Research in the Field
Data and research tell the story of why and how summer learning programs are important to student success, and what practices have led programs to the "happy ending" they set out to achieve.
- Many children lose ground academically, and in other ways, over the summer. It’s called “summer learning loss” (Quinn & Polikoff, 2017).
- All children and youth are at risk of summer learning loss — not just those who struggle academically. Most students lose two months’ worth of math skills each summer (Afterschool Alliance, 2014).
- Students from disadvantaged backgrounds are more likely than others to fall behind their more-advantaged peers during the summer months. Many children from disadvantaged backgrounds enter school behind their peers and continue to fall behind in reading by at least two months each summer. Over time, the learning loss that occurs each summer can accumulate, leaving low-income students significantly behind (Afterschool Alliance, 2014).
- Students’ knowledge and skills in important subjects such as math and language arts are affected by summer learning loss (Afterschool Alliance, 2014).
- Summer learning loss affects children in other ways, too. Six out of seven students who receive healthy meals through free and reduced-cost programs lose that service during the summer (Food Research & Action Center, 2017). Summer learning loss is one of the greatest reasons students drop out of high school (Alexander, Entwisle, & Olson, 2007).
- Summer learning programs can help students reduce summer learning loss. A study that included a randomized controlled trial indicated that students with high attendance in a summer program for low-income urban youth benefitted in mathematics and language arts (Augustine, McCombs, Pane, Schwartz, Schweig, McEachin, & Siler-Evans, 2016).
- Research points to certain practices high-quality summer programs use to prevent summer learning loss and help students succeed. A literature review on the impact of summer learning loss and the effectiveness of summer learning programs resulted in four recommendations: (1) use an evidence-based curriculum; (2) incorporate hands-on and recreational activities in addition to academic content; (3) ensure that the program structure promotes time on task and uses strategies to encourage attendance, and (4) hire effective teachers (Quinn & Polikoff, 2017). An evaluation of three pilot summer learning programs in California suggests that effective summer learning programs can help students improve their work habits and confidence in addition to helping them make academic gains (Summer Matters, 2017).
- Research also underscores the important role planning can play in implementing and sustaining summer programs. A study of five urban districts’ plans to sustain their summer learning programs after initial funding ended resulted in three recommendations: (1) build understanding and connect summer programs to district goals; (2) establish cross-departmental planning; and (3) capitalize on existing experts and systems (Augustine & Thompson, 2017).
Afterschool Alliance. (2014). America after 3PM: Afterschool programs in demand. Washington, D.C.
Alexander, K. L., Entwisle, D. R., & Olson, L. S. (2007, April). Lasting consequences of the summer learning gap. American Sociological Review, 72(2), pp. 167-180.
Augustine, C. H., McCombs, J. S., Pane, J. F., Schwartz, H. L., Schweig, J., McEachin, A., & Siler-Evans, K. (2016). Learning from summer: Effects of voluntary summer learning programs on low-income urban youth. Santa Monica, CA: Rand Corporation.
Augustine, C. H., & Thompson, L. E. (2017). Making summer last: Integrating summer programming into core district priorities and operations. Santa Monica, CA: RAND Corporation.
Food Research and Action Center. (2017). Hunger doesn’t take a vacation: Summer nutrition status report. Washington, D.C.
Coaching and Professionalizing the Field
The Summer Learning Initiative is not a one-touch training event. The team applied research-based knowledge and subject matter expertise to design a professional learning and coaching approach and tools that help program leaders build critical knowledge, skills and capacity. Through a combination of individualized on-site and virtual technical assistance and coaching, participating grantees have grown in their ability to effectively lead their program team in designing a high-quality, impactful summer learning program.