The Forum for Youth Investment Announces Participation in National Evaluation to Inform the 21st Century Community Learning Centers Program

(Washington, D.C.)  The Forum for Youth Investment’s Weikart Center for Youth Program Quality is excited to announce its participation in a new national evaluation to inform the 21st Century Community Learning Centers (21st CCLC) program being undertaken by the Institute of Education Sciences (IES), the independent research arm of the U.S. Department of Education. 

The Forum’s Weikart Center will support the implementation of a continuous quality improvement (CQI) system designed for use with a sample of 21st CCLC afterschool programs that vary in the activities they provide (e.g., STEM, sports, the arts) but share a commitment to improving their participants’ social and emotional skills. The Weikart Center’s success at designing, evaluating, and supporting the implementation of the Youth Program Quality Intervention (YPQI) with over 140 state and local afterschool systems and networks made it a logical candidate to support the CQI implementation components of this study. Mathematica is IES’s selected evaluation partner. 

The Forum applauds IES’s decision to evaluate a continuous program quality improvement system versus a specific curriculum approach (e.g., STEM) designed to achieve specific outcomes. It reflects their desire to produce an evaluation that speaks directly to the interests of the field.   

“It is important that this impact study, in contrast to the 2005 study, is not an up or down vote on the 21st CCLC program,” says Karen Pittman, the Forum’s President, CEO and co-founder.  “The verdict is in: Afterschool programs are a critical part of our country’s capacity to maximize learning and development opportunities, especially for children from low-income families. We know that quality counts, so the question isn’t whether to fund afterschool programs, but how to support program improvement.” 

The CQI strategy being tested includes three phases in a repeating cycle: assessment of program quality, the creation of improvement plans to address gaps in quality, and the provision of targeted staff supports that are aligned to improvement goals. Those familiar with the YPQI recognize the parallel to the Assess – Plan – Improve process the Forum’s Weikart Center supports with assessment, data tools, training, and coaching. 

The idea being tested is that CQI leads to program quality improvement within centers along dimensions related to student engagement in program content and opportunities for the general support of social and emotional skill development. The study, which will span two years, will collect data on all steps in the CQI system as well as on selected student outcomes, as demonstrated both in the afterschool program and during the school day. 

 “We know from our work that right stakes assessment and data informed planning, paired with targeted training and coaching improves staff practices and strengthens the engagement of both staff and students,” says Dr. Kim Robinson, Managing Director of the Weikart Center. “There is variability, however, in the amount of program quality improvement associated with CQI and in the amount of time required for improvements to result in significant observable increases in students’ skillsThis study is designed to shed light on that variation, helping the field to better understand the relationship between CQI efforts and impacts on youth outcomes.”   

The impact study will include 100 afterschool centers who are interested in participating and meet study criteria. Implementation is currently planned to begin in Summer 2021 and continue through the 2021-22 and 2022-23 school years (though timelines may change in light of COVID-19). The Weikart Center will work with IES and the study team to provide broad updates to the field about the study throughout the process and will continue to provide supports to its existing network of national, state and local partners 

The Forum will also use this new commitment to launch a broader conversation about the value of “right stakes” CQI approaches for all learning settings—not limited to traditional afterschool programs—but also including camps, schools, employment training programs, and other places where young people spend their time. Continuous quality improvement is an approach that originated in healthcare and has been used effectively in educational settings for many years says Dr. Vivian Tseng, Senior Vice President at the W.T. Grant Foundation and former Forum board member. “The YPQI has helped to make this approach accessible in afterschool programs in meaningful ways. The lessons from studies like this one about the ways that CQI systems advance educational opportunities can have relevance across a range of educational and youth development settings.  


The Forum for Youth Investment is a national nonprofit, nonpartisan “action tank” committed to changing the odds that all children and youth are ready for college, work and life. It provides ideas, services, and networks that leaders need in order to make more intentional decisions that are good for young people. The Forum helps leaders increase their capacity to more effectively make the case for and manage the collaborative efforts that are needed to change the odds for youth; improve the alignment and appropriateness of child and youth policy agendas and investments; and strengthen programs’ and practitioners’ capacity to create environments in which youth thrive, across all the systems and settings where young people spend time. 

In 2008, the Forum for Youth Investment created the David P. Weikart Center for Youth Program Quality to build the capacity of public and private agencies to implement quality improvement and performance systems that simultaneously foster professional learning and whole-child development with the purpose of improving social sector outcomes. The Weikart Center’s research-based core products and services are currently used in over 4,700 out-of-school time settings nationally and internationally and form the basis for quality improvement systems in over 140 publicly and privately funded systems. The Weikart Center empowers education and human service leaders to adapt, implement, and scale research-validated, quality-improvement systems to advance child and youth development. The Forum’s Weikart Center is based in Ypsilanti, MI.