Thanks to the extraordinary efforts of thousands of parents, caregivers, educators, tutors, AmeriCorps members, volunteers–and, of course, students–BookNook is proud to announce the results of our spring Distance Learning programs.
Like most in the field of education, we found ourselves facing a crisis we had not prepared for when schools began closing in March. Fears of students regressing in their reading proficiency due to a ‘Covid Slide’ compelled us to act quickly and decisively to keep students learning.
While our program was designed for synchronous, in-person learning taking place at school or in childcare settings, we were able to quickly move to a purely online format. By the end of April, we were able to migrate nearly 40% of our in-person learning students to regular online distance learning sessions.
Because BookNook collects and analyzes data in real time while students are online, we were able to measure the impact of regular usage of our program despite most of the schools and nonprofits we partner with not being able to conduct end-of-year or ‘post’ assessments on reading proficiency.
Among students who spent a minimum of just three hours using BookNook from April to June, 91% were able to maintain their level of reading proficiency, experiencing no Covid Slide at all. Better still, 57% actually advanced in their reading level during school closures, ending at a higher level of achievement in June than they were in March.
The average BookNook student gained three months of reading skills during school closures, keeping them more or less exactly on pace with what should have happened in a normal school year. Put another way, BookNook students made the same progress during Distance Learning as would be expected in the classroom.
This is particularly meaningful because the majority of our students use BookNook in the context of intervention. Our average student has been falling behind in reading by about 1/3 of a grade level per year before they start using BookNook, meaning that a typical third grader is about a year below benchmark when they start using BookNook.
When comparing our students’ previous rate of reading level growth to what they showed during school closures, we saw that our average student was progressing at a pace 2.4 times faster, more than doubling their pace of growth.
Of course, none of these results would have been possible without our partner families, schools, and nonprofits, spread out across 32 states now. We are grateful to work with so many people who are so dedicated to helping students become strong, confident, lifelong readers. Together we are making a real and measurable difference.
Equity has been one of BookNook’s core values since the very beginning of our journey. The phrase we use to define it is “We Are Our Community.” We talk about it that way both because we want our team to look like our users, but also as a reminder that when something we created becomes part of a child’s life, we by extension become a part of their community.
Recently we’ve asked ourselves some hard questions about the kind of community member we have been. Like many in the field of education, we come from a place of good intentions–our mission is to close the educational opportunity gap. On the surface, it’s easy to tell ourselves that what we are doing must obviously advance equity.
But the way we go about that work matters, and on deeper reflection we’ve come to realize that we have made choices with unintentional but very real equity consequences. We want to acknowledge that publicly and commit to taking concrete action to be a better member of the communities we serve.
The hard truth that surfaced is this: the way we structure our fees is not equitable. Like most edtech companies, we charge based on how many students are using our program. On the surface this seems logical, but when considering that the most common use of BookNook is intervention it means we are, in effect, charging the most to the schools and nonprofits who serve the most struggling students–populations that overwhelmingly skew towards children of color.
We also treat our Spanish Dual Language Learner and Summer programs as “add ons” at an extra cost, reasoning that not every school or nonprofit will want to use them, so not everyone should be charged for them. Again, the practical effect here is to charge higher prices to schools serving higher need communities.
So, starting this summer we are rolling out an equity-based pricing model. When setting out our fees for a school or nonprofit, will expressly and transparently take into account the relative privilege of that community. The higher the percentage of children who are eligible for the National School Lunch Program, the less we will charge. We will also include our Spanish Dual Language Learner and Summer programs as part of our base subscription, rather than charging extra for it.
We realize this will mean some of our partners will see an increase in what they are asked to pay to use BookNook, and that others will see a decrease. Considering the equity gaps that have been once again thrust painfully into the forefront of our national consciousness, we think that is exactly what should happen in the moment.
We’ve run the numbers on this (another of our values is “Data Rule Everything Around Me”), and we expect that the net effect with our current partners is that they will be charged less. We hope that some of those partners will decide to reinvest their savings to provide more reading supports to struggling students as part of their Covid Slide responses. But if they need to use those funds to provide other crucial services or to make up for budget cuts, that is more than understandable.
We realize that, like all actions taken individually, this alone is an insufficient response to the issues we as a nation must grapple with. So at BookNook we will continue to reflect on ways in which we can “be our community,” act on our values, and work with partners to do more for the schools, nonprofits, and students we serve.
We Are [Striving to be a Better Member of] Our Community.