The RAND Corporation's six-year study of the National Summer Learning Project culminates in this final report about district implementation of summer learning programs and presents the best available guidance about how to establish and sustain them.
National Summer Learning Project
Summer learning programs are a promising way to narrow the large achievement gap between children of the lowest and highest income families. Many school districts across the country offer voluntary summer learning programs to students to promote academic achievement, provide enrichment experiences, and help narrow the achievement and opportunity gaps between children of the lowest and highest income families. But simply offering a program does not guarantee results.
To identify what works, RAND conducted one of the largest and most definitive studies to date of summer learning programs. The project and the resulting study were called the National Summer Learning Project.
What We Found
RAND led the first randomized controlled trial to test whether voluntary, district-run summer learning programs can improve academic, behavioral, and social and emotional learning (SEL) outcomes for low-income, urban youth. It involved five urban school districts’ academic summer programs. RAND found that offering a summer program to students produced a modest near-term benefit in mathematics that dissipated by the next fall. But there was no causal evidence that the programs produced benefits in language arts, social emotional outcomes, or student attendance or grades during the school year.
However, there is promising evidence that, after two consecutive summers, students with high attendance (defined as 20 or more days per summer) outperformed peers in math, ELA, and SEL. Those students who received a minimum of 25 hours of math, and 34 hours of ELA in the second summer performed better on the subsequent state math and ELA tests than their peers.
Over the course of six years—from summer 2011 through summer 2014—RAND researchers administered more than 20,000 assessments to elementary grade students; collected more than 1,200 surveys of summer instructors and 10,000 surveys of elementary grade students; conducted 900 interviews; and observed more than 2,000 hours of classroom and enrichment activities. We draw on these as well as student administrative data to identify detailed implementation lessons and the effects of these programs on students.
Overview of the National Summer Learning Project
The Wallace Foundation launched the National Summer Learning Project in 2011, providing support to public school districts and community partners in Boston; Dallas; Duval County, Florida; Pittsburgh; and Rochester, New York. Each of these districts offered a five- or six-week full-day summer program that served students rising from third into fourth grade; most districts served other grade levels as well. The programs all focused on reading, mathematics, and enrichment activities (such as arts, sports, and science exploration).
The Wallace Foundation asked RAND to conduct formative evaluations of the programs over two summers so that districts could make successive improvements to their programs before 2013, when RAND launched a randomized controlled trial. The randomized controlled trial involved slightly more than 5,600 students who had applied to attend two consecutive summers (2013 and 2014) of these five districts’ programs. RAND also continued to provide formative feedback to each district during summers 2013 and 2014.
To date, RAND has published five reports so far in the Summer Learning Series, with four more coming. See our publications below.
National Summer Learning Project Research Reports
Making Summer Last: Integrating Summer Programming into Core District Priorities and Operations 2017
This report examines the efforts by summer leaders in Dallas, Pittsburgh, and Rochester to integrate their summer learning programs into the core priorities and operations of the larger school district as a strategy to increase sustainability.
RAND researchers assess voluntary, district-led summer learning programs for low-income, urban elementary students. This third report in a series examines student outcomes after one and two summers of programming.
Ready for Fall? Near-Term Effects of Voluntary Summer Learning Programs on Low-Income Students' Learning Opportunities and Outcomes 2014
As part of a randomized controlled trial study assessing the effect of district-run voluntary summer programs, this second report in a series looks at how summer programs affected student performance in certain categories in fall 2013.
RAND is conducting a longitudinal study that examines the implementation and effectiveness of voluntary summer learning programs. This second report in the series provides research-based advice for school district leaders developing summer programs.
National Summer Learning Project Related Content
Other RAND Reports on Summer Learning
The Big Lift, a learning initiative extending from preschool to third grade initiative in San Mateo County, aims to increase third grade reading proficiency in the county. As part of a Big Lift evaluation, this report focused on collective impact design and activity pillars.
To better understand the value and effectiveness of out-of-school-time programs, RAND researchers examined programs through the lenses of content, dosage (the hours of content provided), and outcomes measured.
Big Lift Participation and School Entry Indicators: Findings for the 2016–2017 Kindergarten Class 2017
The Big Lift is a learning initiative extending from preschool to third grade in San Mateo County, California. This report provides descriptive analyses of participation in Big Lift programs along with measures of kindergarten-readiness at school entry.
This report investigates summer program opportunities in Pittsburgh, focusing on free or low-cost programs that provide academic instruction for at least five weeks during the summer.
State and federal accountability policies are predicated on the ability to estimate valid and reliable measures of school impacts on student learning. Results raise questions about the design of performance-based education policies, as well as schools' role in the production of students' achievement.
Students typically lose knowledge and skills during the summer, particularly low-income students. Districts and private providers can benefit from the evidence on summer programming to maximize program effectiveness, quality, reach, and funding.