What Kids Aren’t Reading

I recently read an article on NPR’s “monkey see” blog called “What Kids Are Reading” that discusses trends in high school students’ reading habits.  The thrust of the article is that high school students are not reading at their grade level; neither their own leisure-reading choices nor their reading assignments in school tend to be as advanced as their age group can handle. One troubling fact the article reports is that over the past hundred years, the complexity of texts students are being assigned in school has dropped by three grade levels so that high school students are now, on average, assigned texts deemed suitable for sixth graders.  Certainly these claims find support in the “Reading at Risk” and “To Read or Not to Read” studies the National Endowment for the Arts has undertaken over the last decade.

My kids are just three, so I’m years away from evaluating the truth of this as it applies to my own family’s experience, but I’m curious how these claims strike others:  does this ring true for you?  If you are a high school or college educator, are you surprised by what types of reading your students are equipped to do?  And how do you respond as an educator when grappling with underprepared students — or, beyond that, resistant ones?

And I have more questions:  why do you suppose this trend is happening?  Has reading simply been replaced by other activities offered up on electronic devices? Is it that teachers just can’t get the average student to do the reading if it’s perceived as complex?   Do we resign ourselves to the realities that we are faced with, believing that any reading is better than no reading?  I am really curious.  I desperately want my kids to read fat, difficult, world-upending books, and not only when they have to — though I want them to have to.  And while I’m not at all opposed to reading below one’s “grade level” (I have a couple of books in my summer reading stack that will be fast, breezy, and fun), that should never happen due to a lack of exposure to or awareness of the range of books out there to be experienced.

I also want to believe that we are not collectively lazier and less intelligent than Americans were a century ago.  If we optimistically set that possibility aside, then how do you make sense of these findings?