The publication examines how three districts—Dallas, Pittsburgh and Rochester—worked to institutionalize summer programming, meaning, among other things, an expectation of continuation, routinized implementation, and routine allocation of money and time. Despite challenges, the program leaders say their efforts have helped garner buy-in for their programs, resulting in improvements and efficiencies.

The districts were part of a Wallace Foundation effort to create more summer learning opportunities for low-income students and to find out whether and how voluntary-attendance summer learning programs can help them succeed in school.

The programs’ leaders used three main strategies to try to ensure the durability of their efforts:

  1. Building awareness of their programs and connecting program goals to larger district goals;
  2. Ensuring all relevant departments were represented in the planning process; and
  3. Involving expert staff members and existing district systems in supporting the programs.

All three strategies came with challenges. Some school and district staff members saw summer programming as competing with, rather than complementing, other priorities; some were reserving judgement until they could be shown evidence of improved student outcomes. In two districts, an inclusive planning process led to struggles over decision-making authority and other disagreements. Expert staff members needed enough time, the right incentives and sufficient understanding of summer programming in order to provide effective support.

Nonetheless, all three districts continued to fund their programs at the same level through summer 2017. Therefore, RAND recommends that other districts interested in summer programming consider steps such as:

  • Collecting outcomes data for summer programming and using these data to create and share messages that focus on key academic goals;
  • Establishing a planning team that includes all relevant departments (e.g. transportation, facilities, IT, curriculum development) and designating a single staff member to manage the planning process;
  • Incorporating summer responsibilities into job descriptions for new hires.

 Points of Interest

  • Summer leaders seek to make their programs a part of core district priorities and operations primarily in order to secure future funding and promote sustainability, but also to increase program quality, find efficiencies in cost and time, and create continuity between school-year and summer services.
    Reasons to make summer a core district priority: Sustainability, quality, efficiency and continuity with school year
  • Summer leaders say that cultivating buy-in for their programs involves not just presenting outcomes data and explaining how their work can help districts meet larger goals but also giving district and school staff members a “feel” for the day-to-day experience of attending a summer program.
    Seeking buy-in for a district summer program? Collect outcomes data but don't forget to bring the experience to life
  • Creating an effective cross-departmental team to prepare for summer programs takes more than a single year. Districts that give it time and make changes to account for shifting department dynamics and lessons learned can expect smoother-run programs—an important factor in retaining both staff and families.
    Cross-departmental summer planning takes time to get right; stick with it to give families, staff a better experience