- From the U.S. Department of Education
- From the Office of Innovation and Improvement (OII)
- Arts In Education
- Closing the Achievement Gap
- Education Spending
- Higher Education
- Raising Student Achievement
- Teacher Quality and Development
First Book: Giving Children from Low-Income Families the Opportunity to Read and Own Their First New Book
Chester, a cricket from rural Connecticut, takes a ride in a picnic basket and ends up in a Times Square subway station where a little boy named Mario Bellini discovers him. Mario convinces his parents to let him adopt the cricket and give it a home at their newsstand. Chester's adventures capture the attention of the first graders who are listening to the story while seated in a reading circle on a colorful rug in a rural Missouri town. The scene takes place when an after-school program the children attend hosts a book donation event made possible through its affiliation with an organization called First Book.
Not only do these first graders learn about the true meaning of friendship, they also learn about the New York City subway system, which most of them may only know from reading books. Art and music also play powerful roles in The Cricket in Times Square, by children's book author George Selden, and the best part of all - the students get their very own copy of the book after the reading. All children who participate in events such as this with First Book, which are held all over the country, go home with free books. For some of them, the books could be the very first they own.
Providing Reading Resources
First Book is a nonprofit organization with a single mission: to give children from low-income families the opportunity to read and own their first new book. Recognizing the need for a child to have access to reading materials so he or she may become a skilled reader, the nonprofit developed a model to help literacy-serving organizations provide more reading materials to children like the ones in rural Missouri. First Book works with existing literacy organizations such as Head Start centers, libraries, churches, and after-school initiatives to identify schools and students who need books. Then the organization provides the books f ree to programs that are able to pick them up from various warehouse locations across the country. The books also can be shipped for 25 cents each.
First Book's mission is not to instruct children to read. However, by supplying the resources children need to become strong readers, the organization helps to develop and advance reading skills through practice. Like any skill, reading is one that benefits from practicing and listening to others. With research indicating that the number of books in the home is a key variable that correlates significantly with reading scores, First Book sets out to "even the playing field" for low-income and disadvantaged youth throughout the country.
There are 25 to 30 book distributions hosted by the First Book National Book Bank (FBNBB) annually and, many times, recipient organizations host book readings, plan trips, and design curricula based on the books they receive, all before sending the books home with children. Eligible organizations register with FBNBB, and they are notified when a distribution will take place. Books are generously donated by book publishers and can go to a nonprofit organization if it has at least 80 percent of the children served coming from low-income families, a Title I school, or a specially designated government institution. (Institutions serving low-income families fall under this classification.) Over 4,000 such groups have registered and, since 1992, First Book has distributed close to 50 million books to children in over 1,300 communities around the nation.
"Our groups use the books in many different ways," says Kyle Zimmer, president and co-founder of First Book. She explains, "The central model is that we give the books to pre-school and after-school organizations that serve youth from zero to 18 years of age. The recipient groups are able to provide one book per child, per month, for one year on average. They tell the Advisory Boards what they'll use the books for." The Boards are made up of community volunteers, business people, and independent individuals. The members work with First Book to select the books, raise funds to purchase the books for children in literacy programs, recruit more volunteers, and take part in marketing events to raise money and awareness.
Zimmer notes that, often, "If [an organization] is getting books about dinosaurs, [the children] will go on a field trip to look at dinosaurs in a museum, then they learn about types of dinosaurs. Essentially the organization will plan a whole curriculm around dinosaurs. Groups are allowed to get all the kids the same book, or they can customize their order so a really good reader may get a more challenging book."
Helping to Meet Reading Goals
Through the Fund for the Improvement of Education (FIE) Program, the U.S. Department of Education (ED) has supported numerous First Book projects so books could go to disadvantaged children and families. Books were distributed to at-risk children and youth, primarily in rural areas of the country, who participated in tutoring, mentoring, and family literacy programs. FIE grants also helped First Book create, strengthen, and nurture the nearly 275 local First Book Advisory Boards that raise funds and select the most effective programs in their communities as First Book recipients.
The FBNBB also coordinates Book Relief, First Book's initiative to put five million new books back into the Gulf Coast region following the destruction of the 2005 hurricanes. Book Relief started within days of Hurricane Katrina's landfall and, so far, has distributed nearly 4.5 million new books to children, adults, communities, and institutions in the five Gulf Coast states (Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Texas, and Florida) most severely impacted by the storms. Publishers have committed millions of brand new books to the effort. In addition, nonprofits, many private companies, and government institutions such as ED and the U.S. Coast Guard have donated warehouse space, enabling First Book to store and distribute books from facilities conveniently located near many of the communities devastated by the storms.
ED, in fact, has played a major role in Book Relief. Since June 2006, ED and First Book have collaborated to distribute over 1.15 million books. ED has announced the distribution of the books at numerous events across affected Gulf Coast communities and has handled the distribution of the books to sites via its warehouse, the ED Pubs center in Jessup, Maryland.
At a recent ED-sponsored Book Relief event in Chalmette, Louisiana, for example, students got to hear all about the adventures of Clifford, The Big Red Dog, and his owner, Emily Elizabeth. Clifford himself (really a volunteer wearing a big red dog costume) even turned out for the event along with a Washington official, U.S. Deputy Secretary of Education Raymond Simon, who read a Clifford story to the assembled school children.
Doris Voitier, a 2007 John F. Kennedy Foundation Profiles in Courage Award winner, also was present at the event. Voitier earned the recognition for her efforts to rebuild the St. Bernard Parish Schools following the devastation of Hurricane Katrina. At the Book Relief event, she expressed a truth recognized by educators and supported by the First Book model: "We all know that reading to our children is one of the most important things that parents can do to prepare youngsters for entering school. We can all agree that in grades K through four, we learn to read, and for the rest of our lives, we read to learn." Another significant fact is that parents and children need to have books to read, see the people in their home reading, and have lots of choices for what to read.
Part of the commitment of the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) is that every child, by the year 2014, should be able to read on or above grade level by the end of third grade. Yet, research shows that children from low-income households are less likely to develop the skills needed to become strong readers because their households and classrooms often lack reading resources. A National Center for Education Statistics' (NCES) evaluation of NCLB reading proficiency scores in 2005 found that 36 percent of all fourth graders scored at the "below basic" proficiency level, but 54 percent of fourth graders eligible for the school lunch program, often an indicator of poverty, scored at the "below basic" proficiency level.
One factor contributing to these scores may be that while middle-income parents spend thousands of hours reading one-on-one to their children prior to starting first grade, low-income parents may spend as little as 25 hours. In addition, households of at-risk students often are not filled with the books, magazines, pamphlets, catalogues, and other reading materials that brim in the homes of typical middle class families. When the child of a middle-income parent starts to read, he or she can choose a book from the family library, pick a magazine parents have ordered, or flip through a booklet that belongs to mom, just to look at the pictures. Not so for many children who live in poverty.
First Book President Kyle Zimmer notes, "There are two ways we know the First Book model is effective. First, through anecdotal evidence - we get feedback directly from our Advisory Boards. They tell us about the smiles they see on the faces of children getting their first books." First Book also has evidence from two studies that were conducted, partially through FIE funding. Zimmer asserts, "Over 2,000 children were identified in one survey and 1,400 in another. The studies followed the children for months, doing a pre-screening, a mid-point screening, and then another screening 16 to 18 months later. They observed sets of behavior that indicated an interest in reading. For instance, they watched for whether a child left an activity in order to read or listen to a story. They also watched for whether a child chose books to read over another activity. The so-called 'observed indicators' are really important.In one study, the number of indicators more than doubled [over time], and in the other it increased even more."
Making Books Widely Available
Zimmer is proud of what First Book has achieved, but remains focused on solving the problem of access to books. "Access is a problem we can solve," she says. That is one reason for the development of the "First Book Marketplace." The First Book Marketplace sells high-quality new children's books through an online store to programs serving disadvantaged children at very low prices in order to reach children who never before could gain access to such a wide range of quality books.
"Marketplace came out of the idea that everyone needs to do a little bit. We cannot rely on funding from the top down to help everything. We surveyed our groups and found most either had money in their budgets for books or knew where to get it. So we designed a system to purchase huge quantities of books and offer them for sale to groups at way below market price. The revenue is much less for publishers, and we can't always get all the titles we want, but we've increased the number of groups we serve from 4,000 to 21,000. How amazing is that?"
First Book realizes it cannot achieve its goals alone. The organization takes every opportunity to engage partners from the corporate, government, nonprofit, and campus-based realms. For example, since 2000, First Book has been the signature charity of the U.S. Coast Guard. Agency personnel and families stationed throughout the country support First Book by volunteering on Advisory Boards, hosting book parties for children, and storing and distributing books from U.S. Coast Guard warehouse facilities nationwide.
Corporate involvement is constantly growing as well. Corporations support First Book through "cause-based" marketing campaigns, using private sector strategies for the public good. They hold local events and donation drives that show their commitment to the community.
It seems that First Book always is on the verge of developing another method to get books to children and to celebrate the importance of learning to read. The organization's latest Web site campaign, "What Book Got You Hooked?" will help it celebrate the distribution of its 50 millionth book this summer.
"No matter who you're talking to, the way to bring an instant smile, a wonderful softening, is to ask someone to recall the book that got them hooked on reading," said Zimmer, who recently was named the 2006 Social Entrepreneur of the Year by the Schwab Foundation for Social Entrepreneurship. "Every child should have the opportunity to get hooked on reading. We cannot afford to get bigheaded if we're serious about serving the 26 million children in poverty. We are way too far from the finish line, and that keeps us focused."
So, what book got you hooked?
- First Book
- Fund for the Improvement of Education Grant Program
- National Center for Education Statistics
From the U.S. Department of Education
U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings announced the award of 18 grants totaling $38.2 million under the Teacher Incentive Fund Program that will provide financial incentives to teachers and principals who improve student achievement and close achievement gaps in high-poverty schools. (June 13)
Secretary Spellings released a statement and an op-ed article following the release of the report, PDF, (1.20 MB) Answering the Question that Matters Most: Has Student Achievement Increased Since No Child Left Behind? by the Center on Education Policy, a national, independent advocate for public education and more effective public schools. (June 5)
At the first of five regional higher education summits, Secretary Spellings called on Congress to enact a comprehensive Higher Education Act (HEA) reauthorization bill to improve college access, affordability, and accountability for all Americans. (June 5)
Secretary Spellings announced that ten states have been awarded a total of $284 million to help create new charter schools and increase school choices for parents and their children. The competitive three-year grants are through the Office of Innovation and Improvement's Public Charter Schools Program and support states' efforts to plan, design, implement, and disseminate information about charter schools. (June 5)
With many students and teachers on break, the final Education News Parents Can Use show of the 2006-2007 season focused on summer programs that aim to sustain academic skills and help students avoid the "summer slide." The broadcast showcased award-winning and effective summer learning programs, explored innovative strategies to engage and nurture disadvantaged youth, and profiled library-, community-, and corporate-based initiatives to keep students reading and learning. The archived broadcast can be viewed online. (June 19)
The Institute of Education Sciences (IES) issued the Director's Biennial Report to Congress, covering IES activities and accomplishments in 2005 and 2006. Director Grover (Russ) J. Whitehurst said, "IES has been transformed from an organization under construction to one that is fully formed and operational." (June 8)
The U.S. Department of Education's National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) released Mapping 2005 State Proficiency Standards Onto the NAEP Scales, a report that allows educators to " better gauge where states are and how far they have to go to reach grade-level proficiency for all students by 2014," according to a statement by Secretary Spellings. (June 7)
NCES released The Condition of Education 2007, a Congressionally mandated report that provides an annual statistical portrait of education in the United States. The 48 indicators included in the report cover all aspects of education, from student achievement to school environment and from early childhood through postsecondary education. Secretary Spellings made a statement following the release of the report. (May 31)
From the Office of Innovation and Improvement (OII)
Assistant Deputy Secretary Morgan Brown will keynote the 14 th Annual Education Law Conference. The conference will be held at the University of Southern Maine in Portland and will address a broad range of topics including: autism, due process hearings, the achievement gap, NCLB, charters, and school choice. (July 24-26)
The pre-solicitation notice for the Teaching American History program's National History Education Clearinghouse has been posted on the fedbizop.gov site. The link includes a synopsis of the contract as well as the anticipated July 13 th issue date of the RFP in this free and open competition.You can also register with the fedbizops.gov site to receive e-mail notifications. (June 25)
Charter Schools Open Competition: Application information is available for Public Charter Schools CFDA 84.282B Planning Program Design for Implementation and 84.282.C Dissemination Activities.The deadline for transmittal of applications is August 6, 2007 and the deadline for intergovernmental review is September 5, 2007.
Arts in Education
Boston's Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum is sponsoring the "Thinking Through Art Symposium," a conference for museum and classroom educators focusing on critical thinking skills and the visual arts. Space is limited, and there is a registration, fee. A grantee of OII's Model Development and Dissemination Grants program, the museum has developed a "Thinking Through Art Toolkit," which features a case study of its 2003-2006 research project. (July 16-17)
Laurie M. Tisch, who launched the nonprofit Center for Arts Education (CAE) in New York City in 1996, is one of the "2007 Daring Dozen," education activists recognized by Edutopia. Under Tisch's leadership as board chairman of CAE since its founding, nearly $40 million has provided an estimated 450,000 New York City students with learning experiences in the arts. (June 2007)
Closing the Achievement Gap
Limited English proficient fourth and eighth grade students in Texas may be falling behind their English-speaking peers in mathematics and reading, according to a Pew Hispanic Center analysis PDF, (1.49 MB). (June 6)
The Census Bureau reports that the U.S. spent an average of $8,701 per pupil to educate its children in 2005, with some states paying more than twice as much per student as others. New York topped the list spending $ 14,119 per student. One of the lowest spending states was Utah at $5,257 per student. (May 24)
The MetLife Foundation and Jobs for the Future (JFF) are inviting community colleges across the nation to apply for the 2008 MetLife Community College Excellence Award . The award will honor two community colleges for their commitment to helping low-income students, first-generation college-goers, and adults enter and succeed in postsecondary education. Each honoree will receive a $30,000 award and national recognition. Completed applications must be submitted online by August 31, 2007. (June 28)
A new survey, Squeeze Play: How Parents and the Public Look at Higher Education Today, has been prepared by Public Agenda for the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education in collaboration with "Making Opportunity Affordable," an initiative of Lumina Foundation for Education. Among the key findings, the survey reveals that 50 percent of Americans surveyed say that a college education is necessary for success in the workplace, but 58 percent say that college prices are rising faster than other expenses. (May 31)
According to a new study of the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA) Chicano Studies Research Center, only 10 percent of the Hispanics enrolled in a community college in 2002-2003 successfully transferred to a four-year college. The findings highlighted the need for improved support programs including "bridge" programs and alliances among community colleges and four-year institutions. (May 25)
The Education Commission of the States (ECS) announced PDF, (23.3 KB), the appointment of Roger Sampson, Alaska Commissioner of Education and Early Development, as its new president. (June 11)
Wanted: educators with proven track records of success; outstanding senior executives from education, business, government, the military, and nonprofit organizations; and dynamic entrepreneurs. The Broad Center for the Management of School Systems is now accepting resumes for application consideration for the 2008 Broad Superintendents Academy. The application deadline is Sept. 16, 2007. Please e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or call (310) 954-5080 with questions. (June 2007)
Raising Student Achievement
Diplomas Count, a new report from Education Week, draws on two national databases to examine the distribution of jobs nationally and within each state, and the relationship between education and pay levels. The report also includes analysis by the Editorial Projects in Education Research Center regarding graduation rates nationwide, finding that an estimated 1.23 million students, or about 30 percent of the class of 2007, will fail to graduate with their peers. (June 12)
Evan M. O'Dorney, a 13-year-old from Danville, California, has won the 2007 Scripps National Spelling Bee. The Scripps National Spelling Bee is the nation's largest and longest-running educational promotion. The E.W. Scripps Company administers the competition. (June 1)
Southern states, and Arkansas in particular, are leading the country in student participation in Advanced Placement (AP) and International Baccalaureate programs, according to a report PDF, (89 KB), from the Southern Regional Education Board. The report indicates that in 2006, 26 percent of graduating seniors in the board's member states took at least one AP exam. (June 2007)
Core academic courses in U.S. high schools often lack the rigor they need to adequately prepare students for college-level work, according to a new report, Rigor at Risk, from ACT, Inc. The report suggests that even students who take the recommended college preparatory curriculum in high school are often not well prepared to handle college material. (May 15)
The Urban Education Exchange (UEE) and Weekly Reader Publishing are collaborating PDF, (27.9 KB), on a set of curriculum resources for grades two through six. "Reading Passages", uses articles from Weekly Reader publications and questions based on UEE's Concepts of Comprehension© framework to respond to the need for non-fiction, grade-level passages that expand students' world knowledge and reinforce reading skills. Weekly Reader will publish the Concepts of Comprehension© resource book with the first 500 passages in January. (Apr. 30)
Teacher Quality and Development
The National Center for Education Information (NCEI), which specializes in survey research and data analysis, has released Alternative Teacher Certification: A State-by-State Analysis for 2007. The 353-page analysis reveals that about 59,000 teachers earned certification through alternative routes in 2005-2006, up from 50,000 the year before and 39,000 in 2003-2004. The report can be purchased online. (June 2007)
The 2007 U.S. Innovative Teachers Forum, sponsored by Microsoft, will reward learning teams that incorporate elements of 21st century learning in their classrooms. Supported by the National Staff Development Council and the National Commission on Teaching and America's Future, the forum will bring together exemplary K-12 learning teams and provide them with the opportunity to share expertise and engage collaboratively with their peers. The deadline to apply is July 11. (Apr. 26)
Innovations in the News
KIPP leaders are taking a close look at student attrition amid arguments from critics that the loss of students at some of their schools is alarmingly high, with some said to be losing 50 percent over three years. Yet "in certain KIPP schools, in fact, attrition appears very low." The question of attrition is seen as central to criticisms of KIPP as only serving the most motivated families. [More-Education Week] (June 13) (paid subscription required)
Martin Luther King, Jr. Charter School for Science and Technology is the first school in New Orleans' Lower 9th Ward to reopen since Hurricane Katrina. This step is important to rebuilding the community, but there are many more schools to reopen. [More-New Orleans Times-Picayune] (June 12)
Since the New Orleans public schools had to rebuild from the ground up, state authorities allowed a wide range of charter schools to emerge. The city currently is in the middle of "the largest scale test case in the nation for charter schools, and so far school reformers are cautiously optimistic." [More-Wall Street Journal] (June 9) (subscription required)
Maryland Schools Superintendent Nancy Grasmick announced that the state is slated to receive an $18.2 million federal grant for charter schools. Maryland is one of the 10 states to receive grants from OII's Public Charter Schools Program, announced by Secretary Spellings on June 5. Most of the grant money will help groups wanting to open new charter schools after the fall of 2008. About $900,000 of the three-year grant also could be used to provide training to the state's existing charter schools. [More-Baltimore Sun] (June 9) (paid subscription for archive)
A consortium of nonprofit groups released the Parents' Guide to Public Schools in New Orleans, giving essential information that families need to choose and gain admission to the schools of their choice. The guide details the multi-tiered structure of the system, in which both the state-run Recovery District and the Orleans Parish School Board operate traditional public schools and oversee charter schools. In addition, the Algiers Charter School Association next year will run a system of nine charter schools on the West Bank. [More-New Orleans Times-Picayune] (June 7)
Sixty-one percent of charter school students in New York City who took the state's reading assessments met state standards, compared to 51 percent of students citywide. Charter school performance in the city appears to be improving more rapidly than other public schools. [More-New York Sun] (May 29)
During a three-day summit in Cleveland called "In Our Own Backyards: Local Initiatives That Change Young Children's Lives," pre-school educators from across the country agreed to support a national call to focus on formal education for children from birth to age five. That means more state and federal money and more cooperation between public and private agencies. [More-Cleveland Plain Dealer] (June 10)
Exactly when children are old enough to begin kindergarten is becoming a matter of debate as states are trying to embrace the advantages of "redshirting." The term, borrowed from sports, describes students who are held out for a year by their parents so that they will be older, or larger, or more mature, and thus better prepared to handle the increased pressures of kindergarten today. [More-New York Times] (June 3) (subscription required)
Raising Student Achievement
There were 201 rising seniors selected as the inaugural class of D.C. Achievers, a yearlong college-readiness program administered by the D.C. College Success Foundation and made possible by a $112 million grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. The D.C. program is linked to the College Success Foundation, which began in 2000 in Washington State and has helped more than 4,440 low-income and minority Washington students attend college. [More-Washington Post] (June 14) (subscription required)
Providence, Rhode Island Superintendent Donnie Evans said in his "State of the Providence Schools" address that the district's student achievement is not acceptable. He announced new initiatives called "Realizing the Dream," which calls for improving student achievement, creating safe and caring schools, improving public trust, and making sure that school programs are cost effective. [More-Providence Journal] (June 13)
The relationship between Rhode Island School of Design and a nearby urban high school is a community partnership that works. The school has aligned school-wide expectations and goals to a vision of a high-performing arts school. The result is that the formerly struggling high school is showing signs of improvement. [More-Christian Science Monitor] (June 1)
The Business-Higher Education Forum released a report recommending policies to address "a projected shortfall of more than 280,000 mathematics and science teachers across the country by 2015." The group seeks to "double the number of graduates in science, mathematics, engineering and technology fields during the next 10 years," and it argues that "the quality of mathematics and science teachers is the most influential variable in determining the success of a student in those subjects." [More-Washington Post] (June 12) (subscription required)
A Nebraska science teacher recently received the nation's highest honor for teaching mathematics or science. After 37 years in the classroom, Exeter-Milligan educator Julia Polak received the 2006 Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching. [More-York News-Times] (June 12)
Even though Chicago schools are attracting better-qualified teachers, many leave the job within five years, according to a study of Illinois teacher turnover rates. According to Leaving Schools or Leaving the Profession: Setting Illinois' Record Straight on New Teacher Attrition, from the Illinois Education Research Council, anywhere from 74 to 79 percent of teachers are gone after five years. [More-Chicago Sun-Times] (June 7)
Since 1994, many Wisconsin teachers have found their way into the classroom through Troops to Teachers, a U.S. Department of Defense-sponsored program that, among other things, offers up to $10,000 to get service members, both active and retired, to serve as teachers in the nation's neediest schools. [More-Milwaukee Journal Sentinel] (June 6)
In Maryland, under a new Baltimore County schools program, students are awarded college scholarships from the county school system to help pursue degrees in education. In exchange, the students agree to come back to teach in some of the neediest schools in the area's largest school system. [More-Baltimore Sun] (June 3) (paid subscription for archive)
Two technology trends that have been taking place separately in K-12 and higher-education institutions across the country are now beginning to come together: (1) the proliferation of wireless networks, and (2) the convergence of voice, video, and data on a single network infrastructure. [More-eSchool News] (June 4)
Office of Innovation and Improvement
Morgan S. Brown, Assistant Deputy Secretary
Office of Communications and Outreach
Lauren Maddox, Assistant Secretary
Sr. Production Editor
Margarita L. Meléndez
Last Modified: 05/13/2009