There are a number of compelling evaluation studies of expanded learning programs. These four are particularly notable for their size, scope, and rigor.
Outcomes linked to high-quality afterschool programs: Longitudinal findings from the study of promising afterschool programs
Vandell, D. L., Reisner, E. R., & Pierce, K. M. (2007) | Policy Studies Associates, Inc.
In this seminal study, Researchers followed nearly 3,000 low-income, ethnically diverse elementary and middle school students over two years in order to analyze the impact of high-quality afterschool programs. About half of the students in the study participated in one of 35 high-quality programs, while nearly 20% were categorized as “low supervision,” meaning that they spent 1-3 days unsupervised by adults after school and were sporadically involved (if at all) at various activities outside of school. Compared to the low supervision group supervision group, program participants showed stronger gains in math achievement, work habits, and social skills. Additionally, participants in high-quality programs had fewer reports of misconduct, and those who were in middle school had lower rates of drug and alcohol use.
Little, P., Wimer, C., & Weiss, H. B. (2008) | Issues and opportunities in out-of-school time evaluation, 10 (1-12)
The Harvard Family Research Project (now the Global Family Research Project) maintains a database of out-of-school-time evaluation studies. This brief summarizes the results of meta-analyses, research reviews, and rigorous evaluations from the database to answer two key questions: does participation in out-of-school-time make a difference; and, if so, what does it take to achieve positive effects? The authors uncovered a number of positive effects of programs in areas ranging from social and emotional development to health and wellness to academic achievement. The most effective programs were those that were of high quality, offered opportunities for sustained participation, and forged partnerships with families, schools, and communities.
A meta-analysis of after-school programs that seek to promote personal and social skills in children and adolescents
Durlak, J. A., Weissberg, R. P., & Pachan, M. (2010) | American journal of community psychology, 45(3-4), 294-309
This meta-analysis looked at the results of 75 evaluation studies of out-of-school-time programs. The goal of this study was to better understand program impacts on personal and social skills (i.e. social and emotional learning outcomes). Those programs that used a sequenced, active, focused, and explicit (SAFE) approach to skill development demonstrated positive, statistically significant impacts on participating youth in the areas of self-perception, school bonding, social behaviors, and academic achievement.
McCombs, J. S., Whitaker, A., & Yoo, P. (2017) | Santa Monica, CA: Rand Corporation
Researchers from the Rand Corporation reviewed meta-analyses and large-scale, rigorous evaluations of after-school and summer programs to better understand the range of effects of these programs on young people and families. A main finding of this review was that, with sufficient dosage, programs are generally successful at producing those outcomes that are most directly linked to program content. Programs with intentional instructional focus on math and literacy can produce math and reading gains, while programs that focus explicitly and intentionally on teaching social and emotional skills can produce measurable improvements in those skills.