Cover: School Was in Session This Summer, but Less Than Half of Eligible Students Enrolled

School Was in Session This Summer, but Less Than Half of Eligible Students Enrolled

Selected Findings from the Fall 2023 American School District Panel Survey

Published May 14, 2024

by Melissa Kay Diliberti, Heather L. Schwartz

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Research Questions

  1. How many districts offered summer programming and for which students in summer 2023?
  2. How were districts' largest summer programs structured, in terms of their eligibility criteria, length, and academic and nonacademic offerings?
  3. How did districts approach their summer academic instruction, including how many hours of academic instruction they provided, who provided this instruction, and how lesson plans were determined?
  4. What were districts' expectations about funding for summer 2024?

Summer programming is one of the main ways school districts have sought to help students recover academically from COVID-19 pandemic–related setbacks. Authors use a survey administered to a nationally representative sample of kindergarten through grade 12 public school districts to investigate the prevalence and structure of districts' programming in summer 2023. Authors use these results to describe the prevalence of district-offered summer programming in 2023; examine details about elementary and secondary programs, in terms of their eligibility criteria, length, and academic and nonacademic offerings; discuss how districts approached their summer academic instruction; and look at districts' expectations about funding for summer 2024.

Because experiences with summer learning programming can vary by district context, the authors examine differences in districts' survey responses by locale (urban, suburban, rural), poverty status (low poverty, high poverty), student racial/ethnic composition (majority white students, majority students of color), and enrollment size (small, medium, large).

This research is part of a series intended to provide brief analyses of educator survey results of immediate interest to policymakers, practitioners, and researchers.

Key Findings

  • Eighty-one percent of districts offered summer programs in 2023, typically to both elementary and secondary grade levels.
  • Every urban district surveyed indicated offering programming in summer 2023, and these districts typically offered four or more summer programs.
  • Districts' largest summer programs were typically free of charge, ran for four weeks, offered about four hours of academic instruction per day, and hired district teachers for at least some, if not all, of academic instruction.
  • However, districts' largest summer programs typically enrolled less than half of eligible students. This was true regardless of whether programs had eligibility restrictions.
  • Furthermore, less than one in five districts' largest elementary summer programs met the minimum recommended hours of academic instruction found to academically benefit students.
  • Four in ten districts anticipated funding decreases for summer 2024.

Research conducted by

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

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