Thanks to Tasha over at Kids Lit for linking to an interesting article from ABC Science Online. The article is about a study published in the latest issue of The Journal of Research in Reading. The study looked at how genes influence potential reading ability in young children, and concluded that "genetic variability accounted for most of the differences in skills that predicted later reading ability" (vs. reading aloud to kids).
This is actually consistent with something that I read a while back in Freakonomics : A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything, by Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner. The authors analyzed data from the U.S. Department of Eduction's Early Childhood Longitudinal Study, undertaken in the late 1990s. The ECLS measured the performance of 20,000 students, and supplemented this with detailed family interviews. A regression analysis of this data found that being read to every day at home was, surprisingly, not correlated with doing better on school test scores (although having lots of books in the home was correlated with better test scores). However, there was a strong negative correlation between adoption and school test scores (because of the genetic background of the adoptive children). Read Freakonomics to hear more about the ECLS study and its implications.
I still think that there is plenty of research out there to support the fact that reading aloud to kids will make them more likely to grow up as readers. Check out The Read-Aloud Handbook, by Jim Trelease, for a number of references (the newest edition of the Read-Aloud Handbook will be out in June, and presumably will have updated references). But I think that it's important to keep in mind that genetics play a factor, too, and that learning to read is going to be harder for some kids than for others. These kids will need all the encouragement that we can give them.
The genetic study researchers that I read about today did stress that time spent reading to children at home is important. They also pointed out that their research suggests that children who have difficulty reading are likely to have genetic roadblocks to overcome, and to in particular require extra resources to help them. You can read the News in Science article here. I would be interested to hear what you think. -- Jen