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Summer Schools Help Low-Income Students Compete  

By Lookout Staff

August 16, 2011 – As the school year approaches, a recent RAND Corporation study shows that summer programs may be the key to reducing the achievement gap between low and high-income students.

Most students lose some of the skills and knowledge they acquired during the school year when they take the summer off, but low-income students tend to fare worse, particularly in reading, according to the RAND study “Making Summer Count: How Summer Programs Can Boost Children's Learning.”

Perhaps the most alarming finding is that the deterioration seems to be cumulative, pushing struggling students farther and farther behind with each passing year, the RAND analysts said.

But summer education programs can make a difference, they said, particularly if the programs offer high-quality, individualized instruction and the students attend them regularly.

“Rigorous studies have shown that strong summer programs can achieve several important goals: reverse summer learning loss, achieve learning gains, and give low-performing students the chance to master material that they did not learn during the previous school year,” said the authors of the study.

Smaller class sizes, parent involvement and strategies for encouraging student attendance were features of successful programs studied by the analysts.

Families were attracted to the programs by print and radio advertising, phone calls and community meetings. The programs included attractive enrichment classes like kayaking and fencing.

Unfortunately, the economic climate has worked against funding summer schools in cash-strapped districts, particularly those with the highest concentration of low-income students.

At $1,109 to $2,801 per child for a six-hour-per-day, five-week program, summer programs cost about two-thirds less than instruction during the academic year, according to the study, but they are an additional cost to districts that have had to slash their budgets.

One of the study's goals was to find creative ways for school officials to finance summer school.

District-financed summer programs offer the the best bang for the buck, because facilities, meals and administrative costs are built into the existing bureacracy. And districts can leverage funding like Title 1 monies and other state and federal funding for low-performing students.

Partnerships with community organizations can bring in extra money and less-expensive enrichment teachers.

The National Summer Learning Association recommends hiring AmeriCorps students to teach and credentialed staff who want to rack up administrative hours to serve as site coordinators.

The authors urge existing programs to “extend the research base” by participating in studies that should encourage more support for summer programs.

If they find that students not only perform at a higher academic level, but also have higher attendance and graduation rates, show signs of better nutrition and increases in exercise, and lower juvenile delinquency, then other stakeholders like city governments will be motivated to support summer education.

The study's authors are Jennifer Sloan McCombs, Catherine H. Augustine, Heather L. Schwartz, Susan J. Bodilly, Brian McInnis, Dahlia S. Lichter and Amanda Brown Cross.

To read the entire study, go to the RAND Corporation website.


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