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.
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.
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.
In the mid-19th century, students did not see anything like the modern summer break. The rise of the summer break in schools is a product of a shift from rural to urban living. Early cities were hot and dirty. Parents who could leave the city to the cooler countryside did. This left schools half full and sweltering. With the rise of the summer heat also came the rise of diseases. Legislators saw that something had to be done about these two systems. The rural and urban calendars were blended together, with the urban need for a vacation in the summer becoming the dominant force in the schedule.
As the transition happened, questions were asked by those that studied education: what happens to student learning in those summer months? Many opinions emerged, but it was not until the 1990s when thorough research on the topic commenced. Harris Cooper and his colleagues published a paper called The Effects of Summer Vacation on Achievement Test Scores: A Narrative and Meta-Analytic Review. This was the first paper to scientifically identify what many teachers knew — taking a break over the summer did impact child development. The paper called it the “summer setback” or, as we know it, the “summer slide.”
The researchers discovered that, of all the subjects, reading was the most vulnerable to the loss of levels. But not all students were equally as vulnerable. Upper- and middle-class students did not see the same losses that lower-class students saw. Without help, students in lower-income brackets could lose up to a full year of reading skills by the end of fourth grade. One reason that many experts felt low-income families lose more than their peers is access to resources. There are usually fewer books in the homes of lower-income families. Parents are generally working longer hours or have multiple jobs. This demand on their time makes it more difficult for them to take their children to the library or to read with them.
The problems caused by the summer slide typically manifest as students transition from third to fourth grade. Up until third grade, reading lessons are geared to teach students the mechanics of reading. When students move on to fourth grade, reading helps them learn lessons in classes like history, science, and English. If they are behind by fourth grade, there are grim statistics that become apparent:
- 1 in 10 will go to jail
- Those students are four times more likely to drop out of high school
- Only 1 in 27 will graduate from college
- A total of 86% will never earn more than minimum wage
These statistics are just the beginning of the possible outcomes for students with low literacy.
Lower-income families can stop the summer slide with a very simple solution. The number of books children have in their home is the best predictor of success as they go through school.
One reason that our program stresses children reading so many books over the summer is that it builds that home library without the student leaving home. Kids Read Now delivers self-selected books that children want to read. Even small home libraries encourage students to pick up books instead of turning on televisions or picking up digital devices.
There is a debate on whether or not to make school a year-round activity. While it would eliminate many of the issues that come from three months without school, many districts do not have the staffing or the resources to make it work. As long as we have a break for the summer, we will do all we can to ensure that no one slides back when the first bell rings in August!
There are milestones that every family looks forward to in the development of their children. The first night they sleep all night. Their first steps. The first words they speak. The first day they attend school (and the last day). Starting that awkward trek from childhood to adulthood. All of these little steps go by quickly and are indicators of children who are developing. If any of these occurrences are delayed, people become concerned. Doctors are consulted, tests are run, and there are efforts made to discover the reason development has been delayed.
Not all milestones in development are scrutinized and celebrated. There is one that normally goes by with little fanfare. It is the transition from third grade to fourth grade. This is a major step in the educational development of a student. Subjects become more involved in fourth grade, which means the texts that go with them become more complex. Students that had difficulty reading and understanding the lessons in third grade start to fall further behind. Falling behind their peers can lead to a variety of issues, from disruptive behavior to avoiding classroom activities.
Poor populations are much more at risk for this drop to occur. A report created by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, Learning to Read, Reading to Learn, indicates that over 80% of students that come from low-income areas do not read proficiently by fourth grade. Not reading at grade level by fourth grade makes them four times as likely to drop out of school, impacting their future earning potential. They are also more likely to end up incarcerated at some point in their lives, further impacting their future. Students that drop out of school cost taxpayers roughly $260,000, further straining state and local budgets.
Why not hold them back? This obvious choice would expose them to the material longer and giving them the opportunity to truly learn to read before they make the next step. However, an article by Martin West published in 2012 (Is Retaining Students in the Early Grades Self-Defeating?) shows that keeping a child back at third grade could have a worse outcome. As children get older, the effect becomes even more pronounced. This effect can be mitigated by having a summer reading program available for those that are held back, similar to the one Florida passed in 2002. It is not only a risky proposition; it is an expensive one.
Building students up during their first years of school is the most affordable option. On average, holding a student back costs a district over $10,000 per student held back. These costs include lost time to the teachers in the year students were held back and the extra year they attend school. Summer reading programs can often be supported by independent grants as well as national Title I funding. These summer programs help prevent the dreaded summer slide, especially those from lower-income homes. Summer slide can cost the school district as well.
The effects of allowing students to fall behind grade reading are far-reaching. The impacts they have on the school and school district are measurable, but the effects on the student can be devastating, perhaps even life-changing for them. As you are getting ready to celebrate that first day of school, make sure you mark their first day of fourth grade on the calendar as well. It could be another milestone with a long-term impact.
“He turned and reached behind him for the chocolate bar, then he turned back again and handed it to Charlie. Charlie grabbed it and quickly tore off the wrapper and took an enormous bite. Then he took another…and another…and oh, the joy of being able to cram large pieces of something sweet and solid into one’s mouth! The sheer blissful joy of being able to fill one’s mouth with rich solid food!
‘You look like you wanted that one, sonny,’ the shopkeeper said pleasantly.
Charlie nodded, his mouth bulging with chocolate.”
The above passage is from the beloved children’s book and movie, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl. This book has been the subject of two movies and is considered a classic of children’s literature. It is also a book that is written at a third grade reading level.
A 2010 report compiled by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, titled Early Warning! Why Reading By The End of the Third Grade Matters, lays out a grim image of what happens to a child that is not reading proficiently at that age level. In 2009, 49 percent of low income students were below “Basic” reading level when they reached fourth grade. This correlates to a 23 percent drop out rate for these students. Even raising their reading level to “proficient” lowers their odds of dropping out to just 4 percent. Lower income students are at greater risk of dropping out because of a general lack of resources, including time with parents.
The focus in education switches at that point in most schools. For the first eight years of their lives, students are learning to read. They are picking up vocabulary, context, and learning the flow of a story. Fourth grade is a pivot point where they start reading to learn. Their understanding of the written word and how it is used contributes to learning about topics like science and history. Lagging behind in the basics of reading this point accelerates the learning gap.
Bringing students to a third grade reading level is a critical mark to hit in the education of students. It is not a goal to start working on in the August they enter third grade. There are many other opportunities before then to bring them up to grade level.
The first opportunity is getting them ready for kindergarten. We know that reading at an early age provides lifelong benefits. If they are ready to read when they start kindergarten, they are already ahead of the game. They have a larger vocabulary to work with and they are already starting to put together words and context.
Encouraging them to read over the summer keeps them from the dreaded “summer slide.” Like any other skill, if you are not using it you are losing it. Students who do not read over the summer can lose up to two months of learning. They will be forced to work hard to catch up. A little bit of reading daily, even if it is at bedtime, can help prevent that loss.
Beyond being able to read wonderful books like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, proficient reading by third grade is crucial. It is a launching point on the educational path into new worlds. They are laying the groundwork, even at that young age, to get ready for college. It is important that educators and parents are making every effort to ensure their success
There is a quote attributed to Albert Einstein that claims “the strongest force in the universe is compound interest.”
No one knows when, or even if, he said it. But he would not have been wrong. There are many, many charts and articles on the internet that extol the virtues of saving early. The benefits of getting an early jump on saving is not new wisdom; even Aesop told a fable about the ants who collected food at the right time and the grasshopper that played. Investing early is a way to ensure better results in the long run.
The same goes for a child’s education. There may be just as many articles out there explaining that it is never too early to start teaching.
The first five years of a child’s life lays out the foundation for how they will learn. Vocabulary builds. Emotional understanding develops, and opinions toward many activities become established.
Reading with children, and encouraging them to read on their own, is critical at this stage in development. It shows them early on that reading is a pleasurable activity, not a burden only done when forced by a teacher.
Other rewards for starting your child reading early:
- Teaching lessons early – One of the classics in children’s picture books, The Very Hungry Caterpillar, is an amazing picture book about a caterpillar that eats its way through the book and turns into a butterfly. Beyond being visually stunning, the book teaches children a little about insects and their life cycle. This passive learning can encourage them to want to find out more about different subjects, like science and history.
- Building a vocabulary – Children do not pull words out of thin air that they want to learn. They discover new words through interactions with adults. When adults use certain words frequently, children do as well. It is not difficult to start building that vocabulary early by reading them books and answering what all the words mean. Reading those books provides a word boost to any student when they head to kindergarten on the first day.
- Improved concentration – Attention spans are important. The ability to focus on a task for long periods of time improves the student’s performance on the work. Reading for pleasure can build that attention span as the child gets drawn further and further into a story, especially if that book is read by a parent or teacher in a comfortable place. They will get lost in the world that the book creates for them.
- Developing emotional and social understanding – The heroes of stories go through trials. Those trails can be anything from turning everything you touch to chocolate to the challenges of real-life people. Those struggles can cause new emotions to emerge or allow children to learn to deal with ones they have already found. The more emotionally and socially aware students are when they get to school age, the smoother the transition to school life will be.
We can be skeptical about what Einstein said, but Warren Buffet had similar thoughts about reading: “Read 500 pages every day. That’s how knowledge works. It builds up like compound interest.”
Encouraging children to begin reading at an early age is investing in their future, as well as giving them something enjoyable to do in the present. The rewards for investing in education at an early age may not be immediately seen, but the compound effect of those extra reading years with shine through their entire life.
The problem starts slowly. Students begin to struggle with their assignments. They work hard to understand the explanation of the concept, but it is just not coming to them as easily as it comes to their neighbor. When they go home to do homework, they do not have the same support system as other students. That frustration builds as they struggle to keep up with the rest of the class. One of the most accurate predictors of this negative behavior is literacy level.
Illiteracy is a threat to the teacher’s classroom as much as it is to the student’s future. Students who struggle to read act out during class in a variety of ways. Their outbursts cover the full range of emotions, from anger and lashing out to comedic interludes to gain attention. By the time they reach third grade, they possess a basic understanding of the fact that they are behind their peers. This can lead to the negative emotions that cause them to act out during class, doing whatever they can to distract from time spent having to learn. Students that have a hard time learning become adverse to going to school and using that time productively.
Deborah Stipek and Sarah Miles at the Stanford School of Education discovered in a 2006 study that “relatively low literacy achievement in 1st grade predicted relatively high aggressive behavior in 3rd grade … [and] low literacy achievement in 3rd grade similarly predicted high aggressive behavior in 5th grade.”
The theory was that as students became more discouraged with school, they acted out more often. These issues are magnified over time, resulting in adults that are more likely to end up with lower earning potential (75% of unemployed adults have low literacy) and a higher risk of ending up incarcerated (70% of those incarcerated have low literacy rates).
Fortunately, early intervention can help students avoid these problems. Catching this shift in behavior early provides teachers, and other students, a much more conducive learning environment. Some positive information to consider:
- Children who can read at grade level by third grade are very unlikely to end up on the wrong side of the law. Those that cannot read at grade level at this critical juncture are four times less likely to graduate.
- Better social skills help improve performance in the classroom. When students are young, Miles and Stipek discovered that reading ability correlated with higher social skills. As time goes by the correlation weakens, but it is important during the years when building good reading habits matters.
- Encouraging high achievement makes better classrooms. When students are part of a class with high standards, there are fewer behavioral problems. Especially if the class provides the tools in the classroom to succeed.
The events that influence students before third-grade may cause ripples through their entire life. Helping students equate the class with a positive experience helps mitigate future problems. The less time teachers must spend dealing with unruly students, the more time they can contribute to developing all of their students into enthusiastic readers and lifelong learners.
Like developing anything important, building better students requires providing the right environment. This is an easier task when the children are in school. A school is filled with teachers, staff, and materials that serve the purpose of encouraging students to learn. Outside of the classroom, that encouragement is not always present. Those materials are not always available when they are at home. They do not need desks, whiteboards, or even computers to spend time learning at home. All they need are home libraries.
Having a library at home encourages students to spend time reading, and learning, outside of the classroom. Richard Allington, author of Summer Reading: Closing the Rich/Poor Achievement Gap, states that a handful of self-selected books could have a dramatic impact on a child’s learning over time.
In a multi-year study, he discovered that just adding 12 self-selected books to a home every summer can have the same learning impact that summer school offers. When books are convenient, it is more likely those books will be used by the students and parents. It creates a home environment that shows that reading is encouraged, especially when there are books within easy reach at all times. Helping parents build home libraries have other benefits as well:
- Continuous access to books – It can be difficult for parents, especially those in low-income families, to take their children to a local library over the summer. By developing home libraries, students have easy access to books all summer long.
- Topics of their choosing – Everyone is more likely to read books about topics that pique their interest. Teachers and parents can work together to build a home library of books that will encourage children to read not only through the summer but during the school year.
- Familiarity with the material – Children enjoy things that are familiar. They love their favorite toys and clothes. That same love of the familiar can apply to books, especially a favorite character in a series. A beloved character can expose them to new vocabulary over the course of that series, elevating their understanding of the language.
- Builds family literacy – Reading can be contagious. Once one member develops a passion for reading, it can spread to siblings and other people in the home. This has a multiplying effect of bringing more books into the home, creating a virtuous cycle of overall improved literacy for the family.
- Improved academic performance – Research shows that, even when wealth and location are taken into account, more books in the home leads to greater academic performance. Owning 500 books can add 3.2 years of educational gains over time, according to Research in Social Stratification and Mobility. Even the addition of one book can have an impact on educational gains.
Creating a friendly environment for students to read changes the environment for the whole family. Even in areas where there may not be a bookstore or community library available, home libraries offer a bridge to literacy. It extends a small part of the learning environment into every home.
A Reading Problem
Lack of parental involvement
Poor test scores
Low graduation rates
Those are the answers you get when you ask school superintendents and administrators what keeps them up at night. They’re also directly linked to poor reading performance in children at early grade levels. From Kindergarten through third grade, children learn to read; from grade four onward, they read to learn. Unfortunately, many students close their books at the end of the school year and don’t open one again until the following school year. That two to three months of inactivity comes with a cost in reading proficiency and, ultimately, learning.
Another cost to consider is that of the intervention specialists who must help struggling learners keep pace. Summer programs from camps to summer school cost from $1,500 to $3,500 per student and school budgets are tight.
[bctt tweet=”Statistics say that 77 percent of children whose parents read to them are more likely to read on their own.”]
The summer reading slide mostly affects low-income students. The Wallace Foundation notes that “the data tells a consistent story: children who might benefit the most, are least likely to participate in summer programs.” Children without access to libraries and with single parents swamped with making ends meet can quickly fall behind. By fourth grade, these students are a full year behind their reading-proficient contemporaries. By fifth grade, they are two to three years behind. This progression doesn’t stop there either. It will continue throughout students’ entire lives. Non-proficient readers are four times less likely to graduate by the time they finish third grade.
One question to ask in all this is What would it take to help these students? Leib and Barb Lurie crafted an answer: Kids Read Now, a 501(c)(3) founded in 2010 by Leib, a serial entrepreneur, and Barbara, a reading specialist and educator. Kids Read Now is a K-3, in-home summer reading program that gets kids to read, pass proficiency exams, and stops the summer reading slide. The program restores confidence in kids and boosts their achievement. It gets them wanting to read and wanting to learn all summer long. The program engages parents, and eases burdens on teachers and school staff. Kids Read Now has caught traction and is hailed as one of the best programs in the country by the Clinton Foundation and South by Southwest.
The basics of the program are pretty simple:
- Teachers help children choose nine books to read during summer break. (Children who choose their books are more likely to read those books.)
- Parents monitor their child’s progress and engage them to ensure that they understand what they are reading.
- Kids Read Now staff handles all the logistics from organizing the program to collecting and presenting data to school districts that shows each student’s improved reading performance.
Statistics say that 77 percent of children whose parents read to them are more likely to read on their own. That’s why parental involvement in Kids Read Now is essential. Because of the engagement parents must offer, the program likely would not succeed without them. Kids Read Now empowers parents to participate in their children’s reading. Parents receive a bilingual Parent Guide to explain the summer reading slide and grade-specific tips to keep kids excited about reading. The guide ensures parents know how to keep their children reading all summer long. Every book also comes with Discovery Sheets, discussion questions that keep comprehension levels up.
The results so far are excellent: Eighty-nine percent of parents in the program say their children read more, and 94 percent who have participated in the program recommend it.
Effective, Affordable, and Guaranteed
Kids Read Now is getting kids to read and helping school districts raise reading proficiency scores. That’s why Kids Read Now stands behind the following assertions:
It’s effective: Dr. Richard Stock, Executive Director at the University of Dayton Business Research Group, says students achieved “significant and substantial improvements in reading scores, especially in high poverty populations.”
It’s affordable: At about $60 per student, Kids Read Now can help 33 students at the same cost it takes to shuffle one student through a typical summer reading camp. State funding and foundation money are also available.
It’s guaranteed: Kids Read Now refunds one-third of cost if the program does not reverse the summer reading slide.
Do you need more information about this program? Over the next four weeks, Kids Read Now will be hosting a series of webinars to better explain our program, and to answer any questions you may have. We will be announcing on Facebook, Twitter, and this website the webinar schedule. Finally, with all this good news, the Kids Read Now webinar series hopes those superintendents and administrators will get some much-needed sleep.