Program

Sep 22, 2014

OVERVIEW

Playworks is a universal elementary-school-based program designed to provide opportunities for organized play throughout the school day.  The program targets low-income schools and aims to engage students in physical activity, foster social skills that involve cooperation, improve students’ ability to focus, decrease behavioral problems, and improve school climate.  One experimental evaluation found significant impacts in 4 of 6 teacher-reported outcome domains (school climate; conflict resolution and reduced aggression; learning and academic performance; and recess experience).  No significant program effects were reported in the domains of youth development or student behavior, or in most student-reported outcomes.

DESCRIPTION OF PROGRAM

Target Population:   Students in low-income elementary schools

Playworks places full-time coaches in low-income schools to provide opportunities for organized physical activity during recess and class time.  The program is designed to improve school climate, conflict resolution skills, academic performance, recess quality, youth development, and student behavior. Coaches facilitate games at recess while teaching and reinforcing conflict resolution skills and encouraging positive play.  Some class time is also reserved for the coach to teach new games and teamwork skills, ideally every week.  In addition, 4th and 5th grade students have the opportunity to become “Junior Coaches” and act as role models and facilitators during recess for younger students.  After-school activities, a sports league, and school staff training are also usually included in the program.  The program operates throughout the school year, with coaches supervising recess daily: a mix of leading games and resolving conflicts in student-led games. Although in many schools younger and older kids have recess at the same time, when that is not the case, Junior Coaches are released from class to supervise recess at least once a week. An evaluation found that the average total cost of the program for the first year was $55,308 per school.

EVALUATIONS OF PROGRAM

Fortson, J., James-Burdumy, S., Bleeker, M., Beyler, N., London, R. A., Westrich, L., Stokes-Guinan, K., & Castrechini, S. (2013). Impact and implementation findings from an experimental evaluation of playworks: Effects on school climate, academic learning, student social skills and behavior. Washington, DC: Mathematica Policy Research.

Bleeker, M., James-Burdunny, S., Beyler, N., Dodd, A.H., London, R.A., Westrich, L., Stokes-Guinan, K., & Castrechini, S. (2012). Findings from a randomized experiment of Playworks: Selected results from cohort 1. Washington, DC: Mathematica Policy Research.

Evaluated Population:  As a whole-school intervention, the sample consisted of 29 elementary schools in 6 cities – all students participated in their assigned program. All of the schools in the study were located in urban areas, and 92 percent of schools were Title I-eligible.  On average, schools had around 500 students and student-to-teacher ratios were 16 to 1. Most students enrolled in the study schools were eligible for free or reduced-price lunch (roughly 82 percent) and were predominantly non-white (about 85 percent).

Approach:  Twenty-nine schools from six cities across the United States were selected and randomly assigned to either the Playworks program or to the control group.  Within each city, schools were matched on important characteristics (e.g., school size, racial composition, percentage of students eligible for free or reduced-price lunch), then randomized. Two baseline differences between groups emerged: teachers in treatment schools were significantly more likely to be white, and significantly less likely to be African American, compared with control teachers.  Authors adjusted for these differences when estimating program impacts.  Authors also accounted for clustering of teachers within schools and students within classrooms, where appropriate.

Data were collected near the end of the first year of Playworks’ operation, including administrative records, teacher and student surveys, focus groups, and observations of recess.  Surveys assessed child outcomes, including their perceptions of school climate, experience with conflict resolution, learning and achievement, recess experience, and relationships with adults and peers.  Teacher ratings included their perceptions of school climate and students’ recess experience, as well as individual students’ behavior, learning and achievement, and social competence (based on a random sample of 5 students from their respective classes). While teachers from all years completed surveys, only students in fourth and fifth grade did the same. Baseline demographic data was based on administrative data regularly collected by the school –no surveys were administered prior to the intervention.

A total of 2,331students from 119 4th– and 5th-grade classrooms in 28 schools completed surveys for this study.  One study school did not have separate 4th– and 5th-grade classrooms (students were combined with lower and higher grade levels within the school).  This school and the school it was matched with during assignment were dropped from the analysis of survey data.  296 teachers from 29 schools participated in the teacher survey.

Of the 17 treatment schools, 8 had a “strong” implementation of the program, 6 had a “moderate” implementation, and 3 had a “weak” implementation. Two of these weak implementation schools had not previously had recess as part of the school day. Criteria of a strong implementation included:  recess was structured, students were engaged, junior coaches were doing their jobs, staff at the school knew about the program and were supportive, class schedules were rearranged to accommodate the program, and school policies otherwise supported the program.

Results: Playworks’ impacts on five outcome domains were examined.  Significant impacts were observed in the domains of school climate, conflict resolution and aggression, and learning and academic performance.  No significant impacts were found in the domains of youth development or student behavior. These domains include information from both the student and faculty surveys, although almost no outcomes taken from the student survey were significant.

School climate: Playworks had a significant positive impact on four out of five teacher-reported measures of school climate (student use of positive language, feelings of safety at school, feelings of safety and inclusion at recess, and staff support for organized play).  However, no significant impacts were observed on three student-reported measures of school climate (feelings of safety at school, feelings of safety at recess, and perceptions of community), or on teacher support for organized play.

Conflict resolution and aggression: Teachers in treatment schools reported less student bullying and exclusionary behavior during recess than did teachers in control schools.  No significant impacts were found on teachers’ reports of more general aggressive behavior, or on students’ reports of aggressive behavior, beliefs about aggression, or reports on relationships with other students.

Learning and academic performance: Treatment group teachers were significantly less likely to report difficulties with students transitioning from recess to class, and reported marginally significantly less time taken to transition, compared with control group teachers.  Students in the treatment group were significantly more likely than their control-group peers to report better behavior and attention in class following participation in sports and games.  No significant differences between groups were observed on six other measures assessing student engagement with learning activities, academic performance, homework completion, and motivation to succeed.

Recess experience: Playworks had a positive impact on teachers’, but not students’, perceptions of students’ recess experiences.  In particular, teachers in treatment schools reported significantly better student behavior during recess, and readiness for class after recess, compared with teachers in control schools.  Further, a significantly higher percentage of teachers in treatment schools than in control schools agreed that their students enjoyed adult-organized activities during recess. No significant difference between the two groups of schools was found in the percentage of teachers who believed their students felt ownership over recess activities.  No significant impacts were found in students’ reports of activities experienced during recess, enjoyment of recess, or conflict resolution during recess.

Youth development: There were no significant impacts on several measures of youth development, including student perceptions of adult interactions, peer interactions, and general conflict resolution,  nor on teacher perceptions of students’ abilities to regulate emotions, act responsibly, and engage in prosocial behavior.

Student behavior: Playworks had no significant impacts on measures of student behavior.  Treatment and control group students reported similar levels of disruptive behavior, while treatment and control group teachers reported similar levels of student misbehavior, absences, tardiness, suspensions, and detentions.

SOURCES FOR MORE INFORMATION

References

Bleeker, M., James-Burdunny, S., Beyler, N., Dodd, A.H., London, R.A., Westrich, L., Stokes-Guinan, K., & Castrechini, S. (2012). Findings from a randomized experiment of Playworks: Selected results from cohort 1. Washington, DC: Mathematica Policy Research.

Fortson, J., James-Burdumy, S., Bleeker, M., Beyler, N., London, R. A., Westrich, L., Stokes-Guinan, K., & Castrechini, S. (2013). Impact and implementation findings from an experimental evaluation of playworks: Effects on school climate, academic learning, student social skills and behavior. Washington, DC: Mathematica Policy Research.

Website:  http://www.playworks.org/about

Contact Information

Playworks

380 Washington Street

Oakland, CA 94607

Martha Bleeker

Mathematica Policy Research

P.O. Box 2393

Princeton, NJ 08543

KEYWORDS:  Children, Elementary, Males and Females, Urban, School-based, Academic, Cost, After-School Program, Skills Training, Achievement/Grades, Attendance, Academic Motivation/Self-Concept/Expectations/Engagement, Other safety, Social Skills/Life Skills, Aggression, Bullying, Education Other, Behavioral Problems Other,

Program information last updated on 9/22/14.