Summer Learning Programs

"Summer school" has traditionally been the domain of students making-up for a class failed between September and June.  A 2001 survey of the 100 largest U.S. school districts, all who offered summer programs, found that over 90% were remedial in purpose.  But increasingly educators and policymakers understand that summer learning programs are best used to foreclose on the learning loss that occurs during summer days.  Most kids from all backgrounds learn at about the same rate during the regular school year but disadvantaged students tend to fall behind during the summer because of a lack of learning opportunities in the home and community.  While middle-income students usually make some gain in reading skills over the summer, students from low-income families average a two-month loss of skills.  And math skills for this same group may drop by more than 2.5 months during the summer.  Most disturbing is a recent evaluation of the reading progress of Baltimore students from 1st grade into adulthood, which revealed that two-thirds of the reading achievement gap between children from low- and high- SES families is due to cumulative summer learning loss.  For this group of 325 students the pace of reading gains during the school year was equivalent but, by 5th grade, high SES children cumulatively gained an average of 47 points on reading scores over summers, while low SES children cumulatively lost 2 points.

An analysis of multiple studies of various summer learning programs indicates the following:
  • Programs focused on remediation and those focused on acceleration of learning have equally positive impacts on children's knowledge and skills.
  • Small group or individual instruction settings have the largest impact on outcomes.
  • Parent involvement in programs increases student outcomes.

Ron Fairchild, President and CEO of Smarter Learning Group, believes model summer programs motivate young people to learn through a mix of engaging instruction, field trips and hands-on projects.

Early and consistent summer learning opportunities can lead to higher graduation rates and increased college readiness in students. However, stable and sufficient funding for summer programs has become more of a challenge as school districts and state departments of education are facing more difficult economic times. Policymakers will need to support consistent funding sources for summer programs as well as provide clear guidance for these resources to ensure the success of summer learning programs, according to the RAND Corporation.





Summer Learning Research and Publications:


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