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After-school programs critical to student development


[This op-ed was originally published in The Hill on March 22, 2017.]

Across the nation, after-school programs are making a difference, here’s why. Before Trump administration bureaucrats start making value judgments about education programs, they should at least have the courtesy to learn more about them.

Mick Mulvaney, the director of the Office of Management and Budget, recently justified proposed reductions in federal funding for afterschool programs by claiming that there’s no “demonstrable evidence” that such programs actually help kids.

But a visit to some of the after-school programs that are part of the United Federation of Teachers' (UFT) Community Learning Schools would show real academic assistance integrated into the students’ daily class work, including homework help, test prep and enrichment, from lessons in computer coding to music and arts programs.

  • At PS 19 in Queens, kids as young as second grade study robotics in a program aligned with the science units in their regular classes.
  • At PS1 in Chinatown, Manhattan, first and second graders work with a teacher after school to help them make progress on the state’s annual test to gauge the progress of English language learners.
  • At PS 14 in the Bronx, third graders use their after-school time and reading lessons to understand Shakespeare — and to create their own production of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.”

The Community Learning School program is designed to work with schools to create a strong academic core by helping students deal with many of the non-school barriers to learning success — undiagnosed medical ailments, lack of English-language skills, unemployed parents or those working two jobs, even homelessness and fears of being deported.

Our own analysis of school results show that the Community Learning School program, including its after-school component, has improved attendance, school climate and other basic requirements for learning. Schools that have been in the program the longest also show a significant increase in reading scores, particularly for the most struggling students.

Our success in after-school programs is not unique.

A review of these programs in Paterson, N.J.  found test score gains for many students. A three-year study in Hartford, Conn. showed that after-school participants scored higher than students who did not take part in the program.

In the 2016-17 school year, the UFT will have 28 schools in its Community Learning School initiative, a mix of 19 elementary, four middle and five high schools enrolling more than 16,000 students across all five boroughs. (To provide a sense of scale, if the program were its own school district, it would be larger than the school district of Alexandria, Va.)

Instead of reducing support by cutbacks in federal Title IIA funds, the administration should be embracing these programs as key to our efforts to help our students, particularly those facing the most challenges.

Teachers and parents know that children are more than a test score, and that there’s more to education than a budget line. 

As someone who spent 12 years as a teacher of at-risk adolescents in a Brooklyn vocational high school, dealing with students whose struggles with academics were sometimes dwarfed by their challenges in life, I know supplementary programs like after-school can mean the difference between success and failure for our kids.