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Foundation to Assess Pittsburgh Summer Learning Program

A New York City-based childhood education foundation is assessing summer learning programs across the country, including one in Pittsburgh.

The Wallace Foundation, a supporter of Pittsburgh Public Schools’ Summer Dreamers Academy, hired Rand Corp., a nonprofit research group, to see if summer education programs improve student learning.

Senior Research and Evaluation Officer Ann Stone said the foundation is looking for ways students can have academic gains that last.

“This is a big bet for Wallace,” she said. “It’s a $50 million investment, and we’re making it because we think summer learning could end up being one of the most effective ways to help reduce the achievement gap.”

Life of Learning: Read more about summer learning programs in the Pittsburgh area

According to a 2011 Rand study, the loss of knowledge and educational skills during the summer months is greater for low-income students and contribute to the achievement gap between low-income and upper-income students.

The Summer Dreamers Academy hosted 2,200 students this summer, and the foundation spent $2.8 million dollars on it from 2011 to 2013.

The foundation also funds programs in Boston, Cincinnati, Dallas, Florida and Rochester.

Stone said more than 5,000 “rising” fourth graders will be tracked and followed for the next two years in this study.

In a recent report, Rand researchers made recommendations to improve summer programs including planning early in the year, hiring teachers by February to have the best educators available, using commercial curriculum as opposed to district-created syllabi and spending three to four hours a day on school work.

To cut costs, researchers suggest working with students in one location instead of several small facilities; hiring staff based on student attendance, and making all-day programs available for more than a month.

The second part of this study will be released next summer and will show summer programs’ short-term effects on a student’s progression in reading and mathematics. Later research will be reported to express the long-term results of the study.

If the study shows summer programs to be ineffective, Stone said the research will point them in the right direction moving forward.

“Depending on whatever the findings are, we’ll have a lot of information on what contributed to those results,” she said. “So, if the findings are mixed or disappointing, we’ll have good guidance on what it is that contributed to those results.”

The Erie, PA native has been a fellow in the WESA news department since May 2013. Having earned a bachelor's degree in print journalism from Duquesne University, he is now pursuing an M.A. in multi-media management. Michael describes his career aspiration as "I want to do it all in journalism."