Einstein said, everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler. When applied to boosting educational achievement, that means increasing the amount of time spent on learning activities and ensuring those experiences maximize student learning. In other words, students need more time doing educationally beneficial activities.
After school programs, especially those funded through 21st Century Community Learning Center (CCLC) grants, have great potential to deliver additional high quality learning time. But it doesn’t happen automatically.
For example, many after school programs do not provide enough hours of extra learning to make a measurable difference. They may provide services on a drop-in basis or only offer an hour a week of after school learning time. Several after school research reports (and common sense) make quite clear that 20-30 hours of sporadic extra learning time spread out over the year, while better than nothing, is not enough to make a lasting change in student learning and achievement.
Other after school programs do offer enough time. They operate four or five days a week for 2 or 3 hours a day. They deliver valuable services such as providing a safe and supervised place for students to go after school and, perhaps, a variety of enrichment activities that students may not otherwise experience. Both great and important contributions especially in high poverty communities. Even so, without a consistent high quality set of intentional learning experiences, it may not be enough to change the educational trajectory of the participating students.
20-30 hours of sporadic extra learning time spread out over the year, while better than nothing, is not enough to make a lasting change in student learning and achievement.
After school programs often repeat activities from the regular school day, rely on worksheets, or provide computer-based programs as the academic enrichment component. The first two options ignore one basic reality of after school– namely that the students have just been in school for six hours and the last thing that want to see is more of the same. The computer option fails to recognize that social, emotional, and academic learning happen at the same time. Computer use offers limited opportunities for social emotional development while engaging small group learning activities provide many.
We suggest that 21st CCLCs programs use an after school curriculum that reflects the regular school day learning goals and standards but approaches the learning in unique ways designed specifically for after school programs. This allows after school staff to deliver a consistent, intentional, engaging research-based set of literacy learning activities that are not a repeat of the regular school day and that can make a lasting difference in the lives of participating students. Evaluation reports from after school programs show that when students receive 100 or more hours of high quality literacy learning time, they consistently outperform their peers in measures of reading growth.
Einstein also said insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. He was a pretty smart guy.