A majority of U.S. cities with populations of 100,000 or more that were contacted for a recent study are coordinating afterschool programs to expand and improve services for young people who need them most, according to the study released today.
More than three-quarters of the 100 cities where a knowledgeable respondent could be found report implementing at least some strategies to coordinate afterschool programming. However, of surveyed cities implementing at least some coordination strategies, less than one-quarter of this group, however, has adopted all three of the key strategies identified by experts: a data system, citywide quality-improvement standards and a “coordinating entity” to help the many players in the afterschool arena work together.
“Historically, the afterschool field has been decentralized, with programs, schools, city leaders, and funders operating separately from each other,” says Ivan Charner of FHI 360. “Yet we found that many positive steps have been taken to coordinate afterschool programs in large cities across the country. If this trend continues and afterschool coordination truly goes nationwide, we believe that more children will have access to and participate in high-quality afterschool programs.”
One striking finding is that support from mayors and city managers is crucial to this effort. Cities describing their mayors as “highly committed” to afterschool coordination were far more likely to see afterschool funding remain stable (46 percent of respondents) or increase (21 percent of respondents) over the past five years. No cities describing their mayors as “not at all” or “slightly” committed saw an increase in funding during that time. An additional finding is that among cities describing their mayors as “moderately committed,” more than two-thirds experienced a decrease in afterschool funding over the past five years.
The study, Is Citywide Afterschool Coordination Going Nationwide? An Exploratory Study in Large Cities, was conducted by FHI 360, a global nonprofit that conducts research into education and a host of other issues. The study was commissioned by The Wallace Foundation, which has supported local efforts to formally knit together the municipal agencies, schools, nonprofit youth programs and other institutions vital to providing afterschool services, with the goal of expanding access to afterschool programs to many more low-income children.
Research has confirmed the promise of afterschool system building, with the RAND Corporation study Hours of Opportunity finding in 2011 that “organizations across cities could work together toward increasing access, quality, data-based decision-making, and sustainability.” The FHI 360 study is the first systematic attempt to determine the prevalence of this practice and will provide a baseline for measuring its uptake in U.S. cities.
“Research tells us that more children and teens can get access to high-quality afterschool experiences when communities coordinate the work of the many different groups involved,” said Nancy Devine, director of learning and enrichment at Wallace. “This new study indicates an emerging national trend of large cities working to coordinate afterschool programs, but it also tells us that cities can do more to build an effective system.”
Of the 100 cities where researchers talked to a person who considered themselves knowledgeable about the subject, 77 reported having a system to coordinate afterschool programs. The median number of city agencies and organizations involved in these efforts is 20, though the number varies widely from city to city. Researchers caution that study findings cannot be generalized to all cities with populations of 100,000 or more.
Of those cities that have implemented some coordination strategies, the findings show:
- Cities are most focused on quality standards for programs: About 62 percent are using common quality standards for programs.
- Only about one-third of cities use a common data system, which can be used to track information about participants and programs. Using a data system is linked to a mayor’s involvement. In cities where mayors were highly or even moderately committed, 44 percent used a data system, compared to 20 percent of cities with no or low mayoral commitment. “Of the three key components, implementing common data systems that can measure access and participation appears to be the most challenging,” the study notes. “Finding ways to garner the support of city leadership and following up with technical support, funding and other resources to cities may be a useful strategy.”
- Overall, 39 percent of mayors and city managers were “highly committed” to coordination and another 27 percent were “moderately committed.” About 12 percent of city leaders were “not committed at all.”
- Over the past five years, funding for coordination decreased in 34 percent of cities. Funding increased in only 9 percent of cities and remained stable in another 24 percent. One-quarter of cities allocated no funding to afterschool system-building efforts over the past five years.
- In cities where 30 percent or more children live in poverty, 62 percent were using two or more coordinating strategies. In cities where less than 30 percent children live in poverty, only about one-third employed two or more coordinating strategies.
The study is based on a sample of cities with 100,000 people or more. Researchers called 129 cities to find someone knowledgeable about that city’s afterschool coordination. Despite making multiple calls, researchers could not make contact with a knowledgeable respondent in 29 cities; they were able to contact a knowledgeable respondent in 100 cities. Of those 100 cities, 77 percent said they were engaged in afterschool coordination. Researchers said if the assumption is that the 29 cities where a knowledgeable respondent could not be found are not engaged in afterschool coordination, it makes the prevalence of afterschool coordination only 59 percent. Of the 77 cities that indicated they were implementing some coordination, 69 completed surveys or interviews. All findings about the implementation of afterschool coordination systems are based on responses from those 69 cities.