four students with a teacher outside

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August 14, 2013

Early Planning Key to Effective Summer Learning Programs

According to RAND researchers Catherine Augustine and Jennifer McCombs, school districts can make their summer learning programs more effective for students by starting their planning early and by including summer site leaders in the process.

Catherine Augustine said during a conference call with reporters that they recommend school districts commit to having a summer learning program by January and hire those who will run the programs by February.

The researchers also recommended that school districts develop rigorous selection processes to recruit and select motivated, effective teachers.

Effective summer learning programs are particularly important to low-income students, McCombs said.

“Over the summer, students typically either slow their learning or lose knowledge and skills,” she said. “On average, students re-enter school in the fall performing about one month behind where they performed the previous spring.” She said low-income students lose more knowledge and skills than their more affluent peers, particularly in reading.

Moreover, the loss is cumulative over time as the “summer slide” causes low-income students to fall further behind each year.

Augustine and McCombs co-authored the just-published report “Getting to Work on Summer Learning.” The researchers examined six school districts — Boston, Cincinnati, Dallas, Duval County (Florida), Pittsburgh and Rochester, N.Y. These districts are among the few large urban districts offering voluntary, full-day programs for five to six weeks free of charge to large numbers of elementary students each summer.

The report is the second in a series providing the most comprehensive research on summer learning to date. It is part of a five-year demonstration project funded by The Wallace Foundation to examine whether and how summer learning programs can reverse summer learning loss.

— Joe Dougherty