Kids and teachers alike can't wait for school to end this year. No more setting the alarm, riding the smelly bus, or similarly smelly cafeteria food.
However, for low-income students the end of school means falling either further behind their peers. Studies have shown that every summer many low-income students fall up to three months behind their wealthier counterparts. This means that when school starts again in the fall these students will struggle significantly. That is because they are not just three months behind - those three months compound every summer so by the time they reach high school low-income students can be three years behind their peers.
In order to combat this summer slide school districts often offer summer school. Summer school can be quite expensive - an estimated cost of $3000 per student. In a perfect world cost would not matter and every student who needed help would have access to a summer school program. We, however, do not live in a perfect world and many districts are cutting summer school programs to save money.
In Florida two researchers piloted a program to both prevent summer slide and save districts money. Instead of enrolling students in summer school they gave students 12 brand new books - selected by the students. Their early results showed that the students who were given the books showed the same gains as students enrolled in summer school. As of 2010 the program had also been used in Georgia and South Carolina.
It turns out that all kids need to read at home are books. As hard as it is to imagine in households full of books, many low-income families have no books in the house. The public library isn't always a good option for families with transportation issues or parents who work long hours. Giving books to children who otherwise don't have access to them is a powerful way to get children reading.
I used this idea two years ago to start a Million Minute Challenge. Our students were struggling on the reading portion of the MSP and I spent many days and nights thinking about how to reverse this trend. All of the research pointed to more minutes reading. To get our students reading obscene amounts for the last half of the year I ran the Million Minute Challenge - our students would read one million minutes in a little less than six months. This wasn't a large school - one class per grade - so this was a lot of reading. We ran weekly contests, had incentives like extra recess, and gave away lots of books.
Unfortunately, the school did not make the Million Minute Challenge. However, the students did show impressive gains on the reading MSP (Washington's yearly standardized test). It also turned out to be a positive because the school extended the challenge over the summer and had a big party when the students got back to school in September having read more than a million minutes.
I really believe in the sending books home program. I have seen it work with my own eyes.
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