Differences in reading activities and family involvement in summer learning beginning in first grade account for the achievement gap that give children from high socio-economic status an advantage over children from low socio-economic backgrounds. The best way to address the achievement gap is to provide disadvantaged children with rich and engaging educational programs during the summer months.
But by using readily available data about reading scores, children’s services in public libraries, and adult educational attainment, this analysis supports the widespread belief that the efforts of public libraries to promote early literacy pays off in terms of higher reading scores during elementary school. There is a positive and statistically significant relationship between children’s services in public libraries and early reading success at school.
Library summer reading programs have a major impact on student reading levels, ability, and enjoyment. An evaluation of summer reading programs in Los Angeles found that participating children spent more time looking at and reading books than before they joined the program. During the summer, the percent of children reading 10-14 hours a week increased by nine percentage points and the proportion of children reading 15 or more hours a week rose by 11 percentage points. Teachers contacted as part of the Los Angeles study found that the difference between students who participated in summer library programs and those who did not was readily apparent the following fall. The most dramatic difference was that participants were much more enthusiastic about reading: 55% had a high enthusiasm for reading compared to less than 40% of non-participants. Teachers also reported that participating students who were reading above grade level before the summer were more likely to maintain this reading level than peers who did not participate in the summer reading program.
Public libraries are the top source of curriculum or books for homeschooled students. In 2003, approximately 1.1 million students, or 2.2% of the K–12 student population, were being homeschooled, with 78% of homeschooled students (ages 5–17, with grade equivalent of K–12) and their parents reporting they used the public library as a source of curriculum or books.
Public libraries increase literacy levels among elementary school children through summer reading programs, which are particularly effective at addressing the achievement gap. Summer reading programs increase young people’s interest in reading by combining silent reading with opportunities for children to read out loud, listen to stories, and take part in creative activities inspired by what they’ve read. These programs have also been very effective at drawing parents into students’ reading lives, a crucial element in developing strong reading habits.
Public library summer reading programs can have a profound impact, especially on children living in poverty. On the whole, these children have a greater summer learning loss than do children from affluent families, and any gains that they had over the summer were smaller than their peers whose families had higher incomes. Twice as many fourth graders (58% versus 27%) from disadvantaged families fell below the basic level on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) than did students from more affluent families, and far fewer tested at a proficient level (13% verses 40%)
Summer Reading and the Potential Contribution of the Public Library in Improving Reading for Children of Poverty
Regular access to public libraries can make the difference between summer setback and summer success. Children who reported easy access to books read more books. Reading as few as four to five books over the summer can prevent a decline in reading achievement scores from the spring to the fall.
Of states ranking in the top half of all states on reading scores, more than four-fifths (82 percent) ranked in the top half on circulation of children’s materials per capita… Conversely, four out of five states (83 percent) in the bottom half on reading scores also rank in the bottom half on children’s circulation…
Of states ranking in the top half on reading scores, seven out of 10 (70 percent) ranked in the top half on attendance at children’s programs per capita… By contrast, seven out of 10 states (70 percent) in the bottom half on reading scores also rank in the bottom half on children’s program attendance…
Fourth grade students who read for fun every day score the highest on reading assessment tests. The three-quarters of students who reported reading for fun on their own time once a week or more performed at the high end of the Basic level (scores from 208-237 on the NAEP reading assessment test), while the 14% of students who never or hardly ever read for fun performed below the Basic level (scores below 208 on the test). Students who talked about their reading with family and friends on a weekly basis had a higher average score than students who talked about their books once a month or less. Sixty-one percent reported talking about their reading with family and friends at least weekly.