Summer Learning Programs



Teacher and students

There is an important distinction between remedial summer school and enrichment programs. Traditionally, the term “summer school” described students making up for failing a class between September and June through “drill and kill” style summer learning. Increasingly educators, families, and policymakers have found that high-quality summer learning programs that mix academic and enrichment activities can reduce summer learning loss in a fun, engaging way. While most students learn at a similar rate during the school year, when school ends, students in low-income environments struggle to continue learning throughout the summer. Compare to their more affluent peers, this could lead them cumulatively behind by two-and-a-half to three years by the time they get to fifth grade. With this knowledge, there has been a shift recognizing the opportunity to use summer as a safe, developmentally rich setting for learning and growth. By utilizing summertime to re-engage students social-emotionally, research shows there will be a better chance to mediate some of the summer learning loss. Overall, consistent summer learning experiences can help close opportunity gaps, lead to higher graduation rates, and increase college readiness in students. 

Pandemic related learning loss resulting from school closures created impacts that may extend into adulthood, including reduced earning potential and educational attainment. Educators and policymakers have advocated for leveraging afterschool and summer programming to lessen learning loss effects and help students catch up, keep up. Alongside school time hours, these programs may help combat the pandemic effects. 

According to a RAND publication, the following are among the characteristics of a high-quality summer learning program:  

  • Highly qualified and specially trained staff, along with early planning that engages partners with clearly delineated roles 
  • Smaller class sizes, individualized instruction, and sufficient time on task (operating the program for at least five weeks, with three to four hours of academics per day) 
  • Involving families and maximizing student attendance with firm enrollment deadlines, clear attendance policies, and electronic student records 
  • Strategic use of partnerships 
  • Using evidence-based, commercially available curricula and standardizing its use across sites 
  • Providing carefully planned, engaging enrichment activities 

The National Center on Afterschool and Summer Enrichment (NCASE) brief claims that it takes high-quality summer programs to have a lasting impact on youth. NCASE demonstrates the importance of understanding the available funding is necessary for high-quality summer programs. They recommend collecting, analyzing, and sharing compelling outcome data indicating the successes of summer learning programs. 

Additionally, summer programming goes beyond academic supports. The National Academies of Sciences (NAS) highlights the importance of student social and emotional learning and the ability to offer wellbeing benefits to youth during the summer months. In a recent report, NAS stresses the need for children to have access to basic developmental needs including adequate nutrition and safety. The National Summer Learning Association (NSLA) provided research showing that many children go hungry during the summer, and only 1 in 7 youth eligible for summer meal programs received them. Summer programs offer an opportunity to reach students who receive free or reduced-price school lunch during school in the summer too. 

Recent State Action

The following examples provide a snapshot of legislation and are not exhaustive.




States’ efforts to support summer has included focusing policy and funding on certain populations (e.g. at-risk or older youth) or issue areas (e.g. professional development). Other states have taken steps to collect information on the state of afterschool within their state to inform future policy around funding opportunities. 


To curb the effects of summer slides, states have enacted legislation for summer literacy programs to help students retain knowledge over the summer and prepare for the curriculum requirements of the following year.  

Learning Loss

Research has shown learning loss resulting from COVID-19 school closures has impacts that can exacerbate existing achievement gaps. States, districts and schools have sought to leverage afterschool and summer programming to help students catch up and keep up. In tandem with classroom education these programs can be valuable in combatting the effects of the pandemic. Some states are currently considering such legislation. 


During the school year, 22 million children receive free or reduced-price school meals through the National School Lunch Program.  While COVID-19 unexpectedly placed many children out of school, policymakers have enacted legislation that gives them access to meals. 

STEM Workforce

Summer programs with a STEM focus have provided the opportunity for youth to build core math and literacy skills that help curb the effects of the summer slide. These programs provide a hands-on learning style that motivates them in activities and strays away from traditional summer programming. They have demonstrated engagement within student populations that are underrepresented in the STEM field, particularly girls and minority students. Additionally, STEM programs allow for partnerships among schools and the community including colleges and universities, museums, science centers, federal science agencies and businesses. 

Council/ Taskforce

Another legislative trend includes establishing state task forces or commissions to study summer programs in the state and make recommendations, groups typically convene for a specified amount of time, are comprised of state agency representatives, community stakeholders and often state legislators, and are tasked with collecting information on the state’s afterschool and/or summer learning landscape and making policy recommendations to the legislature. 


Read more about enacted legislation on summer learning at NCSL’s Education Bill Tracking Database 

High Quality Programs

The National Summer Learning Association (NSLA) highlights these programs as some of the best in the nation:

Early Literacy

Young Audiences of Maryland, Summer Arts & Learning Academy 

Young Audience’s Summer Arts and Learning Academy provides Baltimore City Public Schools (BCPSS) elementary students the opportunity to spend a summer focuses on arts-integrated literacy and math instruction.

College and Career Readiness

CityParks Foundation Green Girls Empowered by ING in New York 

The CityParks Green Girls Empowered by ING inspires early adolescent girls to excel as environmental scientists and stewards of New York City’s natural resources. They create opportunities for girls to discover how they can create a positive change within their environment and learn about future career options.  


Camp EDMO in Northern California, Sacramento Region & San Francisco Bay Area 

Camp EDMO’s organizational mission is to make equitable, high-quality STEAM and SEL programs accessible to all communities. Students participate in hands-on learning opportunities while actively engaging in design thinking.  

Additional Resources