Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Recommendations for Successful District Summer Learning Programs

While summer is nearing its end, and kids across the country are heading back to school, it is not too early to start thinking about how your school district can plan a successful summer learning program. Earlier this month, the RAND Corporation, a nonprofit focused on public policy research and analysis, released a research brief entitled "How to Get the Most out of a Summer Learning Program" that presents a set of recommendations for making school district summer learning programs as effective as possible.

Research has shown that, over the course of the summer, students often lose some of the skills and knowledge they gained during the previous academic year. While this phenomenon, termed “summer learning loss”, affects most students, it can be particularly harmful for low-income students. Combined with the other challenges, such as a lack of positive activities, many children in low-income neighborhoods face during the summer, the presence of summer learning loss has led some school districts to look at how summer learning programs can reduce, if not reverse, summer learning loss.

The research brief draws on findings from a recently published RAND report entitled “Getting to Work on Summer Learning: Recommended Practices for Success."  That report is the second in a five-part series that is exploring best practices in summer learning programs by sharing the results of a demonstration project taking place in five large urban school districts: Boston, Cincinnati, Dallas, Duval County (Florida), Pittsburgh, and Rochester (New York).

Based on hundreds of surveys, interviews, and hours of direct observation of summer learning programs, the RAND researchers made several recommendations for school districts and organizations working to implement a summer learning program in areas such as planning, staff selection and training, and the tracking of program costs. Selected recommendations include:

  • Commit to having a summer program by January.
  • Establish firm enrollment deadlines and keep electronic student records.
  • Develop a rigorous selection processes to recruit motivated teachers.
  • Keep in mind that it is not necessary to disguise academics to boost attendance.
  • Anchor the program in a commercially available and evidence-based curriculum.
  • Operate the program for five to six weeks. 
  • Schedule three to four hours a day for academics and focus on academic content during those hours.
  • Put resources into tracking and boosting attendance.

While the researchers caution that these are not "proven practices" - the academic performance of the students in the programs they are studying through the demonstration project is currently being evaluated - they are evidence-based and provide the best guidance on summer learning programs that is available at this time.

For more information on this summer learning program research, please visit RAND’s website to view the research brief or the full report.

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