June 8, 2022

How Can Districts Strengthen Summer Learning Programs? Findings From a New Report

Study shares policies, practices, and resources needed to support students.

School district-led summer learning programs enhance young people’s learning. During the COVID-19 era, these programs have become even more pivotal. They can help students catch up academically, connect with peers, and explore enriching activities. But what challenges do these programs face? And how can districts improve the quality and accessibility of programs?

A new report, Supporting Quality in Summer Learning: How Districts Plan, Develop, and Implement Programs, answers these questions for program leaders, policymakers, and the public.

Resulting from a study led by EDC and commissioned by The Wallace Foundation, the report shares insights on summer learning programs from 92 professionals and policymakers across 36 states who work at the district, community, and state levels. In addition to interviewing and surveying these key informants on how they implemented summer learning programs in 2019, 2020, and 2021, the study team conducted a comprehensive review of relevant literature and online resources.

“Research shows that these programs can powerfully and positively impact young people,” says EDC distinguished scholar and principal evaluation director Leslie Goodyear, who led the study with Alyssa Na’im and Tony Streit. “But districts nationwide are seeking strategies to address complex challenges and enhance learning for all children and youth. Our landscape study captures the changing state of summer learning and spotlights lessons learned and promising practices that can help leaders shape the future of the field.”


The study’s findings present a detailed picture of summer learning programs’ policies, procedures, and resources before, during, and emerging from the COVID-19 pandemic. In a June 14, 2022 webinar, the study team presented selected findings, and representatives from two communities involved in the study shared their perspectives.

In the report, Goodyear, Na’im, Streit, and colleagues provide an in-depth look at important opportunities for the field, including the vital role that district-community partnerships and the use of COVID-19 pandemic-related relief funds can play in strengthening programs.

The authors detail common challenges that many interviewees identified, including transportation, funding, staffing, and community partnerships, as well as meeting the needs of families. They also note the need for additional research that focuses on the facilitators and barriers to district-community partnerships, use of evidence-based approaches to support family and community engagement, and promising practices and resources to support the professional development of staff.

Implications for Policy and Practice

The report shares the following recommendations, stemming from the study’s findings:

  • Take action to ensure that district-community partnerships are strong and effective to realize their full potential to address challenges and improve services
  • Use the influx of COVID-19 pandemic-related supplemental funding to invest in quality improvement and sustainability strategies
  • Sustain adaptations that programs have used to respond to young people’s needs amid the COVID-19 pandemic (e.g., support for emotional well-being, family and community engagement)

The report demonstrates that summer learning programs can be a critical strategy for improving access and opportunity for students and families. Overall, district leaders are striving to provide meaningful summer programs and recognize summer as an important time to reinforce and extend school year learning while offering unique enrichment opportunities.