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Six School Districts to Participate in Major Project to Test Whether Summer Learning Programs Produce Lasting Academic Gains for Low-Income Students

Project to Test Whether Summer Learning Programs Produce Lasting Academic Gains
July 6, 2011

Jessica Schwartz
The Wallace Foundation

Angie Cannon
The Hatcher Group

(July 6, 2011) Children in low-income communities in six cities will take part in improved summer learning programs, beginning this summer. Through 2014, these school district-based programs will provide much-needed experience and evidence on how schools can end the damage from summer learning loss, which leaves many students several years behind by the time they enter high school. This project launches a major new phase of The Wallace Foundation’s multi-year, $50 million summer learning initiative.

Boston, Cincinnati, Dallas, Duval County (including Jacksonville) FL, Pittsburgh and Rochester, NY, were selected because their school districts and often nonprofit community organizations already operate large summer learning programs aimed at reducing summer learning loss. Full-day programs, ranging from four to six weeks, provide reading, writing and math instruction, as well as such enrichment activities as studio art, zoo field trips and cooking.

Districts will use their Wallace grants to strengthen their programs, starting with students who will be fourth graders in the fall. Based on evidence gathered this summer, researchers from the RAND Corporation will help school leaders identify improvements for next summer. Plans include Wallace support for improvements over all four summers, through 2014.

In 2013 and 2014, researchers will begin tracking students’ progress to see what difference two years of summer learning programs make and how long the effects last.

The effort is part of The Wallace Foundation’s summer learning initiative, which aims to combat “summer learning loss” or “summer slide.” Research has long documented that over the three-month summer vacation, children forget some of what they have learned during the previous school year. Low-income children suffer bigger losses than others, and because these losses mount with each passing summer, summer slide contributes to the gap in academic achievement between them and other children.

The summer learning urban district project seeks to confirm whether intensive summer programming that combines academics and enrichment can boost achievement and narrow the gap, a question of considerable importance to educators, policymakers and parents, especially in a time of tight education budgets. The Wallace initiative also has two other separately-funded parts: support of nonprofits that run successful summer learning programs; and communication efforts to build awareness among policymakers and the public of the value of high-quality summer learning programs.

“It’s clear that the conventional school year is insufficient to adequately educate many students in urban districts,” said Will Miller, president of The Wallace Foundation. “Research has confirmed summer learning loss’s toll on poor children; less is known about solutions – especially about whether participation for several summers can produce lasting benefits. These investments will build our knowledge of whether summer learning programs produce sufficient and cumulative academic gains to make it worthwhile for districts to use them to improve student achievement.”

In recent years, promising programming approaches to fight summer learning loss have emerged, but they have rarely been tested on a wide scale. “We know summer learning matters, and this opportunity to strengthen our summer programs will help our students succeed. And to continue to build our programs, we need hard evidence on what works and what doesn’t,” said Duval County Public Schools Superintendent Ed Pratt-Dannals.

The Wallace Foundation is kicking off this effort with approximately $2.7 million for the districts to use for program improvements this summer and for making plans for more extensive improvements next summer. Wallace’s grants are expected to increase once the districts and RAND researchers identify the programs’ greatest needs, which are expected to differ among the cities.

This summer, the districts are receiving Wallace support for improved summer programs, including:

  • Boston Public Schools is continuing to offer combined academic and enrichment learning in community venues, such as Boston Nature Center, Hale Reservation and Thompson Island for nature study, with partial Wallace support including teacher training.
  • Cincinnati Public Schools recently completed four weeks of full-day summer instruction and enrichment in June through its Fifth Quarter program, which taps community organizations to provide fine arts, technology, fitness and environmental education. Since this year’s program is completed, Wallace is supporting planning and curriculum development for next summer.
  • Dallas Independent School District is enhancing its Thriving Minds Summer Camps in a partnership with the nonprofit arts education group Big Thought, in which elementary school students learn reading, writing, math and science and participate in the arts. Wallace is supporting curriculum development on combining hands-on learning with other academic and enrichment activities.
  • Duval County Public Schools (including Jacksonville) FL is receiving Wallace support to add staffing for enrichment activities in the existing Superintendent’s Academies, which operate in six schools and provide intensive reading, math, science and enrichment. Wallace’s support is also enabling the Jacksonville Children’s Commission, a city agency, to hire additional staff to expand the enrichment offerings.
  • Pittsburgh Public Schools, through its Summer Dreamers Academy for elementary and middle school children, is providing such activities as reading great books, kayaking, learning judo and biking. Wallace funding is supporting incentives for students to attend regularly.
  • Rochester City School District in New York is using Wallace support to add one week and new enrichment activities to its academic program, serving up to 600 children this summer. The Wallace grant is also supporting arts activities provided by Young Audiences of Rochester and district fine arts teachers.

The six districts were selected after MDRC, a nonprofit research firm, gathered information on programs in more than 25 urban districts. Wallace’s criteria for the districts were that: they already have a major summer learning program in place, using local resources; place a priority on eliminating summer learning loss; and will participate in the rigorous study of the programs’ effects.

As part of RAND’s Wallace grant to identify needed improvements likely to increase the programs’ effectiveness, RAND will publish a 2012 report on the information they gather this summer as a source of practical lessons for other districts seeking to reduce summer learning loss.

In June, RAND released a Wallace-commissioned study called Making Summer Count: How Summer Programs Can Boost Children’s Learning, which concludes that the loss of knowledge and educational skills during the summer months is cumulative over the course of a student’s academic career and further widens the achievement gap between low- and upper-income students. That study also presents evidence that students who attend high-quality summer programs can avoid summer losses, but finds that evidence is weaker on long-term and cumulative benefits, pointing the way for Wallace’s new effort.


The Wallace Foundation is an independent, national foundation dedicated to supporting and sharing effective ideas and practices that expand learning and enrichment opportunities for children. The Foundation maintains an online library of lessons at about what it has learned, including knowledge from its current efforts aimed at: strengthening educational leadership to improve student achievement; helping disadvantaged students gain more time for learning through summer learning and an extended school day and year; enhancing out-of-school time opportunities; and building appreciation and demand for the arts.


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