were located in school buildings.3
Indeed, few parents are available to monitor children after school hours, and many worry about leaving their children home alone. In 1996, some 77% of mothers of children ages 6 to 17 were in the labor force, up from 55% in 1975.4 Although reliable data on children left unsupervised are hard to come by, it is estimated that 12% of elementary schoolchildren fend for themselves regularly after school, and that as many as 70% of those over age 10 may be on their own.5 (See also the Child Indicators article in this journal issue.) In a recent poll, some 74% of elementary and middle school parents said they would be willing to pay for after-school programs, although only about one-third of these parents reported that their children actually attended an after-school program.6
What goes on after school cannot be separated from what happens in school. Educators, increasingly concerned about student performance and facing pressure to improve lagging academic achievement, are beginning to focus on the learning potential inherent in out-of-school time. (See also the commentary by Brown in this journal issue.) In 1994, only 30% of the nation's fourth and eighth graders scored at proficient or advanced levels in reading in the National Assessment of Educational Progress.7 Youngsters who are left on their own after school lack support at home for their learning.8 Some education experts focus on the loss of learning that students may suffer during the summer vacation, and others point to the fact that students in Japan, France, and Germany spend twice the time American students spend in core academic instruction.9 An expanded school day could allow more daily time for learning, as could a year-round school schedule.
Finally, neighborhood violence frightens many young children, even as it attracts older children to its risks. Both young children and teens need safe places where they can be protected and supervised. The after-school hours are a time when vulnerable middle school and high school youths become involved with sex, drugs, and violence.10,11 However, studies indicate that being engaged in extracurricular activities is associated with lower rates of involvement with such risky behaviors. A national survey of 10th graders compared students who spent one to four hours weekly in school-sponsored activities with those who spent no time in such activities. The nonparticipants were 57% more likely to drop out, 49% more likely to use drugs, 37% more likely to become teen parents, 35% more likely to smoke, and 27% more likely to be arrested.12
Using school buildings as safe havens and places to promote youth development is not a new idea. As early as 1935, the Mott Foundation pioneered a model of community education called the "lighted school-house." As many as 10,000 schools in the country have at one time or another adopted some aspect of this community education approach, which brings extended-hour learning, recreation, and social activities into schools under the auspices of local education systems.13,14 Today, practitioners from many disciplines who are concerned about the challenging conditions that confront young people are coming together to create new school-based arrangements for promoting healthy youth development.A Growing Number of School-Based Programs
Information about school-based after-school programs has been limited, but a number of recent studies cast new light on the prevalence and character of after-school activities. These include studies by the National Center for Education Statistics, which asked schools about the availability of extended-day programs and eighth graders about their participation in school-based activities.15 Detailed information about after-school programs comes from the 1991 National Study mentioned earlier2 and from a summary of exemplary program models assembled in 1998 by the U.S. Departments of Education and Justice.16
Data gathered by the U.S. Department of Education from school districts throughout the country reveals that the percentage of both public and private schools with extended-day programs increased markedly between 1988 and 1994 (see Figure 1).17 School officials reported on extended-day programs offered at the school, including any programs offering services outside regular school hours, regardless of funding source or sponsorship. The proportion of public schools reporting extended-day programs increased from 16% in 1988 to nearly 30% in 1994; the proportion of private schools with programs increased from 33% to 48%. Programs were most likely to be located in central city schools and in those with high minority enrollments.
A different survey in 1994 looked at the number of children attending the schools with extended hours. Extended-day programs were available to about 41% of public school students, mostly at the elementary grade level in the more advantaged schools.18 Extended-day programs were more common in elementary schools (present in 41% of schools) than in middle or high schools (8% and 7%, respectively). The proportion of students who were offered extended days ranged widely among states, from a low of less than 10% in Nebraska, Rhode Island, South Dakota, and West Virginia; to more than 45% in Nevada and Kentucky, and 66% in Hawaii. These data do not indicate how many students took advantage of extended-day programs, however. The public schools offering programs in 1994 reported that only 10% of the students participated, and private schools reported a participation rate of 18% of students.17
The 1991 National Study of Before- and After-School Programs is the only source of detailed data on programs.2 This study surveyed not schools but programs that operated for at least two hours per day, four days per week. Slightly more than one-fourth of the programs were located in schools. At that time, it was estimated that some 600,000 children were enrolled in before- or after-school programs located in schools, with an average of 44 children per site. Most of the participants were in kindergarten to third grade. The before-school programs were open for an average of two hours per day, and after-school programs were open from three to four hours daily (the programs not sponsored by schools operated for longer hours). Only 7% to 11% of the programs were available after 6:00 P.M., and none were offered on weekends. However, 53% of school-sponsored programs and 69% of those sponsored by other agencies provided full-day care during summer holidays.
Given the increasing demand for after-school programs, the supply of programs has grown since 1991 when 13,500 programs in schools were identified. More than 20,000 public schools now offer extended-day activities. As the next section of this article explains, new varieties of programs are being developed as well.