​​​​The Problem

Children from low-income families often do not have the same opportunities to learn and experience enriching activities during the summer as children from higher-income families. Consequently, they can lose ground academically, contributing to the persistent achievement gap between them and their more affluent peers.

​​How We Are Tackling It

Launched in 2011, the National Summer Learning Project is looking at whether and how large-scale summer learning programs led by public school districts can help benefit children in low-income urban communities.

The heart of the initiative is the largest study of its kind, a randomized controlled trial that seeks to determine what works and what doesn’t in implementing high-quality summer learning programs, as well as the impact the programs have on students. Specifically, the study is examining the academic and other effects on children of taking part in a full-day, five- to six-week program for two consecutive summers, beginning when they are rising fourth graders. The participating school districts are Boston; Dallas; Duval County (Jacksonville), Fla.; Pittsburgh; and Rochester, N.Y. The programs they are offering provide a mix of academic instruction and enrichment activities like arts and field trips.

Questions being explored by the research include:

Can large urban school districts successfully implement high-quality summer learning programs?
Can they successfully attract large numbers of students who could potentially benefit from their programs?
What’s the impact of these programs on children?
What steps, from planning to professional development, are needed to implement high-quality summer programs?
How can these efforts be aligned to community priorities?

The study, conducted by the RAND Corporation, focuses on 5,600 students who were in third grade in spring 2013. Students were randomly selected to participate or not participate in programming during the summers of 2013 and 2014. RAND is gathering a wide range of data from both groups of students through the seventh grade, including school-year grades and attendance, student performance on standardized tests of math and reading and measures of social-emotional skills.

In December 2014, RAND released a report looking at the impact of the programming on children in the near-term—that is, in the fall after the children took part in the first summer of programming. In addition to finding that the districts successfully recruited large numbers of low-income students into the summer programs, the researchers determined that children who were selected to take part in summer learning programs in 2013 scored higher on the fall math assessment than children who were not selected, but about the same in reading. The study also identified key factors linked to reading achievement.