Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan once famously said that “everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not to his own facts. Despite the utterances that may be coming out of DC lately, it is a fact that well-implemented 21st Century Community Learning Centers (21st CCLC), summer school programs, and many other supplemental enrichment programs designed for our most vulnerable children do make a demonstrable (i.e., statistically significant) difference in their lives. I know this not only from our own evaluation work over the past four decades but I also know this from a plethora of well-constructed, peer-reviewed, independent, rigorous evaluations. (See, for example, Kidron, Y., and Lindsay, J. (2014). The effects of increased learning time on student academic and non-academic outcomes: Findings from a meta-analytic review (REL 2014-05). Washington, DC: US Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, National Center for Education and Regional Assistance, Regional Educational Laboratory Appalachia.)
So why the assertion (uninformed at best, disingenuous at worst) that “(t)here’s no demonstrable evidence that (after-school programs) are actually helping kids do better in school” (OMB Budget Director Mick Mulvaney – March 2017)? Clearly, the answer is “politics.” It is often true that if you repeat something often enough – especially if you are a trusted messenger – it will ultimately be perceived as reality. If supplementary education programs were to have no value, then it would be easier for out-of-work coal miners (for example) to make the case against government subsidies for such programs – especially if they are designed to help other people’s children. Similarly, shipbuilders would certainly endorse the expansion of our already impressive fleet of aircraft carriers if the alternative was to squander the money on some useless educational intervention for inner-city kids. But the inconvenient truth is that evidence-based educational programs that are implemented with fidelity do work, and falsely pitting interest groups against each other at the expense of needy children is no way to run a country. Nonetheless – the administration wants to eliminate successful after-school programs that also feed hungry children, while it re-directs those precious resources to already inflated defense and homeland security budgets.
OK, budgets are tight, and priorities must be set. I would argue for actually using data (i.e., facts) to inform our choices. Investing in services that can demonstrate a for-real return on investment (as has been amply demonstrated by 21st CCLC) seems far more appropriate (and humane) than dispensing political patronage in order to placate often uninformed voting blocs. C’mon, let’s do this right – there’s far too much at stake.