Take the Summer Reading Challenge

Two Children ReadingSummer break is an exciting time for students to go on vacation, spend time with their families, and get involved in sports and enrichment activities. The summer is also a great time for students to experience new and stimulating opportunities to learn.

Often times the former overshadows the latter, but when families engage in summer reading together they are able to create new memories, meaningful conversations, shared adventures and experiences to cherish while also making an impact on their child’s learning.

Studies show that reading daily during summer break is the most important activity to prevent summer learning loss, especially for younger children. Children who have parents that read to them five to seven nights a week do exceptionally better in school and are more likely to read for fun throughout the rest of their school careers. Even if children are able to read on their own, reading as a family has a positive effect on their knowledge of social and cognitive skills.

Throughout the summer many organizations are encouraging students and their families to participate in summer reading. Here at the U.S. Department of Education we are holding Let’s Read! Let’s Move! events around Washington, D.C., to increase awareness about the critical importance of summer learning, nutrition and physical activity.

Organizations such as the National PTA have launched a Family Reading Challenge through July, Book It! Summer Reading Challenge runs through August, and the Scholastic Summer Reading Challenge launched in May. These challenges are designed to inspire families to read together. The National PTA is using social media to encourage families across the country to explain in their own voices why reading together is a fun and rewarding family activity, in the summer and throughout the school year. Scholastic is awarding the highest scoring elementary and middle schools the opportunity to meet with authors. With the Book It! challenge young readers will have the opportunity to chat and earn daily rewards.

Many other organizations have an array of summer reading resources to keep kids reading, including Reading Rockets, PBS Kids, Reading is Fundamental, and Common Sense Media, among others. Young readers have many options to choose from when it comes to reading.

Children look up to their parents and often mirror many of their habits later in life. Make reading for fun one of those habits. Take time today to head to a local library or bookstore and find an exciting book to read.

Chareese Ross is Liaison to National Organizations on the National Engagement Team at the U.S. Department of Education

Reading Recovery: i3 Grantee Has Immediate Impact on Young Readers

When young children struggle to read, they can quickly fall behind their classmates in a number of subjects. Teachers with the 27-year old Reading Recovery program work one-on-one with 1st graders to rapidly reverse that descent, developing tailored strategies that respond to individual students’ unique hurdles in processing text.

“Over the past few weeks, I have seen such a change in my students,” said Amarisa Fuentes, an Elkins Elementary teacher in Fort Worth. “They came to me knowing only a few words and now they are reading and taking risks without fear of failure.”  Thanks to Texas Woman’s University’s $3.7 million share of an Investing in Innovation (i3) grant, her school is offering the early literacy intervention program for the first time.

A child and teacher use magnetic numbers.

Magnetic letters are often used in Reading Recovery lessons as children learn how letters and words work.

Texas Woman’s University is one of 19 colleges nationwide that is benefitting from a $46 million i3 grant that ED awarded to Ohio State University in 2010 to expand teacher training for Reading Recovery with the goal of training enough teachers to help 88,700 students by the end of 2013.

Reading Recovery is a research-based intervention strategy developed in New Zealand in the 1970s that came to the U.S. through Ohio State in 1984.  As noted in its i3 Scale-up application, “Reading Recovery has gone through a 25-year period of development and validation, producing the largest impacts on student reading skills of any intervention reviewed by the What Works Clearinghouse. With its evidence of effectiveness in beginning reading intervention in all four reading domain outcomes — Alphabetics, Reading Fluency, Comprehension, and General Reading Achievement — the successful application was one of only four Scale-up grants in the initial round of i3 funding.

“We target 1st graders who are in the bottom 20% of their class for reading development and work with them daily for 12-20 weeks to bring them up to average level for their class,” said Jim Schnug, project administrator of Reading Recovery’s i3 grant at Ohio State University.

The i3 grant funds year-long professional development that even longtime teachers find “intensive.” Along with graduate coursework, the training requires future Reading Recovery educators to conduct lessons with coaches and classmates observing and providing feedback.

“It’s good to have another set of eyes and ears with you in the classroom.  It causes you to be very reflective about what you do and why you do it, and to learn new strategies,” said Eastgate Elementary School teacher Benita Smith, a 17-year veteran educator in Ohio’s Columbus City Schools who is now a Reading Recover teacher-in-training in OSU’s program.

Data bear out Reading Recovery’s success.  According to Schnug, the program has successfully enabled 75 percent of its students to reach their classmates’ average reading levels.  They then return to regular reading lessons with their peers and most maintain average or better proficiency with occasional “check-ups” from Reading Recovery.  Perhaps the most stirring proof of the program’s results come from those who know its students the best, though.

After having a tough time in kindergarten, 1st grader Jaylen Gamble “likes to show off by reading to everybody,” said Jaylen’s grandfather Dan Cunningham.

“My son is now reading everything he sees – magazines, stuff on cell phones….even the back of our bottle of bubble bath,” said Brandie Poindexter of her son, Ikiam Pass. “I’m so proud of him.”

“One parent told me he had never seen his child make so much progress in a short amount of time,” said Fuentes, in describing the impact of Reading Recovery in her class. “Tears came to his eyes as he watched his son read a book for the first time.”

With children’s self-confidence a precious and easily-lost commodity, time is a critical element of the program.

“We use the word ‘acceleration’ a lot.  We can’t waste time,” said Schnug.

–Julie Ewart and Patrick Kerr are the communications directors in ED’s Chicago and Kansas City Regional Offices

Top 5 Ways to Prevent Rusty Summer Readers

With summer vacation started or on its way, as parents or guardians, it’s important to ensure that reading remains on your child’s schedule even while school is out. Reading over the summer is important not only because it improves literacy and language skills, but also because it prevents what has become known as the “summer slide”—a regression in reading ability.

A student reads a bookStudies show that children who don’t read or who read rarely over the summer encounter a stagnation or decline in their reading skills.

With that in mind, here are five of the best ways to keep your child reading this summer:

  1. Let your child choose what they want to read – or be read to – for 30 minutes each day. Children are much more likely to engage in material that interests them rather than materials that are forced on them.
  2. Use language and reading opportunities throughout the day.  Talk often with your child and point out reading materials wherever possible:  on menus, magazines and newspapers, signs, brochures, maps, guidebooks, smartphones, ipads, etc.
  3. Make daily reading a social event. Get the whole family to join in with their own books or take turns reading the same book aloud. Include telling stories as well.
  4. Connect reading to other summer events. If you take your child to the zoo, think about reading a book about animals before and afterward. This will place your child’s reading within a larger context.
  5. Make reading a lifestyle choice. Keep books all around the house to cultivate an atmosphere of reading, and set an example by reading yourself. Children need good models of reading books, magazines, or newspapers.

Madison Killen is a student at the University of California Berkeley and an intern in ED’s Office of Communications and Outreach

Teaming Up in Philly to Promote Childhood Literacy

For the almost 8,000 students in the 14 square-mile radius of West Philadelphia, discovering the world of books isn’t easy. Many of the area’s schools lack library facilities, and, if libraries are on school grounds, they often have few books. Research tells us that early literacy can positively affect the course of a student’s educational career, and children without access to books are not only missing an essential component of a well-rounded education, but may also be restricted in imagination and creativity.

During a recent Askwith Forum at Harvard, Secretary Duncan said that he knows “what’s possible when we give young people long-term guidance, educational opportunities, and the commitment and connection of a caring adult. I know our students can be successful, regardless of their zip code and background.”

David Florig, Dianne Williams, and Mica Navarro Lopez pose in the WePAC office, which is adorned with student thank-you notes and artwork.

David Florig, Dianne Williams, and Mica Navarro Lopez pose in the WePAC office, which is adorned with student thank-you notes and artwork.

The West Philadelphia Alliance for Children (WePAC) is working to promote those education opportunities Duncan spoke of by revitalizing Philadelphia school libraries, facilitating academic mentoring, and sponsoring after-school enrichment activities. WePAC volunteers, who not only staff libraries but also run newspaper clubs for students in the 5th through 7th grades, donated more than 6,600 hours of time in schools during the 2010-2011 school year. These volunteers involve students in conducting interviews and writing both creative and informative articles. In this way, WePAC promotes childhood literacy and also a love of language through writing.

In recent months, staff at the U.S. Departments of Education and Housing and Urban Development teamed up to donate nearly 400 books to support WePAC’s contributions to the Philadelphia community.

“HUD seeks to use housing as a platform to improve the quality of life for communities by addressing the issues of education, health care, and transportation systems,” said HUD Regional Administrator Jane C.W. Vincent. “So, providing books to WePAC in partnership with ED is just one of many ways we can collaborate to improve the quality of education in communities throughout Philadelphia and the region.”

Since its inception in 2003, WePAC has opened 11 libraries. The organization’s 12th library, at Edward Heston School, will open in February. Heston, like other schools in which WePAC works, predominantly serves African-American students from economically disadvantaged backgrounds. In this way, WePAC has helped to realize Secretary Duncan’s challenge to remove the barriers of zip code and background.

In less than 10 years, the organization has donated over 25,000 books, circulated more than 2,500 books per month, and reached over 3,000 students. David Florig, WePAC executive director, however, suggests that as many as 24 libraries in the area have the capacity to be restored or reopened. Administrators, teachers, and parents often approach WePAC volunteers and staff asking for the organization’s assistance in their schools.

“We view ourselves as filling a gap, but at the same time, we serve as a ‘wake-up call’ for many people,” said Mica Navarro Lopez, library programs coordinator. “People assume library access is still available.”

“Students check out books to read to their younger siblings. Even if their parents don’t read to them, [children] still have access to books,” said Navarro Lopez.

Students’ literary “altruism” extends beyond the school and home and into the communities in which WePAC serves. In 2011, a school whose library was transformed by WePAC held a book drive for another WePAC school.

“Students feel more empowered around reading,” said Florig. “We’re hoping to make school fun and reading interesting to kids.”

–Meredith Bajgier is a part-time employee in ED’s Philadelphia Regional Office through Drexel University’s work-study program.

A Grand Challenge for Development

Whether it’s the instructions on your bottle of shampoo or a funny Facebook status update, most of us don’t give our ability to read a second thought. What many of us forget is that literacy is at the foundation of our country’s well being. In a blog post during International Education Week in November, Secretary Duncan noted that “literacy opens doors to better living conditions, improved health, and expanded opportunities. It empowers people to build more secure futures for their families.”

Duncan’s blog post announced an exciting initiative called the All Children Reading Grand Challenge for Development. The Grand Challenge is a global competition to find innovative solutions to advance children’s reading, particularly in low and lower-middle income countries.

Through the Grand Challenge, USAID, AusAid and WorldVision are mobilizing resources to gather new ideas, engage new organizations and people, and advance innovative solutions from around the world.

USAID and its partners are looking for innovative applications from eligible institutions to support the Grand Challenge. Click here to read more about the competition and how your innovation could be eligible for the  $7.5 million in grant money available under the challenge.

International Education Week: Partnering to Improve World Literacy

Cross-posted from USAID’s Impact Blog.

Today, the global community faces an economic crisis that has many people around the world feeling tenuous about the future. World leaders are grappling with how to handle rising debt and shrinking funds. Yet despite this uncertainty, one thing is certain: education is still the light shining on our path that shows us the way forward. Education, now more than ever, is critical to eliminating gender inequity, reducing starvation, sustaining our planet, and restoring world peace.

As countries improve the education of their citizens, they experience huge multiplier effects: better health, growing economies, and reduced poverty. The data show us that a child born to an educated mother is two times more likely to survive to age 5 . . . that educated mothers are fifty percent more likely to immunize their children and three times less likely to contract HIV/AIDS. Every year that a child spends in school increases his or her future productivity by 10-30%.

When we think of how much a country gains in terms of goods and services by investing in 6, 12, or even 14 years of education for its workforce, how can we all not make that investment?

As part of this investment, I am pleased to announce today that the U.S. Department of Education will be joining USAIDWorld Vision and AustraliaAID in the All Children Reading initiative as well. As a new partner, we will collaborate with the founding partners as they work to dramatically improve world literacy. We are joining this work because we also believe that enhancing the education of all people, both at home and abroad, is a path to solving our world’s economic, social, and health problems.

The All Children Reading Challenge’s focus on improving literacy could not come at a better time. If education is the answer, then literacy is the foundation upon which we must build our countries’ well being. Not only are reading and writing critical to learning all other subjects, but literacy is what enables people to enjoy the full benefits of citizenship. Literacy opens doors to better living conditions, improved health, and expanded opportunities. It empowers people to build more secure futures for their families.

To get serious about literacy, we have to realize that the challenges of achieving an educated citizenry cut across geographical and political boundaries. Educators everywhere, including in the U.S., are concerned about the growing achievement gaps that exist for the poorest of our children, including those with learning disabilities and speakers of other languages.

Working together and collaborating to solve our common problems is critical. In our global economy, the tired old “survival of the fittest” philosophy that pits countries against one another no longer applies. Instead, we have to recognize that the battle is not between our countries, but with complacency.

I look forward to seeing what innovative programs and practices come out of this All Children Reading Challenge. I couldn’t be happier to see these organizations make an investment in the literacy of the children of the world, and I am hopeful that we in the U.S. will learn some innovative strategies that can make a difference for us here.

Arne Duncan is the U.S. Secretary of Education

Top 4 Reasons to Get Your Library Card

September is Library Card Sign-up Month, and it’s a perfect time for students and adults alike to sign up for a local library card.

Student ReadingIf you are one of the 44% of Americans who don’t yet have a card, we’ve put together four great reasons you should take advantage of Library Card Sign-up Month.

4. Opening New Worlds: Most Americans see the library as an educational support center for students of all ages. For parents in particular, helping their children enjoy reading is one of the most important things they can do.  Reading is fundamental to student development and learning; reading sparks curiosity and imagination. And this is where the library card comes in; it opens wide the world of books.

3. Expert Help: Not only does the public library have books for parents and children to take home and share or read on their own, it has librarians to help locate specific books for every age group and on any and every topic imaginable. And being able to use all of these wonderful books is free to the cardholder!

2. Getting Connected: About 30 percent of all students do not have home access to the Internet, according to the Department’s National Center for Education Statistics, so for these students having a library card is extra important. The Library is a hot spot for free Internet access and word processing computers, even computer classes and Internet instruction are available. In addition, libraries often offer free programs on everything from astronomy to zoo keeping and writing resumes to learning a language, as well as summer reading programs that keep those reading skills strong during summer vacation.

1. Student Success: For all students, the card provides the information resources they need to succeed in school and in life. Resources not only include free access to eBooks and eAudioBooks, online databases for articles and reports, encyclopedias and test preparation materials, but also free access to library staff who can help find additional materials to complete homework assignments, recommend an interesting read for an upcoming book report or teach how to select and use a database to research a science project.  Since most public libraries have Web sites, many services are available from the Internet 24×7.

If you are cardless or haven’t used a library in years, contact your local public library and get a card. In fact, a library card may very well be the most important back-to-school supply of all!

Christina Dunn & Patricia Leslie 

Christina Dunn is Director of the National Library of Education at the Department of Education, and Patricia Leslie is a librarian at the National Library of Education. Both were K-12 public-school librarians before coming to ED.

Why Summer Reading Pays Off Year-Round

Attention parents: even though summer is almost over, it’s not too late to help your child become a better reader before the new school year begins. Summer is an important time for students to keep reading and improve their language skills. If your child hasn’t been reading regularly this summer, they may be in danger of the “summer slide”—a decline in their reading ability.

Numerous studies indicate that students who don’t read or read infrequently during their summer vacation see their reading abilities stagnate or decline. This effect becomes more pronounced as students get older and advance through the school system. The situation for economically disadvantaged students is especially grim: if students from low-income families don’t read over the summer, they are much more likely to fall behind their more privileged peers, widening the “achievement gap.”

“It’s like if you play an instrument but put it down for three months,” said Laurie Calvert, a teacher who is working as the Director of Teacher Outreach at ED. She wrote an academic thesis on improving summer reading programs at her North Carolina high school. “You’re not going to be as good as a person who continues to play the instrument over those three months.”

However, this “summer slide” can be avoided by ensuring that children are as engaged as possible in whatever they choose to read—just as long as they’re reading every day.

“Anything that keeps students reading works,” Calvert said. “The more engaged you are in the text, the closer you’re going to read it. The closer you read it, the more you comprehend. And that process grows your skill.”

The best ways to keep your child from becoming a “rusty reader” over the summer are:

  1. Encourage your children to read books they enjoy for at least 30 minutes per day. Your child will likely be more engrossed in material they choose themselves than material that is forced on them.
  2. Provide incentives for reluctant readers. For example, if your child enjoys basketball, agree to take them to the local court if they do their “daily reading.”
  3. Make reading a social act. Establish a time during the day when all members of the family gather and read on their own, or take turns reading the same book aloud.
  4. Connect your reading to family outings. If you take your kids to an aquarium, consider reading a book about fish or the ocean with them later that day. The outing can help place the reading into a broader context.

There’s still time for kids to pick up a book this summer. Take your children to your local library or bookstore and let them pick out a book they’re going to love today. They will be better readers tomorrow for it.

Reading Means Everybody Wins

Once a week, a group of Department of Education employees spend their lunch hour with students at Amidon-Bowen Elementary School, just five blocks from ED headquarters, as part of the Everybody Wins! DC (EW!DC) Power Lunch program.  Last Friday, Secretary Duncan stopped by the school’s library to thank the program’s organizers as well as the ED volunteers on the final day of this year’s program.   “You make a remarkable difference in students’ lives,” he said.

The Secretary was also on hand to witness the delivery of 150 new books that ED employees had donated to students participating in the program.  Even on a sunny and cool Friday afternoon, the students were eager to skip recess and read with their mentors.

EW!DC’s Power Lunch is a reading and mentoring program serving Title I public elementary schools in the Washington, D.C., area that exposes children to literature, gives them a positive role model, and inspires them to read.  About 1,200 volunteers from 108 organizations (including federal agencies) and more than 115 Congressional offices participate.

The program was a favorite of the late Sen. Ted Kennedy and also Sen. Tom Harkin, and even the Washington Nationals baseball team is involved.  Target Corporation recently signed up to be the lead mentor corporate sponsor at Amidon, and donated book carts, school supplies, and 1,500 books.  The school will soon benefit from a Target School Library Makeover.

The best thing about EW!DC is that it works.  An Education Department evaluation that examined PL pre- and post-program assessments found that Amidon-Bowen students, whose reading levels were once among the lowest in Washington, D.C., improved in reading comprehension and fluency; vocabulary; interest in reading; class participation, and social interaction with peers.

Select this link for more information on the Everybody Wins! DC program.

Melinda Malico is Director of Internal Communications at the Department of Education

Reading: The Foundation of a Good Education

“The more you focus on reading, the more you learn to love to read and the more you can do,” Secretary Duncan told a group of middle school students Monday afternoon at McManus Middle School in Linden, New Jersey. The Secretary stopped by McManus to join the Mark Emmert, president of the NCAA, and Mike Krzyzewski, head coach of Duke men’s basketball and USA Basketball Men’s National Team, in celebrating the school’s participation in the Ticket to Reading Rewards (TTRR) program.

Duncan often explains that reading is the foundation of a good education, which is one reason he co-founded the TTRR in 2002 when he was superintendent of Chicago Public Schools. The program, which is run by the National Association of Basketball Coaches (NABC) Foundation, encourages students to read books outside the classroom and provides rewards for reading. The program’s three components are reading rewards, tickets for students to local college basketball games, and guidance for middle school coaches to act as mentors in the reading program.

The students at McManus and Joseph E Soehl Middle School—Linden Public School District’s second middle school—read an additional 4,000 books under the TTRR program this year.  The TTRR program operates in more than 150 schools nationwide and more than a million students have participated in the program since it began in 2002.

Click here for more information on the Ticket to Reading Rewards program.