Aug 13, 2013
During long summer breaks, most students forget some of what they learned during the school year. But research shows that low-income students experience the greatest learning loss over the summer and that those losses accumulate from school year to school year. In this context, is it possible for school districts to create strong summer learning programs that mitigate summer learning loss and promote achievement gains?
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. The Wallace Foundation is funding a five-year demonstration project in six urban school districts to determine ways schools can create more effective summer learning programs. The districts selected for the study — Boston, Cincinnati, Dallas, Duval County (Florida), Pittsburgh, and Rochester (New York) — have been pioneers in offering full-day voluntary programs for five to six weeks free of charge to large numbers of struggling elementary students, not just those facing grade retention (see table). These programs provide academic instruction in reading, writing, and math, taught by certified teachers, as well as a range of enrichment activities, many provided by community-based organizations that partner with the district.
|Rising fourth grade students in 13 schools
|Students in 16 low-performing schools
|Bilingual, 21st Century, and students at risk of grade retention
|Students in 21 low-performing schools (excluding lowest-level readers)
|All low-performing students
|Number of rising fourth grade students who attended at least one day
|Number of summer sites
To help the districts address difficulties and strengthen their programs, the foundation asked RAND to conduct evaluations of the six programs over two summers (2011 and 2012) so that the programs would be as strong as possible by 2013, when they would be rigorously evaluated to demonstrate the programs' effects on student performance. The new report, Getting to Work on Summer Learning, draws lessons from the initial evaluations to help district leaders across the country provide strong summer programs to students who need them. Subsequent reports in the series will describe whether these programs improve student learning and, based on these findings, propose best practices.
Q. When should planning begin and what should it cover?
Q. How should districts hire and train teachers?
Q. What are the best techniques for boosting attendance?
Q. How should districts choose a curriculum and provide instruction?
Q. How can districts provide fun, enriching activities?
Q. How much time should be spent on academics?
Q. How can districts and funders get the greatest value for their investment?
The ultimate goal of summer learning programs is to improve academic achievement, and that requires that students spend a sufficient amount of time on academic tasks. This table — which reflects program structure prior to 2012 — displays the factors within a district's control that can increase that time. The district with the most time on task (Example 1) had the longest program, showed strong attendance, and made good use of instructional time.
|Minutes of daily scheduled academic instruction
|Average daily attendance rate
(or 25 days)
(or 15 days)
(or 15 days)
|Percentage of scheduled instructional time actually spent on academics
|Average hours of academic instructional time per student per summer
Although the recommendations from this study are not proven practices — student outcome data from the randomized controlled trial is not yet available — they are based on an enormous data-gathering effort that included more than 1,800 surveys, 325 interviews, and about 400 hours of direct observations of classroom and enrichment activities. Because they are evidence-based, they offer the best guidance on summer programs currently available.