kitchen table math, the sequel: today's factoid

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

today's factoid

In grades 4 and 8, students from homes with more than 100 books averaged almost 20 percent higher reading scores than students from homes with 10 or fewer books.

Notably, the question was not about book buying, but the mere presence of books in the home. Though a family’s income may limit the number of books that can be bought, virtually every Colorado household has access to a public library.

source:
LitScreen
Facts & Figures from the Colorado Literacy Research Initiative


The number of books in the household is a useful proxy for the home environment’s contribution to academic success. Adjusting the test-score data for this factor reduces the gap even more [after reducing the gap by adjusting for socioeconomic status]. On average, black students in the sample had 39 children’s books in their home, compared with an average of 93 books among white students. Taking this difference into account cuts the black-white test-score gap to less than a fourth of a standard deviation in math and completely eliminates the gap in reading.

source:
Falling Behind
Steven D. Levitt & Roland G. Fryer

10 comments:

Anonymous said...

And yet this is almost certainly a correlation between the number of books and academic success that are both caused by some other 3rd factor (or factors).

Mailing a box of 100 children's books to poor households is unlikely to do much to reduce the gap.

If only it were that easy ...

-Mark Roulo

KDeRosa said...

mark's point is amply demonstrated by the misforunes incurred by lottery winners from low SES backgrounds. Lots of money, and the things money buys, fails to lift them up from the low station in life.

Parentalcation said...

Believe it or not, there are some people who really think that shipping off a 100 or so books to low SES homes really would make a difference.

I bet there is a correlation between granite countertops and IQ as well.

Catherine Johnson said...

I bet there is a correlation between granite countertops and IQ as well.

uh-oh

Catherine Johnson said...

Well I'm pretty sure there is a correlation between granite countertops.

However, the "book effect" is more than just an income effect.

I'm pretty sure.

GoogleMaster said...

My first reaction to the original post yesterday was "Um, duh? In other news, recent studies found that water is wet and fire is hot."

After reading the comments today, I began to form the following somewhat disjoint, half-baked thoughts, which I'll just leave here for discussion:

Smart people read a lot. Not saying that reading makes you smarter, but smart people tend to read a lot.

Smart people tend to make more money than not-smart people. Again, not saying that having money makes you smart; also, many smart people choose to forego wealth-building fields in favor of more noble or soul-satisfying pursuits.

Smart people tend to both hold onto and increase their wealth. Again, this is a generalization; we all know otherwise smart people who have made dumb choices (e.g. Enron employees putting all their 401(k) money in Enron stock).

While I believe that giving poor people books is better than giving them money for books, I don't think that will erase all of the differences.

On a tangent, the One Laptop per Child effort seems to be getting close to reality. The test machines rolled off the assembly line in November.

Catherine Johnson said...

Smart people read a lot. Not saying that reading makes you smarter, but smart people tend to read a lot.

Smart people tend to make more money than not-smart people. Again, not saying that having money makes you smart; also, many smart people choose to forego wealth-building fields in favor of more noble or soul-satisfying pursuits.


I desperately need to understand statistics better, but as I understnad it Keith Stanovich is saying that reading does, in fact, "make you smarter."

I think he also uses the expression "the rich get richer," right?

Catherine Johnson said...

I think you can also see people grow "less smart" as the years go by.

An acquaintance who works 12 hour days and has no time to read anything but the NYTIMES told me that she was considered gifted when she was a child (she was a bookworm).

Now, she said, "I feel like I'm getting dumber."

I have no idea whether she's getting dumber; she seems plenty smart to me!

But I do know what she's talking about.

I think that as people get older the inveterate readers probably start to seem noticeably smarter than their peers.

In other words, I suspect there's a 'reading gap' that becomes apparent in middle age and beyond.

Catherine Johnson said...

I have another anecdote along these lines.

One of my sisters always did worse in school than I did.

She's probably always considered herself not as smart as I was.

I can't remember if I used to think that, or if it was true.

What I do know, these days, is that she's one of the smartest people I know. She's extremely fast; she picks up on things instantly.

When I tell her something she's never heard of before, she gets it very, very quickly.

On our last trip to Evanston she mentioned that she's an obsessive reader, which I didn't know. She's the kind of person who reads cereal boxes.

I had no idea!

I'd always been the bookworm; she'd been the go-getter team leader type.

So...I don't know whether my sister has gotten smarter over the years through reading, but I wouldn't be surprised.

Catherine Johnson said...

One of the principles of aging (this is in my Scientific American Present article -- I should find the link) is that you get "more like you are."

I can't remember good examples at the moment, but the idea is that the differences amongst people increase and sharpen with age.

I'm pretty sure you would see that with IQ and general intelligence.

Intelligent people probably grow more intelligent, and they probably grow more intelligent in large part through reading (and quite possibly writing).

The phenomenon of writing for blogs is an interesting development, in these terms.

Writing is thinking (well, maybe not always!)....

All of us writing here are "practicing thought" on a daily or near-daily basis.

We'll have to recruit someone to take baseline IQs...