Proof Points: Little evidence for summer school

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By Jill Barshay

Calling for summer school seems to be the “it” thing to do in education this season. Former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg, Virginia Governor Ralph Northam, California Governor Gavin Newsom and   teachers union leader Randi Weingarten are all endorsing it. But we could end up wasting billions of dollars making kids go to school during the summer months.  

I wanted to give readers a tour of the research on summer school, which is full of disappointments. Pushing students into summer school isn’t the answer -- as appealing as it might sound.

Read the column
Key Findings 
  • Newer research finds very small academic benefits, close to zero, for summer school.  

  • Why? Families refuse to enroll their children. Those who do enroll have spotty attendance. Many students aren’t motivated to learn when they are forced to be in school during the summer.  

  • Older studies with positive impacts often involved small summer school programs or the research design wasn’t as good.

Teacher Takeaway 
  • One expert in summer school research, Jean B. Grossman at MDRC, recommends that summer programs focus on social-emotional skills and relationships to help re-engage students in learning. She advises against teaching kids during the summer as they are traditionally taught during the school year. 

  • Another researcher, Bob Slavin at Johns Hopkins University, suggests adding daily one-to-one or small group tutoring to a day camp-style summer program full of sports and arts.

Lit Review 
  1. Cooper, Harris, Kelly Charlton, Jeff C. Valentine, and Laura Muhlenbruck, with Geoffrey D. Borman, Making the Most of Summer School: A Meta-Analytic and Narrative Review, Monographs of the Society for Research in Child Development, Vol. 65, No. 1, Malden, Mass.: Blackwell Publishers, 2000.  
  2. Matsudaira, Jordan D., “Mandatory Summer School and Student Achievement,” Journal of Econometrics, Vol. 142, No. 2, 2008, pp. 829–850.  
  3. Marie-Andrée Somers Rashida Welbeck Jean B. Grossman Susan Gooden. An Analysis of the Effects of an Academic Summer Program for Middle School Student March 2015. MDRC. 
  4. Kim JS, Quinn DM. The Effects of Summer Reading on Low-Income Children’s Literacy Achievement From Kindergarten to Grade 8: A Meta-Analysis of Classroom and Home Interventions. Review of Educational Research. 2013;83(3):386-431.  
  5. Xie, C., Neitzel, A., Cheung, A., & Slavin, R. E. (2020). The effects of summer programs on K-12 students’ reading and mathematics achievement: A meta-analysis. Manuscript submitted for publication. 
  6. Augustine, Catherine H., Jennifer Sloan McCombs, John F. Pane, Heather L. Schwartz, Jonathan Schweig, Andrew McEachin, and Kyle Siler-Evans, Learning from Summer: Effects of Voluntary Summer Learning Programs on Low-Income Urban Youth. Santa Monica, CA: RAND Corporation, 2016.  
  7. Jennifer Sloan McCombs, Catherine H. Augustine, John F. Pane, Jonathan Schweig, Every Summer Counts: A Longitudinal Analysis of Outcomes from the National Summer Learning Project Santa Monica, CA: RAND Corporation, 2020. 
  8. Robert Slavin’s Blog:  Why Isn’t Achievement Whirled Enough by Time? (Why Summer School, After School, and Extended Day Do Not Work Very Well) February 4, 2021, The Summertime Blues August 27, 2020,  Summer 2021 Re-Imagined: A Grand Opening to a Successful Year 
  9. March 4, 2021. Highlight Tutoring Among Post-Covid Solutions January 28, 2021 
  10. Schacter, J., & Jo, B. (2005). Learning when school is not in session: A reading summer day-camp intervention to improve the achievement of exiting first-grade students who are economically disadvantaged. Journal of Research in Reading, 28, 158-169.  
  11. Zvoch, K., & Stevens, J. J. (2013). Summer school effects in a randomized field trial. Early Childhood Research Quarterly, 28(1), 24-32. 
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