summer learning

It’s Not Your Grandfather’s Summer School

Today’s Summer Learning Programs Are Closing the Achievement Gap

Second-graders in New Bedford tour the Whaling Museum and gain a hands-on learning experience about how blubber helps to warm the whales in the cold ocean water. Students from Boston Public Schools spend time at the Boston Harbor Islands, Hale Reservation in Westwood and the Berklee College of Music. Children in grades K-3 spend time at the beach, enjoying outdoor exploration through For Kids Only summer programs on the North Shore.

These aren’t just field trips, they represent the reinvention of summer school. Today’s effective summer learning programs are helping prevent the summer learning slide that disproportionately affects low-income students, while at the same time provide enriching opportunities that will excite children about learning.

Yet according to the Massachusetts After School Partnership, the demand for these programs exceeds the supply in our state. Just 34% of families report a child attending a summer program, yet 50% of families report they would like their children to participate.

What’s more, 88% of Massachusetts parents would support public funding for summer learning programs. That’s good news for the educators, local officials and business and community leaders who are seeking to expand summer learning opportunities statewide to reach more children.

“The new fifth quarter”

State Representative Alice Peisch, Chairwoman of the Joint Committee on Education, is among those leading the efforts to bring summer learning opportunities to more students in Massachusetts. Representative Peisch filed legislation that would establish a grant program at the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education to support the development and expansion of high quality, comprehensive summer learning opportunities for students in school districts with high percentages of low-income students. The bill was recently reported favorably out of the Education Committee and is now in the House Ways and Committee.

“The research supports the effectiveness of these programs,” said Representative Peisch at a recent legislative briefing at the State House. “Expanding these programs to other parts of the state would be a very helpful step to take in addressing the roots of the achievement gap. We have the data to prove it works.”

A growing body of research shows that high-quality summer learning not only closes the summer learning gap, but also leads to academic and social-emotional skill gains that last into subsequent school years. A new five-city study from the RAND Corporation, which includes Boston and is supported by the Wallace Foundation, reveals better outcomes in mathematics and language arts for participating students over their peers.

“Summer is the new fifth quarter of the school year and presents great opportunities to help students gain the vital skills and experiences that will help them succeed in school and later in life,” said Chris Smith, Executive Director of Boston After School & Beyond, which is working closely with Representative Peisch to advocate for passage of the summer learning legislation on Beacon Hill. “We hope lawmakers will see the clear data that shows what we are doing in Boston works and should be expanded across the state.”

closing the gap

One local program that’s working is the Boston Summer Learning Community, a partnership led by Boston After School & Beyond and Boston Public Schools. It was launched in 2010 in partnership with the Boston Opportunity Agenda. The Boston Summer Learning Community is aimed at students ages 4th grade through high school, and immerses students in learning environments that include natural preservations, college campuses and workplaces with a specific focus in building skills in addition to academic content.

“These may seem like normalized experiences for some, but they are tremendous opportunities for others,” said Lindsa McIntyre, Headmaster at Jeremiah Burke High School in Dorchester.

Mayor Martin Walsh, the Boston Public School system and Boston After School & Beyond have recognized the benefits of this approach and in 2016, called for a citywide system of summer learning focused on grades 4-12 that would include 10,000 students in 100 programs by 2017. Their initiative resulted in 120 programs and nearly 12,000 student participants. United Way is a founding partner of both Boston After School & Beyond and the Boston Opportunity Agenda.

United Way’s Summer Learning Collaborative is another model that is generating results for its participating students. Third-grade reading proficiency is one of the most important indicators of school success, according to the national Campaign for Grade Level Reading. That’s why United Way has been focused on providing summer literacy programs in communities where there are higher numbers of children not reading proficiently and where children are at greater risk of falling further behind during the summer months.

One-third of children participating last year in United Way’s Summer Learning Collaborative were reading below grade level. An evaluation of the 2016 Summer Learning Program by Tufts University revealed 85% of participating children avoided summer learning loss and 64% maintained or increased reading skills.

United Way’s Summer Learning Collaborative, launched in 2010 through seed money provided by the Department of Early Education and Care, is turning summer time into learning time for over 3,000 elementary school children at 24 program sites in 14 communities throughout our region.

“Authorizing the expansion of summer learning to other communities across the state provides a unique and targeted investment opportunity with known successes and solid returns for the Commonwealth,” says Michael K. Durkin, President at United Way of Massachusetts Bay and Merrimack Valley. “State support would accelerate efforts to bring these successful models to scale, reaching more children and youth with an approach that will have a positive, lasting impact on efforts to close the achievement gap.”


The Boston Globe recently echoed the importance of these efforts, highlighting many of the investments and opportunities mentioned above: Boston schools revamp programs to tackle summer learning slide