ReadathonLogo.jpgToday’s program focused on a DC-based literacy initiative, being launched by DC Reading Revolution on May 21. May 21 is also the American Library Association’s National Readathon, a celebration of reading and a call to reflect on the role of libraries, cosponsored by Random House/Penguin Books. In conjunction with the event, donors are asked to support the ALA’s “Every Child Ready to Read” initiative, promoting early literacy development. Be sure to consult the “We Need Diverse Books” campaign for any reading promotion to ensure diverse authors and stories.

Libraries, Summer Slide and Income

Especially as the school year winds to a close, public libraries become essential lifelines for many children. Many libraries present one of the few safe and air-conditioned locations for youth in summertime, and some provide meals as well. In addition, the ALA works with communities around the country to help mitigate what has become known as the summer slide, a learning loss associated with school-less months, particularly for low-income students.

In recent years, the ALA has worked hard to disseminate information about the enormous gap that develops over the summer – with lower income students losing two or three months of learning in the vacation months, while middle class students remain level or progress slightly and wealthy students move ahead by several months over the summer. The association encourages libraries to re-examine their summer reading programs and develop efforts that meet students and families where they are – which may not always be in the library. See, e.g., this article on Increased Impact for summer reading programs. One research-supported idea is giving away books.

Research from back in 2001 noted that middle-class kids have 10 places to buy books in neighborhoods for every one place located in a low-income neighborhood (Neuman & Celano. “Access to print in low-income and middle-income communities: An ecological study of four neighborhoods”AccessToPrint PDF). With the closing of so many bookstores – both larger stores and smaller independents – in the intervening years, the situation has only worsened for all, with low income families hardest hit.

Here in DC, for example…

Back in 2001, the area east of the river had a Christian bookstore and chain stores, offered Metro-accessible stores west of the river that made room for readers of all ages, paying customers and not. In the intervening years, the religious bookstore closed, Borders went bankrupt, and the city lost three prominent chain bookstores. There is a lovely reading space in the relatively new Anacostia Arts Center, around the corner from We Act Radio studios, and several other enterprises carry a few books. But, overall, books are not the most common commodity in this area.

Studies show that lower-income neighborhood schools also have poorer-resourced libraries – and many charter schools have no library at all. Moreover, summer lending policies were found to be stricter or non-existent at poorer libraries. While this is perhaps unsurprising in places with limited resources, it has the effect of reducing book accessibility at a time it is most needed. (See, e.g., Campaign for Grade-Level Reading.)

2013 research found that self-selected reading over the summer produced as much or more reading growth as attending summer school. (See “Rich-Poor.” ) Moreover, for the lowest-income children, the effect of summer book distribution was twice as large as attending summer school. This leads at least one educator to proclaim: ‘Empty out your school library before the final day of school.’ The same research suggests that book loss is usually not as substantial as some fear.

Summer Slide: Implications for “Achievement Gap”

CiiaTAlUoAA-RBbA future report will look at the other consequences of this research showing the differential effect of out-of-school time on reading scores: If lower-income students without easy access to books and museums and safe places to explore and celebrate language enter school at kindergarten behind their wealthier age-mates and then lose months of learning every year over the summer, why are we still focusing on that supposed “achievement gap” in test scores and blaming teachers, schools, and students for it?

Clear 2-minute explication, just FYI

The Education Town Hall broadcasts from Historic Anacostia
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The Education Town Hall BUS is a monthly program
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The program regularly airs on the 4th Thursday of each month.