Early Childhood

Early Years

June 21, 2000 2 min read

A Book Gap: Young children from poor families lack access to high-quality books, and early-childhood educators don’t have the resources they need to build a collection of good reading materials, according to a national study.

The study, “Access for All: Closing the Book Gap for Children in Early Childhood,” also found that funding for age-appropriate books is unpredictable and that child-care teachers rely too much on parents and community members to meet the need.

Instead of five books for every child, as is recommended by early-childhood-education experts, child-care centers surveyed had on average less than one book per child.

“Without significant public support for needed books and professional development for teachers, children from low-income families will continue to bear the brunt of this literacy gap that has powerful long-term negative consequences,” said Susan Neuman, a professor of education at Temple University in Philadelphia and the author of the study. This coming fall, she will become the director of the National Center for the Improvement of Early Reading Achievement, based at the University of Michigan.

Ms. Neuman’s preliminary findings, which were released this month, also show that parents and teachers often don’t have enough knowledge to choose good books for young children.

As interest in school readiness grows, the consumer market for young children’s books is expanding and now accounts for 16 percent of book sales, the report notes.

It also cites a finding from the Washington-based Children’s Defense Fund that during the 1998-99 school year, states spent close to $1.7 billion on prekindergarten programs, but that few states made any recommendations about choosing books for young children.

The report recommends that states set guidelines for purchasing high-quality books and that publishers create products that are in line with developmentally appropriate practice.

Ms. Neuman is also working with national organizations, such as the National Association for the Education of Young Children, the International Reading Association, and the American Library Association, to write guidelines on how to select high-quality books for young children. When completed, the full report will include those guidelines.

The study is available on the Center for the Improvement of Early Reading Achievement’s World Wide Web site at www.ciera.org.

—Linda Jacobson ljacobs@epe.org

A version of this article appeared in the June 21, 2000 edition of Education Week

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