We know--from common sense as well as studies--that parents who read are more likely to raise children who read, and parents who don’t, won’t. We have no social mechanisms, though, available to hold parents to the expectation that they prepare their children for reading, or for school more generally. So, if Johnny’s parents do not make reading important by reading to him, and maybe--just maybe--teaching him the ABC song, and a few letter names before he shows up at Kindergarten, he’s already behind. Indeed, Kindergarten teachers can quickly predict which students will struggle deep into their school careers. A self-fulfilling prophecy, but not the one about teachers marking out strugglers and holding them down. Rather, the prophecy was written before the first day of school, and is fulfilled because parents who don’t read before Johnny went to school aren’t particularly likely to become more engaged in Johnny’s reading once he’s in school. But once delivered to the schoolhouse door, teachers and the schools will be held responsible for the outcome, and, subsequently, for making Johnny read.
So the schools try to devise reading intervention programs to address Johnny’s needs. But even an effective intervention program needs to be reinforced throughout other areas of the student’s life, say, at home. David Brooks reports on a recent study that confirmed what we should all know intuitively, namely, that a summer reading program (of just 12 books, as it turns out) could significantly stem the ‘summer drop-off’ so prevalent in struggling students. We also know, of course, that struggling students are precisely the ones least likely to read 12 books over the summer. They are struggling because they don’t read well. They don’t enjoy reading since they’re not strong at it, so they don’t read, and they suffer the summer drop-off, falling back again, and on it goes. This downward spiral can be reversed, of course, but it would take intentional and intensive work at school, at home, and during the summer. Intentional effort by teachers, parents, but most of all Johnny.