National Summer Learning Project

Young female student writes in her notebook

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

National Summer Learning Project Related Content

  • Kids walking to school

    Kids Benefit from Voluntary Summer Learning Programs

    Fourth graders who attended at least 20 days of summer learning programs benefited in mathematics and language arts achievement. When voluntary summer learning programs are effective, what factors are associated with success?

  • Student writing math problem on chalkboard, photo by Isaiah Love/Adobe Stock

    Learning from Summer

    Kids with high attendance performed better in math and reading after two summers compared with students in the control group, who were not invited to participate in the programs.

  • Students sitting outside under a tree with their teacher

    Summer Learning Day: Stopping the Summer Slide

    RAND is conducting the first-ever assessment of large-scale, voluntary, district-run, summer learning programs serving low-income elementary students. The results may help districts, educators, and policymakers make better decisions about funding and implementing programs to stop summer learning loss.

  • Teachers and students on a science class field trip in a greenhouse

    First Outcomes from the National Summer Learning Study

    Five urban school districts are offering voluntary summer learning programs free of charge to struggling elementary students as part of a project to determine whether these kinds of programs improve low-income student outcomes.

  • Teacher and preschool students reading outside

    Ask Me Anything: Catherine Augustine on Summer Learning

    With summer now underway, RAND's Catherine Augustine hosted an "Ask Me Anything" session on Reddit, answering questions about year-round schooling, how to get the most out of summer learning programs, and more.

  • Four happy students with a teacher outside

    Early Planning Key to Effective Summer Learning Programs

    RAND education experts Jennifer McCombs and Catherine Augustine hosted a news media conference call to discuss the best steps school districts can take to provide the most effective and rewarding summer learning programs.

  • children reading outside

    How to Get the Most out of a Summer Learning Program

    Summer learning programs may help close the achievement gap between low- and higher-income children if done well, but they are sometimes an afterthought or not offered at all, especially when education budgets are tight. Starting the planning process early, hiring the right teachers, and other best practices can help ensure success.

  • Media Conference Call on Getting to Work on Summer Learning

    RAND education experts Jennifer McCombs and Catherine Augustine hosted a news media conference call to discuss the best steps school districts can take to provide the most effective and rewarding summer learning programs. Ann Stone, who leads the summer learning initiatives at The Wallace Foundation, which funded the study, also participated. The call was moderated by RAND Media Relations Officer Joe Dougherty.

  • Making Summer Count

    RAND experts Catherine Augustine and Jennifer McCombs discuss the loss of knowledge and educational skills during summer, how summer programs can disrupt this loss, and how students who attend these programs perform better than peers who do not.

Other RAND Reports on Summer Learning