4 Ways to Make Voluntary Summer Programs Effective

Build a high-quality learning program to reduce the summer learning slump.

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June 2020, Volume 43, Issue 10

Without participation in a high-quality summer learning program, many students can lose ground academically over the summer contributing to a persistent achievement gap problem. In this webinar, presented by Heather Schwartz, program director of Pre-K-12 Educational Systems in RAND’s Education and Labor Division, reviews findings on summertime experiences and offers tips on how school leaders can improve the quality, equity, and effectiveness of summer programming.

Research Says

According to a RAND study that looked at the effectiveness of a specific program model in five school districts, four key factors—sufficient duration, regular attendance, quality instruction, and positive climate—make voluntary summer learning programs effective.

The study showed significant gains in math and English Language Arts (ELA) for students who attended two summers. These are three findings:

  1. Short-term gains in math were equivalent to about 15 percent of what students learn in math in a calendar year.
  2. Students with high attendance, categorized as attending 20 or more days per summer) outperformed peers in math, ELA, and social-emotional learning.
  3. Students who received at least 25 hours of math instruction and 34 hours of English Language Arts instruction performed better on subsequent state math and ELA tests.

Key Factors in Effective Summer Programs

Schwartz focuses on four specific categories that can help principals set up effective summer learning programs. They are:

  1. Early planning. Planning affects every aspect—site management, climate, instructional quality, use of time, and student attendance—of a summer learning program.
  2. Teacher selection. Teachers’ content knowledge influences instructional quality. Hire teachers with grade-level and subject-matter expertise and familiarity with students.
  3. Use of time. This is critical to student experience, says Schwartz. Summer programs are relatively short. Productive academic learning is more predictive of student achievement than the amount of time students spend in the classroom.
  4. Student recruitment. This is important because students won’t benefit academically unless they attend regularly; programs aren’t worth the investment if students don’t benefit, and teachers and staff might have to be let go if there’s low attendance.

For practical strategies and resources for building a high-quality summer learning program of activities to reduce the summer learning slump, download the slide presentation, watch the webinar, or listen to the audio version.


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