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The Harvard Family Research Project separated from the Harvard Graduate School of Education to become the Global Family Research Project as of January 1, 2017. It is no longer affiliated with Harvard University.

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Heather Weiss

Demand for out-of-school time (OST) programs is at an all time high. Coupled with this demand is a growing research base which suggests that to succeed in the 21st century, youth need what Dick Murnane at the Harvard Graduate School of Education terms the “new basic skills.” These include problem solving, interpersonal, and communication skills, and basic proficiency in reading and math—skills that recent polling indicates the public feels are partly the responsibility of OST programs to foster. With heightened attention on the need for youth to have safe, productive places to be in the nonschool hours—places that can promote the “new basic skills”—comes increasing pressure for programs to improve the quality of young people’s experiences by providing OST options from which program participants can reap maximum benefits.

Therefore, when we were consulting with key people in the field, including our funders, to determine the focus of our fourth issue devoted to out-of-school time, we were excited by W. T. Grant Foundation’s suggestion that we concentrate on OST program quality, specifically examining how to measure, assess, and create quality programs to improve a range of outcomes for young people.

Several authors provide insights into how they, and others, are tackling measurement issues, from using technology and data systems to collect information and track progress, to applying lessons learned from developing early childhood quality measures.

Authors also provide grounded examples of how they and the programs they work with use research and evaluation data for improvement and learning. As always, throughout the issue and especially in our Evaluations to Watch section, we have alerted you to a range of research and evaluation efforts underway to assess and improve quality and understand its links to outcomes.

Recognizing the pivotal role that participation plays in determining effective youth outcomes, our two Theory & Practice articles examine two key participation issues: measuring participation, and attracting and sustaining participation. Our Questions & Answers section examines how group randomized trials can be used to assess program impacts, while Tom Kane, UCLA economist, provides us with some lessons learned from looking at how others have assessed OST program impact.

We asked leaders in the field to identify the single most important ingredient for creating, sustaining, and improving program quality. Overwhelmingly, our experts responded that program staff are key—that they need to be well trained, well compensated, and able to foster youth leadership. Some of our authors speak directly to this issue, helping us to understand how professional development efforts are and can be evaluated.

There is so much important work being done in this arena—as evidenced by the unprecedented length of this issue. In our tenth anniversary year, let me say again how much all of us here at HFRP value your support, your ideas, and your contributions to making OST programs better places for young people to learn and grow. As always, if you have ideas for future issues on out-of-school time or other topics, please let us know.


Heather B. Weiss, Ed.D.
Founder & Director
Harvard Family Research Project

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© 2016 Presidents and Fellows of Harvard College
Published by Harvard Family Research Project