A child from a low-income family hears an average of eight million fewer words per year than a child from a wealthier family. That’s more than 30 million fewer words by the time the child turns four.
This phenomenon is known as the 30 million word gap, and research suggests it is one of the key factors in the achievement gap between high- and low-income students.
And here’s the kicker: By the time a child enters kindergarten, this language gap may be irreversible.
New research shows that children from low-income backgrounds might not even have the same strategies for learning new words as their high-income peers.
Therefore, early intervention programs need to focus not only on teaching children new words, but also on teaching them how to learn new words.
Fortunately, there is a program that addresses this problem, albeit not well known. The Thirty Million Words Project has been working to close the gap. http://tmw.org
Take a watermelon for example. In a low income family may talk about it being good, sweet and juicy whereas a higher income family might talk about how and where it grows, it’s shape, texture, the seeds, different types and even composting the rind.
A child of one family may ask, “How do they grow seedless melons if there aren’t any seeds to plant?” A different child may ask, ” Do we get more?”
Additionally, there is a book written by Dr. Todd Risley titled, “Meaningful Differences in the Everyday Experience of Young American Children.” The book speaks of the disparity between income groups. For example, his research found that by by age 3, the spoken vocabularies of the children from the professional families were significantly larger than those of the parents in the welfare families. Between professional and welfare parents, there was a difference of almost 300 words spoken per hour. Extrapolating this verbal interaction to a year, a child in a professional family would hear 11 million words while a child in a welfare family would hear just 3 million.
Further, welfare children hear mostly directional language (bring me that, wash your face) and along with that, much of this talk is negative and degrading. Upper income children hear directional language too. However, they are also engaged in conversation of a deeper nature involving inquiry. As a result of this more extensive conversation, the negativity they hear is more ‘diluted’ than the negativity of the lower income child.
What is Congress doing about this? How is the Department of Education helping close this gap? Without funds from Congress, the gap continues, the children fall further behind and the dropout rate remains high. Then comes the funding for welfare, and the crime and prison.
You pay up front or you pay years later. Does anyone get that?