Friday, May 21, 2010

Bookworms produce academic butterflies.

Sorry—I had a really hard time coming up with a title.

The Chronicle of Higher Ed writes up a study that found that the strongest correlator to academic attainment is how many books his or her parents own. It’s an even stronger factor than parents’ education level. Yay, Milo will be in school forever! But do library books count? And what about our twelve boxes of books in storage?

I once read that a home should have books in every room. I am not sure if this was for interior decorating or intellectual reasons, but I thought at the time, of course. I have visited a lot of poor families whose dearth of books disappoints but does not surprise me; it is far stranger to me to see, as I sometimes do, no books in middle-class homes. No children’s books, either! (These houses tend to have televisions in the bedrooms; wonder what that correlation is?)

A few years ago Dick Allington told me of a study I think he ran that found that children who got to choose a bunch of books to take home at the end of the school year lost less learning over the summer than those who attended summer school! That says something about the power of reading ... or the lousiness of summer school instruction?


  1. Interesting. I seem to always be hearing of studies that claim no link between the amount of books at home and academic achievement.

  2. Hmmm... sort of the same argument that having fancy sports equipment would make you a better player. I'm thinking this is a chicken and egg thing. :)

  3. Hello, if I put books in a room it is because I or someone in my family is reading them...You would have to read the books, not just collect them.

  4. Mary Leonhardt wrote a great book about parents who were readers with kids who weren't. (Just looked up the actual title: Parents Who Love Reading, Kids Who Don't: How It Happens and What You Can Do About It.) She absolutely recommends leaving high interest stuff everywhere a kid might possibly pick it up. She is especially high on leaving reading material by the microwave during the teenage years.

  5. I have two comments:
    First, I was blessed to marry (30+ years) a woman who is a voracious reader. She passed that love of reading on to both of our kids. I have a son at Northwestern Univ (double major in Film and History) and a daughter who is a sophomore in high school and making the A honor roll every semester. They both look forward to bookstore gift cards for birthdays, Christmas, special recognitions, etc. From my experience, reading helps tremendously with academic achievement and perhaps more importantly grows intelligence.

    Secondly, I am a management consultant by day ( providing among other things executive coaching and career transition coaching to adults. A sideline passion of coaching students started a few years ago due to adult requests. Thus was born Career Coaching for Students(tm) This program is not what is being provided to students in high school contrary to what school boards, principals and counselors would like you to believe. The reason I bring this to you is that I find those students that are not strong readers (and possibly due to that not academically strong students) are still extremely talented. When the student in early high school finds their passion and has a tangible plan for pursuing that passion, they improve academically and accomplish great things.

    Any reporter wanting to do a story about this is encouraged to contact me. I want the nation to know that every student is talented and has great potential for their future if they only had a way to uncover their passion. You'll have access to the program content, past student participants, parents and facilitators. I'll even have you take the assessments we use with the students.
    Thank you,
    Carl Nielson
    Chief Discovery Officer
    Success Discoveries
    and developer of Career Coaching for Students

  6. Mrs. C is correct. The Chronicle of Higher Education wrote up the study as though high achievement were caused by the number of books in the home. The concepts of reverse causation and the fact that correlation doesn't equal causation often elude the press, but it seems extra embarrassing for the Chronicle of Higher Education to fail to get it. D'oh! (That said, of course the more books in the home the better! Also the messier, at least in my house.)

  7. Susan Neuman, who was George W. Bush's asst secretary over ESEA, also did a study about the correlation between access to print (including public libraries) and children's ability to read. Of course there are fewer libraries with fewer children's books in poor neighborhoods.