To achieve the literacy goals of the state's 2014 Read to Succeed (Act 284) legislation, South Carolina's teachers need the involvement and support of parents, as well as the grassroots support of the larger community. It is impossible for teachers to do it alone. Teachers need to partner with parents. And school districts need to partner with the community.
"Sixty-five percent of American children enter fourth grade unable to read proficiently."
- Annie E. Casey Foundation
Summer Reading Initiative
One of the biggest areas of advocacy focus of South Carolina Reading Project™ is to challenge school districts to develop a strategy to encourage students to read for pleasure during the summer vacation months, the IDEAL time for voluntary reading. Research shows that pleasure reading has been mostly squeezed out of classrooms because of increasing pressures of accountability. The result is that often children have reading skills, but do not read. Voluntary summer reading for pleasure increases positive feelings about reading and is potentially an effective way to inspire in children an intrinsic love of reading. And numerous studies of voluntary summer reading programs have shown them to universally have positive effects on student reading proficiency. Also, a Summer Reading Initiative that focuses on pleasure reading could possibly be a more effective intervention strategy, and engage a much higher percentage of the student population, than the taxpayer-funded summer reading camps mandated by state law that involve only a small number of students. It has been suggested that voluntary pleasure reading not only increases children's motivation to develop reading habits, but actually works better to improve reading skills than formal instruction and systematic programs designed to raise test scores. The U.S. Department of Education found that, generally, the more students read for fun on their own time, the higher their reading scores.
But for students to be motivated to read voluntarily during the summer, it is important that they be given the opportunity to choose their own books. Since low-achievers typically do not read outside of school, most of their reading is mandated. And research suggests that in many cases, low-achievers really don't hate to read - they hate to be told what to read. So it is not surprising that the two largest contributors to reading achievement, according to numerous studies, were access to interesting books and student choice of books. Additionally, according to one formal study (Allington et al. 2010), children who had participated in book fairs and received free, self-selected books for summer reading significantly improved reading achievement on high stakes state tests when compared to their peers in the control group who received no summer books. Other research has shown that when children were given the opportunity to choose their own books, reading gains were almost double those of children whose books were selected by someone else (Lindsay 2013). Clearly, giving children ample access to books and empowering them to make their own choices are the keys to preventing the step backwards known as "summer reading loss."
" Summer reading loss accounts for roughly 80% of the reading achievement gap between more or less economically advantaged children (Alexander, Entwisle, and Olson, 2007). By the time both groups are nearing graduation from high school, the rich/poor reading achievement gap is 4 years wide, with children from low- income families performing at the same level as middle-classed children in 8th grade (NCES, 2010)! Because so many children of low income families have dropped out of school before reaching 12th grade and only students remaining in school are assessed, the rich/poor reading achievement gap at age17 is likely wider than the 4 years reported on the National Assessment of Educational Progress."
by Richard L. Allington and Anne McGill-Franzen
Summer reading loss is that backsliding in reading development that can occur during the summer vacation periods, when children are not enrolled in school. And there is abundant evidence that its compounding effect is an important factor contributing to the reading achievement gap between rich and poor children. In one large scale research study on the accumulating impact of summer reading loss (Alexander, Entwisle, & Olsen, 2007), the authors reported that the achievement gap between rich and poor children grew dramatically across the elementary school years, from less than a year’s difference upon entering kindergarten to almost three year’s difference by the end of the 6th grade. But studies have shown that consistently making books available to children from low-income families and struggling readers enhances reading achievement during the summer months. It is clear that children from low-income families have more restricted access to books than do more economically advantaged children. And it seems that the lack of reading activity during the summer months that some students experience is the primary basis for explaining why poor children typically loose reading proficiency during the summer. It isn't just children from low-income families who experience summer reading loss, but it is that population where that loss is near universal.* It is likely that any child who fails to engage in independent reading during the summer months will experience summer reading loss.
Summer reading loss is a real issue that affects student preparedness for the next grade level and widens the achievement gap between students of different socioeconomic backgrounds. But experimental studies have shown that increasing children's access to print (books and magazines) produces positive effects on children's reading achievement greater than all other educational interventions. And research clearly shows that the key to stemming summer reading loss is finding novel ways to get books into the hands of children during the summer break. For school districts that can find necessary funding support, one of the best ways to accomplish that is through book give-a-ways at the end of the school year. Numerous research studies have confirmed that providing books to children improves their attitude about reading, the amount of reading they do, their acquisition of basic literacy skills, and their reading proficiency.
"Many of South Carolina’s students could achieve higher levels of reading performance if they did not have to overcome significant summer reading achievement losses each year."
-South Carolina State Reading Plan
The easiest, most effective way for school districts to find recurring fundraising support for book give-a-ways is through INTELLIGENT CROWDFUNDING, an innovative new crowdfunding paradigm that uses existing school rewards programs. Crowdfunding is simply the practice of funding a project or venture by raising many small amounts of money from a large number of people, typically via the Internet. Intelligent crowdfunding, though, raises money using mostly school rewards programs, which means that the money comes from businesses, not out of the pockets of individuals. That means that funding shifts from those who often cannot afford it (i.e. parents) to those who can afford it (i.e. corporations).
And since crowdfunding requires little time or work, it can be scaled up to involve the larger community in a way that traditional school fundraising cannot. One of the problems with traditional school fundraising is that it almost always requires work and an investment of time, so therefore, only the most ardent and dedicated supporters usually participate. That means that it cannot be scaled up in size to include the larger community and win the large scale support required to raise the large amounts of capital needed for schools.
And when your fundraising strategy is inherently limited in the way that most school fundraising is, it can lead to the general belief that resources are scarce.That may be true if you are trying to tap into family budgets for your source of revenue, but it is certainly not true if the source of revenue is corporate America. And it is simply not a commonly held belief that an abundance of resources could be raised with little or no work. One of the primary goals of the South Carolina Reading Project™ is to challenge limiting beliefs about what is possible.
Also, crowdfunding efforts that reach beyond the circle of supporters who traditionally participate in school fundraising allows schools to expand their efforts to include citizens that customarily have little opportunity to get involved in supporting public schools, even if they are inclined to do so. Most public schools have not given much of a chance to the public at large to show their support for academics. There are education advocates who believe that what is missing from the public school system is, in fact, the "public"and a strategic effort by school districts to enlist their support and benefit from their collective good will.
Building a large community of dedicated supporters who have pledged their ongoing support to participate in such a crowdfunding effort would have the bottom line effect of imposing an "education tax" of sorts on big business. Supporters could view themselves as education tax collectors, effectively skimming money off the top of the economy for schools. And their efforts would require more of a show of good will and commitment rather than an investment of their time, or work. And once some success was experienced and some proof of concept achieved, participation would inevitably grow and fundraising totals would increase. Ideas that spread, win!
Also, the use of social media is an important key to building widespread community awareness for a literacy initiative, as well as for sharing and celebrating the success of it. Another is building community partnerships.
For many school districts, partnering with local civic groups to organize community book swaps have served as a low-cost way to get books into the hands of students during the summer months. Additionally, community book swaps can be an easy point of entry for donors, advocates and volunteers to join a school district's literacy initiative. Each distribution opportunity could also serve as an opportunity to have a story-hour or conversation about the importance of reading, and encourage attendees to pledge to become a volunteer reader, tutor or mentor to help improve early grade reading proficiency and to keep students on track for high school graduation. Many local libraries also have organized book swaps.
Another innovative idea to keep books circulating in the summer would be to partner with local businesses to create book swaps using a summer bookmobile. After all, what business wouldn't want to be given credit and public recognition for supporting its school district's literacy initiative? And what better advertising could there be than to have your business name or logo displayed on the side of a bookmobile that would circulate throughout the community? And what better way could there be for a business to generate good will in the community than to show good will in the community? Creating such a bookmobile that is designed to capture the imagination of schoolchildren and inspire their interest in summer reading should probably be the goal of all school districts.
In addition to an effort to increase children's access to books in the summer, it is also important to create partnerships within the community to support a literacy initiative to raise awareness and to create incentives to motivate readers. Some school districts have successfully partnered with restaurants to host special events to promote summer reading or to create a reward such as a free meal for readers. Creating a partnership to provide a free pass to a water park or children's museum or baseball game as an incentive to motivate children to read would represent a win for everyone.
Businesses could raise awareness about a literacy initiative by announcing their support for it on their windows, websites, or advertisements. And students could write thank-you notes to businesses that could be prominently displayed there. Also, many schools have electronic signs and/or newsletters that could be used to thank businesses for their donations and support, and school sponsored events of all kinds could be used for that purpose as well. Many businesses are searching for opportunities to get more involved in the community. And developing partnerships with schools around summer reading creates an opportunity for schools and businesses to both benefit from the good will of the larger community.
Summer reading is essential to maintaining all students' school-year academic success, so all South Carolina school districts need to develop some sort of strategic plan for a Summer Reading Initiative that engages students and parents, as well as the community at large.
"There is no topic in education on which there is greater agreement than the need for family and community involvement."
Joyce L. Epstein and Associates
Having a sense of what is possible and what it takes to be successful is essential to getting extraordinary results. And even though the role of classroom instruction is critically important, school districts must also be open to the possibility that something great can be accomplished outside the walls of the classroom. To get big results, you have to think big. And only by school districts imagining outcomes bigger than those that can be achieved during the traditional school year and through conventional summer reading camps can children have the opportunity that they really need to experience their true potential in learning to read. And it is the ONLY WAY that the goal which is required under Act 284 that at least ninety-five percent of all students are reading at grade level can be achieved!
*According to the National Assessment of Educational Progress, the percentage of students in South Carolina who performed at or above the NAEP Proficient level in 2017 was 29 percent and the percentage of students who performed at or above the NAEP Basic level was 59 percent. Students who were eligible for free/reduced-price school lunch, an indicator of low family income, had an average score that was 31 points lower than that for students who were not eligible.
National Center for Education Statistics (NCES)
U.S. Department of Education
Other Areas of Advocacy Focus
Promoting highly innovative Intelligent Crowdfunding to fund school districts' reading program
Advocate for school districts creating book give-a-ways and book swaps
Advocate for schools creating innovative reading goals that go beyond state minimum standards
Strategically working with schools and school districts to partner with parents
Working to develop collaborative efforts between schools and businesses and community organizations
Increase family awareness of and involvement in children’s literacy development.
Creating content directed toward parents for classroom teachers
Creating valuable free literacy-focused content for community sharing
Meeting the need for literacy-focused information for parents
Connecting with parents in support of early childhood literacy in the home environment
Advocating for greater corporate responsibility in supporting public schools
Advocating for more local business support of local schools
Creative consultant for school districts developing an innovative summer bookmobile
Working to connect school districts with visiting authors and authors who Skype
Partnering with local libraries to host special events
Partnering with local businesses to support literacy initiatives
Working to close reading achievement gaps among different demographic groups
Supporting high level community involvement and engagement with social media
Raising community awareness about literacy initiatives
Introducing innovative strategies for school districts to be more resourceful
Supporting 2014 Read to Succeed Act and the goals of the South Carolina State Reading Plan with necessary grass-roots element of support that is critical to their success.