12/20/2011 02:03 pm ET | Updated Feb 19, 2012

Summer Matters, Now

Earlier this month, California State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson and dozens of school superintendents from across California gathered to talk about summer. The roundtable of education leaders discussed and strategized around ways that school districts can expand access to quality summer-learning programs in 2012.

Why talk about summer in December?

Because, when not addressed, the devastating effects of summer learning loss are ongoing and cumulative, affecting students' performance throughout the whole of their academic career. It's essential to start planning well in advance to deliver effective summer-learning programs.

The RAND Corporation's recent report -- Making Summer Count: How Summer Programs Can Boost Children's Learning -- recommends that school districts start early when planning their summer programming so they have time to be intentional and strategic about providing the necessary academic support and engagement, and forging the most effective partnerships for successful summer learning.

California has innovatively adopted legislative policies, for example, Senate Bill 429, to support summer learning. But it's local school leaders, such as superintendents and school boards, who are on the front line when it comes to making critical choices about how to best leverage resources for summer learning.

Fortunately, a growing group of school districts and education leaders are leading the way in making summer learning a priority. They've recognized how critical summer-learning programs are to stemming summer learning loss -- especially among low-income students -- and to helping narrow the achievement gap. These local decision makers view summer learning programs as a wise educational investment.

Through creative local partnerships, school districts across California are finding innovative ways to offer full-day, 5-6 week summer programs that offer academic reinforcement as well as enrichment and camp- like activities that all children deserve in summer.

In addition to benefitting students' academic growth, these summer programs also benefit teachers. Summer programs provide excellent professional development for teachers by giving them a less formal environment than during the school year in which to build relationships with students. Summer also offers more flexibility for refining new teaching techniques and activities.

Sacramento City Unified School District Superintendent Jonathan Raymond applauds his district's summer-learning programs as an opportunity to rethink and recreate ways for students to learn and for educators to engage with them -- so much so that this approach is now helping to inform the district's approach to regular school-year programming and teaching. Moreover, these summer-learning programs have provided educators an unparalleled opportunity to build deeper and more beneficial relationships with students that then carry into the school year.

Many other school districts are realizing similar success stories. With summertime only six months away, now is the time for superintendents, educators and school board members to start planning and partnering to provide students with the kinds of enriching and educational summer-learning opportunities that all students need and deserve.