Saturday, November 23, 2019

A Generation Of Failed Readers Threatens Book Industry

Image result for illiteracy images

Some corners of society fret over the fate of the printed book.  It’s under siege from digital books, audio books and online content given away for free.  But it turns out books are endangered simply because the United States of America, the richest and most powerful nation, is in decline and is failing to raise a new generation of literate citizens. Don’t take my opinion as fact. Just look at the facts released by the government.

“The numbers are reason for deep concern,” says Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos.

She was referring to the results from the 2019 National Assessment of Education Progress. Known as the nation’s report card, it showed that math and reading scores for fourth- and eighth-graders in America dropped since 2017. There’s an acute decrease in reading achievement that should set off alarms.

Unfortunately, the lackluster scores are not new. Student achievement has remained in the pits since 1992.  That’s more than a generation ago. Scores are relatively flat or down over the years. Only nine states showed any statistical improvement this year over the prior study in 2017. 

So let’s get this right.  Since 1992, reading scores are almost unchanged. How is it, with all of the increased funding in many states, where teachers went from making spare change to easily earning six figures, with charter schools, tax-credit scholar programs, education savings accounts, tutors, non-profit help, and more people going the private school route, we are left with a nation in crisis?

Officials can’t say why the results remain abysmal.

I can tell you.

Schools teach for a test that kids still don’t do well on. Is it the test? Is it the teachers? Is it what or how they are teaching?

Yes to all.

I see it firsthand. The school year is a joke, especially in the younger grades.  They fill the calendar with half days for teacher trainings. These half days often devolve into irregular days where students aren’t learning much. Then throw in excessive sick days for teachers. The substitutes do nothing. Then add in snow days when it snows an inch or days toward the end of the year when schools act like a babysitter and show movies.  Throw in jaded teachers who hate the bureaucracy but take advantage of every union benefit. Then throw in changing demographics of students. Then, add in the opt-outs that in the last few years skew test results.

Okay, but enough of that. It’s a problem that no local or national policy has fixed, from either party. School stuff is done locally and most local districts have failed a generation.

You can’t blame the students. It’s teachers, policies, and parents that influence a child’s success – along with genes, socio-economics, and values.

Whatever it is, we can do better . A nation of underperformers does not bode well for us. Who will work at a businesses, run a government, or raise our kids but a generation of dopes? 

The book industry can fight off technology and entertainment competition and social media distractions – but it can’t inspire readers or sell books to people who can’t read well or don't enjoy reading books.

The National Children’s Book and Literary Alliance says 35% of fourth-graders read at or above school grade level. That’s awful.  Tragic. Disturbing.

According to, the greatest amount of brain growth occurs between birth and age five. In fact, by age 3, roughly 85% of the brain’s core structure is formed. In contrast, the majority of our investments are made in the traditional education years of K-12.”

It sounds like reading scores will rise when any of a host of things change or improve. But reading ability is so important to one’s success and we can’t afford to waste more time and money on this. 

The book industry can’t survive without vociferous, or at least capable, readers.

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Brian Feinblum’s insightful views, provocative opinions, and interesting ideas expressed in this terrific blog are his alone and not that of his employer or anyone else. You can – and should -- follow him on Twitter @theprexpert and email him at He feels much more important when discussed in the third-person. This is copyrighted by BookMarketingBuzzBlog ©2019. Born and raised in Brooklyn, he now resides in Westchester. His writings are often featured in The Writer and IBPA’s Independent.  This was named one of the best book marketing blogs by Book Baby and recognized by Feedspot in 2018 as one of the top book marketing blogs. Also named by as a "best resource.” He recently hosted a panel on book publicity for Book Expo America.

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