Urban Literacy: At It’s Worst or Finest?
All across America, literacy and early education of children has become the focus of concern for parents, teachers, and policy makers. Education has been positively linked to students’ future success in school, their likelihood to continue education past high school, and their future career opportunities. A strong foundation in reading and linguistics is a key factor in children’s academic development and future opportunities. As a result, a great deal of time, money, and energy has been invested in designing programs that focus on developing children’s knowledge and use of the English language in order to provide them with this necessary educational foundation. However, upon close inspection, it seems as though many of these programs focus on correcting only one or two of the many factors at work in the issue of illiteracy in America’s urban youth. While a variety of reading programs are available in almost every school, there are still a significant number of illiterate and struggling students across the nation. “Of particular concern is the school preparation of children from economically disadvantaged homes – children who continue to fare less well in school than more advantaged children” (Stipek 711). 40% of America’s fourth grade students lack basic reading skills, but the illiteracy rate increases to 68% for low-income rural and urban areas (Literacy
Rates). Research has shown that children who grow up in poor, urban areas struggle the most with reading for a variety of reasons. “Despite significant federal and state investments in compensatory education programs, persistent achievement gaps among students of various ethnic, socioeconomic, and linguistic backgrounds have been difficult to close” (Neuman 92). This shows that resources are available to schools and districts that face issues with low literacy rates, but the problem persists. In a study of gaps in reading achievement by Parkinson and Rowan, statistical analysis was done on the test scores of high-, average-, and low-risk students upon entering kindergarten through the end of third grade (Neuman 80). Placing these scores on a statistical normal curve helped determine how much the gap between these groups increased as education progressed, and showed significant evidence that socioeconomic factors impact the education of young children. These test scores were then used for further statistical analysis to determine the amount of additional instruction time it would take at-risk students to reach the same achievement level as average and low-risk students. By calculating the standard deviation of each group’s test scores, Parkinson and Rowan were able to then convert that to months of additional instruction necessary to decrease the gaps in reading achievement. In order to match high-risk students achievement with that of average-risk students, 1.6 months of extra instruction would be necessary at the beginning of kindergarten, but by the end of the third grade, the time had increased to 4.7 months. When comparing high-risk and low-risk students’ achievement, 2.8 months of instruction were needed at the beginning of kindergarten, whereas the end of third grade required 7.8 months (Neuman 80). While Parkinson and Rowan acknowledge variations and possible issues with the data they collected and analyzed,
these calculations still show the effects of socioeconomic factors on educational achievement. In a similar study by Stipek and Ryan on disadvantaged preschoolers and academic motivation, this education gap is explored as a result of lack of motivation. Surveying and calculating the academic achievement of several classroom groups in preschool and kindergarten proved a similar gap in academic achievement to that found by Parkinson and Rowan. “The results of this study paint a clear picture of children from relatively low-income homes beginning school at a...