extracurricular activities in school, do they matter?

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  • number of interventions have been developed and implemented around the country (Bishop, Berryman, Tiakiwai, &

    The range of extracurricular activities (ECA) offered in schools and the relationship between participation in

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    Children and Youth Services Review 30 (2008) 418426extracurricular activities and academic outcomes has stimulated research activity since the 1930s (for example, see:Richardson, 2002; Education Review Office, 2002b,c). No New Zealand study has been uncovered, however, whichinvestigates how the extracurricular activities in school affect student progress and success, eitherwithin a particular cohortof students as they pass through a school, or across the various subgroups of students enrolled in a school at any one time.By examining associations between student achievements and the students' participation in extracurricular activities, thisstudy looks at the wider school experience and attempts to determine to what extent student participation in extracurricularactivities might influence educational outcomes for different groups of students.

    2. Theoretical backgroundExtracurricular activities in school, do they matter?

    Boaz Shulruf , Sarah Tumen, Hilary Tolley

    University of Auckland, New Zealand

    Received 5 September 2007; accepted 27 October 2007Available online 4 November 2007


    There is a large body of the literature which suggests that extracurricular activities (ECA) in schools have positive effects onstudent achievement; however, the majority of the research measured associations rather than causal effects. This study presents arobust methodological approach to determine whether student participation in extracurricular activities might have causal effect onacademic outcomes and attitudes towards Literacy and Numeracy during secondary schooling. The results of this particular studycould not provide conclusive evidence for causal effect of ECA on student performance. Nonetheless, the methodology presentedin the paper does provide an effective research framework for measuring causal effects of a range of school based interventions andactivities on student achievements and attitudes. 2007 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

    Keywords: Extracurricular activities; Schools

    1. Introduction

    A number of recent studies in New Zealand have demonstrated that certain groups of secondary school studentsunderachieve at school and are under-represented in degree level education (Cook & Evans, 2000; Nash & Harker, 1997).To encourage and promote greater educational success for these students in both compulsory and tertiary education a large

    www.elsevier.com/locate/childyouth Corresponding author. University of Auckland, Faculty of Education-Starpath, Private Bag 92019, Auckland, New Zealand. Tel.: +64 4 9154469.E-mail address: [email protected] (B. Shulruf).

    0190-7409/$ - see front matter 2007 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.doi:10.1016/j.childyouth.2007.10.012

  • Baxter Smith, 1936; Broh, 2002; Buoye, 2004; Davalos, Chavez, & Guardiola, 1999; Eccles & Barber, 1999; Holland,1933; Mahoney, 2000; Marsh & Kleitman, 2003; McNeal, 1995; Melnick, Sabo, & Vanfossen, 1992; Power, 1999;Silliker & Quirk, 1997; Thomas & Moran, 1991; Zaff, Moore, Papillo, & Williams, 2003). Although interest in thisarea has been maintained, research related to the extra- or co-curriculum is generally of lesser interest compared toresearch investment in the formal curriculum. It is also noted that extracurricular research is largely confined to studiesbased on secondary data gathered from longitudinal studies carried out in the United States since the 1980s, namely theNational Education Longitudinal Study of 1988 (NELS:88) and the High School and Beyond longitudinal study (HSB)(Broh, 2002; Marsh, 1992).

    An exploration of national and international literature has revealed a chasm in research examining the theoreticaljustifications for extracurricular programmes in schools in general, and in New Zealand schools in particular (Shulruf,Meagher-Lundberg, & Timperley, 2006). However, it is noted that the theoretical frameworks all suggest thatparticipation in ECA has positive rather than negative effects on student outcomes (Barber, Eccles, & Stone, 2001; Broh,2002; Davalos et al., 1999; Shernoff, Csikszentmihalyi, Shneider, & Shernoff, 2003; Valentine, Cooper, Bettencourt, &DuBois, 2002). It was not possible to locate any New Zealand literature covering empirical or theoretical research inthis area, although a study by Wylie (2005) provides some indications of a positive association between participationin ECA in schools and a high level of cognitive and attitudinal competencies in 8 to 12 year old children. It is notedthat this study was based on parents' responses to questions about their children's extracurricular activity between theages of 8 and 12, and the association between these answers with competency levels over this age range.

    Despite the lack of evidence available in New Zealand supporting the positive effect of ECA on student outcomes,extracurricular activities are regarded as an integral part of a school's responsibility to provide a balanced education,and schools are expected to offer their students an array of ECA to support the formal curriculum (often referred to asthe co-curriculum). This notion is supported by the Educational Review Office which notes, in particular, theimportant role that school-sponsored extracurricular activities plays in supporting learning opportunities and assuaginglearning barriers for disadvantaged Mori and Pasifika students (Education Review Office, 2002a,c, 2003). A recentcontribution to the body of research on ECA in New Zealand was made by Tolley et al. (2005) who found that in oneNew Zealand secondary school 87% of the student sample (n=1608) participated in at least one extracurricular activity.Of the 120 different extracurricular activities reported, about 58% were school-sponsored activities; the rest weresponsored by the student's family or other organisations. Despite this investment by the school, little was knownregarding the precise nature of student participation, whether these activities were successful in their aims, or how andto what extent participation in particular activities related to student outcomes.

    The evidence presented in the international literature is no clearer. Feldman and Matjasko's (2005) recent andcomprehensive literature review on ECA for high school students in the United States suggests that while extracurricularactivities are viewed as highly important developmental settings for adolescents, little is understood about thecontextual influences affecting that development, or the nature of the relationship between student participation andoutcomes (pp.160161). Similarly, although Lewis' (2004) meta-analysis of extracurricular participation both in and outof school concludes that the best academic and social outcomes for students are gained through their participation in welldesigned, developmentally appropriate activities, the particular characteristics contributing to these outcomes remainunclear. Furthermore, there is limited evidence to support the commonly held justifications for carrying out extracurricularactivities and it is only recently that theory has been examined in terms of empirical studies (Shulruf et al., 2006).

    Authors such as Davalos et al. (1999) have looked at the notion of ECA participation promoting social capital (e.g.,social networks such as family, friends and communities supporting individuals), supporting positive ethnic identity,and ultimately increasing school holding power; while others, such as Barber et al. (2001), propose that participation inECA leads to a consolidation of adolescent identity through their introduction to formal and informal organisations. Inmost cases, however, these claims have not been systematically tested with empirical evidence.

    Many of the studies which aim to identify how participation in extracurricular activities affects student outcomeshave failed to provide robust conclusions, although some positive associations have been identified. For example,associations have been found between (a) participation in ECA and educational, cultural and social outcomes (Buoye,2004; Marsh & Kleitman, 2003; McNeal, 1995; Melnick et al., 1992; Power, 1999; Silliker & Quirk, 1997; Thomas &Moran, 1991); (b) participation in ECA and students' motivation (DfES, 2005); retention (Davalos et al., 1999;McNeal, 1995); and (c) participation in ECA and aspiration and attitude (see Broh, 2002; Davalos et al., 1999; Eccles &Barber, 1999; Larson, 2000; Mahoney, 2000; Zaff et al., 2003). However, no studies have been identified that measure

    419B. Shulruf et al. / Children and Youth Services Review 30 (2008) 418426the causal effect of the ECA on any of these outcomes (Shulruf et al., 2006; Tolley et al., 2005).

  • The criteria for causal effects, as summarised by Abramson (2001), include: strength of association (e.g.correlation); level of significance; temporality (the causal effect precedes the outcome); specificity (the effect is relatedspecifically to the causal factor); and consistency (the results are consistent across different populations andcircumstances). These criteria are used predominantly in population health studies, but they are also applicable to mostother social sciences research. Of the 58 studies identified in their systematic review, Shulruf et al. (2006) demonstrated

    Table 1Description of the 12 ECA clusters

    ECA cluster Description

    Team sport Structured club or school team sports. E.g. soccer, rugby, water polo, cricket, and hockey.Individual sport Individual sports organised through school, the community, or on an