The Department of Education (Education) awards 21st Century Community Learning Centers (21st Century) grants to states, who in turn, competitively award funds to local organizations, which use them to offer academic enrichment and other activities to improve students’ academic and behavioral outcomes. In their most recent grant competitions, states awarded 21st Century funds to nearly 2,400 organizations—including school districts and community-based organizations—based on a variety of criteria, such as the quality of their proposed program designs.

Relevant research we reviewed that compared program participants to those of non-participants suggests that the 21st Century program is effective in improving students’ behavioral outcomes, such as school-day attendance and reduced disciplinary incidents, more often than their academic outcomes.

However, because Education’s current 21st Century performance measures primarily focus on students’ reading and math scores on state tests, Education lacks useful data about whether the program is achieving its objectives to improve students’ behavioral outcomes such as attendance and discipline—the areas where the program most frequently has a positive effect.

Education officials have not substantially revised the program’s performance measures since 1998, in part because its authorization lapsed from fiscal years 2008 through 2016. Leading practices in performance measurement call for federal agencies to align performance measures with program objectives.

In response to this report, the Afterschool Alliance issued a brief, stating, “We are pleased to see that the GAO report on 21st Century Community Learning Centers (21st CCLC), released today, confirms that participation in afterschool programs improves student behavior and school attendance, which are key building blocks of long-term student success. It makes clear something afterschool providers have long known: that the full range of benefits from afterschool, including progress on test scores, is more evident among students who attend their afterschool programs for more than 60 days than those who do not. The report also confirms that 21st CCLC grants play an essential role in helping afterschool programs leverage much-needed support from a range of community partners.

read the full GAO report here

read the full Afterschool Alliance letter here

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