Foundation to assess city schools' Summer Dreamers Academy

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As part of a $50 million investment in summer K-12 programs including one in Pittsburgh, the Wallace Foundation is taking a close look at whether those programs work.

Wallace has been one of the funders for Summer Dreamers Academy operated by Pittsburgh Public Schools.

The academy drew 2,200 students this summer. The foundation has spent a total of $2.8 million in 2011, 2012 and 2013 in Pittsburgh. It also has contributed to programs in Boston, Cincinnati, Dallas, Duval County in Florida and Rochester. In addition to the district investments, Wallace also awarded grants to four nonprofit organizations that support summer learning.

Wallace has hired the Rand Corp. to study whether the summer programs improve student learning and what the best practices are in such programs.

In a report released Monday, the researchers made recommendations on how to launch summer learning programs, including planning early for summer programs, hiring teachers by February so the best teachers are available and using commercially available curriculum rather than district-created curriculum.

It also recommends spending three to four hours a day for academics.

To be cost conscious, the report recommends avoiding assigning small numbers of students to many sites, using enrichment providers to fill out the program, hiring staff based on projected attendance rather than enrollment and operating a full-day program for five to six weeks.

The studies focus on summers of 2011 and 2012. Some 5,000 students are being tracked in the studies.

One goal is to document what efforts can narrow the achievement gap between low-income and higher-income students.

Ann Stone, senior research and evaluation officer at the Wallace Foundation, said many students forget a portion of their school year learning over the summer.

However, she said, research shows the losses are greatest for low-income children, who already enter school academically behind their higher-income peers.

"We think summer learning could be one of the best ways to reduce that achievement gap," Ms. Stone said.

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Mary Niedergerger: or 412-263-1590.


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