Photo: Pre-K Now

Another school year comes to a close, and another summer begins. So it’s timely that the Rand Corporation has released “Making Summer Count,” a comprehensive look at summer learning loss in children, grades 1-8.  Children on average, lose one month of knowledge and skills between the end of the school year and the end of summer. Within the average, however, are distinct and disturbing differences.

“Summer learning loss disproportionately affects low-income students, particularly in reading,” Rand researchers find. “While their higher-income peers, on average, post gains in reading, low-income students show losses at the end of the summer. Most disturbing is that it appears that summer learning loss is cumulative and that, over time, these periods of differential learning rates between low-income and higher-income students contribute substantially to the achievement gap. It may be that efforts to close the achievement gap during the school year alone will be unsuccessful.”

In reviewing literature on the nature of summer learning loss, the researchers also found that students who attend summer programs have better outcomes than peers who do not, programs need to be high-quality to have a positive impact, cost is the major barrier to implementing programs, many programs have fallen victim to budget cuts, and partnerships can strengthen programs. “Developing and sustaining district-based voluntary summer learning programs is challenging but feasible,” they note. “Challenges can be overcome by supportive leaders who can find and dedicate funding, as well as ensure that qualified staff devote time to early planning, early hiring and early recruiting for summer learning programs.”

Researchers also conducted site visits in five cities (Albuquerque, Baltimore, Minneapolis, Pittsburgh and San Francisco) and conducted telephone interviews in eight cities (Cincinnati, Charlotte-Mecklenburg, Dallas, Denver, Los Angeles, New Orleans, Philadelphia, and Portland, OR). They make the following recommendations to school districts and providers of summer programs:

The report, which was commissioned by the Wallace Foundation, also recommends that policymakers and funders “support consistent funding sources” and “provide clear guidance regarding the use of scarce funds.” The report also calls for more research, including randomized trials and studies that measure academic and non-academic outcomes, look at cost-effectiveness, and examine ways to attract multiple years of participation.

“Although research has established the efficacy of summer learning programs, it has not tested several aspects of such programs when offered to large numbers of low-performing students in urban settings,” the report notes. “Rigorous, longitudinal research on large programs would provide valuable information to policymakers and practitioners.”