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Best Practices For Operating High-Quality Summer Learning Programs

Updated Guidance on Best Practices For Operating High-Quality Summer Learning Programs
December 4, 2018



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Report Offers Updated Guidance on Best Practices For Operating High-Quality Summer Learning Programs

Accompanying online toolkit provides hands-on resources for districts, community partners

New York– A newly updated RAND Corporation report provides in-depth guidance to school districts and their partners on how to plan and run voluntary summer learning programs that benefit low-income elementary students. The report is being released in conjunction with an accompanying free, online toolkit, which is informed by the research as well as practitioner experience and which offers extensive resources for districts and their community partners to use in planning and operating these programs.

The report and toolkit draw on lessons from the National Summer Learning Project, launched by The Wallace Foundation in 2011. The project examines whether and how school districts and their out-of-school partners can offer large-scale, voluntary summer programs that improve academic, social-emotional, and behavioral outcomes for children. In prior reports, RAND, a nonprofit research organization, has found promising evidence that students with high attendance over two consecutive summers outperform their peers in English language arts and math, as well as show stronger social-emotional skills.

The new report, Getting to Work on Summer Learning, Second Edition, updates 2013 guidance on the key features of effective summer learning programs, based on the experiences of school districts and their partners in Boston, Dallas, Duval County, Fla., Pittsburgh, and Rochester, N.Y. The recommendations, which are based on data collected over four summers, cover how to conduct the planning process for summer; recruit students and then track their attendance; recruit and train teachers; schedule the day to minimize the loss of instructional time; select curricula and content for academics and enrichment activities; and establish a positive climate.

Specific recommendations include:

  • Begin planning for the coming summer no later than January.
  • Operate the program for five to six weeks with three to four hours of academics each day.
  • Establish a firm enrollment deadline and clear attendance policy for students.
  • If purchasing a curriculum, adapt it to fit student needs and time available; if developing a curriculum, work with district experts and start early.
  • Hire teachers who have grade-level and subject-matter experience.
  • Train enrichment instructors in behavior management.
  • Develop a clear, positive message about the goals and culture of the program.
  • Consider cost efficiencies in the design of the program.

“Operating high-quality, voluntary summer programs takes a lot of planning,” said Heather L. Schwartz, the study’s lead author and the director of the Pre-K to 12 Educational Systems Program at RAND. “The districts in this project are pioneers, and the challenges they encountered—and solved—provide  valuable lessons for the field.”

Designed as a corresponding comprehensive resource to the RAND report, the Summer Learning Toolkit was developed by consultants with The Learning Agenda, in collaboration with RAND and The Wallace Foundation. The online toolkit offers more than 50 resources drawn from practitioners in the field and linked to RAND’s findings. These include tip sheets, sample materials, guidance, and tools such as a detailed calendar that can be used to plan programs. The toolkit also contains materials that can be used for budgeting, selecting curriculum, partnering with enrichment providers, staffing,  recruiting students, and encouraging regular attendance.

“Summer is an opportunity to reach kids who are falling behind, narrow the achievement gap, and give kids fun, new experiences,” said Hillary Oravec, managing partner of The Learning Agenda. “This toolkit equips school districts and their community partners with practical, adaptable tools and field-tested resources that are informed by the most comprehensive research on voluntary summer programs available.”

"We now know that voluntary, district-run summer programs can benefit disadvantaged students in math, reading, and social and emotional learning,” said Ann Stone, a senior research officer at The Wallace Foundation. “We hope that RAND’s guidance on what it takes to carry out effective summer programs, paired with this toolkit full of practical information and templates, will help other districts and their partners make summer a time of learning and growth for children in their communities.”

The RAND report is the fifth in a series about summer learning funded by Wallace, including a 2016 study concluding that high-quality summer learning programs can improve the academic outcomes of disadvantaged youth and showing the importance of regular attendance. Reports on policies that support or inhibit summer learning and on how school districts are working with community organizations to support and improve access to high-quality summer learning programming will be released in 2019.

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About The Wallace Foundation

The Wallace Foundation seeks to improve education and enrichment for disadvantaged children and foster the vitality of arts for everyone. The foundation has an unusual approach: funding efforts to test innovative ideas for solving important public problems, conducting research to find out what works and what doesn’t and to fill key knowledge gaps – and then communicating the results to help others. Wallace, which works nationally, has five major initiatives under way:

  • School leadership: Strengthening education leadership to improve student achievement.
  • Afterschool: Helping cities make good afterschool time programs available to many more children.
  • Building audiences for the arts: Enabling arts organizations to bring the arts to a broader and more diverse group of people.
  • Arts education: Expanding arts learning opportunities for children and teens.
  • Social and emotional learning:Aligning and improving opportunities for social and emotional learning for children across school and out-of-school-time settings. Summer and expanded learning: Improving summer learning opportunities for disadvantaged children, and enriching and expanding the school day.

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