TVtextbook delivers 3G content through students' television sets.

Prompted by lackluster reading scores, Duval County Public Schools (DCPS) in Jacksonville, Fla., is attempting to reach low-income students by turning students’ televisions into learning centers.

Part of the “Read it Forward Jax” program, into which the district is investing $5.5 million, TVtextbook units will let students without internet access plug into academic programming at home.

“The one area where we were not moving the needle enough was reading, and it ties into two other critical areas: elimination of the achievement gap and even higher graduation rates,” said DCPS Superintendent Ed Pratt-Dannals. “In the midst of us cutting $91 million from our budget, we invested $5 million in the Read it Forward Jax campaign because it is the foundational skill.”

Only two-thirds of DCPS students were deemed proficient at reading in the third grade, which mirrored the district’s 66-percent graduation rate.

For more information on school reading initiatives, see:

Tackling Reading Comprehension Head-On

“Our students weren’t making gains at the rate of increase that we needed to see,” said Jacqueline Bowen, the district’s supervisor of reading and language arts. “We really didn’t see the total engagement with the whole community and the family, because reading is such a complex task that it takes a community of people to improve it.”

District leaders recognized that without a strong background in reading, students would continue to struggle. And they’ve turned to a technology that is ubiquitous in students’ households to help close the gap.

“It gets harder the further you go into grade-level structures, because students get frustrated and … see themselves as not being a reader, not enjoying reading. By the time they get to high school, it’s a huge challenge to turn that around, both from an academic and motivational standpoint,” Pratt-Dannals said.

However, a large portion of this student community didn’t have the home internet access it needed to continue the learning process once students left the classroom.

“We have a large population of students whose struggling is based upon reading, who also are disenfranchised when it comes to internet access at home, so we were looking for a way that we could extend learning into the home and looking for solutions to break that digital divide,” Bowen said. “We want to revitalize the love of reading in the community and to get everyone engaged.”

District leaders’ research led to TVtextbook, a product that connects to televisions and lets students access software that corresponds to the curriculum.

For more information on school reading initiatives, see:

Tackling Reading Comprehension Head-On

Each child receives a backpack containing the TVtextbook set-top device, a wireless mouse, and a 3G stick, and all of those materials let students access the district’s reading software from home. Bowen noted that the device looks similar to the Wii gaming system.

There also are plans to create development tools for parents, available on the devices, so that parents can become a part of the learning process.

“A parent who probably didn’t do academically well themselves now has a model to follow. In terms of the kinds of questions to ask, they now have a model to follow [for] how to engage the child,” said Pratt-Dannals. “We think this is going to be a great resource for direct student access after school, on weekends, and holidays—but also it will be a great tool for parents to more effectively take on that [teaching] responsibility.”

The usage is relatively inexpensive, with the technology costing $50 per student, per year. But the cost presented a challenge for the district, which was still reeling from budget cuts.

“Having cut $90 million from our budget, it’s still something at this time we cannot afford [district-wide],” Pratt-Dannals said.

However, businesses and community members throughout the area have donated to the cause, helping to increase the number of students who will receive the TVtextbooks.

For more information on school reading initiatives, see:

Tackling Reading Comprehension Head-On

“We’re already having businesses step and give us $10,000, $20,000, $30,000 to cover a school or at least a number of classrooms within a school,” Pratt-Dannals said.

DCPS plans to enact a 50-unit pilot phase this summer, before expanding the program to 500 students in the fall.

“Read it Forward Jax is a play on ‘pay it forward.’ Somebody at some point taught you how to read, and it was a critical skill for you to be successful, so now you can pay it forward by helping another young person learn how to read so they can be successful in life,” Pratt-Dannals said.