ReadBoston & Farragut Elementary Celebrate African-American Heroes

Our last blog post described Sacha Pfeiffer’s interview on WBUR with Rick Weissbourd, the founder of ReadBoston. This literacy initiative has offered exciting opportunities to students at one City Connects school, Farragut Elementary, located in the Fenway neighborhood of Boston.

Today, students at the Farragut will take part in a “Celebration of African-American Heroes.” Guest speakers from Boston hospitals will read stories to students, who are encouraged to come to school dressed as a famous African-American leader. As part of the event, students will choose a book to keep and to read at home over the school vacation.

In another event earlier this year, author Irene Smalls came to the school to read to students. Students also got to hear Boston Celtics players read at a third event through the NBA Read to Achieve program, partly sponsored by ReadBoston. The Farragut school applied to ReadBoston for a grant to help fund these activities.

“This has been a great opportunity for kids to take part in fun events that generate excitement about reading,” said Georgia Butler, the City Connects School Site Coordinator at the Farragut. “We’re glad to have this excellent partnership.”

For more information:

City Connects’ Partner ReadBoston Featured

Photo by Dawkeye/Flickr

In a recent story on elementary school students’ reading achievement, “Making Sure Mass. 3rd Graders are Strong Readers,” WBUR interviewed the founder of one of City Connects’ community partners, ReadBoston.

Rick Weissbourd, who also founded WriteBoston, commented on the reading achievement gap related to poverty: while 37% of third-graders statewide read below grade level, among children from low-income families, 57% do. Weissbourd noted that an early difference in experience with spoken language may be related to the gap; children growing up in low-income families may come to school not knowing as many words as their peers growing up in more affluent families.

Reporter Sacha Pfeiffer dug deep into the issue, asking what factors in the lives of low-income families may be affecting the difference in spoken language experience. Weissbourd’s answer reinforces a core belief of the City Connects mission: poverty creates stress. An example is the pressure of working more than one job, which limits time for conversation with children. Weissbourd also cited the low-level depression that can accompany life under the pressure of poverty.

Like ReadBoston, the City Connects intervention aims to provide supports to students and families that can help address the out-of-school factors impacting achievement. Watch our blog in the days ahead for a description of City Connects’ successful partnership with ReadBoston at one of our schools.

For more information:

Improving Mothers Literary Skills May Boost Achievement of Children

A new study funded by the National Institutes of Health reports that a mother’s reading skill is the greatest determinant of her children’s future academic success–even greater than neighborhood or family income. The authors, from the University of Michigan and UCLA, conclude that programs to boost academic achievement of children in low-income neighborhoods would be more successful if they also provide literary education to parents. Published in Demography, the study also shows that after mother’s reading level, the next determinant of a child’s academic achievement is the neighborhood income level.

“The findings indicate that programs to improve maternal literacy skills may provide an effective means to overcome the disparity in academic achievement between children in poor and affluent neighborhoods,” said Rebecca Clark, PhD, chief of the Demographic and Behavioral Sciences Branch at the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, the NIH institute that funded the study.

For more information:

  • Read the press release from the  NIH
  • Follow the NIH on Twitter @NIHforHealth (see the  NIH’s many Twitter accounts/feeds here)

Meta-analysis Shows Giving Children Books Improves Reading

In a meta-analysis of 11,000 reports and 108 studies, a new report commissioned by Reading is Fundamental concludes that children’s book lending and ownership programs lead to positive behavioral, educational, and psychological outcomes. The study, Children’s Access to Print Materials and Education-Related Outcomes,  conducted by Learning Point Associates, found that access to print materials:

  • Improves children’s reading performance: Kindergarten students showed the biggest increase in reading performance.
  • Are instrumental in helping children learn the basics of reading: Providing children with reading materials allowed them to develop basic reading skills such as letter and word identification, phonemic awareness, and completion of sentences.
  • Causes children to read more and for longer lengths of time: Giving children print materials leads them to read more frequently and for greater amounts of time.
  • Produces improved attitudes toward reading and learning: When children have greater access to books and other print materials–through either borrowing books or receiving books to own-they develop more positive attitudes toward reading and learning.

They meta-analysis also found positive relationships between access to books and motivation to and interest in reading; writing performance; language development; and academic performance in subjects other than reading after performance.

For more information:

  • Read the EdWeek Inside School Research blog coverage

5 Ways to Improve Literacy Among Massachusetts Students

A new report out of the Boston-based Strategies for Children called Turning the Page: Refocusing Massachusetts for School Success says that efforts to increase literacy and produce strong readers need to be stepped up for children birth through age 9. According to data on their website,  31% of third graders in Boston are proficient on the MCAS reading test–that’s a full 26% lower than the state average of 57%. Taking a deeper look, the study also shows that two-thirds of low-income students and one-third of students who are not poor do not read at grade level.

With third-grade reading level a critical predictor of later success, the report, written by Nonie Lesaux, PhD, of the Harvard Graduate School of Education, recommends five avenues for improvement:

  1. Reallocate funds and alter policy to ensure programs are delivered effectively and with sufficient intensity.
  2. Conduct early and ongoing assessment of children’s language and reading and of the quality of services and supports.
  3. Increase adults’ capacity to assess and support children’s language and reading development.
  4. Bring language-rich, rigorous, and engaging reading curricula into early education and care settings, as well as pre-kindergarten to third grade classrooms.
  5. Expand and strengthen work with families across learning settings and within communities.

To promote reading among Boston’s students, Read Boston, one of City Connects’ community partners, provides students with free books and creates classroom libraries in elementary schools that allow students to take books home to read with their families. What effective reading programs are in place in your community?

Boston Increases Reading Scores on Nation’s Report Card

Good news for Boston in the latest release from the National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP):

Fourth graders in Boston Public Schools had NAEP reading scores higher than the national average for public school students in large cities in 2009. Of the 11 urban districts examined, Boston was one of four that showed an increase in average reading scores. You can view more data about Boston’s fourth grade reading scores here.

NAEP also surveyed eighth graders’ reading proficiency. While they too had above average reading scores for public school students in large cities, there was no significant difference between the 2009 and 2007 results.  Eighth grade reading scores are available here.

However, urban schools still lag behind the nationwide average. Taking all of the 11 urban districts’ results into consideration, US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan issued a statement:

Today’s report shows that the reading achievement of students in our largest cities has increased over time. At the same time, the results also show that cities have significant work to do . . . In cities, towns, and rural areas across the country, we have to work together so that all children are receiving the world-class education they deserve.