NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


January 9, 2007

The past decade has been a bumper one for good children's books.  Yet despite the proliferation, reading is increasingly unpopular among children, says the Economist.

In England, according to the National Foundation for Educational Research:

  • Some 23 percent said they didn't like reading at all in 1997; by 2003, the number grew to 35 percent.
  • The result has been that around 6 percent of children leave primary school each year unable to read properly.

As a result, Gordon Brown, the British Chancellor, has announced the national implementation of Reading Recovery, a scheme to help the children who are struggling most.  So far, the results are promising:

  • A recent evaluation reported that children on the scheme made 20 months' progress in just one year,
  • Weak readers who received no special help made just five months' progress, and so ended the year even further below the level expected for their age.

But at a cost of more than £2,000 (about US $3,900) per pupil, Reading Recovery is not cheap.  But it may be a sound investment, says the Economist.  The KPMG Foundation, a charity that has been paying for Reading Recovery in some schools, says that each child who leaves primary school unable to read will go on to cost the taxpayer at least £50,000 (about US $97,100) in specialist teaching in secondary schools.

But success may hinge on whether or not the program can actually get children to enjoy reading, says the Economist.  This matters not only because children who like to read can look forward to lifelong pleasure, but because loving books is an excellent predictor of future educational success.  According to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), being a regular and enthusiastic reader is more of an advantage than having well-educated parents in good jobs.

Source: Editorial, "Catching Up," Economist, December 19, 2006.

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