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Access is Fundamental


Schools spend a lot of money purchasing reading programs to increase achievement for their students. The logic behind this quest for the perfect program is that administrators will no longer have to worry about the variables of teacher quality or student preparedness because this “research-based” program will create a level of idiot-proof (that’s us, by the way) consistency that guarantees better instruction. The fact that few, if any, of these scripted programs have been “research-proven” to work consistently with any groups of readers is glossed over by the publishers of these programs who stand to make a lot of money off of our fear.

Granted, many of the newer programs do include a modest supply of real books for students to use along with the program, but I could not find one that supplies the hundreds of books that the most effective classrooms should have. Whether or not the mandated program includes books for students to read is a moot point for the poorest schools, who cannot afford the thousands of dollars needed to purchase these programs for their students, anyway.

When I am out talking to teachers about the need to provide their students with choices in reading material at an appropriate level, one of the first questions I am always asked is, “Where am I going to get the books?” Although many schools purchase expensive program kits for all of the reading teachers in the building, I find very few schools that will fund substantial classroom libraries. The teachers I know that have the best classroom libraries have purchased most of these books with their own money. The government supports teachers in subsidizing our own classrooms by allowing us to deduct $250 a year, but I wish they would just buy us the books.

School libraries receive less and less funding each year, too, with some schools closing their libraries or decreasing library staff to save money. Check out the American Library Association’s updates on funding cuts to libraries and the consequences for communities and schools.

There are numerous studies which prove, not claim, that access to books increases reading achievement for children. The lack of funding or support for classroom and school libraries seems to run counter to common sense. After all, we know that students who read the most are the best readers. What are students supposed to read if there are no books?

Not surprisingly, the poorest schools have the smallest school and classroom libraries, and their students also have the fewest number of books at home. Where can a poor child get books to read without access to quality libraries?

There is one program whose mission has been to give free books to the poorest children in America for over 40 years, Reading Is Fundamental. RIF, founded in 1966, and continuously supported by federal funds since 1975, gives away 16 million books a year. With the federal mandate to increase reading achievement for all children, supporting RIF with federal money makes good sense. So what happened to RIF when the 2009 budget proposal came out last week? The new budget will cut RIF’s funding by $25.5 million. This loss of funding will eliminate the Inexpensive Book Distribution program, and further limit access to books for 4.6 million American families.

I wonder how much federal money will be used to buy those nifty kits next year?


I blame what I call the "it's too simple" problem.

Providing kids with lots and lots of interesting books and time in which to read them seems too low-tech, too easy,
too lacking in rigor. Of course it can't possibly work

I'm a school librarian, and it frustrates me that my budget is too small to do several important things that I would like to be able to do, like purchase audiobooks, while I see loads of money being spent on the latest technological fix that is going to save all our lives. However, I'm luckier than some librarians, in that I at least _have_ a regular budget that allows me to make sizable orders of new books several times a year. I work in an urban school, and for many of our students (grades 6-12) my library is the only library they have regular access to.

Thanks for blogging about RIF. We are urging supporters to send a letter to Congress. It is easy at www.rif.org.

Frank Walter

Thanks for the heads up. This is so depressing. I appreciate the response from Frank Walter and plan to follow up immediately.

Mary Beth Gay

The Internet has made it easier for teachers to raise money, solicit donations or simply get stuff for free. I think the solution is not just to get books into the classroom, but magazines and newspapers as well. Earlier this year, I set up a wish list for my classroom on Amazon.com and had friends and family donate hundreds of dollars of items. Using online resources my classroom has a half dozen free magazine subscriptions, and by participating in a Newspapers in Education workshop received free newspapers daily for my classroom. In addition, now with sites like DonorsChoose, teachers can raise money for classroom libraries. There's also many different grants available that are more easily found online.

As an English teacher at an alternative high school, I have seen many students who are non-readers become motivated to read simply through having the opportunity to choose their own books. In my view it is vital for our students to have easy access to books to which they can relate. When students find such books, they suddenly can't put them down. I love it when that happens. Thank you for addressing this important issue.

I agree. It makes me agree that so much money is spent on programs that are not helpful for students. The money could be spent to really help our students.
The school district I student teach designed their own reading program to help students learn comprehension skills that are not really being taught. It is good to see the district creating their own to really meet the needs of their students.

I have always had a library within my classroom since my very first day as a teacher. Initially the selection of books was limited to what I liked to read as they primarily came off of my bookshelf. I began looking for books at half-price books(a registered trademark)and garage sales to help vary the books found on my classroom shelves. For a time I even bought books from a children's book club but that was extremely expensive and I had to give that one up. I would purchase books from Dover's(a registered trademark)clearance catalogue,including some class sets. My greatest discovery though was the annual discarded book sale at the Houston Public Library. On the last day of this annual sale, you can purchase an entire paper sack full of books for only $10.00! Needless to say, with so many wonderful selections to choose from, and my ability to defy all known laws for the internal holding capacity for the average paper bag, I now add an enormous number of books to my classroom shelves each year and never feel bad when one or a dozen of them come up missing, as invariably happens. In fact, I use the "missing" book titles and types as a guide into what I need to be on the lookout for the next year. Your local public library may well be your greatest source of reading material for a relatively minor investment.

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Recent Comments

  • shuggins: I have always had a library within my classroom since read more
  • Melissa Leggio: I agree. It makes me agree that so much read more
  • Terry Roice: As an English teacher at an alternative high school, I read more
  • Tom DeRosa: The Internet has made it easier for teachers to raise read more
  • Mary Beth Gay: Thanks for the heads up. This is so depressing. I read more



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