THE ISSUE: We know that approximately 61 percent of low-income families do not have a single piece of reading material suitable for a child. In Georgia, a third of our children come to school unprepared to learn and 75 percent of students who are poor readers in the third grade will remain poor readers in high school. Further, Georgia scored 49th on SAT’s in 2003, one in four adults in Georgia operates at a low literacy level, and low literate workers cost Georgia businesses $7 billion a year.
THE INCENTIVE: Educators have identified preschool reading and parent involvement as among the most important steps toward a child’s success in school. A growing body of research now supports the experience of teachers. It suggests that from birth on, the learning environment has a tremendous impact on the short and long-term reading capability of the child.
THE ANSWER: Leading economists say that money put toward early-childhood programs offers the greatest returns and may be the best form of economic development. “Early-childhood interventions are the most cost-effective way to develop human capital” according to Nobel Prize winning economist, James Heckman.
The key is to start at birth. Immersing a child in a literacy environment can be a stronger predictor of literacy and academic achievement than family income. Also, in a 1991 study, parents given books were four times more likely to read and share books with their children. This rate increased to eight times more likely with lower income parents.
The Elbert County Read at Home program cannot address all the issues of early literacy; however, we can eliminate one of the reasons why parents do not read to their child—the availability of quality books in the home. Books delivered not just once, but 60 times in the child’s critical years of development.