The drumbeat for the importance of libraries and student-selected reading cannot be beat often or loudly enough.]
Submitted to Los Angeles Times but not published
NAEP writing scores were just announced for 2002 and California did lousy. Fourth graders in 19 states did significantly better than
California's fourth graders, and no state was worse.
State Superintendent O'Connell, in a press release, said that these results "underscore the need for a much stronger statewide focus on writing." As usual, there is profound ignorance of the research. The research says that increasing writing quantity does not affect writing quality. Actual writing, when it includes planning, rereading, and revision (the "composing process"), is a wonderful way of solving problems and stimulating cognitive development. Numerous studies show, however, that the real cause of better writing style and writing mechanics is reading, especially self-selected reading, the reading children do because they want to.
The only way children can get a feel for what good writing looks like is by reading a great deal of good writing. As Frank Smith has noted:
"To learn to write for newspapers, you must read newspapers; textbooks about them will not suffice. For magazines, browse through
magazines rather than through correspondence courses on magazine writing. To write poetry, read it ..." .
For many children in California, the only source of books is the school library. California still ranks in the bottom of the US in school library quality, and the amount California spends on school libraries is disgraceful. The current budget calls for $3.44 per student. The national average in 2000 was $8.09 per student.