Girl doing homework outside on the grass

RAND Solution

Developing Strategies for Summer Learning

Challenge

Summer may seem like an idyllic time for students to relax and engage in enriching activities away from school, but in reality, the average student returns in the fall one month behind where he or she left off in the spring.

Not all students face “average losses.” In fact, summer learning loss affects low-income students disproportionately, which widens the achievement gap—particularly in reading.

Context

A boy going to school

Also known as the “summer slide,” summer learning loss is cumulative. This means that differing summer learning rates between low-income and high-income students add up with each passing summer, contributing substantially to the achievement gap.

However, summer learning programs can help children sharpen their academic skills. This may be especially true for children from low-income families who may not otherwise have access to summer programs, and for low-achieving students who may require more instruction.

Unfortunately, many school districts do not offer summer programs and those that do often cut the programs when funding becomes scarce.

Summer learning programs can help children sharpen their academic skills. This may be especially true for children from low-income families who may not otherwise have access to summer programs, and for low-achieving students who may require more instruction.

Project Description

The Wallace Foundation asked RAND to assess the nature of summer learning loss, the evidence base behind summer learning programs, and challenges districts faced in providing summer learning programs.

To provide a comprehensive understanding of the issue, our education experts conducted extensive literature reviews, examined summer program cost data, interviewed numerous providers of summer programs, and visited a diverse range of U.S. cities to interview summer learning leaders and observe summer learning directly.

Research Questions

  1. What is the nature of summer learning loss?
  2. Are summer learning programs effective in improving student achievement?
  3. How much do summer learning programs cost?
  4. What are the obstacles to implementing summer programs?
  5. What can help implementation?

Key Findings & Recommendations

  • Summer learning loss contributes substantially to the achievement gap.
  • Students who attend summer programs have better outcomes than their peers.
    • But not all programs studied were found to be effective.
  • Strategies for maximizing quality, enrollment, and attendance are critical to ensuring program effectiveness.
  • Cost is the main barrier to implementing summer programs.
    • Many districts have cut programs in response to budget cuts.
  • Districts and providers should
    • invest in qualified staff and early planning
    • embed promising practices into programs
    • think creatively about funding sources
    • strengthen programs through partnerships.
  • Policymakers and funders should
    • support consistent funding sources for summer programs
    • provide clear guidance on the use of scarce funds
    • extend the research base on summer learning.
Stack of books and apple on lawn

Impact

Making Summer Count remains the most comprehensive study on summer learning to date and continues to influence the policy conversation in the popular press, academic journals, and among decisionmakers. It formed the basis for The Wallace Foundation's summer learning demonstration project, which includes a rigorous randomized controlled trial of voluntary summer learning programs in five urban districts. RAND is conducting the evaluation of this demonstration project. In August 2013, RAND experts followed this effort with Getting to Work on Summer Learning, a guidebook to help school districts launch and sustain effective summer learning programs, including recommendations on funding.

“This long-awaited and timely RAND study…confirms the disproportionate impact of the 'summer slide' on low-income students, and suggests that high-quality summer learning programs, though challenging to develop, are a promising path forward.”

Nancy Devine, The Wallace Foundation