Dissertations, Theses, and Capstone Projects

Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name



Urban Education


Deborah Shanley

Committee Members

Juan Battle

David Bloomfield

Subject Categories

Other Education | Urban Education


afterschool education, educational equity, federal education policy


Although schools receive most of the attention in discussions of and research about educational policy, an equally important—and under-investigated—arena is the non-school hours. American students spend more time outside of school than in school, and a host of studies have shown that the ways young people spend their discretionary time can greatly influence their short-term and long-term outcomes. Issues of educational equity are deeply embedded in the topic because opportunities to participate in high quality out-of-school learning experiences are not evenly distributed in American society. The single most important policy target in this aspect of student life is the federal 21st Century Community Learning Centers (21st CCLC) program, a part of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act that annually provides over $1 billion in funding for afterschool and summer programs across the K-12 age and grade spectrum. As the largest source of public funding for out-of-school-time programs, the 21st CCLC program offers untapped potential to address the opportunity gap between more and less affluent young people.

This dissertation research involves a mixed-methods policy analysis study in two parts: (1) review of U. S. government documents (including authorizing legislation, non-regulatory guidance, annual performance reports, and external evaluations), with a focus on analyzing the strengths and shortcomings of the current 21st CCLC policy and making a research-based proposal around strategies designed to improve the policy and resulting programs; and (2) interviews focused on key unanswered questions with a diverse group of 15 thought leaders in the afterschool field, analysis of their responses, and integration of the new findings into final recommendations prepared for the federal government and the afterschool field.

The study argues that the central challenge facing the 21st Century Community Learning Centers program—consistently low rates of student participation—can be addressed only by listening to the voices of young people and responding to their desire for engagement and challenge in out-of-school-time programs.