Educators and state and municipal officials have been trying to improve literacy rates in urban, low-income neighborhoods for decades. Despite spending untold millions of dollars and trying multiple approaches, literacy rates remain depressed. In fact, just 21% of U.S. low-income 4th grade students read at or above proficiency. And more than half of all students (53%) are low-income. How can we expect to provide opportunities for our citizens and prosper as a nation if generation after generation we leave such a large group behind?
Our latest white paper, authored by Eileen Hanning, M. ED., and Beth Kara Dawkins, PH.D., analyzes the problem and shows that audiobooks are uniquely positioned to address the challenges of literacy development in low-income urban neighborhoods. Audiobooks easily deal with issues of access and cost - which many existing programs do - but uniquely address word exposure and motivation/cultural reference. Many programs focus on getting books into homes or persuading parents to read to their children. Let me be clear, these are both desired outcomes. It's just they're not effective given the realities of most urban low-income homes. Books that do make it into these homes often lay fallow. The vast majority of low-income students and their parents cannot read, or the parents cannot read proficiently/confidently, read in English or aren't at home enough to read to their kids, given second and third jobs.
What makes audiobooks unique is that they can be easily and cost-effectively distributed into urban low-income homes, with the knowledge that the words will be read expressively and fluently to an eager audience. As important as fluent exposure, is quantity of titles made available, notably a wide selection of age-appropriate multicultural titles. While America remains majority white, nearly half of school-aged children are members of a minority group; schools represent a good picture of what our national make-up will look like down the road. Research shows that children are more interested in reading and perform better when they gain access to culturally appropriate titles.
We hope you'll download and review our latest white paper, and maybe even send it along to colleagues and local state and municipal officials.