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New Summer Program Recommendations Released

After more than 1,800 surveys, 325 interviews, and 400 hours of observations in six urban school systems, the RAND Corp. has released a set of recommendations for districts aiming to provide high-quality summer programs that reduce summer learning loss.

Just out today, the report, "Getting to Work on Summer Learning," is based on research in Boston, Cincinnati, Duval County, Fla., Pittsburgh, and Rochester, N.Y., six districts called "pioneers" in providing free, voluntary summer programs for elementary students.

All the districts targeted low-income and at-risk students for their programs, which run the recommended minimum of 5-6 weeks and provide at least 3-4 hours of academic instruction daily but steer away from traditional, remediation-style summer school.

The key recommendations, based on research in the summers of 2011 and 2012 are:

  • Plan for summer programs at least six months in advance. The planning process should include regular meetings at which decisions are made about staffing, job duties, and budgeting for the upcoming summer.

  • Use a standardized curriculum that is backed by evidence-based research. To be more effective, the curriculum should be differentiated, or tailored to meet individual student needs and abilities.

  • Recruit and hire high-quality teachers to instruct students; provide them with training and ongoing support.

  • Provide engaging enrichment activities that make the summer distinct from the school year, but integrate these activities thoughtfully with academics, keeping class sizes small.

  • Encourage regular attendance for the program by establishing an attendance policy and including incentives, such as field trips, to motivate students to show up.

  • Design a cost-effective program that is well-budgeted, improving the likelihood for program sustainability.

This latest research builds on a growing, five-year body of work undertaken by the RAND Corp. and supported by the Wallace Foundation. (The Wallace Foundation also provides support for coverage of extended and expanded learning in Education Week.) In 2011, RAND released a report on the impact of summer learning loss and the role summer programs can play in reducing it. Next summer, a report is expected on how programs in five cities have affected participants' reading and math scores.

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