Reading to Our Children

The Data of Well-Being

It is important to educators to understand the effect of our education process on our students. What does it mean to teach them well in educational settings? Our practical goal is to educate them so that they will turn out to be successful and productive citizens, but in this evidence-based world, what does successful and productive mean? One way to look at this is the concept of “well-being.” At, data is collected as indicators of our children’s well-being in seven domains. The seven domains are family and social environment, economic circumstances, health care, physical environment and safety, behavior, education and health. Although by no means perfect, these data help us to begin to understand the outcomes of our educational process and the places where children come from in their families before they reach us in schools. Thoughtful review of this data could help us to design much improved school models for the success and well-being of every child in every school.

Reading to Children Is an Indicator of Well-Being

In one of the domains we find lots of data around education and the importance of reading to children. Reading is so fundamental to our student’s success, that it should be central to all school reform efforts and all designs of new schools.

“Reading to young children promotes language acquisition and is linked with literacy development and, in later years, with achievement in reading comprehension and overall success in school.101 The percentage of young children read to three or more times per week by a family member is one indicator of how well young children are being prepared for school.”


Indicator ED1: Percentage of children ages 3–5 who were read to three or more times in the last week by a family member by mother's education, selected years 1993–2016

It can be seen in the graph above that a mother’s education is very important to a child as the practice of listening to someone who is reading to them increases with their mother’s education level.

The Problem? Reading Has Not Improved

But, despite the importance of reading to children before they get to school and the amount of time we help them in school, we are not reading enough to our children/students to improve their reading proficiency. For example, examine the chart below to see the lack of improvement in reading scores over time.


Indicator ED2.C: Average reading scale scores for students in Grades 4, 8, and 12, selected years 1992–2017

“NOTE: The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) reading assessment scale is a composite combining separately estimated scales for each type of reading (literacy and informational) specified by the reading framework. The scale ranges from 0 to 500. The 2000 assessment included data for only Grade 4, and the 2003, 2007, 2011, and 2017 assessments included data for only Grades 4 and 8. In the early years of the assessment, testing accommodations (e.g., extended time, small-group testing) for children with disabilities and limited-English-proficient students were not permitted. For 1998, scores are provided for both the assessment with and without accommodations to show comparability across the assessments.”

—SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, National Assessment of Educational Progress.

105 McFarland, J., Hussar, B., Wang, X., Zhang, J., Wang, K., Rathbun, A., … & Bullock Mann, F. (2018). The condition of education 2018 (NCES Publication No. 2018-144). Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics. Retrieved from

Radical School Reform?

If we are to do something in school reform regarding reading, it must be more radical than previous efforts. The only United States Department of Education—approved school reform for early reading literacy proficiency is “Success for All.” This model for reading intervention has a track record of success with inner city disadvantaged youth. Three important characteristics of their reform are: quality of reading instruction, the amount and quality of professional development they provide and the inclusionary work with families:

“Success for All is designed to improve the reading performance of students in elementary schools. It provides extensive professional development, materials, and software to help all teachers in high-poverty Title I schools use proven strategies to ensure reading success:

• Active, language-focused teaching in preschool and kindergarten to build oral language, school skills, and phonemic awareness.
• Beginning reading instruction in kindergarten and first grade emphasizing systematic phonics, vocabulary, fluency, and comprehension, with children working frequently in pairs.
• Comprehension-focused instruction in grades 2 and above in which students work in four-member teams to help each other learn and use comprehension strategies (e.g., clarification, prediction, summarization, graphic organizers), deep reading, writing process, and other means of building skill and enthusiasm in reading.
• Small group or one-to-one computer-assisted tutoring for struggling readers.
• Family literacy programs to engage parents in support of their children’s reading, as well as involvement of parents to solve problems such as poor
attendance, need for vision and hearing services, and social services.
• Schoolwide reading assessments to make sure that students are on track toward success in reading and intervene early if problems are detected. Formal assessments are given quarterly but informal assessments are given very frequently as formative feedback to teachers and students.
• Schoolwide data-driven leadership structures to help all teachers constantly improve their skills and make the whole school more effective in ensuring reading success for all.
• Extensive professional development to ensure effective implementation,
coaching to constantly improve teachers’ skills in teaching reading and sharing of best practices within and between schools.”

Success for All Narrative

Professional Development Emphasis

Developing teachers with high quality sklls for teaching reading is one part of this reform we can accomplish. Although this goal is well known in higher education circles, it is not well implemented in the teaching force because we do not have enough teacher training on how to be successful with an increasingly diverse and disadvantaged student population. Success for All helps us to look at how this might get done.

“Success for All provides a great deal of professional development for all staff in the school, focused on all aspects of teaching and learning in reading. This consists of about 26 person-days on site in the first year, 16 in the second, and 9 in the third year and beyond, plus offsite training and conferences mostly focused on the principal and facilitator. Initial training in the first implementation year focuses on the big ideas and procedures, with many simulations of classroom reading strategies. After that, teachers receive regular coaching from SFA coaches, who work with school staff to progressively improve their quality of implementation and outcomes. In between on-site visits by coaches, SFA staff have regular meetings by
speaker phone with school leaders and staff.”

Success for All Narrative

Of course, the cost for professional development as defined above—maybe $5000 more, plus the cost of outreach to every parent, can be daunting. Can we find the money to do this?

Family and Educators Read Together

But is this radical enough? If we were to make sure that every early education professional and every parent were joined together in the goal of reading to children and having every student attain reading proficiency by 3rd grade, it might be radical enough to change long term outcomes and improve the well being of our children.


101 Heckman, J. (2000). Invest in the very young. Chicago, IL: Ounce of Prevention.

Dr. Robert A. Southworth, Jr.

Dr. Robert A. Southworth, Jr.

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