This report updates earlier guidance to school district leaders interested in launching summer learning programs or improving established ones. It offers guidance based on evaluations of five urban school districts conducted between 2011 and 2016. The districts were selected by The Wallace Foundation to take part in the National Summer Learning Project, a multi-year effort to understand whether and how voluntary district-run summer learning programs can help promote success in school.

The report addresses such questions as when districts should begin work on their summer learning program, how they should hire and train teachers, what they should consider in choosing or developing a curriculum, which actions can help boost attendance and keep students on task, how to create a warm and welcoming environment, and how to provide engaging enrichment experiences. Specific recommendations include:

  • Begin planning for the coming summer no later than January.
  • Operate the program for five to six weeks with three to four hours of academics each day.
  • Establish a firm enrollment deadline and clear attendance policy.
  • If purchasing a curriculum, adapt it to fit student needs and time available; if developing a curriculum, work with district experts and start early.
  • Hire teachers who have grade-level and subject-matter experience.
  • Train enrichment instructors in behavior management.
  • Develop a clear, positive message about the goals and culture of the program.


The report also discusses the costs associated with offering a voluntary summer program and provides suggestions for lowering them, such as working with community-based organizations and consolidating program sites into as few buildings as possible.

For more hands-on tools and guidance, including a sample program calendar, visit the online Summer Learning Toolkit​.

 Points of Interest

  • School districts that decide in the fall to offer a summer learning program and begin planning no later than January run a smoother program with fewer logistical problems.
    Want a #summerlearning program that runs smoothly from the start? Commit in the fall, start planning no later than January.
  • A five-to-six-week summer learning program with three to four hours of academics a day will give a typical student who attends 75% of the time enough hours of math and reading to see a boost on standardized tests.
    Rule of thumb for strong #summerlearning programs: Run 5-6 weeks, full-days, with 3-4 hours of academics and ample time for enrichment.
  • Consistent attendance is possible whether your district’s summer learning program is designed to be like school or like a camp. Either way, use your application and orientation materials to let parents know that attendance isn’t optional.
    Whether your #summerlearning program is like school or camp, strong attendance is possible if you set firm enrollment deadlines and clear attendance policies.

 Summary Links