As test scores plummet nationwide, new data reveals that students in the United States have hit a record low in casual reading.
According a report from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), only 14 percent of students say they read for fun every day. This is down from 17 percent in 2020, and 27 percent in 2012. Over 31 percent of students say they never or hardly ever read for fun.
Experts believe that the drop can primarily be attributed to advances in technology, and the prevalence of social media and smartphones. In 2015, Common Sense Media reported that most children had their own cellphone by age 14. In 2022, Stanford Medicine found the average age to be 11.
Sasha Quinton, executive vice president and president for Scholastic School Reading Events, told The Hill that children are now receiving cellphones at a time critical in developing their love of reading.
“It’s really important to know what the average age now that kids have their own smartphone, is and we know that we lose our kids around 9, where they stop reading for pleasure," she said, adding, “We definitely have a crisis on our hands."
Miah Daughtery, the vice president of academic advocacy focused on literacy at NWEA, believes part of the drop can be attributed to a lack of diversity among published authors, which can create roadblocks for students in finding which stories appeal to them. Today, this is partially due to conservative pushes to ban books.
“If we take a look at it from a publishing perspective, the books that are even being published reflect a really small percentage of what’s available to students that reflect the balance of race, gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, then you layer on top of that disorder that national conversation and rhetoric and I would even say insistence on book challenges and bans,” she said. “So all of those things together are not creating strong conditions that would consistently encourage independent reading.”
According to the American Library Association, 2022 was a record year for book bans, with 2,571 unique titles challenged by parents, patrons, and other organizations — a 138 percent increase over 2021.
Quinton added that the diversity that's being challenged could very well provide the solution, as children will read more if they find stories that appeal to them.
"What’s wonderful is I really definitely think that we have an antidote for what ails us here,” she said. “If we focus on that book joy and just connecting kids to funny stories and explosive stories and things that sparked their interest, then they are learning to read and they are on the path to being lifelong readers.”