Occasionally, within a short span of time, one encounters both encouraging and discouraging news — almost simultaneously. And so, within the past week, it has been with me.

The “good” was very, very good, as it addresses most positive results in increased reading activity — an activity that normally does not supply us with much good news these days.

Cecilia Kang’s recent article in The Washington Post, “Survey finds e-reader devices fuel book consumption overall”, offers some very encouraging news:

. . . All those devices (tablets and e-readers) are turning some consumers into super readers, according to a survey released Thursday by the Pew Internet and American Life Project. E-book readers plowed through an average of 24 titles in the past year, compared with an average of 15 for readers of physical books.

“Those who have taken the plunge into reading e-books stand out in almost every way from other kinds of readers . . . They are avid readers of books in all formats,” said Lee Rainie, director of research at Pew.

Curiously, e-reading somehow sparks a love of books in any format. Even as e-readers are downloading books on computers, tablets and smartphones, they are also checking out more books at libraries and buying more at bookstores and online. About nine in 10 e-book readers said they have also read printed books in the past year, Pew reported in its survey of about 3,000 people 16 and older. . . .

A few days later, Jay Mathews column in The Washington Post, “Congress says ‘no’ to kids seeking a challenge”, was a lot more discouraging:

It is easier to interfere with instruction when no one is looking, as happened in December when Congress sharply reduced funds to pay Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate test fees for low-income students. . . .

We have plenty of data showing that taking an $87 three-hour AP test is one of the most cost-effective ways to prepare for college. Studies of hundreds of thousands of students by Linda Hargrove, Donn Godin and Barbara Dodd in Texas and Paul Geiser and Veronica Santelices in California show that students with passing scores on AP do better in college than students who don’t take the test. . . .

AP and IB were both designed for students from affluent families and demanding high schools. But in the past 30 years, teachers have discovered the power of the courses and exams to change the lives of poor children. Last year, according to the College Board, 375,439 low-income students took 615,315 AP exams — 23 percent of the total taken.

. . . the potential for low-income students to succeed when given enough time and encouragement to learn has been obvious. But Congress cut the subsidies anyway because the victims were too young and powerless to complain.

AP and IB will continue to grow since so many teachers believe in them. In time Congress will get that, but for now, many disadvantaged students are being told they can’t take a test that will help them do well in college unless they can find the money.

Kang’s report should make us all feel good. The more reading one does, the more one learns and the more critical thinking skills one acquires. But, even that encouraging article excludes most disadvantaged youngsters whose parents are in no position to buy tablets or e-readers for their children.

Growing up in a small South Dakota town with sparse financial means (my mother was left in significant debt after my father died), equality-of-opportunity was not a major problem. My friends and I believed that if you “worked hard” and applied yourself, all possibilities were open. With the major exception of the children of minorities and young girls — we, boys, saw “The American Dream” as a reality.

Well, that’s not as true in the American twenty-first century! Without doubt, money matters much more today. Securing an equal opportunity-to-succeed with limited financial resources is much more difficult than it was six decades ago when I was growing up.

We must never forget that education and opportunities-for-learning are the bedrock of both freedom and democracy. Our country needs to return to an equal opportunity environment. Balancing a budget on the backs of the poor will never prove to be a responsible (nor a democratic) solution. America is better than that!

More on Tuesday – – –

— Bill Walton, Founder, ITC Learning
www.itclearning.com/blog/ (Tuesdays & Thursdays)
e-Mail: bwalton@itclearning.com