[Susan notes: Steve Krashen\'s letters contain a lot of data--useful to other letter writers. ]
Published in USA Today
The evidence is clearly mixed on whether summer school helps
struggling students and the financial investment is substantial.
Chicago, for example, is about to spend 29 million dollars in attempt to boost test scores of 29,000 students ("Summer seen as critical to
improving US schools," July 19).
There may be an easier way. It has been firmly established that recreational reading has a powerful effect on language and literacy
development. In fact, time spent reading for pleasure has a stronger impact on increasing reading test scores than time spent on
traditional "skill-building" activities, such as vocabulary drill and reading comprehension exercises. University of Illinois researchers
concluded, in fact, that picking up vocabulary by reading is ten times as fast, in terms of words learned per minute, as vocabulary drills and exercises.
Most struggling students, however, live in environments in which little reading material is available, in school and outside of school. After studying the availability of reading materials in bookstores, school libraries, and public libraries in middle and low income neighborhoods, newly appointed Assistant Secretary of Education Susan B. Neuman concluded that " ... children in middle-income neighborhoods were likely to be deluged with a wide variety of reading materials. However, children from poor neighborhoods would have to aggressively and persistently seek them out." Previous studies have confirmed that middle class children also have more access to books in their classroom libraries and in their homes.
If families cannot afford to buy books for their children, the only possible source available is the library. Neuman found that both school and public libraries in poorer neighborhoods had clearly inferior collections, compared to libraries in middle class neighborhoods. Moreover, the public libraries in the middle class
neighborhoods were open during the evening, but the public libraries in the low income neighborhoods were not. Thus, children who have
the least access to books at home also have the least access to books in their libraries.
It may be far more efficient to use some of the summer school funding to improve collections, staffing, and hours of school and public libraries, and keep school libraries open during the summer. Making it possible for more children to read Harry Potter and the works of Judy Bloome is certainly a more efficient and inexpensive solution to improving literacy than the dreary vocabulary drills administered to unenthusiastic students described in the USA Today article. It is also a lot more pleasant for the children.
And 29 million dollars buys a lot of books.
Professor of Education
University of Southern California