I came across this yesterday at the NewYorkTimes.com. The National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) has done a follow-up study to their depressing 2004 report entitled "Reading at Risk." In the earlier report, less than half of Americans (over 18) read for pleasure. This new report sought to build a broader picture by including information on nonfiction reading, as well. The new report claims a link between poor reading scores among children and the decline in reading in this country. Not surprisingly, digital media is blamed for the decline in reading, especially among those under 18.
Statistics regarding the consequences follow. This is my favorite part of any report like this. I just think they're fun. Here are a couple of examples to tide you over until you can read through the entire 99-page report. ". . . nearly three-quarters of employers who were polled rated 'reading comprehension' as 'very important' for workers with two-year college degrees, and nearly 90 percent of employers said so for graduates of four-year colleges." Next, "the data showed that 7 percent of full-time workers who scored at levels deemed 'below basic' on reading tests earned $850 to $1,149 a week, the fourth-highest income bracket, while 20 percent of workers who had scored at reading levels deemed 'proficient' earned such wages." So, you have to be able to read well to get a good-paying job. Makes sense to me. I like to casually drop these quotes into conversations with my sons, one of whom is a sophomore in college and the other is a senior in high school. Yes, I am not above using scare tactics on my children. I think I've mentioned before that much to my chagrin neither of my children like to read.
Like its predecessor, the new report is not without its share of controversy. There are some who believe that the report exaggerates the problem. Some also believe that people may be doing more reading than is reported, such as reading material via the Internet.
Of course, I believe reading is important (I'm a librarian, for heaven's sake!), but I'm not sure if the situation is all that dire. Yes, I agree that people should spend more time reading. However, I disagree with a statement made by the chairman of the NEA, Mr. Dana Gioia, when he said, "we live in a society where the media does not recognize, celebrate or discuss reading." What? Reading groups and book clubs have grown in popularity over the last several years. I haven't done any type of research to support my claim, but I believe it none the less. There are countless online book discussion groups, and many of the social networking sites are devoted to book lovers (i. e. LibraryThing, GoodReads, and Shelfari). Two of the major television networks have book clubs on their morning show, and then of course there is Oprah. Love her or hate her, she has gotten people reading and talking about books. Reading and belonging to a book club has become somewhat fashionable these days.
I don't have a solution to the decline in reading scores. But, I do have some suggestions if anyone is interested. First, get rid of things that take the fun out of reading. Kids hate reading because they associate it with unpleasantness -- tests. Accelerate Reader (AR) and No Child Left Behind both focus on quantity and evaluation. Where's the fun in that? Let people see you reading. Talk about what you're reading. And for heaven's sake, if you're a parent, read to your child early and often. In addition, support programs that provide literacy training to adults, as well. That's my two cents on the matter!