The 2015 Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) is the basis of a major source of federal funding for K-12 education programming in the United States, especially through its $16 billion Title I section. The law also encourages—and in some cases requires—that programs be backed by research indicating their effectiveness in order for the programs to be eligible for funding. ESSA categorizes research into four tiers of progressively greater rigor, with the top three being either necessary or desirable for certain Title I and other sources.
This report, reviewing research about summer programming for children and teens, finds 43 programs that pass the evidence test for tiers I to III. The programs cross the spectrum from elementary- to high-school-age and include an array of endeavors, from helping kids with academics to providing them with career assistance. “Summer is an opportune time to create programs that benefit children and youth, and we find evidence that many types of summer programs can be effective,” the report says.
The publication includes a section with two-page descriptions of all 43 programs, laying out their key features and the research findings about their effectiveness.
The report also offers useful context to help readers make sense of the summer studies. Summer research has skewed heavily to examining academic programs, for example, so many of the 43 programs focus on classroom subjects, especially reading. This means programs in un- or under-studied areas, such as sleepaway camping or physical education, may well be effective; they just haven’t been rigorously researched. In addition, studies frequently measure the impact of a program not just on what a program might reasonably aim for but other pursuits, too; for example, a study might explore the effect of a science program on skills beyond science, like literacy. Therefore, readers should assess how a research finding relates to a program’s intended goal.
The authors make a series of recommendations for funders, researchers and others, leading with the following: “Decisionmakers should consider summer a viable time to promote outcomes for children and youth.” Other recommendations include that summer organizers remain open to programs with the lowest tier of evidence. Tier IV programs can qualify for certain ESSA funding streams. In addition, Tier IV funding comes with a requirement that the program be evaluated—a contribution to building the evidence base.