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September 1, 2005
Vol. 63
No. 1

Special Report / What Parents Think About After-School Time

Special Report / What Parents Think About After-School Time- thumbnail
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Each month, Special Report summarizes a recent research study (or several studies related to the same topic) containing findings of importance to Educational Leadership readers. The purpose of this column is not to endorse or refute the conclusions of the study or studies summarized, but rather to keep readers informed about timely research that may significantly influence education policy and practice.
When the school day is done, the last thing I want to do is go to a place that has more academic work.” This statement was endorsed by 61 percent of the middle and high school students responding to a Public Agenda survey in June 2004. Yet students in the survey said that they value structured after-school activities—not only to keep from being bored and getting into trouble, but also as a way to make friends, learn, and have fun.
All Work and No Play? Listening to What Kids and Parents Really Want from Out-of-School Time, describes the results of the Public Agenda study, which gathered data through 10 focus groups and a telephone survey of 609 middle and high school students and 1,003 parents of school-aged children. The study explored what students do with their out-of-school time, what families seek from structured activities, and whether existing activities are meeting families' needs. The findings show that families value out-of-school activities as an essential component of their efforts to raise healthy, safe, well-rounded children.
Almost all of the surveyed middle and high school students participated in some kind of organized activities or programs: 57 percent did so every day or almost every day, and another 37 percent did so a few days a week. The most popular activities included sports (66 percent); school clubs or extracurricular activities (62 percent); volunteer work (60 percent); church-related groups (54 percent); lessons in music, art, or other areas (52 percent); and after-school programs at school or another locale (52 percent). Overall, survey respondents seemed satisfied with the number of activities they participated in: 75 percent of students and 71 percent of parents said that the day-to-day schedule during the school year was “just about right”—neither too hectic nor too empty.
But the report points to a gap between the perceptions of low-income and higher-income families. Low-income parents were much more likely to say they lacked high-quality, accessible, and affordable activities to keep their children safe and productive during out-of-school time. For example, just 37 percent of parents in the lowest income range (less than $25,000 a year) believed that they could ensure their child was productively occupied during the nonschool hours, compared with 60 percent of higher-income parents. Program quality is also a concern: Just 45 percent of low-income parents said that it was easy to find high-quality activities in their community, compared with 66 percent of higher-income parents. Summertime stands out as the most difficult time for all parents to find productive things for kids to do, and “on virtually every issue addressed in the survey about the summer months, low-income and minority parents are more apprehensive or less satisfied, sometimes by overwhelming —s” (p. 27).
The gap between low-income and higher-income families also applies to parents' views about the most important purposes of out-of-school programs. Parents in general do not seek a great emphasis on academics in their children's out-of-school time, according to the report. When asked about the best reason after basic safety for involvement in out-of-school programs, they first cited developing children's interests and hobbies (41 percent), followed by keeping children busy and out of trouble (27 percent) and letting them have fun (16 percent). Only 15 percent named improving children's school performance as the best reason.
Low-income parents, however, are more eager for an academic focus in their child's out-of-school activities—“perhaps because the schools in their neighborhoods tend to be low-performing, perhaps because they believe from their own experience that education is a ticket to a better lifestyle,” speculates the report (p. 31). For example, 52 percent of low-income parents and 28 percent of higher-income parents said they would go out of their way to find an after-school program that provides time for their children to do homework in a supervised setting; 45 percent of low-income parents and 35 percent of higher-income parents said that kids are better off in after-school programs that focus on academic skills; and 60 percent of low-income parents and 32 percent of higher-income parents were concerned that their children would fall behind on academics during the summer.
As education policymakers continue to debate the appropriate purpose of publicly funded out-of-school programs, the report recommends shifting away from a narrow and polarized debate—“More academics!” versus “More time to have fun!”—and recognizing that parents are looking for a variety of programs to support the diverse needs of their individual children. Although programs providing supplemental academic activities are important to many parents, policymakers should also understand that families value programs that enable students to develop new interests and hobbies, to form friendships, to be safe, and to have fun.
All Work and No Play? Listening to What Kids and Parents Really Want from Out-of-School Time was written by Ann Duffett and Jean Johnson. It was commissioned by the Wallace Foundation and published by Public Agenda, 6 East 39th St., New York, NY 10016. The full report is available at

<EMPH TYPE="3">Fulfilling the Promise of the Standards Movement In a four-year research effort, Mid-continent Research in Education and Learning (McREL) convened focus groups of citizens across the United States to engage in structured dialogue about how to help all students achieve high academic standards. The need for balance in the current education reform movement emerged as a consistent theme. Dialogue participants expressed concern that amid the pressure to focus on reading and mathematics, schools might neglect citizenship, character education, critical thinking skills, the arts, and learning to get along with others. Authors: Laura Lefkowits and Kirsten Miller. Published by McREL, Aurora, Colorado, April 2005. Available:;productID=204

<EMPH TYPE="3">A Report to the Nation: Smart &amp; Good High Schools A national study of U.S. high schools concluded that the schools in the study have not responded adequately to the acknowledged need to develop ethical, productive citizens. The researchers visited 24 diverse schools, conducted hundreds of interviews, and convened panels of character education experts and student leaders. Their report describes ethical learning communities that include both excellence and ethics. Authors: Thomas Lickona and Matthew Davidson. Published by Center for the 4th and 5th Rs, State University of New York College at Cortland, 2005. Available:

<EMPH TYPE="3">Evidence-Based Physical Activity for School-Age YouthThe researchers conducted a systematic literature review of 850 studies to develop recommendations for the most beneficial amount of physical activity for school-age youth. They concluded that currently available scientific evidence suggests school-age youth should participate in 60 minutes or more of moderate to vigorous physical activity each day.Authors: William B. Strong, et al. Published in Journal of Pediatrics, June 2005, pp. 732–737.

<EMPH TYPE="3">Head Start Impact Study: First Year Findings This Congressionally mandated study examines how Head Start, a federally funded program based on the whole child model, affects cognitive, social-emotional, and health outcomes for participating children as well as parenting practices in their families. The study found small but significant benefits for children in both the cognitive and social-emotional domains and larger benefits for children's health status and access to health care. Authors: Michael Puma et al., for Westat. Published by U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Washington, DC, 2005. Available:

<EMPH TYPE="3">Student Health, Supportive Services, and Academic Success In this report, the California Department of Education reviews the literature and finds “convincing research that a school's focus on all the elements of health and resilience not only is a sound and necessary strategy to achieve academic goals, but also is essential to academic success.” The Department's own study, analyzing the relationship of the state academic performance index to student physical health, physical activity, sound nutritional practices, school health services, and substance abuse, confirms the findings of previous research. The report offers strategies to create a supportive school environment that promotes student health. Authors: Thomas Hanson, Howard M. Knoff, Chandra Muller, and Eric Schaps. Published by California Department of Education, Sacramento, 2005. Available:

 Deborah Perkins-Gough is a former senior editor at Educational Leadership.

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