David Brooks of the New York Times writes a fine column on the power of books in the age of the internet. His observations are prompted by a study which finds that low income elementary school students who receive books prior to summer break become better readers than peers who do not. Working with colleagues, Dr. Richard Allington of the University of Tennessee carried out the study, which will be published in Reading Psychology later in the year. This kind of book distribution program can be seen as a low-cost alternative to summer school, which brings up a couple interesting questions. Would it be a realistic and adequate substitute for summer school? If so, will it be adopted or will challenges arise to prevent or limit its implementation? Tomorrow is the last day of summer school for the local school district, in which I volunteer. I'd like to think the students have learned and grown in ways that they wouldn't have if they weren't there. However, there's no substitute for young students reading on their own and working with their parents at home. Ceteris paribus, students and society would seem to be better off not with summer school but with this alternative. In terms of politics, it will be interesting to see the unions and the rest of the public education bureacracy react to this. If expanded, the program could presumably be a small but important step towards today's holy grail in education policymaking - closure of the achievement gap. However, ditching summer school means school districts have a lower demand for labor. When was the last time a teachers union embraced anything of the sort?
- July 14, 2010