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What you need to know about the GAO's afterschool report

By Jen Rinehart

The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a report on 21st Century Community Learning Centers on April 26 highlighting the benefits of afterschool participation and calling on the U.S. Department of Education to update their performance measures and data collection. The report confirms that participation in afterschool programs improves student behavior and school attendance and that the broad range of benefits from afterschool is more evident among students who attend their afterschool program for more than 60 days than among those who do not. The report also highlights the essential role that Community Learning Center grants play in helping afterschool programs leverage much-needed support from a range of community partners.

Afterschool community is committed to quality

Many afterschool providers have demonstrated their dedication to continuously improving their programs by adopting quality standards and utilizing continuous improvement tools. An array of program evaluations clearly demonstrate that quality programs are making a difference for children and youth. In fact, had the GAO selected a larger body of research on which to base its conclusions, including a wider array of state Community Learning Centers evaluations and other large studies of afterschool, its conclusions about program effectiveness would have been even stronger.

Widespread agreement that 21st CCLC performance measures need an update

In the years leading up to the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), we spent a great deal of time convening the afterschool field to gather input about the vision of 21st CCLC in ESEA reauthorization. In that process, it became clear that there is broad consensus from the field around the need for updated 21st CCLC performance measures and data collection. That consensus is echoed in the GAO report, which recommends broadening the measures to include classroom behavior, school day attendance, and engagement. Improved alignment between Community Learning Centers program objectives and performance measures will help afterschool programs more effectively demonstrate their role in supporting student success, which is essential for ongoing public support.

Technical assistance should expand

The GAO report also calls for the department to update and expand the technical assistance offered to grantees. That’s another change that the afterschool community pushed hard for—and won—in the reauthorization of ESEA. By implementing the changes called for in the reauthorization of 21st CCLC, the department can bring improvements to professional development, data collection, and program evaluation as early as the school year that begins this fall.

Continued federal investment is vital

More than anything, this new report underscores the need to continue the federal investment in quality afterschool programs, which keep kids safe, inspire them to learn, and help working families. The Trump administration should abandon its indefensible proposal to defund Community Learning Centers—which would take afterschool and summer learning programs away from 1.6 million kids, devastating low-income families and communities—and instead implement the GAO’s recommendations.

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learn more about: Department of Education Evaluations