Free books end 'summer slide'

When low-income students are given books to read during the summer, they read more, a Florida study found. This summer a large-scale study in seven states will look at whether book giveaways can stem the usual “summer slide” in reading skills. USA Today’s Greg Toppo asks: “Can a $50 stack of paperback books do as much for a child’s academic fortunes as a $3,000 stint in summer school?”

Low-income students have few books at home. Walking to a public library may be dangerous. The result is a “summer slide” in academic skills that may account for 80 percent of the achievement gap by sixth grade, says Richard Allington, a reading researcher at the University of Tennessee-Knoxville.

Researchers note that low-income students lose about three months of ground each summer to middle-class peers.

“You do that across nine or 10 summers, and the next thing you know, you’ve got almost three years’ reading growth lost,” Allington says.

For three summers, students in 17 high-poverty elementary schools in Florida got 12 books on the last day of school. After three years, book recipients had “significantly higher” reading scores,  showed less of a summer slide and read more on their own than classmates who didn’t get free books, Allington and colleagues reported.

Donate your old books and your children’s old books, writes Erin O’Connor on Critical Mass. If you’re not going to read the book again, get it off the shelf and into the hands of somebody who doesn’t have books. Since writing about Downtown College Prep in Our School, I’ve been dropping off boxes of books at the school every now and then.

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  1. Richard Aubrey says:

    If this doesn’t demonstrate the importance of culture….
    Not all low-income families are entirely destitute. In fact, ratcheting up the bar in order to increase the numbers needing government programs is an old technique.
    Many years ago, my wife and I, not feeling particularly pinched, discovered our kids qualified for subsidized lunches. It was ridiculous, and we didn’t take the deal.
    Second-hand books are cheap, if you are interested in finding a second-hand book store. But those may not exist within the area familiar to the low-income family. Might require looking, which means knowing such a thing exists which means knowing something of the larger area which requires effort, and it may mean effort to get there.
    Talked to an adult-ed director who visited the homes of his students. Only reading matter they had was likely to be National Enquirer.
    Dangerous to go to the library? Could be. That’s the culture of the area.
    To be honest, the words in the report “are given” got my back up, with all the passivity that signals/encourages. Passivity is part of the reason things are as they are for some of those folks.
    No other options, though, it seems.
    Also seems as if the results are beyond cavil.
    Just so the powers-that-be aren’t paying top, retail, no-discount price for the books, and shipping into the bargain. Right.

  2. Michael E. Lopez says:

    They’re elementary school kids. They’re inherently passive — in the sense that they can’t care for themselves.

    A child growing up around cars will be better at fixing them, and a child growing up around books will be better at reading them. But young children don’t go out and make their own environments: they just grow up wherever they grow up. They are inherently passive that way, and they need to have their environments shaped by someone active in that sense.

    This may not be something that is good for the parents — but that’s not really the point, is it?

    When I was a kid my Dad, for all his other pedagogical faults, had two large boxes of disorganized books stacked in the little storage place that abutted our apartment. I’d go in there when I got bored, crawl around, and pull something out. It didn’t really matter what it was. Just having those two boxes there (the boxes were as big as I was) was, I think, a tremendous boon to my education, even if a lot of the books were really crap.

  3. Richard Aubrey says:

    Michael, I wasn’t speaking of the kids.
    Local libraries sell their culls and donations pretty cheap. Two bits for a smaller paperback, fifty cents for a larger. Buck for most hardbacks.
    Got a mint-condition copy of Prescott’s Conquest of Mexico at an antique store for a SINGLE DOLLAR.
    Problem with the program is that the kids are going to see the government giving them stuff. Their parents aren’t going to be seen making an effort.

  4. Cranberry says:

    I look forward to reading the study, once it’s published.

    “Problem with the program is that the kids are going to see the government giving them stuff.”

    Well, as they “mostly” used Title I funds to buy the books, the students who received the books are quite likely to benefit from other government programs, such as food, medical care, housing support, etc. In comparison, I don’t think that $50 of paperbacks will ruin their moral fiber.

    If the students read the books, those books will allow them to access a greater world, in which people do not rely on the government for food and shelter. It may change their perceptions of themselves. It may change their culture, as well. People have escaped from grinding poverty before. Literacy and education are powerful tools.

  5. Richard Aubrey says:

    I hope it works. Thing is, as I was saying implicitly, $50 worth of books is in the range of the possible for most low-income families.
    So, if the books are not available, it’s a matter of choice.
    For example, how many of the homes receiving the books have, say, cable television service? Large screen tv?
    Had a friend take a stove he was replacing to a home listed by Love Inc as needing one. He and some of his friends busted their knuckles getting the thing in the house while the inhabitants watched the large-screen tube and didn’t lower themselves to help. I call that a teachable moment. To consider that this household or its analog is going to get $50 worth of books because they are lower-income is annoying.
    That said, perhaps it will work.

  6. Cranberry says:

    Richard. There are always the (true) stories of children or animals who are neglected, but the adults in the household indulge in luxuries. That is infuriating, because one suspects that the help offered encourages bad habits.

    However. The $50 of books for the children often do not replace $50 of books which the parents would have bought anyways. A parent who strongly believed in literacy could make the sacrifices necessary to get to the library on a regular basis, for free, as you have pointed out.

    The $50 of free books are most valuable when they give kids access to books which they would never otherwise attain. I think we all hope that the books will help those children to become literate adults. Culture can be learned, and books are wonderful teaching materials.

  7. Richard Aubrey says:

    I think my point got lost in some of my rhetoric.
    Culture makes a big difference. In this case, we’re required to supply books to people who can afford them just as if they can’t afford them, in hopes of improving their children.
    I think that’s acceptable. But expecting children from that culture to perform as if they were from standard, middle-class US culture is nuts. Even not including “acting white”.

  8. Since when are books free? You’re confusing them with handouts.

  9. Cranberry says:

    The books are as free for the recipients as public education is free.

    I look forward to reading the study. If, however, a $50 stack of books is as effective as $3,000 of public money spent on summer school, I would much prefer to hand out a $50 stack of books.


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