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Published: Sunday, 3/28/2010

Toward a reading culture

EIGHT years and billions of dollars after No Child Left Behind was enacted to improve the math and reading scores of U.S. students, almost no gains have been made. A new direction is called for.

A new report from the National Assessment of Educational Progress shows that reading scores of fourth and eighth graders in most schools have not significantly improved since President George W. Bush's education reform bill became law in 2002. Last year, a similar survey of math achievement reported only modest improvement.

Ohio fourth graders lost a point in reading compared to 2007, while eighth graders gained a point. Michigan fourth graders and eight graders each gained two points. National, Ohio, and Michigan scores at both grades remain below the proficient level in federal standards. Broken down, private and parochial school students continued to read better than kids in public schools, blacks and Hispanics still lagged behind whites, and girls again read better than boys.

It is not by accident that the best readers often are the people who read the most. And proficiency in reading is basic to success in every other subject. Reading once was considered entertainment and a necessary skill for success. Today, in addition to historic obstacles such as parents who don't value or model reading, books compete with an array of technology for the attention of young people. Books are losing, and many young people aren't developing the skills they will need for success in high school and college.

As President Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan work to overhaul No Child Left Behind, they must consider how to make the United States a reading culture again.

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