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November 26, 2007

Reading Under Aerial Bombardment!

Another year, another study declaring reading under siege, or attack, or threat, or whatever. I guess it's time for the government to start subsidizing Kindles. I actually tend to be a bit skeptical of these studies, as they equate reading with book reading, and don't take into account the fact that many of us now spend our days staring at words on the computer. Additionally, the report is working on a 10-year timeframe, and the bulk of the decline appear to have happened in the early-90s, but steadied out after that. Those caveats aside, these points are interesting:

In seeking to detail the consequences of a decline in reading, the study showed that reading appeared to correlate with other academic achievement. In examining the average 2005 math scores of 12th graders who lived in homes with fewer than 10 books, an analysis of federal Education Department statistics found that those students scored much lower than those who lived in homes with more than 100 books. Although some of those results could be attributed to income gaps, Mr. Iyengar noted that students who lived in homes with more than 100 books but whose parents only completed high school scored higher on math tests than those students whose parents held college degrees (and were therefore likely to earn higher incomes) but who lived in homes with fewer than 10 books.

The new report also looked at data from the workplace, including a survey that showed nearly three-quarters of employers who were polled rated “reading comprehension” as “very important” for workers with two-year college degrees, and nearly 90 percent of employers said so for graduates of four-year colleges. Better reading skills were also correlated with higher income.

In an analysis of Education Department statistics looking at eight weekly income brackets, the data showed that 7 percent of full-time workers who scored at levels deemed “below basic” on reading tests earned $850 to $1,149 a week, the fourth-highest income bracket, while 20 percent of workers who had scored at reading levels deemed “proficient” earned such wages.

There are two things to take from that data: First, environment matters. Studies correlating outcomes with number of books in the house, or number of words spoken by a parent to an infant, have long shown a robust relationship.

Second, I'm always a bit amazed at how weak the relationship between achievement and income can appear. Given that reading skills are not the only thing -- or even near the only thing -- creating the variance between the 20% of "proficient" readers reaching the fourth income quintile and the seven percent of "below basic" readers doing so, that's a smaller variance than I would've expected. It would be interesting to get the full data set here and see if the relationship were stronger in the third and second quintiles, or if it actually weakened as you went down the ladder.

November 26, 2007 in Education | Permalink


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You can't tell a darn thing without knowing the numbers of people in each of the reading brackets (and how many brackets there are). For example, if half the population scored "proficient" then you could have 25% of them in the first octile (the article says eight brackets), 25% in the second, 25% in the third, 20% in the fourth and the remaining 5% distributed in the lower four, which would be a pretty enormous segregation. (And similarly, 93% of the "below-basic" folks would be in the bottom octiles, with 7% reaching the fifth-from-bottom).

But yeah, you need the real data.

Posted by: paul | Nov 26, 2007 10:10:38 AM

Again with the Kindles...

Posted by: Anthony Damiani | Nov 26, 2007 10:39:30 AM

This is why I went to bible college. There was only one book to buy.

Posted by: Jules | Nov 26, 2007 12:05:08 PM

There are two things to take from that data: First, environment matters. Studies correlating outcomes with number of books in the house, or number of words spoken by a parent to an infant, have long shown a robust relationship.

It isn't clear that these are environmental effects rather than just indications of genetic effects.

Posted by: Lemmy Caution | Nov 26, 2007 3:54:47 PM

"I guess it's time for the government to start subsidizing Kindles."
I guess you wrote this tongue in cheek, Ezra, but this is a crappy idea. Amazon themselves should subsidize Kindles (it's certainly NOT the governements' job to push sales for this shitty product), in order to save their business venture. 399$ for an ugly device which can do considerably less than any notebook for the same price is simply outrageous. I can only try to understand the price by taking into consideration that Amazon wants to recover its whole R&D costs with the first few months of sales. Needless to say, that's not the way other companies (Sony, Micro$oft) successfully introduced new gadgets. Looks like Bezos isn't really conviced of this product.

Instead of advertising this crap (maybe to secure Nicholas' job?), you should do a story about how a successful ebook reader (not necessarily kindle) will change the world. Imho it will lead to people reading less, not more, because the costs will go up. An unbased fear, when Kindle is actually offering rebates on books? Not so fast! What's missing in the brave new world of DRMed books is the possibility to share books, to read them in the family and to pass them among friends. And what will happen to the market for used books? DRMed books give the publisher total control about every aspect of the market. There won't be any market beyond the control of the corporations anymore, there won't be cheap sales of surplus books (with ebooks, there isn't ANY surplus production, of course!), there won't be used books (where is ANY means of transferring 'reading rights' in the licences?), there won't be cheap paperbacks (no different editions with ebooks) and even if there will be a licensing modell for librarys at some time in the future, it's very probable that this will come with higher fees. So, there is a high possibility that the overall costs of reading will go up.

Only some of the concerns regarding ebooks. Imho you should write about this, instead of mindlessly stomping for Amazon.

Posted by: Gray | Nov 27, 2007 4:27:36 AM

Full disclosure: I bought the vast majority of my books second hand. For guys like me, the costs of reading will certainly go up. And I guess that's true for many less afluent people, too. How does this support fairy dreams about ebooks enhancing readership???

Posted by: Gray | Nov 27, 2007 4:34:47 AM

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