Professor Robert Halpern is chair of the Research Council at Erikson. His current research focuses on the evaluation of after-school programs for poor children and their families. He writes extensively on the history of human services.

His books include The Means to Grow Up: Reinventing Apprenticeship as a Developmental Support in Adolescence (Routledge, 2009); Making Play Work, The Promise of After-School Programs for Low-Income Children (Teachers College Press, 2003); Fragile Families, Fragile Solutions: A History of Supportive Services for Families in Poverty (Columbia University Press, 1999); and Rebuilding the Inner-City: A History of the Neighborhood Initiatives to Address Poverty in the United States (Columbia University Press, 1995).

Recent work

Youth, Education, and the Role of Society: Rethinking Learning in the High School Years

In this book, Halpern offers a sweeping critique of how we educate adolescents in our country. “High school learning as typically structured is just too fragmented, isolated, and abstract to meet young people’s developmental needs,” he writes. Halpern suggests that learning in the teenage years needs to go beyond the school walls, requiring “a fundamentally different understanding of where learning can take place and the wholehearted participation of a variety of institutions and sectors of society.”

Halpern’s research and writing of the book was supported by a grant from The Herr Foundation. Purchase the book from Harvard Education Press

Realizing the Potential of Learning in Middle Adolescence

This article synthesizes the existing literature on how best to educate high school-aged youth, and provides ten principles for educators working with this age group.

The study was commissioned by the Sally and Dick Roberts Coyote Foundation, with additional support from the W. T. Grant Foundation. Additional authors include Paul Heckman (University of California, Davis) and Reed Larson (University of Illinois).

Areas of Expertise

Research on social theory; history of services; youth development and youth programs; program evaluation; after-school programs; literacy in non-school settings.


B.A. in English literature, Trinity College, Hartford, Conn.;
M.S. in early childhood education, Florida State University;
Ph.D. in international development education, Florida State University


Current Project:

Principal Investigator, Bringing Non-School Learning and Youth Development Perspectives into High School Reform. Research leading to preparation of a monograph. Work being done for and funded by the Nellie Mae Education Foundation.

Past Projects:

Principal Investigator, Attributes of Good Developmental and Learning Experiences for High School Age Youth. Research (with selected “nominated” programs) and report prepared for the Chicago Out of School Time Initiative (funded by the Wallace Foundation).

Principal Investigator, Apprenticeship-Like Learning Experiences and Adolescent Development; research leading to a book. Multiple funding sources (William T. Grant Foundation, Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, Evelyn and Walter Haas Jr. Fund, Garfield Foundation).

Principal Investigator, Qualitative Study of After-School Matters. After-School Matters (ASM) is a city-wide initiative in Chicago, whose purpose is to mobilize and organize public and private resources to provide enriching after-school experiences for high school-age youth. The program model at the heart of ASM is a paid apprenticeship in one of four domains, arts, words, technology, and sports. This study focused on key dimensions of the apprenticeship experience, especially teaching-learning processes, examines challenges facing instructors, and reflects on possible outcomes.

Principal Investigator, Evaluation of the Public Libraries as Partners in Youth Development (PLPYD) Initiative. This initiative, which involved public library systems in nine cities/counties, was designed to develop and evaluate different approaches to making libraries more supportive, helpful and attractive places for low-income youth. The evaluation involved data collection through surveys, interviews, and analysis of records. A final report was prepared in late 2003. The project was run through Chapin Hall, with funding from the Wallace-Readers Digest Fund.

Principal Investigator, Study of the System-Building Dimensions of Baltimore=s After-School Strategy. This Strategy was part of the Safe and Sound Campaign, one of five city-wide efforts to improve children health and safety funded by the Robert Wood Johnson, under its Urban Health Initiative. The study, which involved interviews and document analysis, was designed to provide feedback on the key elements of the After-School Strategy, especially as they contributed to building a more coherent city-wide after-school system. Funding was from the Safe and Sound Campaign.

Principal Investigator, Study of Literacy Practices in After-School Programs. This was a two year study, designed to examine the range of current practices around literacy in after-school programs serving low-income children, to identify exemplary practices, approaches and principles in this area, and to identify challenges to good practice around literacy. It included a survey of after-school programs in Chicago and Seattle, program observations in those two cities, as well as New York City, and interviews with staff of intermediary organizations. The project was run through Chapin Hall, with funding from the Dewitt Wallace-Readers Digest Fund.

Principal Investigator, History of Organized Arrangements for Low-Income Children in the Out-of-School Hours. Research leading to preparation of a book. Funding was from the Annie E.Casey Foundation and the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation.

Principal Investigator, Evaluation of the Dewitt Wallace Readers Digest Fund MOST (Making the Most of Out of School Time) Initiative. This was a three city (Boston, Chicago, Seattle) multi year initiative, designed to strengthen the quality, amount, and overall systemic coherence of after school programs. The evaluation examined the nature and effectiveness of efforts in each city to build collaborative structures, expand the supply of school-age care, and improve program quality in specific local programs. The project was run through Chapin Hall, with funding from the Dewitt Wallace Readers Digest Fund.

Principal Investigator, Study of Financing of After-School Programs in the City of Chicago. This study examined the sources and amounts of revenue; the costs; and the implications of current funding patterns for program quality and participation, for after-school programs in Chicago. Funding was from the Illinois Department of Commerce and Community Affairs.

Principal Investigator, Study of Services to Children in Healthy Start. Healthy Start was a 15 site infant mortality reduction initiative funded by the federal Health Resources and Services Administration. Local grantees were also supposed to undertake activities to improve maternal and child health and address other poverty-related family support needs. This study was designed to describe Healthy Start services provided to children over the age of one, including well-child care, high risk infant follow-up, child care, case management and social services; and determine which local approaches to service provision for children are most promising. Funding was from the U.S. Health Services Resource Administration.

Principal Investigator, Study of Youth Services in the Settlements in West Town, Chicago. This study was designed to examine the functioning, and the role in participating youths’ lives, of a network of settlement house based youth programs that were part of the Chicago Community Trusts Children, Youth and Family Initiative. The project was run through Chapin Hall, with funding from the Chicago Community Trust. Principal Investigator, Process Evaluation of the Early Head Start Demonstration (based at the Center for Successful Child development, Robert Taylor Homes, Chicago). This study focused on the early development and implementation of a demonstration program operated by the Ounce of Prevention Fund. Funding was from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Principal Investigator, History and Analysis of Supportive Services for Families in Poverty. Research leading to the preparation of a book. Funding was from the Ford Foundation.

Co Investigator with Toby Herr (Director of Project Match), Project Match Research and Development Program. Project Match is a nationally recognized welfare to work program based in Chicago. Ongoing research/program development included: analysis of patterns of leaving welfare among Project Match participants; a study of an effort to integrate welfare to work activities into Head Start (the Step Up demonstration); the development of the Kids Match program, designed to link inner city children to positive developmental supports; and miscellaneous policy papers on welfare reform related issues, for instance on post employment services. Funding was from the Joyce Foundation, the Fry Foundation, the Department of Health and Human Services, and the Chicago Department of Human Services, among other sources.

Co Principal Investigator (with Amy Baker, Center for the Child, National Council of Jewish Women), HIPPY (Home Instruction Program for Preschool Youngsters) Implementation Study. This study examined selected dimensions of the implementation of the HIPPY program a home-based preschool education/family literacy/family support program in three sites around the United States. Funding was from the Carnegie Corporation.

Evaluation Consultant, Project Hope (directed by Jane Samuelson). Project Hope is a treatment program for addicted mothers and their young children, based at Columbus Hospital. The focus of the evaluation was on description of the model that has been developed (especially the principles underlying it); the treatment experience of participants; the progress of participants in recovery, parenting and other domains; and improved understanding of the relationship among recovery, parenting, and children’s well being and development.

Co Principal Investigator with Sydney Hans and Aisha Ray (Child Psychiatry Research Unit, University of Chicago), Urban Child and Family Study. This was an in depth study of early child rearing patterns in a sample of 100 families in the Robert Taylor Homes in Chicago. It focused on the nature of supports to mothers from their partners and their own mothers, and how such supports affected the mother-toddler relationship. Funding was from the Carnegie Corporation.

Evaluator, Children, Youth and Family Initiative of the Chicago Community Trust (under the auspices of the Chapin Hall Center for Children). This initiative was designed to strengthen “primary services” for children in communities throughout Chicago.

Principal Investigator, Study of Chicago Youth Center After School Programs (through Chapin Hall). Study of the role played by after school programs in the lives of inner city children in Chicago, and challenges of implementing community based programs in the inner city. Funding was from the McCormick Trust.

Recent Publications

Halpern, R. It Takes a Whole Society: Opening Up the learning Landscape in the High School Years. Cambridge: Harvard Education Press, forthcoming.

Halpern, R. Tying early childhood education more closely to schooling: Promise, perils and practical problems. Teachers College Record, forthcoming.

Halpern, R. Supporting vocationally oriented learning in the high school years: Rationale, tasks, challenges. New Directions for Youth Development, Summer 2012, 85-106.

Halpern, R. (2009). The Means to Grow Up: Reinventing Apprenticeship as a Developmental Support in Adolescence. New York: Routledge<

Halpern, R. (2006). Critical Issues in After-School Programming. Chicago: Monographs of the Herr Research Center for Children and Social Policy.

Halpern, R. (2004). Parent support and education: Past history, future projects, Applied Research in Child Development, 6. 1, 4-11. Chicago: Erikson Institute Herr Research Center.

Halpern, R. (2003). Making Play Work: The Promise of After-School Programs for Low-Income Children. New York: Teachers College Press, 2003.

Halpern, R. (2000). The Promise of After School Programs for Low-Income Children. Early Childhood Research Quarterly 15(2), 185-214.

Halpern, R., Barker, G., & Mollard, W. (2000). Youth Programs as Alternative Spaces to Be: A Study of Neighborhood Youth Programs in Chicago’s West Town. Youth and Society, 31(4), 469-505.

Halpern, R. (2000). Programs for Low-Income Children and Families. In S. Meisels & J. Shonkoff (Eds.), Handbook of Early Childhood Intervention. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2000.

Halpern, R. (1998). Fragile Families, Fragile Solutions: A History of Supportive Services for Families in Poverty. New York: Columbia University Press.