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Federal Funding for 2024 Summer Programs

While breaks from school can be good, these summer months can mean losing hard-won knowledge. And the challenges presented by the coronavirus pandemic have made learning losses more apparent. That time away hits vulnerable students hardest –students of color and students from lower-income households. 

We can’t turn back time, but we can make next summer count like never before.

Innovative accelerated learning programs, paired with temporarily increased federal funding earmarked to address pandemic-related learning loss, present a one-time opportunity to rethink the learning and enrichment programs that students need for catching up to their grade level.

Emergency Federal Funding

Throughout the coronavirus pandemic, the federal government authorized over $190 billion in emergency aid for U.S. public schools across three bills: 

The educational funds included in these packages, known collectively as Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER I, II, and III), equate to approximately $3,700 per pre-K through 12 student.

ESSER I's $13.2 billion was used primarily for mitigating the risks of COVID outbreaks, implementing technology for remote learning, and facilitating students' safe return to school. This resource was available through September 2022.

Funds from ESSER II ($54.3 billion available through September 2023) and ESSER III ($122.8 billion available through September 2024) can still be used to address the pandemic's far-ranging impact on America's students: specifically learning loss and programs to combat it.

The Best Uses for ESSER III Funds

The best strategies for academic recovery include summer school, after-school, and other extended learning and enrichment programs, as well as meeting students' social and emotional needs. 

In our eBook, COVID-19 Academic Recovery: Planning and Funding Learning Acceleration, we suggest adopting programs that:

  1. Use high-quality diagnostic and formative assessments to inform and personalize instruction
  2. Implement high-quality and effective tutoring
  3. Integrate and prioritize the social, emotional, and academic needs of all students
  4. Provide students with tailored learning acceleration opportunities
  5. Support the successful transitions of students from pre-school to elementary school, elementary school to middle school, middle school to high school, and high school to postsecondary education and the workforce
  6. Use high-quality out-of-school time (OST) learning experiences to support students’ social, emotional, and academic needs

Importantly, ESSER III explicitly requires at least 20% of funds to be dedicated to learning loss. 

We can support you in making the best use of these resources for at-risk students. Starting summer 2024 program planning now is essential, because these funds provide a real chance to close persistent learning gaps, worsened by the pandemic. 

The at-risk students in your school or district need an intentional, targeted, fully-funded effort to close a long-standing learning gap that has only been exacerbated by the pandemic and its aftereffects.

High-Impact Summer Programs

"One dose of intervention will not be enough to reverse the effects of the pandemic," said Julia Pockros, the Lavinia Group's Director of Programming and Partnerships.

"The average elementary school student will take three years at minimum to return to their pre-pandemic academic trajectory, and older students, unfortunately, will take far longer."

Because this timeline far exceeds the availability of federal recovery funds, she suggests that we shift the focus of summer school programs from remediation (reviewing content that students missed during the year) to acceleration. 

Learning acceleration, as defined by the RISE Summer Learning Program, ensures all students are exposed to rich grade-level content and provided with responsive support when necessary. This approach enables teachers to utilize appropriate scaffolds and differentiation techniques in response to student data.

Jackie Taslim, the Lavinia Group's Co-President, cites positive learning acceleration results from the summer of 2022:

"Students who attended the Indy Summer Learning Labs and academic and enrichment summer school programs in Indianapolis saw double-digit proficiency point gains in literacy and math, from pre-assessment to post-assessment. 

There was consistent growth across all student subgroups, meaning the program served students equitably. The Indiana Department of Education compared this data to other summer school programs across the state. They had two critical findings. 

The first is that students who participated in the Summer Learning Labs made statistically significant growth in the end-of-year state assessments compared to students who did not participate in the program. 

The second is that this cohort of students may have statistically significant gains above pre-pandemic rates of learning, meaning above-average growth."

From this data analysis, we distilled three defining elements of a high-impact program:

  1. It closes the achievement gap for all students in all subgroups.
  2. It accelerates learning faster than pre-COVID strategies.
  3. It develops useful, transferable skills. Students gain abilities that benefit them when the new school year starts. Teachers learn effective teaching methods which they can then implement in their regular classrooms.

Professional Development Is Critical

ESSER funding provides schools and districts with a unique opportunity for investing in external resources to create a comprehensive, robust summer program. This includes professional development, a critical part of preparing teachers for those few intensive weeks of accelerated learning.

"Research has shown that the single largest impact on student outcomes is the quality of teaching," says Taslim, "and in order to improve the quality of teaching, there must be ongoing and targeted professional development. Research also shows that we need to reevaluate existing professional development learning supports and programs, and reinvent how we support effective teaching at scale."

Summer school programs can build transferable instructional skills for teachers to continue using in the new school year. 

Even though they face increasing demands on their time and abilities, a survey of 4500 teachers revealed that they want to see an increase in content-specific training, with targeted and intentional support, so that they feel more confident with their curriculum.

Professional development for summer school programs falls into two categories:

  1. Onboarding, which enables teachers to align on a shared vision for high-quality summer school instruction.
  2. Continuous professional development.

"We have found that teachers need two to three days together before the program begins to prepare their dedicated summer school curriculum," says Taslim. "Once your program begins, teachers should have the opportunity to come together weekly in peer learning communities. Research tells us that teachers rapidly improve when they have an opportunity to engage in professional development specific to their grade level and content area."

Key components of high-quality continuous professional development are:

  • Intellectual preparation: weekly meetings facilitated by an instructional coach, department chair, school leader, or outside content expert, giving teachers an opportunity to internalize and differentiate lesson plans to accommodate all students.
  • Frequent student work-study: the opportunity to evaluate student work, identify clear strengths and areas for growth, and collaborate with other educators to determine the next steps for that student.
  • Learning communities: discussion- and practice-driven environments (in-person or virtual) allowing for rigorous debate over key ideas and opportunities to collaborate on how to differentiate instruction.
  • Data-driven instruction: working with pre-assessments to identify trends within the classroom and pinpoint learning gaps; and post-assessments to determine student progress and plan responses to those remaining learning gaps in the new school year.

School leaders face a pivotal decision about 2024 summer school planning. 

Research shows that simply being in the classroom over the summer is not enough. Students and teachers need access to high-impact learning materials specific to summer learning. Teachers need support and curriculum implementation and differentiation strategies throughout the summer. 

School leaders and teachers must be data-driven in their decision-making by using pre- and post-assessments and progress monitoring tools that target learning gaps and accelerated learning. Federal resources are still available through ESSER funding, but these funds will sunset on September 30, 2024. 

The time to start planning is now!

We invite you to learn more about the Lavinia Group's work, particularly the RISE Summer Learning Program.


Featured Contributor

Julia Pockros

Julia is a dedicated educator, curriculum writer, and instructional leader with a strong commitment to advancing equitable outcomes for all students. She launched her teaching career as a 4th-grade literacy teacher in Washington D.C., where she guided her students to remarkable achievements, with 85% reaching proficiency on the PARCC exam, compared to the statewide average of 38%. Julia has continued to make a positive impact in public charter schools across New Orleans, Washington D.C., and Detroit. She holds a BA from Washington University in St. Louis, a Masters in Education Leadership from Relay Graduate School of Education, and is currently pursuing a Doctorate in Organizational Leadership at Vanderbilt University.

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