Dual-Generation Learning: The Evidence Base for Literacy Partners

Research shows that children’s school preparedness starts at home, very early in life, with young children’s exposure to books, reading, and play activities. School-readiness gaps that begin before kindergarten are very hard to overcome.

Parents who are proficient English readers and speakers are best equipped to prepare their children for school, by reading to them, conversing with them, and eventually helping them with homework and interacting with teachers. However, low-income immigrant parents often lack the skills to give their children this early academic start.

That is why Literacy Partners helps parents learn to speak and read and coaches them to share their learning with their children.

Parents’ Educational Involvement Fuels Children’s Success

Parents exert the greatest influence on their children’s earliest education, but poverty can interfere with this critical role.

    • Impoverished parents tend to have less involvement in their children’s education, not out of lack of caring or even inadequate educations.1 Often the reasons are related to stress (due to financial and work insecurity)
    • One study found that parental involvement in their children’s education was even more important than parental education itself.  Children who read to their parents regularly made greater gains than those who received the same amount of extra reading instruction by reading specialists at school.2
    • “Low-literate parents, particularly mothers, are more likely to exert a positive influence on their children’s academic achievement when they are able to enhance their own literacy skills.”3

Parents’ Educational Attainment Fuels Children’s Success

Yet, many programs aimed at increasing educational or economic opportunities target either children or parents, but not both together, limiting their impact.4 We believe that reaching parents and children together is critical.

  • “Children living in poor families with mothers who have low educational attainments experience less success, both in school and later as adults in the workforce, than children living in more advantaged circumstances.” In New York state, only 16% of children whose mothers did not graduate from high school read proficiently, and only 13% are proficient at math.5, 6
  • “Parents who have obtained further educational opportunities also have less stress in their lives because they are most likely making more money while spending less time making that money than those who, unfortunately, have not been able to finish high school for one reason or another.”7

Books & Reading Are the Key to Academic Gains

Evidence shows that growing up in a home with books and parents who read is the key to school readiness, academic achievement, and ultimately ending multigenerational poverty.

“Children from socioeconomically disadvantaged households typically have less access to resources that have been associated with learning, such as books and educational toys in their homes and quality preschool settings, than do students from more socioeconomically advantaged households.”8

One study showed a significant difference in “book sharing” – reading and looking at picture books together—between immigrant families from Asia and Latin America and native-born parents (57.8% versus 75.8%). Daily book sharing was the lowest among Hispanic families with two foreign-born parents (47.1%), mainly because parents themselves were not read to as children.9

More Books = More Achievement

Worldwide, each additional book owned at home increases students’ academic performance, regardless of the level of parents’ education. In addition, “Each additional book has a greater impact on the performance of someone who had only a small home library than it does on the performance of someone from a home overflowing with books.” In the U.S., the difference between having one and 500 books at home is equivalent to about two-and-a-half additional years of school.10

This is the basis for our Books of Their Own program, which provides a library of at least 10 age- and culturally appropriate books to each of our students’ children. Providing our low-income immigrant students with their own collections of children’s books is one of the most important ways in which Literacy Partners helps families adopt the habit of daily reading—developing children’s love of books and ensuring that they’re well prepared when they begin school.  

Literacy = Financial Stability

Every increment in adult education leads to a corresponding increase in income.11

People with limited English proficiency* are more likely to live in poverty than proficient individuals, based on U.S. Census figures. “In 2013, about 25 percent of LEP individuals lived in households with an annual income below the official federal poverty line—nearly twice as high as the share of English-proficient persons.”12

Merely 4% of mothers who did not graduate from high school live above the federal poverty rate; whereas 53% of mothers with a bachelor’s degree live above the poverty rate.13

*Limited English proficiency refers to anyone above the age of 5 who reported speaking English less than “very well,” as classified by the U.S. Census Bureau. 

The Need Is Great

There are 1.6 million adults in New York City who do not speak English proficiently. (Queens County was the nation’s fifth largest low-English-proficiency county in 2009–13). Of those who need literacy education, only 40,000, or 3 percent, are receiving it.

Literacy Partners aims to meet this need by providing free English and high school equivalency classes to help low-income immigrant parents in all five boroughs. Our English for Parents classes are delivered in partnership with Head Start programs for low-income children, so parents can come to class after dropping their children off at school. Our dual-generation approach helps empower both parents and children through education.


1 Joseph Sclafani, The Educated Parent: Recent Trends in Raising Children. Westport, Connecticut: Praeger, 2004, 88.
2 Parents’ Literacy and Their Children’s Success in School: Recent Research, Promising Practices, and Research Implications, Research Report, Office of Research, Office Educational Research and Improvement of the U.S. Department of Education. August 1993.
3 Ibid.
4 Foundation for Child Development, Mother’s Education and Children’s Outcomes: How Dual-Generation Programs Offer Increased Opportunities for America’s Families, No. 2, July 2014.
5 Ibid.
6 Hertz, T. (2006). Understanding Mobility in America. Center for American Progress. Available at: https://www.americanprogress.org/wp-content/uploads/kf/hertz_mobility_analysis.pdf
7 The Impact of Parents’ Background on their Children’s Education Jen Gratz Educational Studies 268: Saving Our Nation, Saving Our Schools: Public Education for Public Good November 14, 2006.
8 Arnold, D.H., and Doctoroff, G.L. (2003). The Early Education of Socioeconomically Disadvantaged Children. Annual Review of Psychology, 54: 517–545.
9 http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/early/2014/05/27/peds.2013-3710.abstract
10 M. D. R. Evans, Jonathan Kelley, and Joanna Sikora, Scholarly Culture and Academic Performance in 42 NationsSocial Forces 2014 92: 1573-1605.
11 U.S. Census Data.
12 http://www.migrationpolicy.org/article/limited-english-proficient-population-united-states. Accessed 11/30/16.
13 Mother’s Education and Children’s Outcomes: How Dual-Generation Programs Offer Increased Opportunities for America’s Families,” No. 2, July 2014.