The Huffington Post
By: Earl Martin Phalen
December 22, 2010
The secret to student achievement lies in parental engagement. Parents are children's first and most important educators, and we must support them, encourage them, and provide them with the tools they need to prepare their own children to succeed in school.
Consider the case of Antonia, a little girl growing up in New York City. Antonia's parents were raised in Mexico and were not read to as children. So when Antonia was born, they did not read to her.
Had this trend continued, Antonia would have failed to develop critical early language skills as a preschooler and almost certainly entered kindergarten one-to-two years behind her classmates, putting her at increased risk for school failure, dropping out, teen pregnancy, and substance abuse.
That all changed when Antonia's pediatrician handed her a brand-new book at her 6-month checkup and explained to her mother and father why reading aloud was so important. The pediatrician reassured Antonia's parents that it was equally beneficial to read to her in Spanish, since they weren't strong English readers.
Since then, Antonia's parents have read to her every day. By the time Antonia entered kindergarten, she knew all of the letters of the alphabet and their sounds.
Now Antonia is 10 years old, loves books, and is one of the strongest readers in her class. She also makes time every day to read to her 2-year-old sister.
The simple act of introducing books and engaging Antonia's parents forever changed her life, and the life of her family. Not only did it prepare her to succeed in school - her mother and father have also developed their English by reading bilingual books to Antonia.
Unfortunately, there are millions of children in America who aren't as lucky as Antonia. Tonight, 13 million children 5 and under will go without a bedtime story. They are falling further and further behind their peers before the first day of school even begins.
Antonia's pediatrician is one of 27,000 doctors nationwide who are working to ensure that doesn't happen, through the Reach Out and Read program. At every regular checkup, they give their youngest patients a brand-new book to take home and keep, and they give parents age-appropriate guidance about reading aloud.
Reach Out and Read serves nearly four million children in America, and 14 published studies demonstrate that the program works. Families read together more often, and their children enter kindergarten with larger vocabularies and a six-month developmental edge.
Because Reach Out and Read operates within our existing health care infrastructure, it's extraordinarily cost-effective.
In fact, an investment of $100 million -- similar to the one that Mark Zuckerberg made recently to the Newark public schools -- would enable Reach Out and Read to serve every American child growing up in poverty. Those 5.5 million children would enter kindergarten with a home library of at least 10 brand-new books and, most importantly, highly-engaged parents.
Mr. Zuckerberg's incredibly generous donation will improve a troubled school system that serves 40,000 children. A similar donation could improve educational outcomes for 5.5 million children nationwide and significantly increase America's pivotal third grade reading scores.
No question. $100 million is a lot of money.
Compared to the billions of dollars the United States spends on remedial reading, high school drop-out, and other intervention programs, however, the return on investment could not be more clear.