Our nation’s economic and social prosperity depends on a highly literate population. The 25 fastest growing professions in America require employees who have higher-than-average literacy skills. Conversely, the 25 fastest declining jobs employ people with lower-than-average literacy skills. Addressing the literacy needs of the nation’s youngest children is a critical part of ensuring the next generation is ready to succeed in school . . . and in life.
For four decades, the public media system has worked to improve literacy among the country’s most disadvantaged children. Programs such as Sesame Street and Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood reinvented children’s broadcasting as an educational tool, proving that television can educate while it entertains.
The Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) released a report, Findings from Ready To Learn: 2005-2010 (3.0MB PDF), developed with cooperation from PBS and the U.S. Department of Education, that reaffirms the important role public media plays in educating children ages 2-8.
Ready To Learn is an innovative initiative funded by Congress and the U.S. Department of Education to help public television stations develop new educational programs and other learning tools aimed at providing children – particularly those from low-income backgrounds – with the fundamental skills needed to raise a nation of readers.
As part of the 2005-2010 Ready to Learn grant to CPB and PBS, the U.S. Department of Education required that at least one-fourth of the funding be devoted to rigorous studies of Ready to Learn-supported programs, including television programs such as SUPER WHY, Martha Speaks and The Electric Company developed under the Ready To Learn grant; interactive games; classroom materials; teaching and learning tools; and community engagement activities.
The high-quality literacy programs and content that public media developed through Ready To Learn reached more than five million children a day at cost of less than half a penny per child – significantly less than most other early literacy initiatives.
The research, conducted by a highly qualified team of educational scholars from the University of Michigan, the University of Pennsylvania, the University of Maryland, the Education Development Center, SRI International, and the American Institutes for Research, provides strong new evidence that shows children from disadvantaged families who view public media make remarkable gains in mastering the fundamentals of early literacy – letter recognition, letter sounds, and vocabulary and word meaning. In some cases, this growth is so significant that children are able to successfully narrow or close the achievement gap with their middle-class peers.
"When it comes to reading instruction, public media has met the ambitious standard set by Congress more than four decades ago," said Patricia Harrison, president and CEO of CPB. "This report demonstrates how public media directly contributes to improving early literacy development of children living in poverty, and provides data that prove the overall educational benefits of public media. Few, if any, large-scale educational media initiatives have been as successful, and none has had a greater impact on the literacy development of children from low-income backgrounds."
Other key findings include:
- Public television and computers are part of the literacy solution;
- Ready To Learn programs and messages reach low-income parents and their children;
- Ready To Learn’s community engagement programs are highly effective in serving disadvantaged families; and
- Public media is a sound investment.
"CPB and PBS turned a small investment from the Ready To Learn grant into a wealth of important new early childhood literacy resources," said Jim Shelton, assistant deputy secretary for innovation and improvement, U.S. Department of Education. "We know that millions of children lack sufficient reading skills and access to quality learning opportunities, but by leveraging innovative interactive technologies, we can reach many more children with evidence-based curricula and improve learning outcomes."
The U.S. Department of Education recently awarded CPB and PBS another five-year Ready To Learn grant in 2010 to focus on math concepts, continue early literacy projects and develop innovative new teaching tools, including multi-media classroom tools, augmented reality games and transmedia gaming suites.
Download the Report
- Findings from Ready To Learn: 2005-2010 2.9MB PDF
Ready to Learn Research Reports
- Links to all research
- American Institutes for Research
- University of Michigan
- University of Pennsylvania
Ready to Learn National Demonstration Sites
- Alabama Public Television
- Iowa Public Television
- Louisiana Public Broadcasting
- Maryland Public Television
- Mississippi Public Broadcasting
- Nashville Public Television
- West Virginia Public Broadcasting