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    A sneak preview of the next edition of THE READ-ALOUD HANDBOOK in 2001

    Updated: 1/30/00
    Research, trends, essays spacer
    'It's the climate, stupid!'
    T here is a strange phenomenon that whenever students' scores drop, it is echoed by an outcry for school and teacher reform and higher standards. Yet there is no similar outburst when the scores are posted for the Winter
    Olympics and the African, Middle-Eastern, and South American teams finish out of the money—EVERY time! Yet no one bats an eye in those countries.
       Of course, we all understand the Olympic situation: Countries like Norway, Canada, Austria, Russia, and the U.S. dominate the Winter games because their youngsters grow up with continual access to the "climate" of winter sports—ice and snow. Conversely, athletes residing where they never or seldom have ice or snow will seldom have the skating or skiing skills to win. How much of a chance do you think the Israeli luge team has against Sweden's?
       Simply put, it's the "climate."
       How long will it take us to apply that same rationale to children's school scores instead of Olympic scores? The child growing up in an environment brimming with books, magazines, and newspapers, seeing and hearing a parent read, owning a library card—that child will have far higher scores than will the child raised in a print vacuum. There's nothing wrong with the Israeli Olympic team that 30 blizzards a year for 30 years wouldn't cure!
    chart chart-2
    Los Angeles skyline
       When the next edition of The Read-Aloud Handbook appears (2000) it will contain the results of a study1 by University of Southern California researchers (led by Prof. Stephen Krashen) that examined the print climate in the homes and classrooms of three California communities, one with high scores and two with low. (See image chart above.) The study was initiated in 1996 just after California tied for last place with Louisiana in the NAEP reading assessment and the state board of education pronounced that lack of phonics instruction was the nemesis. The California legislature quickly found nearly $200 million in additional textbook funding, stipulating the texts and training had to support phonics. Meanwhile, districts' like Compton had book ratios of only three books to every one pupil (versus the national average of 18:1. (See Compton's school libraries.)
       Krashen and his colleagues studied three California communities, one with high reading scores, Beverly Hills (where more than 90 percent of its high school students go on to college), and Watts and Compton, where few go on to college and reading scores are low. (In 1999, Compton's state-appointed administrator reported that barely one in ten students performs at grade level.) The researchers took a book inventory within each community and produced the results shown above.
       As the research shows, low reading scores have nothing to do with race and little to do with phonics, but much to do with the "print climate." Readers raise readers because they do the raising in an environment that nurtures it, in the same way that fierce winters produce better winter athletes. The child raised in a "rain-forest" of print consistently outscores the child raised in a print "desert."
       With this research in mind, let's look even closer at the state with the lowest reading scores and the largest prison population in the U.S. (California) and see how much money it spends in taking care of its children's "print climate." 2
    1 librarian to every
    903 students
    1 librarian to every
    6,248 students
    1 librarian to every
    815 inmates

    Annual School Library Book Expenditures

    Elem. Middle High
    NAT'L AVE. $15.44 $15.50 $19.22
    CALIF. AVE. $8.48 $7.48 $8.21

       One factor that gives pause to the legislators is the cost of books. Granted, they are expensive, far more expensive than "phonics." But with prison costs and construction now at an all-time high, taxpayers must decide:
    • Do we pay now to create a print-rich classroom for these children coming from print-poor homes?
    • Do we pay later to house those coming from print-poor homes when they are sentenced to prison?
       For what it costs to house an inmate ($27,500 annually), it is far cheaper to create print-rich schools. When children come from food-poor homes, we create food programs in school to fill that gap. That is both the humane and intelligent thing to do. They learn better on full stomachs. So, too, when children come from print-poor homes, we should be motivated to create print-rich schools. The research shows they learn better with a full head, as well as a full stomach.
    Los Angeles Unified: a 'print desert'
       Lindbergh Middle School in Long Beach (an inner-city school described on the next page) at least has the advantage of a funded librarian. A few miles away in Los Angeles Unified School District (where the per pupil book ratio is 1:6 (national average is 1:18), librarians are not funded for elementary schools.
       Like many urban centers across the nation in 1999, Los Angeles Unified suddenly faced new state mandates to end social promotion. So Los Angeles calculated how many of its present elementary and middle school students would fail the Stanford 9 exam: 60 percent, or more than 160,000 students. Squeezing that many students into summer school classrooms if many of those building were occupied for year-round schools—that posed a serious problem.
       The district immediately prescribed a solution that called for $140 million in remediation programs that included intensive phonics instruction during and after school, as well as Saturday mornings, along with writing the alphabet for 20 minutes a day. The fact these students would have little or no print on which they could apply their phonemic awareness—that wasn't addressed.
       By January 2000, the vision of this summer school nightmare was enough to force the LAUSD to scale back its ambitious rentention policy, choosing to retain only those second- and eighth-graders who failed to achieve at least a "D" in reading. This would result in 10,000 students being retained. To avoid putting strain on already over-crowded schools, these retainees would attend classes set up in less crowded area hospitals.
       Los Angeles is but one of a host of urban centers predicting apocolyptic test scores. New York City is on record with a 362,000 prediction, and New Orleans estimates 80 percent of its students will fail this coming year. Expecting children living in a "print desert" to become competent readers by simply drill and skill, repeatedly teaching the sounds and letters, is the equivalent of expecting children in Israel to become competent skiers with only instruction booklets but no snow.

    * * * * * *

       A brilliant examination of this issue of reading scores and the print-climate or environment can be found in The Literacy Crisis: False Claims, Real Solutions, by Jeff McQuillan (Heinemann Books, 1998). It is further explored in a study out of Colorado State and the Colorado Department of Education: The Impact of School Library Media Centers on Academic Achievement, by Keith Curry Lance, Lynda Welborn, and Christine Hamilton-Pennell (Hi Willow Research, Castle Rock, CO 1993). Also see Stephen Krashen's careful documentation of these issues in "Bridging Inequity with Books," Educational Leadership, December, 1997.

      1. Smith, C., Constantino, R., and Krashen, S. 1997. "Differences in print environment for children in Beverly Hills, Compton, and Watts". EMERGENCY LIBRARIAN 24, 4:8-9. Also: Krashen, Stephen. "Bridging Inequity with Books," Educational Leadership," December 1997/January 1998.
      2. THE LITERACY CRISIS: FALSE CLAIMS, REAL SOLUTIONS, by Jeff McQuillan, Heinemann Books 1998.
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