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Is early reading instruction key to closing the black-white achievement gap?

Close the achievement gap by focusing on early-grades reading instruction, argues Sol Stern in the latest issue of City Journal, calling for “a Marshall Plan for reading.”

Stern cites research showing that “controlled for socioeconomic variables, blacks were still at the 35th percentile of the white distribution in math and the 39th percentile in reading,” and that the gap occurred even when students attended the same schools and had the same teachers as their white peers. Stern identifies the root of the problem in “cognitive deficits” of black students when they enter school:

Inner-city black children, research shows, begin school with only half the vocabulary of white middle-class children. Typically, they soon fall behind in trying to decode how the written English language blends the sounds made by letter combinations into words.

The solution Stern proposes is to create an office of reading improvement within the DOE, which would then identify 300 high-poverty, low-scoring schools, fund scientifically-proven K-3 reading programs, reduce class sizes to no more than 15 students in those schools, and provide information to principals about the effectiveness of the program choices.

Stern projects the cost of such a “Marshall Plan” to be about $150 million.

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