April 13, 2013
I have previously posted A Tale of Two Libraries, which discussed the wide achievement gaps between the urban poor and their middle-class peers in Philadelphia. In that case, in an attempt to "level the playing field," twenty million dollars were invested in the Philadelphia Public Library System to provide equal resources to residents of wealthy and impoverished sections of the city. The results were studied over ten years, and researchers found that academic ahievement gaps still existed. Researchers attributed these gaps to the manner in which the library branches were used by the patrons. In the impoverished area, called the "badlands" in the study, adult patrons used the technology resources in the library for job searches, continuing education efforts and other things necessary for their economic survival. Although they brought their children to the children's room of the library, they didn't have as much time to spend with their children there, much less read to them. Researchers there did observe an adult patron who attempted to read aloud to his children, but had difficulty reading aloud. In the wealthier Chestnut Hill neighborhood, "For every hour, 47 minutes is spent by an adult reading to a child. During the same time period, not one adult entered the preschool area in Lillian Marrero (the library branch in the poorer section)."
After ten years of study, researchers noted that in the young adult section of the Chestnut Hill library, 93 percent of teens were reading at their grade level, with 7 percent reading above level. In the Lillian Marero library, students read at their age level 58 percent of the time, with 42 percent of the time spent reading down. What do these statistics mean? Does parental involvement and home environment mean that much?
Last week The New York Times posted this on the impact of baby talk on later reading achievement. It is very interesting.
As a parent and teacher, I look at these studies and am at first impressed by the time involved. Even after ten years, and the investment of twenty million dollars, achievement gaps still existed in Philadelphia. Clearly, there are no quick fixes. Literacy acquisition is a multifaceted effort that takes years over the course of a child's development. As we head into two weeks of standardized testing in New York state, I am struck by the juxtoposition of the investment of money in library resources in Philadelphia, and the costs of test administration here. While I applaud the Common Core Standards for raising the bar in preparing our students to be college and career ready, I wonder if we are taking a comprehensive enough approach. Should some taxpayer money be shifted more toward resources such as libraries and technology that not all children may have access to in their own homes and neighborhoods?