Summer School Planning for Administrators: Why It's Time to Start Now

Summer School Planni

Yes, winter has only just begun, but it’s never too early to start planning for summer. School will be out before you know it—and that means it’s time to get started on implementing plans for your summer school program, regardless of whether it's in person, virtual, or a combination of both in 2021.

Educators know that a successful summer school program can be an effective defense against “summer slide”—the interrupted schooling that children experience over the summer that teachers must address every fall. This year, students may face exacerbated interrupted learning due to many schools transitioning to remote or hybrid learning during the COVID-19 pandemic. This is particularly true for low-income students who often don’t have access to the same technology at home as their counterparts from high-income backgrounds.

Understanding Interrupted Learning

The Northwest Evaluation Association, a nonprofit research organization, has found three consistent trends in the summer slide, which can help shed light on the loss many students are currently experiencing:

  • Overall achievement tends to slow or decline during the summer
  • These declines tend to be more dramatic in math compared with reading
  • The rate of interrupted learning increases in the upper grades

In any given year, according to the Brookings Institution, “summer loss and summer gap-growth occur, though not universally across geography, grade level, or subject.”

The National Summer Learning Association (NSLA) has found that strong summer programs stem interrupted learning and narrow the country’s educational achievement gaps. Learning gains are dependent, though, on a number of factors involved in summer school planning, such as instructional quality, student attendance, and how well a program is grounded in best practices and sound strategies.

4 Reasons to Plan Early for Summer School

Key among those best practices is planning early. Seems obvious, right? But there are concrete benefits to having ample time for focused preparation.

1. Ensure High-Quality Curriculum and Instruction

Identifying students’ needs and selecting the appropriate curriculum and resources takes review time and impacts plans for class structure and targeted instruction to meet curriculum and standards requirements. Getting an early start also gives teachers more time for training in the curriculum. This may be more important than ever, as school districts are more likely than in previous years to invest in virtual learning models and recognize the need for enhanced professional learning for educators, according to the 2020 Federal Funding Guide, published by the National Summer Learning Association (NSLA).

2. Recruit Your Strongest Team

According to the 2018 edition of the RAND Summer Learning Series report, “Getting to Work on Summer Learning: Recommended Practices for Success,” “hiring effective teachers and giving them the support they need are critical steps to maximizing student achievement.” Planning early gives you more time to recruit motivated, qualified teachers who have the appropriate grade-level and subject-matter experience. Another plus to keeping ahead of schedule—you can include more staff and partners in your planning process.

3. Boost and Maintain Attendance

Data from the Wallace Foundation shows that elementary school students with high attendance—or who voluntarily attend summer learning programs for at least five weeks—experience meaningful gains in reading and math. Long story short, building enrollment and maintaining high attendance is key to a successful program. Early planning stages should include emphasis on establishing enrollment deadlines and a clear plan for attendance requirements and tracking, as well as consideration of enrichment activities that will engage students with curriculum and encourage regular attendance.

4. Secure Funding

According to the NSLA’s 2016 Funding Resource Guide, summer learning providers need to “plan early to best synchronize timing for grant awards, school district budget cycles, and high-quality summer learning.” Estimating costs and investigating resources early in the year ensures more time to secure funding and to minimize costs.

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Looking for more resources beyond this summer school planning guide? Visit the HMH summer school site.

This blog, originally published in January 2017, was updated for 2021.

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