We know from research that a student’s reading score can be better predicted by family environment than by schooling. The 2010 study “Children’s Access to Print Related Materials and Education-Related Outcomes” commissioned by Reading is Fundamental concluded that greater access to books and other print materials in the home correlated with increases in a child’s reading performance, especially among kindergarteners. This may explain some of the disparities that Peter Cookson and I found in our latest look at equity and access.
We measured learning gains by state in reading and mathematics in 2003 and 2011, based on the National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP) results for “below basic.” Generally, we found that states with high standards saw a larger percentage of students moving out of the below basic level than those states with lower standards. By far the greatest improvements were in math, but when we considered only reading, the gains (if any) were small.
So, why can’t Johnny read? One theory, proposed by Richard Rothstein is that while math and basic arithmetic is taught mostly in school, children tend to develop literacy habits at home. This could explain why children who have not received a proper foundation in reading fundamentals at an early age before they start school tend to be slower to develop their reading skills in school, or retain them when school is out of session.
What can policymakers do? Tennessee offers one model: the state has developed a free reading toolkit geared toward students in early grades. Read Tennessee comes complete with resources like video tutorials, articles, and activities that help families understand their young children’s development and help parents build speech and language skills at home. The toolkit is part of the state’s ESEA wavier, and it demonstrates how states can help boost reading achievement, even outside of the classroom. Other states should follow Tennessee’s lead, combining at-home and in-school efforts to give struggling students a shot at higher achievement in reading.
Photo Credit: Read Tennessee