Academic Foundations

Studies and anecdotal evidence repeatedly point to critical components for successful summer learning programs  standardized and outcome-oriented curricula, effective instruction, small class sizes, and programs of sufficient duration coupled with regular student attendance. Yet COVID-19 has exacerbated challenges that districts already faced in planning and resourcing learning during the summer. While there is no one solution, simple strategies can streamline academic instruction, attract teachers and staff, and shift learning goals from remediation to acceleration.  

Guiding Questions

  • What considerations should guide summer learning curriculum and instruction? 
  • How can summer learning programs promote improved academic outcomes for all students? 
Strategies Aligned Resources

Identify the right curriculum 

Choosing the curriculum that meets program needs requires districts to clarify learning goals, align those goals to academic year standards, and match desired outcomes to available instructional time. To address summer skills loss in math and reading, especially for students with lower incomes, districts should choose as a standard for all sites a written, evidence-based curriculum that maximizes instruction time and allows for differentiation as needed. A common, written curriculum can mitigate planning challenges that teachers face given the short summer learning window. 

RAND’s Getting to Work on Summer Learning, + Add to Action Plan pages 43-48, provide guidance on buying or developing curricula and establishing protocols for observation and delivery.  

This Tip Sheet + Add to Action Plan from the Wallace Foundation guides summer program leaders in selecting and/or modifying program curriculum. Guiding questions ground a curriculum search in the goals, structure, and resources of the program and the capabilities and professional development needs of staff.  

Engage highimpact staff 

Instructional staff are a critical component of summer learning programs. Studies show that students respond well to qualified, enthusiastic, and experienced educators in summer sessions. However, teachers are experiencing significant levels of burnout, and districts may struggle to attract high performers to summer learning sites. Some districts have reported that teachers may be more eager to participate in summer programs that offer increased opportunities for creativity and student-led inquiry, as well as learning environments that center the whole student. Professional development opportunities can also support newer teachers with strategies and instructional coaching  to help them adjust to a summer schedule. 

Start this presentation + Add to Action Plan at approximately 14 minutes and follow along on slides 19-23 + Add to Action Plan as RAND’s Jennifer McCombs describes barriers to teacher recruitment, mitigation strategies, and how to retain high-impact staff.  

The Wallace Foundation’s Summer Learning Toolkit includes the Planning High-Quality Professional Development + Add to Action Plan tip sheet, which offers guidance on maximizing professional development time and resources.  

Offer Acceleration Programs 

While summer learning is still seen as a crucial opportunity to address “learning loss”  a contested term and approach  a growing community of educators and policy makers is advocating for a shift from remediation to acceleration, and an accompanying focus on asset-based learning. Accelerated learning approaches can lead to greater academic gains than remedial programs, especially for students with lower incomes and students of color. 

Acceleration Academies, which are intensive, small group (8-12 students) learning opportunities that take place over school vacations, have helped students gain up to six months of learning through a single week (25 hours of instruction in math or English language arts).  

Review this report + Add to Action Plan by Zearn, especially the case study on pages 8-10 describing remediation versus acceleration.  

Washington, DC Public Schools host Summer Acceleration Academies + Add to Action Planthat are designed to serve a select group of students at each school (approximately 10 to 35 percent) who require more focused support that provide both social  emotional development and academic acceleration ahead of next school year.