by David Safier
It's a decade-old study about the relationship between books in the home and student achievement, but the study is new to me and every bit as relevant now as it was then, especially right now at the beginning of the school year.
The study looked at the difference between black and white children's reading and math test scores in kindergarten and first grade. Taking the children's race as the only factor, the black children scored quite a bit lower than the white children — 40 percent of a standard deviation lower for the stat-savvy among you.
When the study controlled socioeconomic status (SES), the gap went down to 13 percent of a standard deviation difference between the black and white kids. That's still a significant difference, but the gap has closed considerably.
Then the study added the number of children's books in the home into the equation. Just like that, the gap between the black and white children essentially disappeared.
Racial factors were irrelevant in the kindergarten and first grade test scores of the children, according to the authors of the study. Take race out of the picture and keep the parent(s)' occupation and income more-or-less equal, and the controlling factor in student scores on the tests was simply the number of children's book the child had access to. And not just in reading where you would expect a correlation. It was equally true with math.
The findings of the study are both superficially obvious and very significant. Sure, having kids books at home is important, everyone knows that. And lots of children's books indicate that the parents value books and are probably readers. Other studies have arrived at similar conclusions counting the number of adult books in the house. But the overwhelming importance of children having books at their disposal during their early years — which usually is accompanied by adults who read a variety of books to children over and over and model the importance of reading to their children with their own behavior — simply cannot be overstated. Children who are raised by people who read books have a significant advantage in school over children from similar homes where books are less valued.