By Leib Lurie | Categories Parental Engagement | November 29, 2018

The typical image of a child reading includes a comfortable chair, plenty of light to read by, and a colorful book with a riveting tale. If you are looking for a great story for children, the New York Public Library has a list of 100 classic books for children. Or maybe you want to look at what Time Magazine selected for its top 100 children’s books. There is plenty of overlap between the two lists in terms of books. You cannot discuss the best children’s books without having Where the Wild Things Are or something by Dr. Seuss on the list. There is another factor both lists have in common.

There are very few nonfiction books on either list.

Amazing nonfiction books are available for children of all ages. However, most of them are not making it into the hands of students. According to a study performed in 2000, in the first grade only one of ten books on average is nonfiction. Those books were not removed from the shelf often; children were reading them for 3.3 minutes a day in high-income school districts. In low-income districts, that number dropped to 1.9 minutes a day.

Getting children into the habit of reading seems easier with fiction. However, nonfiction stories encourage students to learn different lessons. Most school texts, the ones they will need to succeed, are nonfiction. Preparing them to extract information while they read when they are young improves their ability to do the same with school texts down the road.

One lesson they learn from reading nonfiction is that they do not need to read books in a linear fashion. With the help of the table of contents, they can skip right to the information they need and read from there.

If they do not see it in the table of contents, they can look for information in the index. These are two ways second- and third-grade readers can start to learn how a textbook or other nonfictional tome can be used.

The most obvious benefits of nonfiction reading are the lessons children learn from reading the books! They can learn about Balto, the heroic dog that saved an Alaskan town, or about presidents like Abraham Lincoln, George Washington, and Thomas Jefferson. There may even be some focus on the curious critters we come in contact with in our everyday life! Encouraging children to read about subjects that interest them at a young age lays a strong foundation for learning about those topics in school. And such reading may lead them to find other topics and books that interest them.

As you build your home library, or looking through the library for new reading material, spend some time with nonfiction. It teaches lessons that fiction cannot, like how to search for information, and exposes them to different vocabulary words. Reading nonfiction can lay a foundation of knowledge that will help them as they go through school. It will be just as comfortable in that reading nook that they love while teaching them skills that help through college and beyond.

 


By | Categories Choices | November 7, 2018

There is no way it can be stressed enough: the benefits of having books in the home are crucial to future reading success. Think about your children’s toys. If there are toys in the house where children have access, they are going to play with them. The same holds true with books. The easier it is for children to access books, the more likely they are to read and interact with them. And the more they get used to them being around the home, the more they will ask for them.

Building your own home library can be intimidating. Books can be expensive; you cannot always be sure of what your children will like, and there is the big question – how do I afford to get all of these books? This is especially important since many studies show that low-income families benefit the most from home libraries. Such libraries give children easier access to books.

Many parents of low-income families work multiple jobs and odd hours. This makes it difficult for them to get their children to libraries or other places that may have free access to books. School libraries help, but only if students go there frequently. Having a robust library in the home means that there is access to books all of the time. All your child needs to do is grab the book he or she likes, find a comfortable spot and start reading!

What are the best strategies for building a home library? Here are a few:

A house with books in it has a long-term impact on building lifelong learners. They gain grade levels over time, improve their literacy, and are shown that books are not just for the classroom or homework. But compiling a library of books is not something that can be done overnight. With patience and a keen eye for a good deal, you can have a home library your child will be able to gravitate to when looking for a good book to read. And you will be helping to build the love of reading in a student.


By Leib Lurie | Categories Results | October 9, 2018

I was ten years old when I found myself gazing with wonder at the brass chandeliers, marble floors, carved woodwork and dozens of stern portraits gazing down on us in the ornate and imposing hearing room in the U.S. Capitol.

It was the 1960s and my mother, Ellen Lurie, was testifying before a joint committee of Congress about her work in Harlem and the South Bronx, where she was bringing to life a learning program that started in a grungy basement with a handful of kids whose parents needed lower cost daycare so they could work. Over the course of five years, the program had grown to serve 5,000 preschool children in dozens of basements and community centers in low-income neighborhoods. The team had added curriculum elements, homemaking advice, clothing drives, food banks and training for caregivers.

The surroundings might have been awe-inspiring, but my mother, who was under enormous pressure to obtain funding for this vital but unproven program, appeared unperturbed as she coolly addressed the members of Congress in her Jackie Kennedy-era finery, with a pert hat, big brooch, and tweed suit. As we left, my uncle, who had driven us down to Washington, asked my mother where she got some of the statistics she had set forth.

“I made ‘em up,” my mother replied defiantly.

My uncle, a lawyer who would soon argue (and win) a flag-burning case before the Supreme Court, was shocked. “But Ellen, you were under oath!”

She turned to him, raised her right hand, and said, “David, I swear to God, we’ve seen the results, and by the time these guys figure it out, we will have the data.”

She must have been persuasive; Congress funded that program as part of a new initiative called Head Start. And yes, over time, the data came through. Early learning matters. Over the past 55 years, Head Start has helped millions of children get a better start to education.

This was where I made lifelong friends from all backgrounds. But it was also where I learned the harsh reality of the rich/poor gap. Too many of my 5th-grade classmates could barely read, rarely spoke in class, and almost never showed any evidence of having done homework assignments. Some of them stayed home on assembly days because only one brother in the family had the mandatory white shirt and tie. Many had already given up and were drifting through school, like the debris we could see from our bus stop, floating down the horribly-polluted Hudson River.

A year later, I was in the Audubon Ballroom in Harlem listening to Malcom X decry racism and urge followers to read and learn. Although he dropped out in 8th grade when a teacher sneered at a Negro’s ambition to be a lawyer, Malcolm later preached, “My alma mater was books, a good library …. I could spend the rest of my life reading, just satisfying my curiosity.” Books and reading were his solution for escaping oppression and poverty. Then three shots rang out, silencing his voice forever. The assassinations of the tumultuous 1960s continued. I was hustled out of the building by my mother, but the images were seared forever.

I left my New York City childhood behind, but years later these memories came flooding back. In 2010, my fast-growing-but-not-yet-profitable company was in trouble. We had hired a few dozen folks for what we could then barely afford. These were hard-working, dedicated people from blue-collar families in our small Ohio town. Most had no more than a high school diploma. And they were struggling as the responsibilities and technical skills required grew exponentially.

We needed more mental horsepower. Unfortunately, college graduates were hard to find in our local labor pool. Fewer than 25 percent of the adults in our county (and generally less than 32 percent nationally) had a post-secondary degree—this in a decade in which 70 percent of all new jobs required one. Counties like ours were heading for the kinds of disastrous economic declines seen in Detroit and other rust-belt cities. Even a donation to enable a nearby college to open a campus in our county couldn’t fix the problem. Our college program paid for dozens of employees to get degrees, earn more, and bring greater value to the enterprise and their community, but we couldn’t get the funding to scale it, or develop local talent fast enough.

Despite the skills shortage, the company grew to become the nation’s largest notification service, serving 40,000 organizations, including over 7,000 schools and school districts. We reached 55 million Americans every week with voice and text messages to protect children, inform parents and engage the community. But finding qualified workers continued to be a problem. In fact, we ended up moving two Ohio offices closer to colleges, where it was easier to hire better-educated people. All of this was an indictment of the rural education outcomes in many parts of Ohio.

These three memories—my mother’s heroic efforts, the hatred of people who felt threatened, and the power of education to develop people who can drive business and community successes—drove me to dig deeper into the problem I saw: a widening achievement gap between rich and poor. I’m a terminally-aggressive problem solver and I believed there had to be a better solution.

With my wife Barb, a long-time elementary school reading and music teacher, I spent three years reviewing the literature and interviewing educators, experts, and parents to determine why poor kids and minorities couldn’t seem to get ahead. We visited a dozen cities and studied their programs and attempts to close the gap. Few were successful except for a handful of expensive programs that barely served a few hundred kids, and were similar to the college program my company funded: none could succeed across the board for a majority of children in a district.

We found that the primary culprit behind the achievement gap was the summer slide, that devastating and cumulative reading loss that many disadvantaged children slip into every summer. Their richer, whiter peers retreat to homes filled with books they can read and re-read all summer long. These wealthier children are more likely to discuss what they see, explore, and read with parents, who themselves read. They view books as portals into fantastic worlds of imagination, science, and history. They learn about different people and places, and they return to school in the fall with their skills intact, if not advanced.

The challenge was simple: Could we extend the benefits of Head Start type programs, which have served tens of millions of pre-school kids over the past five decades, into a viable, affordable, outcomes-driven program that could close the achievement gap by eliminating the summer reading slide? And could we do it for children of all colors, races, and incomes? We knew that if we succeeded, the impact could be staggering. If we could increase the number of college-educated adults, then companies could grow and thrive in our town—and in every American community. More workers would be able to support their families in dignity.

We raised a few million dollars to create Kids Read Now. We tried dozens of changes and different approaches—and kept getting better. More and more of our kids raised their reading scores over the summer. There are no magic bullets, just many small, connected steps that have led to a turnkey, in-home summer program that engages parents, excites children, and works.

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 KRN Admin | 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 Leib Lurie | Categories Parental Engagement | September 28, 2018

Homework was not always a staple of a student’s’ life. Until the 1950s, homework felt to be an unnecessary burden on school children. When they left school, it was time for chores on the farm or around the home. It was not until the Cold War, when there was a fear of falling behind the Russians, that a fresh emphasis on homework reignited. We needed to keep our educational edge.

Over the last decade, educators have been examining the wisdom of giving students hours worth of homework every night. A rule developed suggesting ten minutes of homework for every grade the student was in. So a second grader would have twenty minutes of homework, while middle school students would have over an hour of work to do when they got home. This “10-Minute Rule”, while not an exact science, is a rule of thumb that many schools and school districts have adopted.

Homework at a young age can be a critical step in turning your child into a lifelong learner, but homework amounts can cause negative results. Too much homework can be intimidating to a new learner, driving them away from school and learning. Too little and they are not stimulated enough to want to learn outside of school. The National Education Association (NEA) goes by guidelines suggested by Harris Cooper: ten to twenty minutes per night in the first grade, and an additional ten minutes per grade. This research is where the 10-Minute Rule developed.

This rule works in multiple ways. The first way is keeping a definite time for children to explore. Studies show that the further children get in their school careers, the more homework becomes a benefit to them. Before third grade, most children cannot learn outside lessons from their homework. They can do it and understand what they do, but they cannot fully apply it. As students start to read to learn, a love of reading becomes essential. Younger students, however, do most of their learning by playing and exploring the world around them. Small amounts of homework benefit students at this age, as long as it does not interfere with their exploration of the world.

Homework at a younger age puts stress on parents as well. Older students that have developed more critical thinking skills can answer the questions on their own. Younger students do not always have that ability, and may struggle with assignments. This puts some of the onus for educating them on the parents. This can add stress to the parents, especially if they have busy lives.

Younger students’ benefits from homework are much different than older students. The repetition and reinforcement of the lessons they are learning in school are the primary reasons for elementary school students’ homework. Homework for younger students is a way to allow parents to see what they are learning in school. As parents help their young children, they can look at the lessons and can reinforce them at home. The children also are starting to understand the necessity of doing schoolwork at home. This is a valuable lesson as they move through their education.

Though the pendulum of how much homework to give students will always swing, we have discovered that homework is an essential tool for students’ growth. It teaches them more than what it is on the paper. It helps them with discipline, reinforces what they are learning in school, and builds them into better learners.


By | Categories Challenges | August 16, 2018

Reading and writing are skills that go hand in hand. As children develop, they learn to speak first. Reading follows, and then the ability to write in their language. Writing is a great way to reinforce the lessons they learn from reading. They start to mimic writing the words they see, much like they mimic hearing the words they hear on a daily basis. Introducing children to writing is a task that should occur early. It can start with items as simple as crayons and some paper.

Providing the opportunity to draw at an early age is one way of encouraging writing. Much like ancient cultures drew images that morphed into letters, the pictures that young children draw are their way of communicating. Getting them to put markers and crayons to paper is a way to encourage early writing skills. When they complete their drawings, you can have them tell you stories about them. As they get older, you can teach them that writing is very similar to drawing.

This playful approach to writing can be the perfect introduction to associating letters with sounds. Children can start practicing associating letterforms with sounds and words as early as the preschool years. During that time, they begin putting sounds together with the words they hear. They are starting to understand the connection between the letters they see and the sounds or ideas they represent. Picture books emphasize this connection as well, helping children to associate the images of the words with pictures.

As they become more familiar with what letters look like, those letters may start to emerge in their drawings. The letters will be random at first. Mostly they will be working on consonants and a few vowels. Each time they write down letters spend some time talking about them. What sounds do the letters make? What words are they part of? When the letterforms start to develop, they will eventually mimic the words they see in books. This is an opportune time to continue to teach them more about the words they are seeing as they begin to write them out.

Another way that young children are encouraged to write is by seeing their parents write. Children like to repeat what their parents are doing. Before computers became such powerful communication devices, there was more writing done at kitchen tables around the country. With fewer letters and checks written, it is essential to take time out of the day to show your children that you write. This is also a chance to teach them the importance of things like thank you letters, as well as their own creative works. When children tell stories about their drawings, write them down for them. Then have them read the stories back to you. They have created their own stories to share with your help!

Developing writing is a way to reinforce what they are learning when they read. They are learning the building blocks of reading, letters, and words, while they connect what a letter looks like to how it sounds. It starts with something as simple as drawing pictures, eventually turning those pictures into full-blown stories.


By KRN Admin | 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 Leib Lurie | 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 Challenges | July 6, 2018

No longer required to be in a classroom for hours every day, students spend their summers relaxing and trying to pack all the fun in they can before fall. While they have certainly earned a break after nine months of school, taking a full summer off from learning is dangerous. It can lead to the summer slide and being a month behind their peers when classes resume. As tempting as it is to allow them to take the whole summer off, it is essential for parents to promote summer reading and learning.

Having children sit for an hour or so a day is not going to work. Too many other options beckon, from playing with friends in the neighborhood to playing video games. Integrating reading into summer activities is a fun way for them to learn while they still participate in their favorite pastimes. Parents don’t have to spend hours considering lesson plans or developing special activities. The activities children naturally gravitate to, with little extra planning, can be springboards into secret summer lessons.

Consider the following summer favorites for learning moments:

 

There are many other ideas to promote summer reading, like the 100 place challenge, coupons for the books a child reads, a summer reading bingo sheet, and others all around the web. With a little extra time, you can make what could be considered a homework assignment into a fun way to spend a summer. All it takes is imagination to have your child wanting to reach for a book instead of a game controller or remote!


By Leib Lurie | 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.