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This report was superseded by a revised, updated edition in late 2018.

Research shows low-income students suffer disproportionate learning loss over the summer and because those losses accumulate over time, they contribute substantially to the achievement gap between low- and higher-income children. The Wallace Foundation is funding a five-year demonstration project to examine whether summer learning programs can reduce summer learning loss and promote achievement gains. This report, the first in a series, draws on emerging lessons from six school districts in the study — Boston, Cincinnati, Dallas, Duval County (Florida), Pittsburgh, and Rochester (New York) — that offer full-day programs for five to six weeks free of charge to large numbers of elementary students. The report synthesizes the key lessons learned about how to establish and sustain effective programs. The most emphatic recommendation is to start planning early, no later than January, and include both district and summer site leaders in the process. Many problems identified by the researchers — from weak teacher training to ineffective transportation — could be traced to a rushed planning process. Other guidance includes adopting a commercially available curriculum, establishing enrollment deadlines, ensuring sufficient time on academics, and selecting enrichment providers with qualified staff experienced in behavior management. To manage costs, the authors suggest designing the program with costs in mind — by hiring staff based on projected daily attendance rather than number of enrollees, for example, and by restricting the number of sites to control administrative costs.


When Should Planning for a Summer Learning Program Begin and What Should It Cover?

  • Start early (by January) and include district and summer site-level staff in the process.
  • Meet regularly and be comprehensive in scope of planning.
  • Clearly delineate roles among program leaders, external partners, and summer site leaders.
  • Establish firm enrollment deadlines and work with electronic student records.

How Should Districts Choose a Curriculum and Provide Instruction?

  • Anchor the program in a commercially available and tested curriculum.
  • Choose curricula with features associated with improved learning.
  • Standardize the curriculum across district sites.
  • Include strategies for differentiation in curriculum materials to accommodate at least two ability levels.
  • Structure the program to ensure sufficient time for academic work.
  • Instruct students in small classes or groups.
  • Provide support to students with special needs.

How Should Districts Hire and Train Teachers?

  • Recruit motivated teachers, taking school performance and grade-level experience into consideration.
  • Give teachers sufficient training and ongoing support.

What is the Optimal Duration of a Summer Learning Program and How Much Time Should Be Spent on Academics?

  • Operate the program for five to six weeks.
  • Schedule three to four hours a day for academics and focus on academic content during academic class periods.

What Is the Best Way to Select Enrichment Providers and Structure Activities?

  • Select providers with well-qualified instructors with experience in behavior management.
  • Conduct careful planning if enrichment is supposed to be integrated with academics.
  • Keep class sizes small.

What Are the Best Techniques for Boosting Attendance?

  • Establish a clear attendance policy.
  • Provide field trips and other incentives for students who attend.
  • Keep in mind that it is not necessary to disguise academics to boost attendance.

How Can Districts and Funders Maximize the Value of Their Programs?

  • Design the summer program with costs in mind: avoid assigning small numbers of students to many sites, for example, and hire staff based on projected attendance not number of enrollees.
  • Put resources into tracking and boosting attendance.

The research in this report was produced within RAND Education, a unit of the RAND Corporation. The research was commissioned by The Wallace Foundation.

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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