Early Literacy and Socioeconomic Background

Students from low socioeconomic backgrounds are falling further and further behind in literacy compared to their middle and high socioeconomic backgrounds students and that begins before school even starts. Students from low socioeconomic backgrounds are not receiving the proper assistance in early literacy they need in order to be successful in the classrooms. (Education and Socioeconomic Status, 2018) There has always been a significant correlation between home environment and academic achievement levels in literacy. Children in low socioeconomic status homes are not being exposed to early literacy skills and it is becoming apparent when they get to being school aged compared to other students whom their families do speak more to them and who do read to them.

When society and school districts finally give and offer the proper assistance to low SES families in early literacy, these students will prosper in the classrooms and even more in society.

Rationale for Study

Early literacy is essential to student’s success in the classroom and out in society.

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When there is a lack of literacy opportunity in the homes of students, they are falling behind the rest of society even before they are school aged. “Children in professionals’ homes were exposed to an average of more than fifteen hundred more spoken words per hour than children in welfare home. Over one year, that amounted to a difference of nearly 8 million words, which, by age four, amounted to a total gap of 32 million words.” (Shenk, 2011, P. 38)

Low Socioeconomic families do not have the same amounts of books, computers and other resources for their children to learn these basic literacy skills as compared to families who have a plethora of resources.

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Assistance from schools, teachers, parents and outside tutors is vital to these low SES families and in our society is not being appropriately given. In a paper named, “Implications of Socioeconomic Status on Academic Competence, A Perspective for Teachers”, the study finds that society brings down those low SES families and that is the opposite of what society needs to be doing. (Luis F. Cedeño1 , Rosario Martínez-Arias2 & José A. Bueno. 2016) The study argues that society and educators do not give sufficient chances and adequate energy to those families of low SES relative to those of middle and high SES. When children grow up in a home where the mother has to financially choose between paying the rent or paying for ample food for the week, the children suffer much more than society and teachers have come to see. (Luis F. Cedeño1 , Rosario Martínez-Arias2 & José A. Bueno. 2016)

When the statistics show society how early literacy practices can help in the home, the academic achievement gap between low SES and high SES students will be on the decline.

Research Question and Hypothesis

How does assistance in early literacy benefit children with low socioeconomic status?

Hypothesis- If low SES students get assistance, then they will benefit academically to above an at risk level.


Dependent – Academic Level (Or assessment score after the experiment)

Independent -Amount of assistance/help these low SES are receiving. (quantitative)

Definition of Terms

  1. Benefits – something that produces good or helpful results or effects or that promotes well-being.
  2. Assistance – The action of helping someone by sharing work. The provision of money, resources, or information to help someone. (Oxford Living Dictionaries)
  3. Early Literacy – it is the natural development of skills through the enjoyment of books, the importance of positive interactions between babies and parents, and the critical role of literacy-rich experiences. (Definition from United for Libraries)
  4. Socioeconomic Status – Examinations of socioeconomic status often reveal inequities in access to resources, plus issues related to privilege, power and control. (American Psychological association)
  5. Children – A young human being below the age of puberty or below the legal age of majority. (Oxford living dictionary)

Limitations of Study

Possible limitations of study include lack of parental/home help when given resources for study, any home issues during the study period, student’s absence and tardiness from school and student sickness during study period.


In this study, two first grade classes, all ages 6 to 7 years old will participate. All students will be assessed on a list of 1st grade sight words prior to this experiment as a pre assessment. One class will be given appropriate school aged books for home use and the other class will continue their general education class with no additional books. Through a sample study to collect quantitative data and a pre and post examination survey for parents and students, we will examine how assistance will positively affect low socioeconomic status student’s early literacy skills.

Background of Literature

Is there a relationship between ones Social Economic Status (SES) and their literacy competency? According to Dictionary.com, “Socioeconomic status depends on a combination of variables, including occupation, education, income, wealth, and place of residence.” (Dictionary.com, 2018) Children come from all backgrounds, some from high SES and some from low SES. These children from high SES backgrounds have resources and family members to help them walk, eat, stay healthy, talk and most importantly learn how to read. Reading is a basic necessity most humans do not even remember where or when they started to learn from. Statistics are revealing that more and more poor families are becoming part of our population and those families are struggling with adapting to the high needs compared to those in the higher levels of SES. (Young, 1997)

When a family who is below the annual income poverty line has a child, they do not have the same resources and environment as a child who is born into a family who is in the top five or ten percent income levels. Starting at birth, According to Hart & Risley (As cited in Shenk, 2010, Pg 38) “Children in professionals’ homes were exposed to an average of more than fifteen hundred more spoken words per hour than children in welfare home. Over one year, that amounted to a difference of nearly 8 million words, which, by age four, amounted to a total gap of 32 million words.” (Hart & Wisley, 2010, Pg 38) Even before we are able to logically think for ourselves, children from home where parents and families have resources and love and talk to their children have an advantage over those children whose parents and families do not talk with them and have the proper resources for their children.

A 2006 study by Saadet Kuru Cetin and Pelin Taskin revealed that higher socioeconomic class families are more involved in their child’s education. They found this mainly due to the low SES families not having enough time and resources/finances to help their children’s early literacy needs. The conclusion of this study unveiled information in close comparison with other studies saying if low SES families received more parent training and were given more resources, they would not be seeing the gap between academic achievement in early literacy between the high and low socioeconomic status groups. (Kuru Cetin, S., & Taskin, P. 2016)

According to Plomin and Crabbe (As cited in Bradley & Corwyn, 2002), there is a direct relation between the upbringing a person has and their hereditary. When a human is born into a place where there is no book, no computers, no TV, no pencils and overall a lack of resources to learn how to read and write, there is a correlation to that lack of a persons literacy competency. In “Social Economic Status and Child Development” by Bradely and Corwyn, they discuss how a persons Social Economic Status, or SES, starts at birth and grows based upon a persons maternal and paternal levels of education, family income, material resources and family stressors. (Bradley & Corwyn, 2002)

A study very closely related to Plomin and Crabbes ideas relating environment to a persons attributes is a study by Crasnoe and Cooper, which was completed on “Economically Disadvantaged Children’s Transitions Into Elementary School: Linking Family Processes, School Contexts, and Educational Policy”. (Crasnoe & Cooper, 2010) This study showed how there are specific components of families from low SES, which point to low academic achievements in their children. The study revolves around the Family Socialization Model, which says a family’s home environment and characteristics shapes a child’s behaviors and outcomes.

Over a 4 year period, Crasnoe and Cooper’s study consisted of 22,782 kindergarten students in 1,000 schools. They used 5 classifying traits, which were:

  • annual income fell below the federal poverty threshold for household size (21%),
  • there was a single-parent family structure (21%),
  • custodial parent did not graduate from high school (14%),
  • custodial parent had first child as a teen (27%), and
  • there was a history of welfare receipt (7%). (Crasnoe & Cooper, 2010).

At the beginning of the study, each student took a standardized math and reading test to get a beginning assessment score. Over a 4 year period, they assessed each student on math and reading, but also tested some of the students on a Depression scale from 1-4 on how often they experiences depressive symptoms inside and outside of school. They measured children’s internal and external problems on a social rating scale, which the teacher graded from 1-4 on how they cope with strategies and problems in school.

The results from the study were an accumulation of attributes that created a disadvantage for students whom came from low SES. Each negative characteristic a child had, low parent income, low parent education, lack of family resources, lowered their scores more each assessment they took from semester to semester over their 4 year period. A main impact was the level of education the teacher had, which was one of the factors this article researched. The more education the teacher had, the more trained and qualified activities they offered for the students overall. (Crasnoe & Cooper, 2010)

A study completed by Lawrence S. Mohlborn, E., James-Hawkins and Fomby examines differences in socioeconomic status and academic early academic achievement. The data measured was referred to as Early Childhood longitudinal Study-Birth Cohort. Their article,“When Do Socioeconomic Resources Matter Most in Early Childhood?” studied 8600 children from infancy to kindergarten age. All participants were all born in 2001. (Mollborn, Lawrence, James-Hawkins, & Fomby, 2014). The study was comparing socioeconomic status with cognitive and behavioral development. The group used three ways to assess the children; Bayley Short Form-Research educational mental assessment, early literacy reading and math assessments and interviews measuring behaviors. The children and their mothers were assessed at the beginning and intermittently throughout the months from infancy to age 5. Their findings added to previous knowledge on early literacy by finding out that household income, assets and maternal educational attainment affected the children the most at aged four to four and a half years old. (Mollborn et al. 2014)

All articles related to SES and early literacy involves various characteristics or traits from the families that then are passed on to the children. One of these traits, which Erika Huff talks about in her article,“The Specificity of Environmental Influence: Socioeconomic Status Affects Early Vocabulary Development Via Maternal Speech”, is maternal speech and how it relates to children’s early vocabulary skills. She studied 63 mothers and their children. (Hoff, 2003) 33 of those mothers were from high Socioeconomic Status having 2 parents both with college degrees and professional jobs and 30 mothers from mid socioeconomic status levels having only high school degrees and most with limited job proficiencies. All children were aged 16-31 months old and all very similarly vocabulary bases. (Hoff, 2003)

Hoff recorded conversations in these family’s homes two times, once in the beginning and then another ten weeks after. Both the mothers word count and the child’s word count, referred to as utterances in article, was recorded before and after the study. The mid SES children averaged 35.33 utterances in their first recording and then 45.53 utterances in the second conversation, with an uptake of 9.46 words more in the second conversation. The high SES child averaged 36.73 utterances at the first conversation and then 51.00 utterances for their second conversations, with an average of 15.19 more utterances from conversation to conversation. The mothers utterances were recorded the 1st conversation to see the difference from mid to high SES vocabulary levels. The mid SES mothers averaged 522.37 utterances and the high SES mothers averaged 697.36 utterances. (Hoff, 2003)

Hoff concluded that a child’s vocabulary is related to the length of time their mother talks to them. The longer a mother talks, the better vocabulary the child hears and most likely will be able to remember and build upon later in life. (Hoff, 2003) This conclusion is connected with other studies outcomes, such as “Maternal Literacy and Associations Between Education and the Cognitive Home Environment in Low-Income Families”. (Green et al., 2009) This study was based upon 369 low-income mothers and their infant born over a 1-year period. The mothers were assessed using the Woodcock-Johnson III/Bateria III Woodcock-Munoz Tests of Achievement, the Letter-Word Identification Test and the StimQ questionnaire. (Green et al., 2009) Each mother was assessed 2 times, once at the very beginning and once at the end of the period.

Through this maternal research study, they found that maternal literacy levels are worth more than maternal educational levels when it comes to passing early literacy onto their young children. Children from low SES backgrounds are spoken to and interacted with less compared to those children in high SES backgrounds. (Green et al., 2009) The entire study happened in an urban public hospital where nurses and technicians were bilingual and suitable to give these assessments to the families.

An outcome that came form this research also stated that there should be more pediatric programs to train mothers and fathers whom may not have a high level of education. (Green et al., 2009) Along with more pediatric programs being implemented, not all school and parents are fully aware of and use their supplemental Educational Services offered by the school and the state. Under the No Child Left Behind Act, Title 1 schools, schools with majority low income housing and families, will offer supplemental educational services, such as outside tutoring or teacher led activities outside the classroom. (Deke, Dragoset, Bogen, Gill, 2012)

Supplemental education outside general school is a key component of early literacy. “Connecting schools and families: Understanding the influence of home literacy practices” is a journal article based on the importance of home literacy centers. (Curry, Reeves, Mcintyre, 2016) The article follows 3 mothers with their daughters whom all live below the national poverty live and are in the free lunch program. The mothers and daughters are assessed using 3 tactics: Interviews, field notes and audio recordings of the mothers reading and doing any activities with their daughters. Before the study was started, the mothers were interviewed and asked to explain what family literacy practices they do with their daughters. All 3 mothers answers were very similar, like most low SES families, they did not have a lot of resources other than what their schools sent home for them to use. They did not take a lot of time out of their weeks to sit and read with their daughters because everything they had to read was either too hard for their daughters or they did not even comprehend the text. (Curry, Reeves, Mcintyre, 2016)

Each mother started off not having a very good home literacy center. The study gave each mother five on grade level books for the mothers to use with their daughters. They were not given any specific set of directions on when or how they had to read them, which was also a part of this experiment. When given parents a specific set of instructions, some parents get over whelmed and forget or dismiss the activity as whole. This experiment gave no instructions to see what activities, if any, the mothers would do with their daughters. After the mothers were given the books, the conversations with their daughters were recorded for assessment purposes. (Curry, Reeves, Mcintyre, 2016)

The study concluded that low SES mothers would use texts with their daughters, if they only had the resources. The more the mothers praised their daughters and the more they showed interest in the books and the activities they were doing, the more the daughters got out of the activities. When these low SES mothers do not have many resources to work with, they all said they rely on the resources the school and their community gives to them. (Curry, Reeves, Mcintyre, 2016) When they live in low socioeconomic area, the whole community does not have much to spread around and the schools mostly don’t have many resources to give out either. How do we as a society expect low SES families to succeed if we as a society don’t spread resources and help those who need it most?

Joyce Epstein and Karen Clark Salinas write about two crucial concepts, a school learning community and a professional learning community. It is essential to clarify there is a colossal difference between the two. A professional learning community involves the families, home owners/neighbors, schools and community members while a school learning community involves teachers, parents and school staff. (Epstein, Salinas. 2004) While most people may believe it is the sole jobs of teachers and schools to “teach” our children, Epstein makes it ultimately clear that it is the jobs of the families, community members and the schools to educate the youth. Epstein also created 6 types of involvement, which are; parenting, communicating, volunteering, learning at home, decision making and collaborating with the community. (Epstein, J. L., et al. 2002) When comparing low SES families and high SES families, certain types of involvement, mentioned by Epstein, may be available to some but not all SES groups.

Cite this page

Early Literacy and Socioeconomic Background. (2021, Aug 10). Retrieved from https://studymoose.com/early-literacy-and-socioeconomic-background-essay

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