First, most newspaper articles are sensationalizing the findings. Here are just a few: Study Links Drop in Test Scores to a Decline in Time Spent Reading; American Youth TV Habits Lower Job Prospects, Community Service; and Kids reading less today than ever before.
The 98 page report is divided into chapters addressing a variety of issues including Youth Voluntary Reading, What the Decline Means for Literacy, Why More Than Reading is at Risk. Overall it is unclear what the report defines as “reading.” It appears that reading is defined as “reading a book.” If the researchers had asked me, “Did you read a book today?” My response would have been, “No!” However, I did read the 98 page NEA report about reading, various blog posts and news articles about the report. I think this is what disturbs me most about this report. We know that kids who are on MySpace and Facebook on a daily basis are reading and writing a variety of text. (In order to add new widgets or components, you have to read!)
Although the newspaper headlines suggest that our kids are reading less, if you read the report, you find that all Americans are reading less! Additionally, this report reported things such as: “Percentage of people who read for pleasure” and “percentage of adults proficient in reading prose.” And, again, the definition appears to be: reading a book = reading. Does reading books online count? In each of the graphs and statistics, the report cites statistics from the U.S. Dept of Ed, National Center for Education Statistics. I wonder how they get statistics identifying if an adult is “proficient in reading prose.” Several of the graphs pull from data that is dated 2002 or 2003 (p. 27, 64). The world has changed, and so, reading has changed. Unfortunately, I don’t think the way in which this data was collected or reported has changed.
Overall, it is such an obvious conclusion – the more you read, the better reader you become, And, just as obvious, well funded and well staffed school and public libraries increase literacy throughout the world. This has been well documented.
It also makes me wonder about the Partnership for 21st Century Skills group who contributed to this report and the framework for 21st Century Skills. I wonder how many of the CEOs from the companies that support this 21st century vision would report they had done “reading for pleasure in the past year” or “read a book on the previous day.” What kind of reading is really needed for the corporate world or the 21st century world?
In the foreword of the report, Dana Gioia, the chairman for the NEA states that the report confirms that : “the central importance of reading for a prosperous, free society.” No argument there!
There is certainly little to argue about regarding the conclusions of the report – all of us can be better readers. Personally, I would like to do more reading of “works of literature such as a novel”, but in between reading reports such as this, researching for my doctorate, as well as keeping up with the latest news via the blogs. I would agree with the Yalsa Blog writer – the definition of reading needs to change.
Overall, this report does validate what we already know:
- More access to books = better readers
- Better readers = better test scores
- Better readers + better test scores = better jobs
- Better readers + better test scores = able to compete in a global economy
It would have been nice if this report spotlighted the places where meaningful and engaging reading and learning ARE taking place.