My post here on the Brookings Chalkboard forum about the $1.2 billion program that doesn’t do anything for student outcomes.

Reactions were easily predicted. The afterschool program community trotted out its standard lines about kids needing to be safe, about how programs reduced exposure to crime and participation in delinquent activities, about kids needing to form relationships with adult mentors that help them into adulthood.

These objectives are laudable. Indeed, how can one oppose them? But there’s a problem—none of the claims is backed by solid evidence. Simply saying ‘when we started the program we saw a drop in delinquency in the neighborhood’ is not evidence. It’s an anecdote, and anecdotes are not evidence. The conference panel discussion about adult mentors shows exactly the problem with anecdotes. Speakers talked about an adult who really played a big role in their development. And none of them were from afterschool programs. They were adults like parents and grandparents, ministers, family members,  teachers. Programs may create an opportunity for these relationships to happen, but whether they do or not is anyone’s guess.

If huge dollars are going to be spent on objectives that are not met, policymakers need to be able to change course. It’s not easy to do when people are employed by programs, and kids go there, and parents expect programs to be there. But for afterschool programs, a dozen years and many studies later, it’s clear we are kidding ourselves about their positive outcomes.


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