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Parents See Reading Ability of Children as A Major Factor in Their Success as Adults

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By Robert Rothman

WASHINGTON--Parents view reading ability as one of the two major determinants of a child's prospects for success in life, a national survey has found.

That ability far outranks such factors as school attended, grades received, and family income and neighborhood, the respondents said. Only "time spent with parents'' was rated as more crucial.

Moreover, nearly two-thirds of parents said reading skills were more important in today's "video-oriented society'' than in the past.

The results of the poll of 1,000 parents of children ages 3 to 14 were presented last week at a press conference here. Officials of JELL-O Desserts--which commissioned the survey by the Roper polling firm--also announced the creation of a new reading program for pupils in grades 2-4.

The study corroborates earlier research findings that parents who read themselves and read to their children are more likely to foster a liking for reading. And, it found, parents consider themselves--not the schools--primarily responsible for developing children's reading skills and interests.

Readers Foster Readers

But they also said reading was by far the most crucial subject studied in school, with 97 percent rating it "very important.'' Arithmetic was ranked second, with 89 percent.

The high value placed on reading skills was consistent across all demographic groups, the survey found.

"Men and women, rich and poor, black and white, high-school dropout and college graduate, in nearly equal proportions value the importance of reading,'' said the pollster Burns Roper, president of the Roper Organization Inc.

But the survey also found gaps between parents' high regard for reading and their assessments of their children's reading abilities and interests. Two-thirds of parents said they were "very satisfied'' with how well their children read, but only 51 percent said their children were "very interested'' in reading. Such interest tends to drop significantly after the 5th grade, the survey found.

In addition, it found, parents consider how well their children read more important than how often they read. That opinion, the report notes, is contradicted by research showing that reading ability is directly related to reading frequency. Fewer than half the parents surveyed reported that their children read every day.

Secretary of Education William J. Bennett, who appeared at the press conference along with officials of national groups that promote reading, said he was encouraged by the almost universally high value parents place on reading.

"Parents are clear about what they think should happen, and they are right,'' said the Secretary, who has been a strong advocate of greater parental involvement in children's education.

But, added Ruth Graves, president of Reading Is Fundamental Inc., other results from the survey suggest that "the glass is ominously half full.''

'Reading Rocket'

"Too many children are not reading as well or as often as they should,'' she said. "Reading must be practiced, not just valued.''

The survey sponsor's new reading program is set to begin next fall in all elementary schools in four cities: Boston; Fresno, Calif.; Indianapolis; and Portland, Ore. The curricular supplement, known as "Reading Rocket,'' is aimed at instilling in young people a love for books, project officials said.

"We want to plant these seeds as early as possible, instead of waiting until children's interest falls off,'' said Nina Link, vice president and publisher of the Children's Television Workshop, which developed the program.

In addition to providing more in-class reading, Ms. Link noted, the program will foster parental involvement by requiring children and parents to sign a "pact'' promising that they will read together outside class.

'Continued Stimulation'

The new poll's findings also suggest ways parents can encourage their children to read more, Mr. Roper said.

He recommended, for example, that parents continue to read with their children after they reach the 5th grade, in order to stave off the decline in reading interest that tends to occur at that time.

"Just because children start off with high interest in reading does not mean it stays forever without continued stimulation,'' he said.

Moreover, "parents of boys may need to be more vigilant than those with girls,'' he noted, since girls tend to be more interested in reading than boys.

Other findings from the survey include:

  • Avid readers are as interested in their friends and games as those who read less often. "The avid reader is not a 'bookworm,' but is well-rounded,'' Mr. Roper said.
  • Interest in reading and interest in television are not incompatible. Half of children interested in reading, the survey found, also have a strong interest in television.


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