Can eBooks help bridge achievement gaps?


Having books in the home pushes students an average of 2.4 years further in school.


A massive study published last spring confirmed what many educators already know: having books in the home is as significant as socioeconomic status or parents’ educational level in determining the level of education children ultimately will attain.

Now, as more traditional book content goes digital and smart phones act as electronic readers, educators are left wondering whether technology will make achievement gaps even wider—or whether electronic books might act as a bridge for students traditionally hamstrung by family circumstances and other issues neither they nor their teachers control.

Conducted by university researchers in Nevada, California, and Australia, the study—published in the journal Research in Social Stratification and Mobility—found that having a 500-book library at home has as great an effect as having university-educated parents. The 20-year study analyzed data from 27 different countries.

In the United States, having books in the home pushes students an average of 2.4 years further in school; worldwide, the average is 3.2 years.

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Having books in the home outweighed the education level of the parents, the father’s occupation, and the country’s GDP or political system. Children of parents with the least amount of education benefited the most.

Even having as few as 20 books in the home still had a significant impact, according the University of Nevada’s Mariah Evans, one of the study’s lead researchers. “You get a lot of ‘bang for your book,’” she said in a press release. “It’s quite a good return-on-investment in a time of scarce resources.”

For school officials, teachers, and community leaders struggling to bridge long-standing educational attainment and achievement gaps among different student groups, the implications are clear: We need to get more books in the home and into the hands of students.

Format might not matter. While many people still relish the smell of newly printed books or finding hidden treasures in library stacks, a small Massachusetts boarding school has shifted its media center to an all-digital format.

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