“One should see that things are hopeless and yet be determined to make them otherwise”
F Scott Fitzgerald
This weekend, Naomi and Jen met with LENA Foundation in Boulder, Colorado. During our trip, we discussed our experiences using LENA technology as part of a parent training program with our at-risk state funded preschool program in Skokie, Illinois. As discussed in our blog last week, LENA has created software that can analyze a child’s language environment, providing a word pedometer that tracks the number of words that a child hears. The information can be shared with parents in order to empower them to increase the number of language interactions that they have with their child. Current research showed that providing one session of data feedback to parents can increase parent talk by up to 55%!
One question arose over the weekend:
How do you see LENA technology changing children's lives?
It was an easy answer. Research has proven that children from low income homes hear 30 million fewer words from birth to age 3 than children raised in homes with college educated parents. The amount of language a child hears from birth to age 3 is directly correlated to children’s academic success at age 8. Language skills at age 4 are also correlated to reading comprehension skills in 5th grade. Reading success in fifth grade is predictive of high school graduation rates, and high school graduation is correlated to future job earnings. More than 60% of prison inmates are illiterate. A word gap in early childhood literally creates a cycle of poverty that can last generations. LENA is a concrete, measurable solution to break this chain of events.
During the trip, Jen had the opportunity to read the book titled Great by Choice: Uncertainty, Chaos, and Luck--Why Some Thrive Despite Them All by Jim Collins, the best-selling author of Good to Great. The book was written primarily for business professionals, and it analyzes what makes companies extremely successful even in the face of multiple adversities. Collins compares companies that are matched on almost every factor in order to determine what factors matter the most in outperforming competitors. One of the factors discussed was luck. Do uncontrollable good and bad circumstances play a role in the success of a business and if so, how much?
After analyzing hundreds of variables, Collins determined the following: early in the development of a company, the answer is "yes." Early on, uncontrollable circumstances and bad luck can bankrupt a company that is unprepared. However, after initial start up, all companies face good luck and bad luck equally. At this point, the answer is "no". It matters most how companies respond to circumstances, or their “return on luck.”
In the conclusion of the book, Collins writes the following “we sense a dangerous disease infecting our modern culture and eroding hope; an increasingly prevalent view that greatness owes more to circumstance, even luck, than to action and discipline- that what happens to us matters more than what we do. In games of chance, like a lottery or roulette, this view seems plausible. But taken as an entire philosophy, applied more broadly to human endeavor, it’s a deeply debilitating life perspective, one that we can’t imagine wanting to teach young people. Do we really believe that our actions count for little, that those who create something great are merely lucky, that our circumstances imprison us? Do we want to build a society and a culture that encourage us to believe that we aren’t responsible for our choices and accountable for our performance?”
Like many businesses, the families that we work with face extreme challenges, which one could perceive as a string of bad misfortune: low income, single parent homes, difficulties attaining and keeping jobs, limited ability to speak English, limited social networks, and high levels of stress. In education, it is easy to throw up our hands at the face of such great adversity and give up any hope of improving outcomes for children. Furthermore, we often believe that we do not have the resources to change this misfortune for our families. Far too often, this ends up in a blame game. Parents blame schools for failing to do better. Schools blame parents for not doing their part. Nothing really ever changes and the cycle of poverty continues.
Unlike other educational reforms that have attempted to close the achievement gap through school based initiatives alone, LENA creates a partnership that holds both schools and parents accountable for their choices and actions. Using LENA technology, educators can influence the amount of language that parents speak to their children. LENA is more than a tool that tracks the number of words spoken to children. It is hope. It is the idea that children, through joint action between educators and parents, can rise above the misfortunes of their family circumstances and attain greatness.
At SL3, we believe that LENA changes lives, as it helps educators close the achievement gap by preventing one from forming in the first place.
We are grateful for the opportunity this past weekend to speak on behalf of LENA. We are proud of the Parent Fund at Skokie School District 69 for providing funding for our LENA parent training program. We thank the preschool team of Madison School including: Mary Walsh, Tara Bristow, Katy Barth, Rachelli Soffer, Amanda Barber, Sarah Kalinowski, Elisa Leporini, Danielle Marino, and Bridget Giraldo for engaging on this quest with us. We also thank Dr. Quintin Shepherd, District 69 superintendent, Dr. Megan Aseltine, Director of Special Services, and Chris Basten, principal of Madison School for supporting our efforts. We believe that LENA has the ability to change life trajectories, and we encourage others to follow us in our practices.
Note: In order to help others schools start their own LENA program, we have included our grant application and research support within our previous blog on this topic. Click Here