The NCSL Blog


By Autumn Rivera

In recent years, educators and policymakers have shifted from using summer as a time for rigid, remedial summer programs to supporting summer learning programs that incorporate a mix of academics and enrichment activities.

kids playing in natureResearch shows that afterschool and summer programs provide safe, developmentally rich settings for learning and development, reengage students social-emotionally and mediate some of the learning loss that occurs during the summer.

Researchers found that when school ends, students in low-income environments struggle to continue their learning throughout the summer. In comparison with their more affluent peers, this could lead them to be cumulatively behind by two-and-a-half to three years by the time they get to fifth grade.

NWEA estimates that this learning loss compounded by COVID-19 and vulnerable students may return to school almost a year behind with regards to learning.

The National Summer Learning Association (NSLA) is a national, non-profit organization that focuses on using summer learning to help close achievement gaps. In their Summer by the Numbers infographic, the research illustrates the impact on children’s learning and development during the summer and shows that high-quality summer programs can make a difference in closing both the country’s educational and opportunity gaps.

National Summer Learning Week just wrapped up where NSLA, summer programs, community leaders and other stakeholders recognized that this summer may look different, but it is important to ensure that children and their families continue to have to access to quality summer learning opportunities, resources, critical support and services.

Summer and Afterschool Role in Reopening and Looking Forward

The American Institutes for Research (AIR) recently highlighted the essential role that afterschool and summer programs play in reopening and rebuilding relationships with students. 

According to AIR, these roles include: 

  • Helping parents get back to work.
  • Helping youth reconnect and reengage.
  • Helping students catch up and keep up.
  • Supporting and connecting with families in crisis.

Additionally, AIR stresses that there will be significant changes to summer learning and the start of the school year. AIR emphasized that efforts are strengthened by partnerships and collaboration with community programs. Afterschool Alliance also calls to attention the importance of utilizing afterschool when looking at next summer’s role in continuing to help students recover from the long-term impact of this crisis. 

CARES Act Funding

As states look at reopening schools, there are lots of questions about what will need to be done to help catch students up both this summer and into the fall.

One approach to boosting student learning that several states have taken is to utilize state and federal funding to support summer and afterschool programs. The federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act, signed into law on March 27, includes an Education Stabilization Fund.

It provides 13.5 billion dollars in K-12 formula grants to states. Utah recognized that COVID-19 created a greater need for summer programs for children to socialize and reduce spring and summer learning loss and allocated $11 million of its CARES funding to create a grant program to support summer learning. This grant is non-competitive and ensures funds for at least one summer program operating in each county. Vermont is using $6 million of its federal relief funds and offered restart stipends for child and summer care programs to qualifying programs. These are just two examples of funding used to address some of the challenges brought by the pandemic and play a role in the long-term recovery.

For additional information on summer learning and links to further resources, see NCSL’s Summer Learning webpage.

Autumn Rivera is a research analyst with NCSL’s Education Program

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Posted in: Education, COVID-19
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About the NCSL Blog

This blog offers updates on the National Conference of State Legislatures' research and training, the latest on federalism and the state legislative institution, and posts about state legislators and legislative staff. The blog is edited by NCSL staff and written primarily by NCSL's experts on public policy and the state legislative institution.