Cover: Summer Learning in Pittsburgh

Summer Learning in Pittsburgh

Exploring Programming Gaps and Opportunities

Published Sep 6, 2017

by Catherine H. Augustine, Lindsey E. Thompson

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Research Questions

  1. How many academically focused summer programs serve low-income youth living in Pittsburgh?
  2. What proportion of low-income children and youth living in Pittsburgh could have participated in an academically focused summer learning program in 2016?
  3. Where are there gaps in academically focused summer programming in Pittsburgh?
  4. How could new investments improve academically focused summer opportunities for low-income children and youth in Pittsburgh?

Throughout the United States, middle- and high-income students consistently score higher than their low-income peers on language arts and mathematics assessments. The summer months afford an opportunity to provide underserved children and teens with experiences that advance their academic performance and engage them in enrichment opportunities that they might not otherwise have the means to pursue. 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.

Thousands of youth had the opportunity to benefit from summer programming in Pittsburgh in 2016. More than 15,000 slots were available for on-site summer programming organized through the Summer16 campaign, which could theoretically have served almost half of the city's youth. However, there are gaps in the city's ability to serve students who might benefit most. This report therefore provides recommendations for Pittsburgh organizations looking to support summer learning opportunities.

Key Findings

Academic Disparities Stem from Summer Learning Loss

  • Low-income students tend to lose more ground academically during summer months than their higher-income peers.

Racial and Economic Achievement Gaps Persist Among PPS Students

  • In the 2015–2016 school year, there were academic achievement gaps associated with race and income, and all PPS students, on average, lagged behind state averages in reading and mathematics.

Summer Offers Opportunities for Low-Income Children and Youth

  • High-quality programs can produce persisting gains in student achievement if they can garner high attendance and provide high dosage.

Parents Appear to Want to Send Their Children to Programs That Include Academics

  • Many parents are interested in sending their children to summer programs with academic components, especially if they also provide enrichment activities.

Some PPS Parents Did Not Enroll Their Children in Summer Programs After Being Turned Down from Others

  • In 2013, many Pittsburgh parents did not find alternative academic (or nonacademic) programs after being turned down by PPS's Summer Dreamers Academy, which may mean that other convenient or attractive options were not available.

A Lack of Targeted Middle School Programs and Transportation Are Barriers

  • Few programs provided transportation, highlighting the need to consider program capacity by neighborhood.

Program Costs Varied Considerably, and Subsidies or Scholarships May Not Be Available for All Who Need Them

  • One week of summer programming can cost $300, and it is likely that for the 11,000 youth living in poverty, any cost will serve as a barrier.

Few Programs Provided Academics in High Dosage

  • Only 26 percent of programs studied provided academic instruction and spanned at least five weeks.
  • Even if these programs enrolled only low-income youth, they could have served only slightly more than half of the low-income youth in the city.

Programs Are Not Offered Uniformly Throughout Neighborhoods

  • While some zip code areas theoretically have almost double the capacity to serve low-income youth living in the vicinity, others do not have local access to a single high-dosage academic program.


  • Support a new program in low-income, underserved neighborhoods.
  • Provide additional funding to existing high-dosage academic programs.
  • Invest in future summer campaigns and a searchable database.

This study was sponsored by the Jack Buncher Foundation, a family foundation in Pennsylvania, and conducted by RAND Education.

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