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The Book Crisis

Brace yourself for more bad news about coronavirus...

The reading achievement gap is about to get even bigger.

When school is out, upper-income families are able to support reading at home with private book collections worth hundreds or thousands of dollars.

The phrase "lower-income" might sound like we're talking about the bottom quarter or so of households by income. Unfortunately, the problem is much bigger. More than half of America's children live below the poverty line.

The viral pandemic has created a book crisis. And that should concern us greatly, because access to books is the number one determinant of educational achievement and future income.

An extensive body of research demonstrates that a book-rich environment is critical to a child’s educational achievement and future income. The “book effect” has been demonstrated in countries both rich and poor, communist and capitalist, and across diverse cultures. Sociologists Mariah Evans, Jonathan Kelley, and Joanna Sikora reviewed studies on the relationship between books and life outcomes from forty-two countries. They found that even the smallest of home book collections benefit children, and these benefits increase with the size of the collection. Growing up in a home with at least two hundred books promotes a child’s future success more powerfully than having parents with college degrees. This rigorous body of research proves what those of us who grew up with books already know. Children who read regularly for pleasure become fluent readers, take joy in learning, and perform well in school.

Books at home matter so much, because that's where kids are most of the time.

In the United States, book hunger strikes hardest during summer break. Researchers have known for more than a decade that students of all socioeconomic levels develop their reading skills similarly in school. What happens in the summer, however, produces a profound achievement gap. Students from middle- and higher-income families continue to steadily improve their reading skills, but those from lower-income families do not. “Summer vacations created a gap of about 3 months between middle- and lower-class students,” according to a meta-analysis by Harris Cooper and colleagues. Researchers such as Richard Allington, Julie Au, Doris Entwisle, Gary Evans, Stephen Krashen, Jim Lindsay, Anne McGill-Franzen, Jeff McQuillan, Fay Shin, and Nicole Whitehead have all drawn the connection between summer reading and access to books.

Teachers all over the world are scrambling to figure out how to continue to support literacy while schools are closed. The most important step is to get books to every kids. Simply providing books makes a big difference.

An experiment by Richard Allington and colleagues served to clearly demonstrate this effect. First- through fourth-graders from high-poverty schools participated in the study. Half were randomly selected to participate in a book fair, where they could choose ten books to take home for the summer. Simply receiving ten books, with no further intervention, led to greater summer reading. Over three years, reading achievement scores among this group noticeably improved compared to a matched group of students who were not given books. Modest interventions to encourage students to read their books more frequently can further strengthen the effect. No amount of urging will have an impact, however, if the child cannot get access to appropriate books.

If kids are going to #stayhome, that's where the books need to be too.

This is vitally important over the next two months. And during the summer, as we try to get kids back on track for achievement in the fall. There's also a good chance that schools won't start as normal in the fall.

So, how do we get books to students' homes --fast-- in both digital and paper formats?

That's exactly what Ending Book Hunger is all about.


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