White House whopper

In an administration that has a strained relationship with the truth, Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney laid out a whopper at a press conference when discussing President Trump's new proposed federal budget. Mulvaney said:

"Let's talk about after-school programs, generally. They're supposed to be educational programs, right? They are supposed to help kids who don't get fed at home, get fed so they do better in school. Guess what? There's no demonstrable evidence they are actually doing that. There's no demonstrable evidence they are actually helping results; they're helping kids do better in school. Which is what, when we took your money from you, to say look, we're going to go spend it on an after-school program … the way we justified it was these programs are going to help these kids do better in school and get better jobs. And we can't prove that's happening."

Actually, the evidence is quite strong on the positive effects of after-school programs. A Harvard research brief on the topic from 2008 summarized 10 years of evidence on the subject and answers Mulvaney's statement on the impact of after school programs.

The short answer is yes … a decade of research and evaluation studies, as well as large-scale, rigorously conducted syntheses looking across many research and evaluation studies, confirms that children and youth who participate in after-school programs can reap a host of positive benefits in a number of interrelated outcome areas —academic, social and emotional, prevention, and health and wellness (Little, Wimer and Weiss, 2008).

The federally funded 21st Century Community Learning Centers, which Trump and Mulvaney's budget targets for elimination, have been specifically subjected to numerous studies. A study of 53 of these programs from 2010 identified them as highly effective in terms of student achievement gains (Huang, Cho, Mostafavi, and Nam).

In another study of 35 programs serving elementary and middle school students, researchers found positive academic gains as well as social and behavioral benefits. Students who attended more than two years showed improvements in work habits, task persistence and social skills, in addition to gains in math achievement (Reisner et al., 2007).

A 2007 study reviewing 39 programs with identified sound training principles showed positive impacts on student self-confidence, positive social behaviors and achievement on test scores (Durlak and Weissberg).

In a recent Washington Post article (Brown, 2017), Heather Weiss from the independent Global Family Research project, which has been studying after-school programs for nearly two decades, said, "There is a lot of evidence. Engaging kids in high-quality after-school programs, many of which are supported by the 21st Century Community Learning Centers grants, results in kids doing better in school. They're more likely to graduate and to excel in the labor market."

Clearly, Mulvaney's statement that "no demonstrable evidence" exists must be one of those alternative facts Kellyanne Conway (counselor to President Trump) told us about.

Of course, it is important that these programs be of high quality, meaning that they are staffed with strong leaders, have clear goals and structures aligned to meet those goals and have the ability to motivate and engage students. Another hallmark of quality is a tight partnership with the students' schools and community, as well as a focus on arts, enrichment and recreation.

As this administration demonstrates on a daily basis, it is possible to do almost anything poorly. However, when assessing the impact of quality after-school programs, there most certainly is demonstrable evidence of positive (and lasting) effects.

Mulvaney's larger message was that the new Trump budget was compassionate to taxpayers because it stops government spending on programs that have been ineffective.

Interestingly, this budget also directs $168 million more for charter schools, which have a decidedly mixed and much weaker research basis than after-school programs. There certainly are wonderful charter schools that we should be replicating. However, if we are interested in evidence, then on the balance charters perform no better than neighborhood schools. Further, there is no evidence that the proliferation of charter schools raises state or national performance.

Even charter school advocates are concerned about the flawed logic underlying this budget proposal's cuts to programs with demonstrated effectiveness. Greg Richmond, CEO of the National Association of Charter School Authorizers, said, "We are deeply concerned about proposed cuts to other important education programs, as charter schools are part of — not a substitute for — a strong public education system." Bravo, Mr. Richmond.

A more forthright and honest approach would be for the Trump administration to simply say something like, "We don't like programs that support poor kids. We do like charter schools. We don't care what the research says. The decision is 100 percent political and our budget reflects that reality."

Come on, Mr. President — get your act together. And your minions, too, while you're at it.