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New Study Confirms Summer Learning Loss, Recommends Solutions

By Erik Peterson

 National Summer Learning Day (and the first day of summer) is the perfect context to check out the latest study that confirms the "summer slide" is deeply detrimental to students.  Making Summer Count: How Summer Programs Can Boost Children's Learning was released last week by the RAND Corporation.  Researchers found that summer learning loss disproportionately affects low-income students and that cost is the main barrier to implementing summer learning programs.  According to the report, students who regularly attend high-quality summer learning programs have positive outcomes, and the effects of summer learning programs can endure for at least two years after the program (to date, no studies have looked beyond the two-year mark).

Yet for students without summer learning opportunities, the outlook can be grim.  Researchers noted, "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 in reading.  It may be that efforts to close the achievement gap during the school year alone will be unsuccessful."

The cost of summer programming provides an additional hurdle to many.  The report finds, "Providing a high-quality summer learning program can cost between $1,109 and $2,801 per child for a six-hour-per-day, five-week program.  Although preliminary evidence suggests that the cost of summer school programs can be less than two-thirds of what providers spend on programs during the academic year (on a per-slot, per-week basis), summer programs nonetheless represent an additional cost to districts, especially relative to other interventions that simply update or reform practices used during the school year."
In addition, the report notes that the recession has made it more difficult to pay for summer programming.  "The recent economic downturn has created such severe shortfalls in state education budgets that many districts across the country have cut what little summer school programming they have offered.  However, district leaders who are committed to such programs have found creative ways to fund them."  Researchers recommend partnerships as a way to mitigate high costs.  "We also found that partnerships between districts and community- based organizations (CBOs) provided increased benefits and lowered costs.  CBOs offered opportunities for enrichment beyond those typically offered in schools, such as kayaking and fencing, that encouraged students to enroll and attend - steps critical to program effectiveness."

The report includes recommendations for districts and providers as well as for policymakers and funders.  They include investing in high-quality staff and incorporating best-practices into programs; exploring partnerships and a variety of funding opportunities; and for policy makers to identify stable funding sources and provide clear guidance on restrictions on requirements of funding. 

The study was commissioned by the Wallace Foundation. To read more, click here.
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