Education

The Corner

Yes, Cut the After-School Program

President Trump’s budget would zero out funding for the 21st Century Community Learning Centers, an after-school program aimed at improving academic outcomes. The budget blueprint says the 21st Century program “lacks strong evidence of meeting its objectives.” That’s an understatement. As my former colleague David Muhlhausen has detailed, the Education Department sponsored a multi-site experimental evaluation of the 21st Century program. The final results, published in 2005, showed basically no effect on academic outcomes and negative effects on child behavior.

A lobbying coalition of academics, bureaucrats, and school providers has formed around the 21st Century program, and its supporters quickly moved to disparage the gold-standard evaluation. They offered the familiar excuses common to other program failures, including a perennial favorite: “We believe [insert name of program] is much more effective now than at the time it was evaluated.” Since evaluations are rarely conducted on the fly, that excuse can be recycled ad infinitum. Nevertheless, a New York Timesfact check” bought into the coalition’s storyline, dismissing the gold-standard evaluation as “early research” and then proceeding to cite state-level studies that do not use random-assignment methodology. The purported test-score gains even in these non-experimental studies were unimpressive.

Similarly, an article for Time claims “several studies” support after-school programs, but none is an actual test of the 21st Century program’s effectiveness. For example, the Education Department says that 30 to 40 percent of participants improved their math and English grades during the year, but there is no mention of how any control group performed. (The New York Times “fact check” also cites this data but misreports it as a 30 to 40 percent improvement in grades.) The Time article goes on to cite studies that say it is bad for children to go hungry, which is not exactly the same question as whether after-school programs are effective!

Does all of this mean that after-school care is never helpful to anyone? Of course not. Research in this area should and will continue. Perhaps there are targeted ways in which after-school care could help especially vulnerable kids. The 21st Century program, however, is not a good use of limited resources. Its funding should be either returned to the taxpayers or redirected toward programs with demonstrated effectiveness. More broadly, a $559 billion deficit means the government must set very careful priorities with its spending. If we cannot eliminate even a small program that failed its own government evaluation, then there is little reason to believe the government will ever get those priorities straight.

Jason Richwine — Jason Richwine is a public-policy analyst and a contributor to National Review Online.

Most Popular

Politics & Policy

Students’ Anti-Gun Views

Are children innocents or are they leaders? Are teenagers fully autonomous decision-makers, or are they lumps of mental clay, still being molded by unfolding brain development? The Left seems to have a particularly hard time deciding these days. Take, for example, the high-school students from Parkland, ... Read More
PC Culture

Kill Chic

We live in a society in which gratuitous violence is the trademark of video games, movies, and popular music. Kill this, shoot that in repugnant detail becomes a race to the visual and spoken bottom. We have gone from Sam Peckinpah’s realistic portrayal of violent death to a gory ritual of metal ripping ... Read More
Elections

Romney Is a Misfit for America

Mitt’s back. The former governor of Massachusetts and occasional native son of Michigan has a new persona: Mr. Utah. He’s going to bring Utah conservatism to the whole Republican party and to the country at large. Wholesome, efficient, industrious, faithful. “Utah has a lot to teach the politicians in ... Read More
Law & the Courts

What the Second Amendment Means Today

The horrifying school massacre in Parkland, Fla., has prompted another national debate about guns. Unfortunately, it seems that these conversations are never terribly constructive — they are too often dominated by screeching extremists on both sides of the aisle and armchair pundits who offer sweeping opinions ... Read More
U.S.

Fire the FBI Chief

American government is supposed to look and sound like George Washington. What it actually looks and sounds like is Henry Hill from Goodfellas: bad suit, hand out, intoning the eternal mantra: “F*** you, pay me.” American government mostly works by interposition, standing between us, the free people at ... Read More
Film & TV

Black Panther’s Circle of Hype

The Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) first infantilizes its audience, then banalizes it, and, finally, controls it through marketing. This commercial strategy, geared toward adolescents of all ages, resembles the Democratic party’s political manipulation of black Americans, targeting that audience through its ... Read More