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Hours of Opportunity: Considering Data and City Systems

Management-information systems that track attendance and other data can make a significant difference in the success of urban out-of-school-time programs, a new report says.

"Hours of Opportunity" is the new study from RAND Corp. on the Wallace Foundation's efforts to foster systemic out-of-school-time (OST) programs in five cities: Boston; Chicago; New York City; Providence, R.I.; and the District of Columbia.

The three-volume report—which weighs in at 300-plus pages and was released today—considers lessons from the cities' efforts and offers case studies on their work.

"Our research finds that the most successful efforts coordinate their assets and resources citywide, enjoy strong support and leadership from their mayors, and they use rich data systems to assess and deliver their programs," Jennifer Sloan McCombs, the report's lead author and an education policy researcher at RAND, said in a news release about the study.

In addition, addressing an area that struck me as particularly interesting, Volume II of the report examines the role of data and management-information systems in improving OST programs. At the Wallace Foundation's request, RAND studied the use of information systems in eight cities—Denver; Louisville, Ky., and San Francisco, in addition to the Wallace-funded sites.

Researchers determined that management-information systems helped cities track youth enrollment, attendance, and program demographics—which helped greatly when trying to assess the overall success of an initiative.

"The importance of this use cannot be underestimated. Prior to [management-information] system adoption, the cities could say little about the programs they funded or the youth being served," the Hours of Opportunity authors write.

The availability of data also provided a boost when it came time for after-school providers to make pitches for sustained or additional funding and helped in coordinating services among different city agencies, the researchers find.

The key, the report says, is to plan well for the data systems and to customize them if possible. Otherwise, problems can emerge. For instance, some OST providers found fault with their data systems, particularly when they ended up entering the same data over and over into different government agency databases. Finding staff time for data entry can also be tough, some providers told RAND.

"Government agencies need to collaborate better and have a coordinated management- information effort," one provider told the researchers. "It is a waste of time to enter the same information into so many databases."

RAND recommends that cities explore creating a single, common management-information system or that they set up systems in which providers can enter all their data in one place or that allow better information exchanges between agencies.

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