Feds will watch as PBS measures literacy effects of Ready to Learn

Originally published in Current, May 12, 2003
By Karen Everhart

New performance measures for Ready to Learn, PBS's federally funded education program for preschoolers, will assess how its programming and workshops affect children's literacy skills and how often adults read to kids.

The U.S. Department of Education, which funds RTL through a five-year cooperative agreement with PBS, asked that PBS adopt outcome-oriented indicators and track how well RTL does each year. Until now, PBS and 139 participating stations have simply counted how many local workshops were conducted, how many parents or caregivers attended and ratings of PBS Kids programs.

The new measures are "intended to look at what the result has been on the child and their parents and teachers in the workshops," explained Charlotte Brantley, senior RTL director for PBS. "Frankly, this is a welcome change to have something to focus our efforts and to be able to talk about the difference it's made."

PBS expanded an evaluation it had already commissioned from Mathematica Policy Research to gather the required data. Researchers will survey adult RTL participants to determine how many, after attending a station-sponsored workshop, read at least one book each day to their children.

Researchers also will test children who watch Between the Lions and Sesame Street to measure changes in their vocabulary and emerging literacy skills. The Department of Education used baseline data from Head Start, the federally funded child care program for poor families, to set performance targets. To meet the new targets, children's early literacy skills must improve 5 percent over baseline this year and show additional 5 percent gains in 2004 and 2005.

Although less explicitly educational PBS Kids programs such as Clifford and Dragon Tales receive RTL funding, PBS and RTL agreed to limit the evaluation to Between the Lions and Sesame Street, which both teach reading skills.

The Department of Education picked the two series that would yield the richest data, said Joseph Caliguro, education program specialist assigned to RTL at the department. "Evaluation is expensive and we had to limit it in some way," he said.

Even though other programs won't be evaluated by the feds, they will still be promoted at workshops and aired by stations, said Brantley. These other PBS Kids programs enhance literacy by helping young children build vocabulary and develop conversational skills, she said.

RTL workshops for adults, which are often one-time events, may be restructured so that parents or caregivers participate in a series of sessions. "This will give us a chance to think about providing a deeper or greater level of service and information to adults in the community," she said.

Web page posted Aug.15, 2004
Copyright 2004 by Current Publishing Committee


CPB proposes federal aid for Ready to Learn initiative, 1993.

PBS expands Ready to Learn, 1996.


Department of Education's performance targets for Ready to Learn.

RTL reports on Department of Education site.

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