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Study Finds Quality Book Gap for Very Young Children:
Children in Low Income Families Bear the Brunt

Gap Exists Despite an Expanding Strong Market for Quality Books
for Children Under Age 5

8/23/2000 - A new national study assessing the availability and quality of books for young children (ages 0 to 5) has found disturbing evidence that quality books are eluding children from families with low incomes in early childhood classrooms, childcare settings, and in the home. The study also found that a significant consumer market for early literacy materials is growing rapidly as public and privately sponsored early childhood learning readiness initiatives advance. But, the literacy emphasis in most early childhood programs is not strong enough to prepare children for school.

The study, Access for All: Closing the Book Gap for Children in Early Childhood, was conducted by Dr. Susan B. Neuman, a nationally known expert in early literacy development who currently is a professor at Temple University. Dr. Neuman will become the Director of the National Center for the Improvement of Early Reading Achievement (CIERA) at the University of Michigan in Fall, 2000.

Commenting on the study’s key findings, Dr. Neuman said, "Early childhood classrooms and childcare settings across all geographic boundaries and income levels do not have the resources to build libraries with sufficient numbers of quality books for young children. Funding for appropriate literacy materials is episodic and unpredictable. Far too much reliance is placed on the generosity of parents and community members. In addition, without significant public support for needed books and professional development for teachers, children from low income families will continue to bear the brunt of this literacy gap that has powerful long term negative consequences."

Dr. Neuman added, "The paucity of affordable quality books is compounded by another key finding: Parents and teachers lack adequate guidance about how to choose quality books for their children. There are no guidelines for what constitutes quality books that build developmentally appropriate learning skills for very young children. As a result, parents and teachers who want to choose books for very young children have no way of assessing whether books and other learning materials will make a positive difference. They are flying blind when they are buying books for their children."

Another report on early literacy, conducted by Child Care READS! (a project of the Child Care Action Campaign), Penguin-Putnam Books, and EDK Associates, underscores the key finding that while parents "get the message" about the need to read to children often, they also need guidance on how to read to very young children in a way that lays a foundation for literacy once children get to school. The report noted that early literacy not only involves direct experiences with books but ongoing and effective communication between providers, parents, and children.

Faith Wohl, President of Child Care Action Campaign, said, "Our focus groups made it very clear: today’s harried parents and hurried children face new obstacles when it comes to learning to read in a way that builds language and early literacy skills. Our findings support the need for stressed-out, short-of-time parents to engage children in simple everyday activities that can help foster language development."

The study offers preliminary findings from a broad sample of NAEYC-accredited child centers and non-accredited centers. The survey sample of the accredited childcare centers includes military, public, preK, Head Start, and for-profit centers. Survey data is used to examine the market power and market demand of the early education community, and decisionmaking process for material selection in several key sites. A full copy of the findings will be released in Fall, 2000.

Click here to download a summary study.

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© 2002 CIERA All rights reserved.
Last updated: Wed, Mar 27, 2002

Center for the Improvement of Early Reading Achievement
University of Michigan School of Education
610 E. University Ave., Rm. 1600 SEB
Ann Arbor MI 48109-1259
Phone: (734) 647-6940 Fax: (734) 615-4858

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