By | Categories blog | Educators | Parents | Results | June 12, 2020

Dear Educators, Parents and Partners,

Racial injustice has plagued our country for centuries, and despite progress in many sectors, people of color are still overwhelmingly likely to be subject to tragic police brutality and fatal incidents. The sad incidents of the past few weeks, exacerbated by those who fan the fires of hatred and racial inequities will leave another layer of scars on all our children.

Black and Brown people in our nation are far more likely to be infected and die from the novel Corona Pandemic. The massive layoffs drag down a high percentage of Black and Brown families already struggling behind white neighbors.

The extended school shutdowns will leave children of color even further behind their peers, and more likely to be home without adequate supervision; much less access to high speed internet and full screen devices essential to leaning during this unprecedented crisis. These same children live in the scrublands of book deserts during the best of times. With summer schools and community programs cancelled or curtailed; the inequities grow starker every day.

The indisputable fact is that bias and systemic oppression of marginalized communities are deeply intertwined with many aspects of our culture and society. This is just one more form of intolerable racism that we all must work to recognize and overcome

We at Kids Read Now believe it is critical for the future of our country that we collectively and proactively engage in the difficult conversations to define equity and take action to create a more equitable system.

When I was younger, belligerent neighbors vandalized our home and a week later I was screaming in terror in the Audubon ballroom when Malcolm X was assassinated. A few years later, I was tear gassed in Washington at a peaceful demonstration that turned ugly with aggressive police presence. Sadly, this year feels like the 1960’s all over again.

We can, we will, we MUST do better.

Speaking up for the oppressed, working for justice, helping the disadvantaged is what we all need to do. Today more than ever.

Mailing 350,000 books to families over this extended summer is one way we strive for equitable home-learning, and assuring we deliver books to boost literacy, delivered to homes, overcoming the Covid quarantine measures.

We appreciate that our community of partners, educators and parents are committed to making a real difference.

My hope is that, together, we can help, in the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., “bend the arc of history toward justice.”

Looking forward,


By | Categories Educators | October 20, 2018

Much of our current educational system maintains the late 19th- and early 20th-century methods that build it. At that time, students learned the basics, preparing them for urban life which translated into a job in a factory. The industrial model became more efficient by standardization, which then emerged in the schools. Better students became better workers and citizens. This common goal meant that all students were taught the same thing in the same way.

Today we are faced with a new revolution, one where massive amounts of data are becoming the key feature. This flood of data is improving the industry in ways that the people of the early 20th century could not dream. It is leading to the personalization of many sectors, with Netflix and Amazon being two significant examples. Both of these platforms utilize data from the people using them to customize their experiences. Such data collection now affects every aspect of life in the 21st century, including education.

With computers being used more and more frequently in the classroom, it is becoming more feasible to gather data about how students learn best. This data comes from both the programs the students are interacting with and the observations of teachers in the classroom. Many educational management systems, like Google Classroom and Blackboard, allow teachers to see how often students communicate. Other programs adapt to what students are learning, and how fast they are learning the subject matter.

These technologies provide data that educators can use. This data can be recorded, stored, and used by teachers in future classes to develop plans that adapt to student learning needs. Not only can they adapt to the pace, but they can also adapt to topics that students find more engaging. On a larger scale, districts can use this information to see what curriculum is effective, and what is not. This can help them keep what the students are learning more relevant, and therefore keep them more engaged.

On a larger scale, data collection improves when students learn. There is an experiment going on in California right now that pushes the edges of how data can impact student learning. Information gathers via through Fitbits, cameras, and a variety of other tracking mechanisms and uploaded to a cloud. There, engineers access the data, analyze it, and report it back to the school. Should we teach math before or after lunch? How can we address the restlessness in class that happens at 10 AM every day? These are questions they are trying to solve to see if they can create the ultimate in customization of the educational experience.

Gathering information plays a big part in the Kids Read Now program. The data we collect helps districts see who is participating during the summer, what they are reading, and how that reading affects their test scores. What we have provided shows the impact of our program over time on students and on their ability to read.

The amount of data in a classroom is vast. Utilizing data to improve educational outcomes is being explored at the dawn of the 21st century. Much like industry affected the 20th-century class, data and customization are impacting education in the 21st century. Not only will the collection and customization of data improve state and federal educational metrics, these processes also will optimize the learning experiences for students. The information is all there, just waiting for schools to use.


By | Categories Educators | Funding | October 5, 2018

Educators can be incredibly creative when it comes to learning activities. The ideas that flow from passionate teachers can have some significant impacts on education. The KIPP program is one of those ideas, as is 826 National out of California. The Freedom Writers Foundation is another group that developed from one teacher’s desire to make her students better readers and writers. Other than driven by passionate educators, these programs have one other thing in common – their initial funding came from the teachers themselves.

It may be shocking for some to hear this, but it is not uncommon. In a recent study, it was discovered that over 94% of teachers dip into their own funds for school supplies. Schools have been hit hard in recent years by budget cuts, making it even more difficult for school districts to fund programs to help students. Fortunately other sources exist, offered by government entities and non-profits.

Grants are available to help schools fill the gaps in their budgets, allowing them to maintain existing programs or establish new ones. They are widely available to fund an array of programs, but they are not easy to obtain. As money dries up from state and federal governments, there is more and more competition for grants. With competition being as high as it is, there are a few things you should consider:

 

Winning grants is something that will take time and energy to achieve. It takes practice to write grants and a certain level of skill to win them know. But they are worth looking into as a way to bring programs to the school that will help your students. They can jumpstart a program that can improve the education of students through the district. Teachers spend a great deal of their own time and money helping students. By bringing more grant money into the school district, these efforts can be amplified into a lasting piece of your educational endeavors.


By | Categories Educators | Parental Engagement | September 6, 2018

The beginning of the school year is a busy time. There is work to be done, from getting the classroom and lessons ready to welcome in the new students. Though the first few weeks are hectic, reaching out to parents is an act that can have a major impact during the school year. Parents can provide insights into the best ways to reach certain students in the class. They have the ability to extend your lessons, showing students the work done in the classroom has applications in other places. Parents are also going to be the ones that have the most investment in their children’s success!

Building relationships with parents does not have to require an enormous time commitment. There are small actions that can be done at the beginning of the school year to start building your rapport with them:

Parents are excellent partners when it comes to providing extra help to students. They invest in their children’s success, providing the ability to reinforce the lessons you give in the classroom at home.

Opening lines of communication and developing partnerships with parents benefit teachers for the school year. However, they benefit the students through their educational careers. Building such relationships is worth the investment.

 


By | Categories Educators | July 27, 2018

Richard L. Allington is a professor of education at the University of Tennessee and has served as the president of the International Reading Association, president of the National Reading Conference, and as a member of the International Reading Association Board of Directors. He is also a director of Kids Read Now. Anne McGill-Franzen is a professor and director of the Reading Center at the University of Tennessee.

The reading achievement of American elementary school students has been slowly but steadily rising for at least the past half-century. Virtually all children have benefited, but those who have benefited the least are children from low-income families—poor children.

The reading achievement gap between kids from families in the 10th and 90th percentiles of income widened from .90 to 1.25 standard deviations, an increase of 40 percent. At the same time, the reading achievement gap between black and white kids shrank from close to 1.25 to less than .75 standard deviations. American schools have been doing a better job of developing the reading proficiencies of minority children, thus narrowing the minority/majority reading-achievement gap while at the same time losing ground as poor children compared to wealthy children do even worse today than they did in 1970.

The rich/poor reading gap and summer reading loss

It’s tempting to explain away the reading gap between rich and poor children as simply a function of inadequate schools, but the problem is more complex than that. Barbara Heyns documented the rich/poor reading achievement gap in the Atlanta public schools nearly forty years ago. She reported that academic growth during the school year was roughly comparable for both groups of children. The big difference was that children from middle-class families generally gained more reading proficiency during the summer than children from low-income families. In fact, children from low-income families actually lost reading proficiency during the summer months. It was during the summer months that poor students lagged behind their financially- advantaged peers.

A 2007 study by researchers from Johns Hopkins University reached a similar conclusion. The researchers there found that the cumulative gains across the elementary school years in reading comprehension, as measured on the Reading Comprehension subtest of the California Achievement Test (CAT-R), was 191 points for children from low-income families and a very similar 187-point gain for children who were financially better off. Indeed, the poor kids actually gained more reading growth in the elementary school years than did their financially-better-off peers. The researchers noted that, “Such parity hardly accords with popular (and some professional) depictions of poor children’s schooling …” In other words, the identification of failing schools as the root cause of poor reading skills among low-income children, based on student reading achievement, is fundamentally wrong. The schools attended by most children from low-income families produce just as much growth in reading achievement each year, as do those award-winning suburban schools. These results mirror the achievement patterns reported by others.

The researchers go on to note that, “Poor children in Baltimore may be progressing in parallel with better-off children during the school year, but that does not mean they are performing at the same level at year’s end. To the contrary, at the end of elementary school they lag far behind, which we attribute to two sources: They start school already behind, a deficit that their good school-year gains do not erase; and during the summer, when they are cut off from the school’s resources, they lose ground relative to higher-SES children.”

So what was it about summer that caused such different outcomes? During those months of vacation, children were not attending school and had to rely on family and community resources in developing reading proficiencies. But as studies have shown, low-income families own few books and live in neighborhoods where few books are available. Worse, children from poor families also attend schools where the supply of books is both smaller and older. Since it is primarily poor children who experience summer reading setback or summer reading loss, it’s reasonable to ask if this summer reading setback results from the limited access that poor children have to books. That is, if you own few books, and if your neighborhood does not have a public library or a bookstore, one might ask: Where will poor kids locate books they might read during the summer months?

A strategy for eliminating summer reading loss

Our study was designed to ease poor children’s summer access to books by providing them with books they voluntarily selected. The children were completing first or second grade in the initial year of this study, and we provided book fairs for three consecutive summers. Three years later, at the end of third or fourth grade, we compared the reading achievement of both groups, using the scores from the state-mandated FCAT assessment, and found that the Books children scored almost a year higher in reading proficiency than the control-group children who had not received any summer books.

Our summer books intervention cost roughly $50 per child per year, well below the cost of providing a summer school program for these children, yet we eliminated summer reading loss! While this did not catch these children up to grade-level reading achievement, it did make the rich/poor gap substantially smaller.

The students in our 2010 study were primarily poor, urban, African-American children. We are currently replicating our earlier study with primarily rural, poor, white children from East Tennessee. The goal of this replication is to see whether we can obtain the same positive effects on reading achievement with a group of children who differ both racially and geographically. The Coalition for Evidence-Based Education Policies gave our earlier study a “near top-tier” rating and indicated that a successful replication with other poor children would move our summer books distribution program to the Top Tier rating, an endorsement that should result in an expansion of summer books programs in high-poverty communities.

Our work is the only longitudinal summer research that has been done with poor children. Others have reported on single-year free summer book studies and also have found positive effects on the reading achievement of poor children. Thus, it is our expectation that our current study will also l find positive effects on reading achievement.

Excerpted from Reading for Life, published by Kids Read Now. Copyright © 2017 by each contributing author. All rights reserved. Posted with permission of the publisher. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.


By | Categories Educators | July 16, 2018

Finland has long been one of the top countries in the world regarding reading scores. The last time that the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) released its Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) scores, Finland was ranked fourth in the world. The Finnish school system has always enjoyed a place at the top of these measurements of academic prowess.

But to what do the Finns attribute their fantastic literacy abilities? What are they doing that builds such strong readers?

They are watching television.

The Finns do not make most of their programs. A family sitting down to watch a show are more likely to be reading captions as they watch foreign programs. This study was one of the first ones done by researchers on how closed captioning can affect readers.

The results they found were surprising. Reading the captions with videos improves many aspects of understanding language, from better vocabulary to increased reading comprehension. Captioning foreign programs made reading a requirement to enjoy them, not an option.

Researchers found similar results during a study in India. As an experiment to help raise the literacy rate in that country, the government added subtitles to popular Bollywood films. Researchers came up with the phrase “what fires together, wires together.”

They discovered that, as the adults and children watched the films and sang, they picked up necessary literacy words and concepts. The combination of visual and audio cues motivated to learn the words. This method helped to build essential vocabulary and gave some boost to overall reading levels, but it is not a cure-all for illiteracy.

Understanding the power of combining visual and audio is in its infancy, but the applications for it have piqued the curiosity of literacy advocates all over the world. The internet allows people to broadcast video to anywhere there is a connection.

This means even people in rural areas of the world see and experience these videos, as well as specific populations who are forbidden from being educated. Providing these populations with internet access can be a way to give them an opportunity for an education they may not otherwise have.

A major advantage of closed captioning when it comes to reading and language comprehension is how natural it is. Sitting for a student, whether they are six or sixty, can be a difficult task.

Students are at a table with a book of symbols they do not yet grasp, struggling to make sense of them. Presenting that same information in a video, studies find, lowers the barriers to learning. It also lowers the resistance to learn.

Students now get to watch a video, not sift through a book. They can see and hear what is going on while reading the words and associating them with the images. Any words they do not understand they can stop, write them down, and then look them up, or they can rewind the video and rewatch it.

Students see the words used in context, giving them a better sense of how they fit into their vocabulary. Teachers can use videos that focus on specific topics, like colors or farms or the kitchen, to take more in-depth looks into what words relate to those spaces.

Closed captioning is an underutilized tool when it comes to educating young readers. It is entertaining, and they grasp it intuitively.

The resources that teachers have at their disposal are vast. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) requires all video media in the country to be closed captioned and synced to the visuals.

Any educational video shown in class can have the captioning turned on to help students who struggle to read. Using captioning will help you build young, eager readers.

For more information on using closed captioning to improve literacy, please visit caption.cool.


By | Categories Educators | June 25, 2018

The school year is over. The paperwork is complete, grades are processed and submitted, and your classroom is clean and ready for next year. Time for a well-deserved break!

Spending long hours in the classroom grading and carrying out all of the extra activities that are part of a teacher’s daily routine can make the school year a challenge. There are times to take breaks during the year, but summer offers the unique opportunity to unwind. Summer offers a chance to take care of yourself. Spend some time on hobbies and interests that were neglected during the school year.

There are roughly two months from the time the final grades are turned in to the time you come back to the classroom to start planning for the new school year and to get your classroom ready. There is a strong temptation to spend time getting ahead in planning and assignments, but resist that urge!

Spend time during the summer preparing in a different way: relaxing!

 

We know that teachers are hard workers and committed to the success of their students. But even high-performance machinery needs some downtime for recharging and repairing. Take this time to have some adventures and prepare for the new year. Your students will appreciate the energy and new ideas you will bring back to the classroom.


By | Categories Educators | June 13, 2018

The summer slide is starting this week for most Ohio students.

But it’s not the slippery steel slope kids enjoy on the playground. It’s the downward slide of skills, especially reading skills, that affects all children when they stop learning.

They start sliding backward. Children can lose two to three months in reading skills over the summer. The drop is especially pernicious for  kids in K-3 grades who must learn to read so they are better prepared in fourth grade to read to learn.

The longer summer lasts, the more most children slide, and disadvantaged children are sentenced to the steepest downward slope, lacking the adult-led interactions and nontraditional, but effective learning opportunities that their well-off peers experience.

These opportunities include frequent reading with a parent, weekly trips to libraries, and the availability of dozens or hundreds of books in the home.

Thanks in large part to the summer slide, fewer than 40% of Ohio fourth graders are proficient in reading.

Sadly, the Ohio state legislature will soon debate a new bill designed to make the problem worse.

Introduced by a senator from Lorain County, the bill will greatly benefit Cedar Point and Kings Island amusement parks, which are dependent upon high school students for summer help. The bill will allow students still in high school to extend their availability to work beyond the end of summer. This will allow families to continue spending money at the parks into September.

Setting up the milk bottles at the arcade or hawking cotton candy might be a good summer gig. However, the ramifications of extending a student’s availability to work such a job — and extending the summer break which causes students to fall further behind in learning — may result in this being the only “career” that student can aspire to.

The introduction of this bill would only make the summer slide more closely resemble the steep drops at the Cedar Point roller coasters.

P.S. I’m visiting Germany and Austria this week, where reading skills are much higher. And summer break is only six weeks long.


By | Categories Educators | April 30, 2018

Anna Quindlen is a novelist and journalist whose work has appeared on fiction, nonfiction, and self-help bestseller lists. She is the author of eight novels and several nonfiction books. While a columnist at the New York Times, she won the Pulitzer Prize. How Reading Changed My Life, from which this selection is excerpted, explores the importance of books in her life and their vital role in society.

There was always in me, even when I was very small, the sense that I ought to be somewhere else. And wander I did, although, in my everyday life, I had nowhere to go and no imaginable reason on earth why I should want to leave. The buses took to the interstate without me; the trains sped by. So I wandered the world through books.

I went to Victorian England in the pages of Middlemarch and A Little Princess, and to Saint Petersburg before the fall of the tsar with Anna Karenina. I went to Tara, and Manderley, and Thornfield Hall, all those great houses, with their high ceilings and high drama as I read Gone with the Wind, Rebecca and Jane Eyre.

When I was in eighth grade I took a scholarship test for a convent school and the essay question began with a quotation: “It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to, than I have ever known.” Later, over a stiff and awkward lunch of tuna-fish salad, some of the other girls at my table were perplexed by the source of the quotation and what it meant, and I was certain, at that moment, weeks before my parents got the letter from the nuns, that the scholarship was mine. How many times had I gone up the steps to the guillotine with Sydney Carton as he went to that far, far better rest at the end of A Tale of Two Cities?

Like so many of the other books I read, it never seemed to me like a book, but like a place I had lived in, had visited and would visit again, just as all the people in them, every blessed one—Anne of Green Gables, Heidi, Jay Gatsby, Elizabeth Bennet, Scarlett O’Hara, Dill and Scout, Miss Marple, Hercule Poirot—were more real than the real people I knew. My home was in that pleasant place outside Philadelphia, but I really lived somewhere else. I lived within the covers of books and those books were more real to me than any other thing in my life. One poem committed to memory in grade school survives in my mined. It is by Emily Dickinson: “There is no Frigate like a Book/ To take us Lands away/Nor any coursers like a Page/ Of prancing Poetry.”

Perhaps only a truly discontented child can become as seduced by books as I was. Perhaps restlessness is a necessary corollary of devoted literacy. There was a club chair in our house, a big one, with curled arms and a square ottoman; it sat in one corner of the living room, catty-corner to the fireplace, with a barrel table next to it. In my mind I am always sprawled in it, reading with my skinny, scabby legs slung over one of its arms. “It’s a beautiful day,” my mother is saying; she said that always, often, autumn, spring, even when there was a fresh snowfall. “All your friends are outside.” It was true; they always were. Sometimes I went out with them, coaxed into the street, out into the fields, down by the creek, by the lure of what I knew intuitively was normal childhood, by the promise of being what I knew instinctively was a normal child, one who lived, raucous, in the world.

I have clear memories of that sort of life, of lifting the rocks in the creek that trickled through Naylor’s Run to search for crayfish, of laying pennies on the tracks of the trolley and running to fetch them, flattened, when the trolley had passed. But at base it was never any good. The best part of me was always home, within some book that had been laid flat on the table to mark my place, its imaginary people waiting for me to return and bring them to life. That was where the real people were, the trees that moved in the wind, the still, dark waters. I won a bookmark in a spelling bee during that time with these words of Montaigne upon it in gold: “When I am reading a book, whether wise or silly, it seems to me to be alive and talking to me.” I found that bookmark not long ago, at the bottom of a box, when my father was moving.

In the years since those days in that club chair I have learned that I was not alone in this, although at the time I surely was, the only child I knew, or my parents knew, or my friends knew, who preferred reading to playing kick-the-can or ice-skating or just sitting on the curb breaking sticks and scuffing up dirt with a sneaker in summer. In books I have traveled, not only to other worlds, but into my own. I learned who I was and who I wanted to be, what I might aspire to, and what I might dare to dream about my world and myself. More powerfully and persuasively than from the “shalt nots” of the Ten Commandments, I learned the difference between good and evil, right and wrong. One of my favorite childhood books, A Wrinkle in Time, described that evil, that wrong, existing in a different dimension from our own. But I felt that I, too, existed much of the time in a different dimension from everyone else I knew. There was waking, and there was sleeping. And then there were books, a kind of parallel universe in which anything might happen and frequently did, a universe in which I might be a newcomer but was never really a stranger. My real, true world. My perfect island.

Excerpted from Reading for Life, published by Kids Read Now. Copyright © 2017 by each contributing author. All rights reserved. Posted with permission of the publisher. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.


By | Categories Challenges | Educators | January 24, 2018

It’s no secret teachers work hard during the school year, but they enjoy their time off as much as the students do.

However, even in their off time, teachers spend time getting ready for the next year, brushing up on new skills and techniques, and staying abreast of any changes made in national policy. Researchers are discovering another way for teachers to prepare for the next school year; read more children’s books.

A 2011 study authored by Burgess, Sargent, Smith, Hill, and Morrison, discovered that teachers that read children’s books had a significant advantage. They engaged in industry-recognized best practices far more often than their peers. They have a better understanding of what is popular in children’s literature. This insight provides the ability to cater their lessons to address what students might be reading outside of the classroom.

Beyond the technical help educators can provide, their understanding of children’s literature allows them to pair the right student with the right book. That can be an important spark in getting a student to read for pleasure. We wrote recently about how giving the student a choice in what book to read is important for building new readers. Guiding them to the books they are likely to enjoy helps them find stories they may not have discovered on their own. Sharing the same information with their parents brings them into the process as well.

And the best reason of all? Some of the children’s literature out there is just amazing. Brain Pickings featured seven beautiful children’s books released in 2017 recently. They are not only visually stunning, the stories they tell rival any book for adults on the shelf. Many well-known authors of adult books have also written a book or two for younger readers. They bring the same attention to craft and detail to the work.

When teachers love to read, it shows, no matter the book’s target age group. This enthusiasm for reading can be infectious, and spreading that excitement is the best way to get a student to read. Giving a student a book about a subject they love is one thing; handing it to them with some hints about what lies within the story they are about to consume takes it to another level.

The late Maurice Sendak once said “I don’t write for children. I write. And somebody says, that’s for children.” There are beautiful stories for adults to discover in children’s books. When teachers begin to find those wondrous places, they can share them with their students. They can start their journey of finding more literature that they can share with the class. Showing their passion for reading to the classroom will help it spread like wildfire. It is a lesson that has to be experienced by the class, not taught.