Cover: Getting Support for Summer Learning

Getting Support for Summer Learning

How Federal, State, City, and District Policies Affect Summer Learning Programs

Published Apr 13, 2020

by Catherine H. Augustine, Lindsey E. Thompson


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Research Question

  1. How do district, city, state, and federal policies support and constrain the scale, sustainability, and quality of school district-provided summer learning programs?

Summer programs offered by school districts can provide academic support and enrichment opportunities to students from low-income families who often lose ground over the summer to their peers from higher-income families. In 2011, The Wallace Foundation launched the National Summer Learning Project (NSLP) to expand summer program opportunities for students in urban districts.

Through the NSLP, The Wallace Foundation provided support to the participating public school districts and their community partners in Boston, Massachusetts; Dallas, Texas; Duval County, Florida; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; and Rochester, New York. RAND researchers assessed the effectiveness of these districts' voluntary, district-led summer learning programs and found near-term academic benefits in mathematics for all students and benefits in reading and social-emotional domains for students with ample program attendance. These academic benefits also persisted through their school year.

As the NSLP wound down in 2017, these districts and their partners turned their attention and efforts toward increasing the scale of, continuing to improve the quality of, and sustaining these programs. In this sixth report in a series, the authors consider how policy environments constrain or support districts' attempts to scale and sustain quality summer programs and aim to help summer program leaders in school districts across the country navigate policy contexts at the district, city, state, and federal levels.

Key Findings

Policies at every level — from federal to district — can affect the sustainability and scale of district-provided summer learning programs

  • Federal funding programs and other forms of federal support can affect program scale and sustainability.
  • The main source of leverage for states is the state role in interpreting, regulating, and administering federal funding streams — which can influence whether summer learning programs get funded.
  • A few states have created funding streams that might be as significant as federal sources. Some cities have also established funding streams to support program scale and sustainability, albeit with fewer dollars.
  • State and district mandates requiring summer programming also affect programs' sustainability.
  • District leaders and the policies they set have the greatest impact on summer learning programs.

Policies at every level also affect the quality of district-provided summer learning programs

  • Policies at the district level, such as those affecting which teachers can be hired for summer, affect program quality.
  • States also influence quality by layering program requirements into federal funding streams and by requiring specific practices in exchange for funding summer programs with state money.
  • Federal and city governments are less likely to have an impact on quality although the goals of some federal policies align broadly with the goals of summer learning programs, and some federal policies might influence quality.


  • Make summer programming an official board policy and authorize a central body to carry out summer programming decisionmaking.
  • Measure and communicate the impact of summer programs.
  • Identify and address policies or practices at the district level that create barriers to the scale, sustainability, and quality of summer programs.
  • Cultivate relationships with district, city, and state policymakers.
  • Advocate clearer messages on funding from state leaders.

Research conducted by

The research described in this report was sponsored by the Wallace Foundation and conducted by RAND Education and Labor.

This report is part of the RAND research report series. RAND reports present research findings and objective analysis that address the challenges facing the public and private sectors. All RAND reports undergo rigorous peer review to ensure high standards for research quality and objectivity.

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