Thirty Million Words

A world-famous study by researchers Betty Hart and Todd Risley (1995) found that some children heard thirty million fewer words by their 4th birthdays than others. The children who heard more words were better prepared when they entered school. These same kids, when followed into third grade, had bigger vocabularies, were stronger readers, and got higher test scores. The bottom line: the kids who started out ahead, stayed ahead; the kids who started out behind, stayed behind. This disparity in learning is referred to as the achievement gap.

The excerpt above is from the website 30 Million Words, an initiative in early childhood education. The idea is that children of educated, richer parents, hear on average 45 million words from birth until age 4, while children of undereducated, poorer parents, hear on average 15 million words. This creates a gap in vocabulary and achievement in schools. The goal of the initiative is to help poor parents to get more language in their homes by supporting them in focusing on vocabulary. Hopefully this will lead to them speaking with their children more often.

The takeaway for me as leader of a school that does not have poor families, is that it is still important to for parents and teachers to speak with children, especially English language learners.  Less Youtube and gaming, and more conversation in the home goes a long way.


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