Reinforcing common sense

The Education Beat

Report: Schools can't turn off their students' TVs, but they can encourage better viewing habits and more parental interaction.

August 08, 1999|By Mike Bowler | Mike Bowler,SUN STAFF

TELEVISION GETS blamed for everything.

The American Academy of Pediatrics wants to get television sets out of children's bedrooms and ban TV watching entirely for those younger than age 2. Babies, it seems, need social interaction for their brains to develop properly.

There's a lot of good programming on television, but children who stay up until 2 a.m. with their eyes glued to the TV aren't watching the History Channel.

Nor are they reading. The latest National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) confirms numerous research findings that heavy television watching distracts children from their studies and discourages reading.

NAEP has tested reading three times in the 1990s -- 1992, 1994 and last year.

Each time the test is given, NAEP asks children about their reading habits. Not surprisingly, students in the three grades tested (fourth, eighth and 12th) had better reading scores through the '90s if they watched less television.

(NAEP also reports that the percentage of students viewing four hours or more of television daily declined slightly in the '90s in the three grades.)

But we can't blame television entirely for the nation's generally mediocre reading performance. NAEP asks other questions about children's reading habits, and it reports on the correlation between those habits and the actual scores.

Here are three other findings:

Kids who discuss their studies at home are better readers, particularly in the eighth and 12th grades. Students who talk at home daily about what they do in school score measurably better in the NAEP reading tests than those who never or hardly ever share with family members.

The more often students read, the better they do on NAEP. Daily practice at reading in school and for homework not only increases fluency, it also encourages literary habits and literary appreciation.

Specifically, NAEP found that students in all three grades had better scores if they read 11 or more pages a day than if they read five or fewer pages. Students who do a lot of writing are better readers. Students who told NAEP they wrote long answers to school questions on a weekly or monthly basis had higher scores last year than those who said they did so twice a year or less.

Taken together, these findings are more common sense than they are startling.

But they are worth repeating from time to time, and they point the way to sound school policy.

Recent education reform efforts, such as Goals 2000, seek to strengthen cooperation between parents and schools. No self-respecting reform model lacks such a feature.

Schools cannot turn off their students' TVs, of course, but they can -- and some do -- encourage families to watch good programming such as the children's shows on public television.

Some schools sponsor "turn off the TV" nights.

When I visited O'Hearn School in Boston this spring, Bill Henderson, the principal, was planning such a night for all of his students.

"I consider nights without television to be part of my reading program," Henderson said.

School districts in Georgia to work together on reading

Fourteen southwest Georgia school districts have banded together to increase reading achievement.

Under a program approved by the state school board, the 14 counties will take a series of steps -- from teacher preparation to redesigning classroom instruction -- to improve the reading skills of second- and third-graders.

The districts are among the poorest in Georgia and have some of the state's poorest scores.

Association opposes how high-stakes testing used

The International Reading Association has adopted a position statement opposing high-stakes testing such as the Maryland School Performance Assessment Program (MSPAP).

Although the statement acknowledges tests such as MSPAP are useful in certain circumstances, it says "testing has become a means of controlling instruction as opposed to a way of gathering information to help students become better readers."

The association's headquarters is in Newark, Del. It has 90,000 members in 99 countries.

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