“No evidence” that after-school programs improve performance?  What’s really going on here?

Wow, the recent announcement by our new Office of Management and Budget Director, Mick Mulvaney, about the decision to eliminate federal funding support for certain after school programs because “there is no evidence that they improve performance,”  certainly contradicts everything that I know, particularly as it applies to “evidence-based” after school programs.  http://fortune.com/2017/03/16/donald-trump-after-school-programs-performance-mick-mulvaney-budget/

Having worked in the juvenile justice field for more than three decades, and having been involved with a wide range of research projects looking at the impacts of a variety of after-school school retention and re-entry programs, I am pretty sure that there is a pretty strong store of research documenting the benefits of these programs, including the specific program that Mulvaney claims, “When we took your money (to feed these kids), you were told this would improve educational performance.  Guess what?  There is no credible evidence that such programs  do that.”  The Fortune Mag piece above provides links to some of the previous research out of Harvard, and elsewhere, on the specific programs cited by Mulvaney, but just Google “research on the effects of after school programs” and, voila, you will find multiple examples that refute Mulvaney’s broad brush claim.

So, if as I surmise, there actually is pretty good research evidence indicating that a range of after-school programs, including the ones that the administration proposes to eliminate federal funding support for, actually do contribute to positive short and longer term educational performance, what is actually going on here?  Why would the OMB Director say there is no evidence to support the benefits of such programs?  Is Mulvaney simply being misunderstood?

Well, before we tackle those questions and delve in to what is really going on here (OK, I can’t wait –  it really is about the use of federal tax dollars to support such programs and some folks just have fundamental objections to having federal bureaucrats deciding how to spend our tax  dollars – they want the federal government out of these decisions and want these decisions to be made locally), let’s start first with one important metric related to after-school programs in general, that our OMB Director did not address.  

When we talk about school-related metrics, let me first posit that we really need to be thinking about measures that are not just limited solely to academic measures (even though, again, there is pretty good evidence that a good number of after-school programs do have sustained academic benefits).  So, let’s just present one important example for you to consider when it comes to the benefits of after-school programs; that being, what time of day do kids tend to get into trouble and what time of day do kids who are victims of serious crimes tend to be victimized ?  Would anyone be surprised to know that for decades, we have known that most kids who experience problems with the law, and that most who are victims of crimes, particularly more serious and violent crimes, tend to have these adverse experiences  between the hours of 3P and 4P?  https://www.ojjdp.gov/ojstatbb/nr2014/downloads/NR2014.pdf  (go to pages. 47-48). 

Yep, that’s right, right after school and before working parents get home.  This is one big reason why so many schools, police, juvenile courts, and others have worked so hard for years to … implement effective after-school programs, often with federal grant support, that not only help kids stay out of trouble during this high risk period and help keep kids safer, but also help them stay connected (or get reconnected if they have dropped out or fallen behind) with their schools.  You see, by focusing only on academic metrics, and by incorrectly asserting that there is no credible evidence of the benefits of certain programs, you, Mr. Mulvaney, have created this impression that after-school programs do not work.  Geez Louise, 

It really is a simple premise – we really do need effective after-school programs for reasons that go well beyond academic measures.  When you lop on top of this premise the fact that there is indeed a substantial body of evidence and research showing the positive impacts of a number of such programs on school performance and related measures, it all seems  pretty straightforward (again, for those interested, please  Google “Research on the effects of after school programs” and check out all the stuff that makes one wonder what the heck Mulvaney is talking about?)   

So, what’s really going on here?  As I previously indicated, there are those in the administration (and its supporters) who do not believe that federal tax dollars should be used to support after-school programs and that federal bureaucrats should not be making decisions about how to spend said taxpayer monies.  These folks believe these types of decisions are best made locally, that local folks including, perhaps, local government (e.g.,  local school boards) and even local non-government citizens, should be making these decisions locally, not the Feds. While we can agree or disagree with that position, my question is, and giving Mick Mulvaney the benefit of the doubt, why make such a broad brush statement publicly that at best infers that after-school programs do not work, that there is no evidence for them working, when in fact, there is pretty darn good evidence that these programs do work in getting kids back into school, keeping them in school, helping them graduate, preventing them from getting in trouble and getting hurt, among other benefits?  

Hey, if you want to get the Feds out of these types of decisions and keep our tax dollars more localized, that’s fine with me,  at least in concept.  But, when you make such a big deal out of this issue and miscommunicate to the public -intentionally or unintentionally – by fostering this impression that after-school programs do not work and”you see, we are going after these ineffective and wasteful federal programs that have federal bureaucrats deciding how to spend your money!” – well, you, Mr. Mulvaney, can and should do better.   Of course, I could be wrong … though I doubt it..

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