Heather L. Schwartz and colleagues from the RAND Corporation have released a final report
on a six-year study of the National Summer Learning Project, an initiative from The Wallace Foundation that was implemented in 2011 in five urban school districts. The summer programs in these districts were district-led, voluntary summer learning programs that featured both academic instruction and enrichment opportunities to improve outcomes for low-income students.
The overall study combined a randomized controlled trial with correlational analysis and implementation research to examine whether voluntary, district-run summer learning programs can improve academic, behavioral, and social and emotional outcomes for low-income, urban youth in both the short and long terms. The study followed approximately 5,600 students from third to seventh grade. Data included surveys, observations, and test data.
Findings showed that students who received a minimum of 25 hours of mathematics instruction in a summer performed better on the subsequent state math test, and those receiving 34 hours of language arts performed better on the subsequent state English language arts assessment.
These outcomes need to be viewed with caution, however, as students who actually attended summer school, as opposed to those who signed up but did not attend, are likely to be more highly motivated and better achieving, introducing possible bias.
Based on their research, the authors offer several recommendations for planning for summer learning, including:
A more detailed and comprehensive list of recommendations can be found in the report.
- Commit in the fall to a summer program, and start active planning by January with a program director who has at least half of his or her time devoted to the job.
- Prior to the start of the summer program, professional development for summer teachers should include specific guidance on use of the summer curricula, minimizing loss of instructional minutes, and on checking for student understanding.
- Operate the program for five to six weeks with three to four hours of academics per day.