Improving Literacy in America

Improving Literacy in America: Guidelines from Research

Frederick J. Morrison
Heather J. Bachman
Carol McDonald Connor
Copyright Date: 2005
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 240
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    Improving Literacy in America
    Book Description:

    An alarmingly high number of American students continue to lack proficiency in reading, math, and science. The various attempts to address this problem have all too often resulted in "silver bullet" solutions such as reducing class size or implementing voucher programs. But as the authors of this critically important book show, improving literacy also requires an understanding of complex and interrelated social issues that shape a child's learning. More than twenty years of research demonstrate that literacy success is determined by a combination of sociocultural forces including parenting, preschool, classroom instruction, and other factors that have a direct impact on a child's development.Here, Frederick J. Morrison, Heather J. Bachman, and Carol McDonald Connor present the most up-to-date research on the diverse factors that relate to a child's literacy development from preschool through early elementary school. Urging greater emphasis on the immediate sources of influence on children, the authors warn against simple, single solutions that ignore other pivotal aspects of the problem. In a concluding chapter, the authors propose seven specific recommendations for improving literacy-recommendations that can make a real difference in American education.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-13025-6
    Subjects: Education
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Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Series Foreword (pp. ix-x)
    Alan E. Kazdin

    Current Perspectives in Psychology presents the latest discoveries and developments across the spectrum of the psychological and behavioral sciences. The series explores such important topics as learning, intelligence, trauma, stress, brain development and behavior, anxiety, interpersonal relationships, education, child rearing, divorce and marital discord, and child, adolescent, and adult development. Each book focuses on critical advances in research, theory, methods, and applications and is designed to be accessible and informative to nonspecialists and specialists alike.

    This book focuses on the challenges of improving literacy in America. The ongoing failure of educational reform and social policy to have significant and enduring...

  4. Acknowledgments (pp. xi-xii)
    • 1 The Scope of the Problem (pp. 3-16)

      These headlines and others in newspapers and magazines throughout the country in recent years have trumpeted the continuing problems the United States is experiencing in educating all of its children. A steady drumbeat of evidence in scientific journals and the popular media continues to declare that significant numbers of American children are not developing the skills they need to be successful in school and in the workplace. Despite growing national awareness and the efforts of three separate administrations to address the problem, little progress seems to have been made in improving the levels of literacy of American children from elementary...

    • 2 Sociocultural Factors (pp. 19-42)

      Whether politicians, researchers, teachers, or parents, most people, when asked to speculate about the source(s) of the literacy problems facing American children, nominate as likely culprits disparities stemming from poverty, unemployment, and low levels of parental education. Even achievement discrepancies among children of different racial groups are more commonly attributed to the economic hardship endured by minority group members than any meaningful cultural distinctions. As a result, tremendous social and scientific efforts have been expended to track the academic and vocational successes of the haves and the have-nots. Moreover, many Americans have used the size of the achievement gaps among...

    • 3 Early Childcare and Preschool (pp. 43-69)

      As we discussed in the last chapter, the effect of distal influences such as SES and ethnicity on children’s literacy operate primarily through more proximal sources of influence. As a more proximal source, early childhood care and education programs are seen as potent weapons in the effort to improve children’s literacy. Consequently, policy makers at the federal level have focused closely on early childhood education and its promise as a long-term cure for illiteracy, school inequities, and the achievement gap. The passage of Public Law 99—457 in 1986 supported early intervention for children with special needs and attempted to...

    • 4 Parenting (pp. 70-87)

      Repeatedly throughout the past two chapters, parenting has surfaced as a critical element of literacy development, either for transmitting the effects of race/ethnicity and socioeconomic status more directly to children or for enhancing the benefits of preschool interventions. However, while compelling evidence converges on the importance of parenting, this conclusion has not been readily embraced by the media and policy makers. They tend to highlight very distal, “top-down” educational influences like per-pupil spending, student-teacher ratios, and vouchers. Ironically, while parents are rarely implicated in public discussions about literacy problems in America, retailers and popular parenting magazines barrage parents with messages...

    • 5 The Role of Children in Literacy Development (pp. 88-108)

      One of the most important policy goals to emerge in the last decade is that all children will arrive at school “ready to learn” (No Child Left Behind [NCLB] Act). But what exactly does “ready to learn” mean? What knowledge and skills are important prerequisites for children’s success in school? Throughout the past chapters we have discussed the influence of cultural, socioeconomic, preschool, childcare, and parenting on children’s early literacy development. In this chapter, we weave the pieces together to present the complexity of skills that constitutes school readiness, including both cognitive—language and early literacy skills—and social-emotional skills,...

    • 6 The Classroom: Teaching and Learning (pp. 111-135)

      Teaching children how to read, write, and do math may be one of the most difficult but important endeavors facing a literate society—especially if that society has decided that literacy is a right and not a privilege (No Child Left Behind Act, Although the characteristics children bring to each classroom must be recognized (see particularly chapter 5), the contribution of variability in how and what we teach children cannot be ignored. Just as there are key parenting practices that contribute to children’s early literacy development (see chapter 4), the instructional practices of teachers are also powerful agents of...

    • 7 Teacher Qualifications, Training, and Knowledge (pp. 136-152)

      Chapter 6 highlighted the striking variation in amount and types of instruction being offered to children and its direct effect on their learning. We also discussed effective instruction and the skills of effective teachers—and how crucial these skills and abilities appear to be. In this chapter we ask, do we have the teachers we need to provide effective instruction? Unfortunately, as a nation, the answer is we do not, uniformly—yet, as in other areas of education, there is contention and misunderstanding. Some experts say the teachers we have now are just what we need; it is only that...

    • 8 The “Perfect Educational Storm” (pp. 155-170)

      The evidence that we have reviewed thus far points to a number of forces shaping the state of literacy in America’s children. In particular, parenting emerges as a critical, if not sole, factor responsible for the levels of variability seen in children before school entry. In school, variability in instructional practices as well as in teacher qualifications and preparation contributes to the maintenance and even the magnification of achievement differences as children progress through the elementary school years. One final question that we would like to address is quite simply, “How did we arrive at the situation?” An accumulating store...

    • 9 Improving Literacy in America (pp. 173-184)

      Improving literacy in America poses a critical but complex challenge. Consequently, it is understandable that researchers, educators, and policy makers have focused on single issues in their efforts to solve the problem. In this book, we have attempted to bring these pieces together, reviewing historical trends as well as current research to better understand the intricate links among parents, teachers, and children and how, in concert, they affect students’ success in school. The effort has revealed that these multiple and interconnected sources of influence act to support or undermine children’s learning. Therefore, improving literacy in America requires multiple strategies that,...

  10. References (pp. 185-216)
  11. Index (pp. 217-228)


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