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Can Summer Learning Programs Prevent Skill and Knowledge Loss?

June 21, 2012

Today is National Summer Learning Day, a day established to raise awareness of the significance summer learning plays in educational achievement.

When kids go on summer vacation, their knowledge and skills suffer, with their performance dropping off, on average, one month from where they were when they left school in the spring. Such losses do not affect all kids equally, having the greatest effect on low-income students. The losses are cumulative over the years, contributing to a growing difference between lower- and higher-income kids and contributing to the achievement gap.

The RAND Corporation has assessed both the need for summer learning programs and the existing evidence on effective, viable, and sustainable programs in urban districts. In a study sponsored by the Wallace Foundation, research found that:

  • Many types of summer programs benefit students who participate, including voluntary, mandatory, and reading-at-home programs.
  • Strategies for maximizing quality, enrollment, and attendance are critical to achieving benefits.
  • Partnerships among districts, community-based organizations, government agencies, local funders, and others can strengthen summer learning programs.
  • Despite clear program benefits, some district leaders question the cost-effectiveness of such programs, and many have discontinued them in response to budget cuts.

For districts that decide to pursue summer learning programs, the study offers some recommendations, including the need to invest in high-quality staffing and early planning. The study also offers recommendations for policymakers and funders, including the need to extend the research base on the efficacy of summer learning programs.