Education Opinion

Access is Fundamental

By Donalyn Miller — February 12, 2008 2 min read
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Schools spend a lot of money purchasing reading programs to increase achievement for their students. The logic behind this quest for the perfect program is that administrators will no longer have to worry about the variables of teacher quality or student preparedness because this “research-based” program will create a level of idiot-proof (that’s us, by the way) consistency that guarantees better instruction. The fact that few, if any, of these scripted programs have been “research-proven” to work consistently with any groups of readers is glossed over by the publishers of these programs who stand to make a lot of money off of our fear.

Granted, many of the newer programs do include a modest supply of real books for students to use along with the program, but I could not find one that supplies the hundreds of books that the most effective classrooms should have. Whether or not the mandated program includes books for students to read is a moot point for the poorest schools, who cannot afford the thousands of dollars needed to purchase these programs for their students, anyway.

When I am out talking to teachers about the need to provide their students with choices in reading material at an appropriate level, one of the first questions I am always asked is, “Where am I going to get the books?” Although many schools purchase expensive program kits for all of the reading teachers in the building, I find very few schools that will fund substantial classroom libraries. The teachers I know that have the best classroom libraries have purchased most of these books with their own money. The government supports teachers in subsidizing our own classrooms by allowing us to deduct $250 a year, but I wish they would just buy us the books.

School libraries receive less and less funding each year, too, with some schools closing their libraries or decreasing library staff to save money. Check out the American Library Association’s updates on funding cuts to libraries and the consequences for communities and schools.

There are numerous studies which prove, not claim, that access to books increases reading achievement for children. The lack of funding or support for classroom and school libraries seems to run counter to common sense. After all, we know that students who read the most are the best readers. What are students supposed to read if there are no books?

Not surprisingly, the poorest schools have the smallest school and classroom libraries, and their students also have the fewest number of books at home. Where can a poor child get books to read without access to quality libraries?

There is one program whose mission has been to give free books to the poorest children in America for over 40 years, Reading Is Fundamental. RIF, founded in 1966, and continuously supported by federal funds since 1975, gives away 16 million books a year. With the federal mandate to increase reading achievement for all children, supporting RIF with federal money makes good sense. So what happened to RIF when the 2009 budget proposal came out last week? The new budget will cut RIF’s funding by $25.5 million. This loss of funding will eliminate the Inexpensive Book Distribution program, and further limit access to books for 4.6 million American families.

I wonder how much federal money will be used to buy those nifty kits next year?

The opinions expressed in The Book Whisperer are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.