With summer vacation on the horizon, teachers are updating their book lists to keep kids reading when school isn’t in session. The significant decline in reading skills many students experience over the summer is no secret, but it’s particularly damaging for children in low-income neighborhoods. Summer Reading: Closing the Rich/Poor Reading Achievement Gap, edited by Richard L. Allington and Anne McGill-Franzen (Teachers College Press and the International Reading Association, 2013), offers an in-depth look at this disparity and offers solutions that go beyond recommended reading lists.
Consider this: “summer reading loss accounts for roughly 80% of the reading achievement gap between more and less economically advantaged children” and this gap, which builds over a child’s school career, can be greater than four academic years, a staggering difference especially when considering the demands of the Common Core State Standards. Given that current strategies to raise reading achievement haven’t been successful, what does work? The research-based answer is fairly simple: increase children’s access to books and other print materials, combine access with targeted reading instruction, match text complexity to a student’s reading level (in order to keep struggling readers reading independently while building skills), and provide books and magazines that tap into kids’ interests.
While much of Summer Reading concentrates on research methods and data to build a case for the value of summer reading programs, a few chapters are written by educators that have experience with school programs designed to offset the gap. One program in rural Florida puts books into the hands of children from low-income families with weekly bookmobile visits and has evolved to include more intensive one-on-one tutoring, while a school district in Michigan combines pre-summer book giveaways with “mid-summer reading reunions” and other motivational activities that have become popular throughout the community. Data demonstrating the cost effectiveness of both programs is included. Additional options are described in another chapter which notes that public libraries have “historically organized summer reading events.” Pairing the efforts of public libraries with school initiatives is one way to maximize impact.
So, if how to get and keep kids reading over the summer isn’t a mystery, why isn’t it happening more often? Part of it has to do with allocating resources effectively, especially in neighborhoods with poorly funded schools and libraries. But it also has to do with understanding the extent of the problem and finding the will to solve it. As the editors conclude, “Will we choose to address narrowing the reading achievement gap by providing kids with books to read during the summers, or will we continue to do nothing in this regard?” Librarians know how to connect kids with books, and the summer could be the most important time to get the job done.
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