America's education chief is sounding an alarm about the latest lackluster reading scores.
Fourth-graders who took the National Assessment of Educational Progress test in 2009 scored the same as the previous year's fourth-graders, while eighth-graders who took the test did one point better. Seen another way, only 33 percent of fourth-grade students and 32 percent of eighth-graders were deemed proficient in reading.
U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan said last week that "the reading scores demonstrate that students aren't making the progress necessary to compete in the global economy." And he's right.
But it's difficult to impress the importance of reading on children in a society where more adults don't read themselves. Look at the passengers on a bus or the patients in a doctor's office. How many are staring into space, plugged into earbuds or using a cell phone? At the coffee bar, more customers are likely to be engrossed in laptop video games than a book or a newspaper.
Young children whose parents read aloud to them have better language and literacy skills when they go to school, according to a 2008 review of research by the journal Archives of Disease in Childhood.
If children are to become real readers and not just readers in class, they have to be part of a natural, ingrained reading culture -- and that begins at home, with good books and good modeling. There's a one-word solution to the low scores on these sorts of tests. READ.