It's not just the screens. And she notes that surveys pre-pandemic already showed reading for fun had already dropped off a cliff for 9 and 13 year olds.
If you have taught in the last twenty years, or regularly reads here, you already know what's happening. As Marsh explains the loss of interest in story:
This disregard for story starts as early as elementary school. Take this requirement from the third-grade English-language-arts Common Core standard, used widely across the U.S.: “Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text, distinguishing literal from nonliteral language.” There is a fun, easy way to introduce this concept: reading Peggy Parish’s classic, Amelia Bedelia, in which the eponymous maid follows commands such as “Draw the drapes when the sun comes in” by drawing a picture of the curtains. But here’s how one educator experienced in writing Common Core–aligned curricula proposes this be taught: First, teachers introduce the concepts of nonliteral and figurative language. Then, kids read a single paragraph from Amelia Bedelia and answer written questions.
Yup. The rise of NCLB and Race to the Top and Common Core have cemented the practice of teaching students to read and respond to tiny little fragments of works rather than the whole thing.
You can argue (as some have, responding to this article on the tweeter machine) that no standards ever said, "Go out and never read an entire work of literature again." And that's fair-- Common Core didn't require this exactly. But it surely enabled it, in two crucial ways.
For one, it added fuel to the high stakes Big Standardized Test craze. NCLB ramped up BS Tests across the nation, but those were sorted out state by state. The Core created the illusion that we could have BS Tests aligned to national-ish standards and so it was okay to attach higher and higher stakes to test results. But that meant lots and lots of test prep materials, conveniently published under the "Common Core aligned" claim. And since the BS Tests tested with short clips from reading, the most effective test prep would have to mirror that approach. Teachers were pitched coaching book after coaching book with selections just a few paragraphs long tied to multiple choice questions.
The Core also ramped up the idea of reading "skills," the idea that reading skills could somehow exist in a vacuum, somehow separated from actual content. And if you don't need any content knowledge to pack in with the reading, well, content knowledge can also mean the rest of the piece itself. David Coleman wanted us to stay within the four corners of the text, and the absurd extension of that idea is that we can stay within the four corners of the fifth and sixth paragraph of the entire work.
"Skills" divorced from content gets us reading comprehension equivalent of DIBELS, the crazy pants "reading" assessment that tries to "test" the skill of decoding by having students decode words that aren't words--reading without actually reading. The literature version of that is reading comprehension without any larger work to comprehend. Answer these questions about one page out of Hamlet, as if one need not read the whole work to develop real comprehension. As if reading comprehension is a skill that can be tested in a vacuum.
The end effect is to reduce "reading" to a performative task, with no real purpose except to gear students for the Big Standardized Test.
As Marsh points out, the enjoyment of reading, the pleasure of being on the receiving end of a story, a communication, a human mind and heart being transmitted through the printed page--none of that needs to be sacrificed in the service of developing reading skills.
This is why high stakes testing remains my Education Enemy #1. It turns everything upside down by insisting that the purpose of education is to get students ready to score well on the Big Standardized Test, instead of getting them ready to live their lives, to become their best selves, to grasp what it means to be fully human in the world. Twenty years of high stakes testing has caused too much of education to lose the plot. The number of students who can't imagine any purpose for reading except to answer test questions is just one sad symptom.