Early-learning app counters students' plummeting test scores

Stephanie Dua was trying to teach her 5-year-old daughter how to read and found herself unimpressed by available iTunes apps.

"I had access to every [app] everyone could want to have access to. But nobody could point to anything for a parent that was really worthwhile," said Dua, who has been involved with education reform for more than a decade.

So she decided to create one herself and ended up founding Homer, a start-up that develops reading tools. “Learn by Homer” is a comprehensive tool for children ages 3 to 6 that brings to the tablet how children learn to read and how they build knowledge and vocabulary.

"I thought: 'There is this enormous opportunity to give parents effectively what we know about the best of a kindergarten classroom,' " she said Thursday during an Afternoon MoJoe web-exclusive interview.

The number of New York City students passing state reading and math exams has plummeted. This year 26% of New York students were proficient in English and 30% in math, a significant decrease from last year's numbers--47% in English and 60% in math.

"The 45 states and the District of Columbia that signed onto the new [Common Core] Standards realized that children were not being prepared for college and careers, so we had to increase the standards," Dua said Thursday on Morning Joe. "We're asking children to master different types of tasks, and it's not going to happen overnight."

The vast majority of downloaded apps in the iTunes Stores are for children. In 2012, 72% of the top-selling apps available in the Store targeted preschoolers and elementary-aged children.

"[Children] were born to use the iPad in many ways," said Dua, adding that her youngest daughter once tried "swiping" the television screen as if it were a tablet.

Even still, Dua continues to encourage parents to take a book from the shelf each night and read with their children.

"There's something very physical and tangible about cuddling together and reading a book," she said. "It's one of the most important things you can do."

Be sure to watch other web-exclusive interviews and roundtable discussions right here in the Afternoon MoJoe section of the website.

Watch Dua’s Morning Joe interview: