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Learning Science in Informal Environments: People, Places, and Pursuits
support for them. Politicians, parents, and educators increasingly view these programs as an important developmental contributor in the lives of young people and a necessary component of public education. One indication of their importance is funding for the 21st Century Community Learning Centers (CCLCs), a federal program providing out-of-school-time care: it rose from zero in 1994, to $40 million in 1998, to $1 billion in 2002 (U.S. Department of Education, 2003). In 2007, the House of Representatives voted to increase funding to $1.1 billion (Afterschool Alliance, 2008).
Society has also witnessed changes in the workforce, resulting in a greater proportion of homes in which all adults are employed and an increase in student participation in out-of-school-time programs and other care arrangements. In 2005, 40 percent of all students in grades K-8 were in at least one weekly nonparental out-of-school-time care arrangement (National Center for Education Statistics, 2006). School-based or center-based programs were the most common care arrangement. Out-of-school-time programs have the potential to provide large-scale enrichment opportunities that were once reserved for wealthier families. In fact, at the 21st CCLCs, more than half the participants are of minority background and from low-income schools. The students who attend most frequently are more likely to be black, from single-parent homes, low-income, and on public assistance. This means that out-of-school-time programs often serve the most vulnerable populations. One consequence of this demographic structure is that much of the research on learning in out-of-school-time programs focuses on nondominant groups, a feature that will be seen in the evidence cited throughout this chapter.
Evidence of Science Learning
Despite its long history, research on learning in general in out-of-school programs is controversial and inconclusive (Miller, 2003; Dynarski et al., 2004; Bissel et al., 2003). However, a range of evaluation studies show that out-of-school programs can have positive effects on participants’ attitudes toward science, grades, test scores, graduation rates, and specific science knowledge and skills (Gibson and Chase, 2002; Building Science and Engineering Talent, 2004; Archer, Fanesali, Froschl, and Sprung, 2003; Project Exploration, 2006; Ferreira, 2001; Harvard Family Research Project, 2003; DeHaven and Weist, 2003; Jarman, 2005; Campbell et al., 1998, as cited in Fancsali, 2002; Brenner, Hudley, Jimerson, and Okamoto, 2001; Johnson, 2005; Fusco, 2001; Jeffers, 2003). Yet there is little evidence of a synthesized literature on out-of-school-time science programs.
Program goals, outcome measures used to evaluate them, and research methods vary tremendously in this area. Some researchers, drawing on social psychology and youth development traditions, are primarily concerned with the development of positive attitudes, skills, and social relationships. Other