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Common Sense Media released a report today looking at the state of children and reading. The report, “Children, Teens and Reading,” pulled together lots of existing research to try to get a handle on how much kids are reading, and how that has changed over the last 30 years.

With older tweens and teens in particular, the results are somewhat disheartening. One study in the report found that while 48 percent of children ages 6 to 8 read daily, only 24 percent of children ages 15 to 17 continue that habit. A government study cited in the report found that in 1984, 70 percent of 13-year-olds read weekly, compared with 53 percent now. Forty-eight percent of 17-year-olds say they have read for pleasure only once or twice in the last year, according to another study cited in the report.

Saddest of all: the gap in reading proficiency between whites and black or Hispanic students has remained largely unchanged for 20 years.

“There are still a lot of kids who love reading,” said Vicky Rideout, the principle author of the study. “The rates of reading are dropping so much among young people, and the rate at which they are dropping is getting faster and faster. And the fact that over the past 20 years the achievement gap between white students and minority students has remained the same is really shameful and alarming.”

So, why the disparity and the drop-off as children get older? Francie Alexander, the vice president and chief academic officer for Scholastic Education, attributes it to a lack of access to reading material that interests them, and too many other things drawing on their time.

“As kids get older we have to make a firm commitment that we’re going to help them read outside of school,” Alexander said. “We have to find ways to encourage them to use their time to read, even with all of the other compelling things they have to do. We have to find time to engage them, over the summer, before and after school, and make it part of their lifestyle.”

Parents can, of course, emphasize the importance of reading by reading with the kids each day, letting them see you read and making sure they have access to lots of books on subjects that interest them. But Jim Steyer, the CEO of Common Sense Media would like to see the issue addressed at schools and on a national level, as well.

“Schools have to focus on this,” Steyer said. “The message they have to send to students, and to parents, is that reading is fundamental to their academic success and to having an appreciation of the world around us. We need to have a concerted focus on reading. We had a national focus on STEM education, but how about the reading decline?”

Alexander agreed that parents, educators and the government need to work together to prioritize reading with children, for the academic benefits but also for personal enrichment.

“It’s crucial that we make a concerted effort as a country, and school is the place where that can start,” Alexander said. “That’s where we can see that our students have good media centers and good libraries to draw from. Reading is a more important skill and strategy than it’s ever been.

“Even though we have more access to the world through technology, there’s still nothing like the interaction between a young person and a text, to help them be a better student and a better member of society. None of us is going to experience the whole world in the way that we wish we could through immediacy, but we can experience the whole world through books.”

What do you do to encourage reading in your home?

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What we’re reading: The Magic Treehouse series