| Share: | More

22 Jun 2010

Can Silent Reading in the Summer Reduce Socioeconomic Differences in Reading Achievement?

Thomas G. White, University of Virginia
James S. Kim, Harvard University

Book Chapter

White, T.G., & Kim, J.S., (2010). Can Silent Reading in the Summer Reduce Socioeconomic Differences in Reading Achievement? In E.H. Hiebert & D. Ray Reutzel (Eds.), Revisiting Silent Reading: New Directions for Teachers and Researchers. (pp. 67-91). Newark, DE. IRA.


This chapter addresses an important issue for education policymakers and practitioners in the United States. The question we ask is whether socioeconomic differences in reading achievement can be reduced by programs that encourage silent reading in the summer months. In the years following school entry, children of low socioeconomic status (SES) lose ground in reading relative to their high-SES counterparts. This widening achievement gap may be largely the result of different rates of learning during the summer months (e.g., Alexander, Entwisle, & Olson, 2001; Cooper, Nye, Charlton, Lindsay, & Greathouse, 1996; Heyns, 1978). Even small differences in summer learning can accumulate across years resulting in a substantially greater achievement gap at the end of elementary school than was present at the beginning (Alexander, Entwisle, & Olson, 2004; see also Borman & Dowling, 2006; Lai, McNaughton, Amituanai-Toloa, Turner, & Hsiao, 2009).

As Heyns (1978) suggested more than 30 years ago, increasing low-income children’s access to books and encouraging them to read in the summer might go a long way towards reducing seasonal differences in learning and achievement gaps. Although this powerful idea may be one whose time has finally come, it needs to be more fully developed and tested in a methodologically rigorous way. We need to know, for example, whether mere access to books is sufficient, and specifically how to encourage children to read during their summer vacation. And Summer Silent Reading Programs 2 we need experimental studies to establish the effectiveness of any interventions that are developed before they are widely implemented with children.

We have been pursuing the question of how to enhance silent summer reading while addressing socioeconomic differences in reading achievement for the past seven or eight years.  In the process, we developed what we call a “scaffolded” summer reading program and conducted two randomized experiments to test its effectiveness (Kim, 2006; Kim & White, 2008). In the next three sections, to provide a backdrop, we review research on socioeconomic differences in reading achievement and summer learning and some possible explanations of those differences. Then, in the heart of the chapter, we explain our thinking as we approached the task of developing the summer reading program, present the logic model underlying it, describe the experiments, give the details of the program, present findings, and describe related research and similar programs that are being implemented by others. We conclude with a set of recommendations for researchers and policymakers.

For more information about this edited volume, please visit the publisher's (International Reading Association) website.