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Start Your Planning Now for Summer Learning Programs, Wallace Report Says

summer learning: Teacher high-fives little boys in class

Wallace Foundation

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It’s time to plan your summer learning program!

Yes, the holidays are in full swing and summer seems far away, but school districts should start actively planning at least by January, according to a Wallace Foundation report gleaned from the work of five districts.

Voluntary summer learning programs with a mix of academics and enrichment activities can help level the playing field for low-income children in comparison with their more affluent peers.

But a successful program requires a number of important practices, according to the report “Getting To Work on Summer Learning: Recommended Practices for Success, 2nd Edition.”

“Our No. 1 recommendation is for a school district to commit in the fall to having a summer learning program,” said Heather L. Schwartz, a senior policy researcher at the RAND Corp.

Districts should “name a summer program director who is at least half time,” she said.

Schwartz is an author of the report, commissioned by the Wallace Foundation and based on the experience of five school districts and research from RAND.

“You need to start months ahead” to place orders for curriculum materials and hire teachers in time to have effective professional development, Schwartz said. When planning was delayed, Schwartz and other researchers saw transportation problems, delayed curriculum materials and kids who didn’t have books in hand at the start of the program.

The report detailed other important practices:

  • Hire teachers with subject-matter and grade-level experience.
  • Provide behavior management training to other instructors.
  • Offer three to four hours of academics each day for five or six weeks.
  • Adapt an existing curriculum to student needs, or start early to create one with district experts.
  • Set a firm enrollment deadline and a clear attendance policy
  • Create an effective message that communicates the goals and culture of the program.

After early planning, the next most important practice involves teacher knowledge and experience, Schwartz said.

“We saw that teachers who have content knowledge were much better able to address and follow up student questions and adjust their instruction,” she said.

Teaching the same grade in summer as they’ve taught in the school year allows teachers to make connections for students to the material they’ll deal with in school, she said.

Keep tight schedule

Adequate instruction time is also crucial, according to the report.

The recommended three to four hours per day “allows a typical student (who attends 75 percent of program days) to obtain 25 hours of math instruction and 34 hours of language arts instruction,” Schwartz said.

That was the amount students needed to show improvement in math and reading, according to an earlier study.

“During teacher training, send a message that academics is not necessarily a drag on summer programs. They can actively augment the fun,” Schwartz said. When there’s a lot of slack time, students get bored, she said.

She cautioned that a lax schedule eats away at instructional time.

“Build a realistic master schedule” to provide the necessary transition time between classes, especially at outdoor summer camps, she said. “We saw several master schedules not do that.”

A realistic schedule sends a message to teachers that instructional time is serious, she said.

Numerous resources for planning summer learning programs — including tip sheets, calendars and budget templates — are available in an online toolkit.

“Just having a summer program doesn’t mean it’s high quality,” Schwartz said. “It really has to have intentional planning and development.”

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