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Closing the 30 million word gap

E-School News – Dennis Pierce

“To cancel the effects of poverty, school systems are extending literacy programs to the larger community. Mention Napa County, Calif., and what comes to mind for most people are rows of sun-splashed grapes—and well-tanned couples sipping wine under the shade of a vine-covered pergola. But Napa has its share of poverty, too. More than half of the student population is Latino, and many of these students come from poor households where English isn’t spoken. “Most of our preschool kids who are native Spanish speakers come to school without anybody having read to them,” said Napa County Superintendent of Schools Barbara Nemko. “Most of the parents of those children are not even literate in Spanish, so they’re not reading books of any kind.” Nemko and her staff were aware of the “30 million word gap”: the research-backed idea that children who grow up in poverty come to school having heard 30 million fewer spoken words than their peers from middle-class or upper-class homes putting them at a sharp disadvantage in terms of their language skills.”(more)

The ‘Word Gap’ Takes Root In Infancy; So Too Should Our Efforts to Close It

The Huffington Post – Sandra Waxman

“China is not the only nation grappling with policies affecting families with infants and young children. Here in the USA, policymakers and parents alike are wondering how to end disparities in access to high-quality childcare; a new report by the Economic Policy Institute documents that high-quality childcare has become inaccessible to low-income wage earners. Closing the gap matters for several reasons. Most importantly, without access to high-quality childcare, infants and toddlers from low-income families face increasingly steep developmental challenges. In many low-income homes, where parents must work multiple jobs and where childcare alternatives rich in language exposure are well beyond economic reach, young children may hear up to 30 million fewer words than their more advantaged peers. When they enter preschool, these children are already at a disadvantage. This “word gap” is not a fleeting or isolated phenomenon. Instead, it is associated with a cascade of deleterious consequences that serve as barriers to a child’s opportunity to learn, both in and outside the classroom. Ann Fernald, professor of psychology at Stanford University, and her colleagues found that toddlers who had the benefit of rich language exposure processed language more efficiently than those whose exposure to language was sparser. Sadly, this gap became grew wider with age: 24-month-olds from low-income homes processed language at the rate observed in 18-month-olds from middle-income homes.”(more)

The more children hear, the more they learn

Pensacola Today – Shannon Nickinson

“Thirty million words. That’s the difference between poor children and their better-off classmates. It boils down to that number in programs from the South Side of Chicago to the Pensacola Metro. It comes from a 1995 study by child psychologists that found by age 4, poor children hear 30 million fewer words than children from better-off families. This leads to poor children lagging academically, being weaker readers and falling behind in school. Dana Suskind founded Thirty Million Words at the University of Chicago Medical School to drive awareness of the achievement gap and promote strategies to close it. The Hart and Risely study is what everybody talks about, Suskind says, because it is the study that revealed the 30-million-word gap.”(more)

‘Books from Birth’ plan aims to bridge word gap among District children

The Washington Post – Michael Alison Chandler

“D.C. Council member Charles Allen (Ward 6) plans to introduce a bill that would send a book each month to the home of every child under age 5 in the District. The early literacy initiative aims to address an achievement gap that begins at birth. “We have households in the District that have hundreds of books and households where the only book in the house may be the phone book,” he said. By the time students are in third grade, less than half of public school students in the District are on grade level in reading. Allen’s proposal aims to address the problem early on, by tackling a large word gap that’s been documented in research.”(more)

It Pays to Increase Your Word Power

Education Next – Robert Pondiscio

“When it comes to vocabulary, size matters. E.D. Hirsch, Jr. observed that vocabulary “is a convenient proxy for a whole range of educational attainments and abilities.” It signals competence in reading and writing and correlates with SAT success—which, in turn, predicts the likelihood of college attendance, graduation, and the associated wage premium that has been fetishized by education reformers and driven their agenda for decades.”(more)

How parents help toddlers catch up on language skills

Medical Xpress – Bjorn Carey

“At a recent White House meeting on “bridging the word gap,” a Stanford psychologist presented findings indicating that well-designed intervention techniques with mothers and children can help address this important problem [word gap]…A conversation about the day’s events can play a critical role in a toddler’s language development.” (more)