Reading Skills in the U.S.A. and the Rest of the World

I guess the title of this blog is not a real “attention-grabber” but it is still very important if we want to better understand how technology is playing an increasingly important part in reading instruction. Here is the link if you would like to read the complete report: https://nces.ed.gov/pubs2018/2018017.pdf. The report focuses on reading achievement levels across fourth graders in sixteen countries and their proficiency in reading ONLINE.

In terms of the percentage of fourth-grade students who performed at an advanced level, the United States was the fourth highest in reaching this level. Students in Singapore, Ireland, and Norway tested higher on this online measure of informational reading (ePIRLS, National Center for Education Statistics, 2017). “The report has at least one silver-lining: Students in the United States fared far better on an Internet-based version of the assessment that tested their ability to process information online. U.S. students placed fourth out of 16 education systems that participated.”

Unfortunately, for American students who are reading in a more “text-based” manner, the results are not as high when compared to their international peers. They dropped to 13th place. “The decline was especially precipitous for the lowest-performing students, a finding that suggests widening disparities in the U.S. education system (National Center for Education Statistics, 2017).”

Ray Myers

P.S. Please have a look at mypeacecorpsstory.com, podcast #018, where I discuss my “technology-free” Peace Corps years in India

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Technology and Young Eyes – Go Outdoors!

Maybe you worry about your children spending so much time in front of computer screens that it has a detrimental effect on their vision. The ready availability of technology may make the children of today faster at configuring a new smartphone, but does all of that screen time affect the development of their vision? As reported in recent research by two optometrists at Ohio State University (Zadnik & Mutti), another factor may be a more critical factor.

To their surprise, more time outdoors has a protective effect and reduced the chances that a child would go on to need myopic refractive correction. Without reporting on all the research that has gone into this determination, here is the dominant theory or conclusion: “The brighter light outside stimulates the release of dopamine from the specialized cells in the retina. Dopamine then initiates a molecular signaling cascade that ends with slower, normal growth of the eye, which means no myopia.” Actual light exposure, not just a decrease in the time spent reading because children are outdoors is the explanation for this “magic.”

No one before has ever said playing outside could help you prevent or minimize nearsightedness? I should have spent more time time playing outside when I was younger. In my case it was not the computer screen that intrigued me. It was TV.

Ray Myers

Fighting Against Trumpism and Racism – Not a War of Words

It’s just too easy.  We can write blogs, tweet our anger about the state of affairs in the U.S. today, but do you often wonder about who is really listening or who really cares. It is all so easy and self-satisfying to let people know how angry and upset we are.  But at the same time, do we really begin to ask ourselves whether this is all having any impact?  Mere words may not be enough.  

I think the Bully-in-Charge (a.k.a, the so-called president) really has the upper hand.  He uses Twitter to communicate with all his adoring fans, and they really like it.  Nothing is really complicated – just listen to my harangues and we will all feel a lot better.  He will lead us in making America Great Again.  Just read and believe!  He is tweeting while “Rome burns,” and very few seem to really care.  I am sure we can all write statements in opposition to all this “fake rhetoric” but what have we really accomplished?  Many worry that ceaseles statement -writing is sucking us dry.

In a New York Times’ opinion piece on Sunday Tiya Miles wrote: “I doubt my own courage and wonder each day whether I could deploy my body beyond the relative safety of marches approved by permits.  But I am certain of this: The change we seek to make won’t be accomplished by words alone.”

Ray Myers

Abuser of Twitter and of Women Too

So I may be digressing from my usual commentary here about how technology’s advances and empowerment have made the internet a powerful tool for free expression, but Trump has also managed to make it a tool of oppression.  For example, “Over the weekend, the president of the United States retweeted to his 38 million Twitter followers a video clip doctored to show him driving a golf ball off the tee and between the shoulder blades of Hillary Clinton – ‘Crooked Hillary’ in the tweet – knocking the former Secretary of State and Democratic presidential nominee to the ground.  Eighty-four thousand people ‘liked’ this violent takedown of Trump’s former opponent.

A woman has been Speaker of the House (and proved substantially more effective than the two men who succeeded her), another came within a whisker of the presidency, and others (Republican Senators Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Susan Collins of Maine) wield the decisive votes on health-care and other legislation.  But recent events make it feel as if we’re in an earlier time, when a woman’s job in politics was simple: sit down and shut up.  This no doubt is the work of a president who, by word and deed, make sexism safe again, giving license to shed ‘political correctness and blame troubles on minorities, immigrants and women (Milbank, Washington Post, 9/20/17).”

Unfortunately, it looks like there will not be a second chance for Hillary, but her recent book sale numbers may portend what the future may bring.  “What Happened” is now the No. 1 best-selling book in America.

Ray Myers


It’s News to Me, Fake or Real?

As reported in the New York Times, Google and Facebook “stroll to the starting line.”  I am not talking about a foot race here, but rather the rate of responsiveness in their efforts to vett or block the reporting of fake news on their websites.     Here is one account of what these two companies have been doing:  “Google and Facebook have been taking steps to curb the number  of false news articles propagated across their sites.  On Wednesday, the Silicon Valley companies showed that they were still in the early stages of their battle to limit misinformation online.”

Just this week, these tech giants announced that recent updates to their sites will help prevent hoaxes and fake news from being posted.  Still, industry watchdogs remain skeptical about the effectiveness of these moves.  Some experts remain unconvinced: “Nothing drives clicks better than when the headline is exactly what people want to hear or believe. . . without significant changes to the economies and the technology of online ads, banning individual sites would not produce change in the long run.”  In many ways, these efforts showed how the fight against fake news remains a work in progress.

So I guess it all comes back to the individual reader of the news.  Whether it’s digital or print, what we choose to believe may all still be in the “eye of the beholder.”

Ray Myers


Audio-enhanced Print – Talking Books Around the World

“I cannot give you any idea of what these Talking Books mean to those of us who cannot read ordinary print.”  This unsolicited testimonial was sent to the American Federation for the Blind after one of its members began to first listen to recordings of printed book editions.  It was then a new technologocal innovation in the 1930s, but technological advances over the last century, and into the twenty-first, have now made almost any printed document accessible to individuals with print disabilities.  These technological advances have also made these printed materials available in  a multitude of languages that give it a global outreach.

The United States Department of Education (ED) and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) have been in the forefront of these efforts.  Bookshare.org is funded by the Office of Special Education in ED, and has been a leader in this area for many years, and is now increasing its outreach around the world.  AllChildrenReading.org is funded by USAID and is now supporting projects that include enhanced programs for children with print disabilities.  Both of these programs utilize technologies that are most readily available in the areas where the children live.  Mobile  technologies play an increasingly important part in these efforts, particularly in the more remote corners of the globe.

Please visit the websites for these programs identified above.  I had the opportunity to be involved in a small way in the development and growth of these projects during my years of federal service.

Ray Myers

Trump is the Darling of the Heartland – Changing the Media Landscape

Trump knew where his message would have the most appeal, Heartland, U.S.A.  And please don’t try to sell subscriptions to the “New York Times” or “Washington Post” of you are traveling there.  No one is buying anyway.  Now these media mainstay publications, along with others, have been looking for an Internet age strategy, but “nobody has found it.”  Why browse through a newspaper when you can just “order up” the news you want to read online and forget about the rest.  That seems to be what most of middle America has been doing this election year.  Just get on the Internet and find something you like (it takes so long to read those old print news articles anyway).

I guess the proof is in the fact that he won the Presidential election with the overwhelming support of midwestern Americans.  They elected a man who has rarely traveled west of the Hudson River his entire life (well, okay, New Jersey and Philadelphia to broaden his world view :).  One adventuresome online news service based in New York City, ProPublica, is now trying to establish some Midwest roots.  It is expanding into Illinois with a 10-person editorial team – laudable to be sure, but it can’t begin to make up for vibrant local papers with dozens of beat reporters, statehouse bureaus and investigative teams.  Even with a move to the Midwest, “many in the news media believe that news organizations must rebuild relationships of trust with citizens, even Trump supporters.”  Now if only I am able to figure out how that trust was lost?  Is that really what happened?

So the suggested strategy is for the Democratic Party to change the media landscape (good luck with that).  I think in most cases, people will read what reinforces or confirms their perspectives on the world in general.  To learn more about your world takes more than just reading your favorite newspapers or listening to your favorite newscasts.

Ray Myers

In the Eye of the Beholder – Shopping for the News

Just as the Internet has changed most Americans shopping habits, i.e., stay at home and shop online, it now seems that you can now shop for your news and take your pick of what you like.  Recent polls show that many of us have burrowed into our own echo chambers of information where we can “shop” for the news that will confirm our own opinions.  For years, technologists and other utopians have argued that the online news would be a boon for our democracy.  That has not been the case.

If you study the dynamics of how information moves online today, pretty much everything conspires against the truth.    Let’s take the traditional standard of documentary proof.  Thanks to Photoshop, for example, any digital image can be doctored.  Any bit of inconvenient documentary evidence can be freely dismissed as having been somehow altered.  Of course, our own behavioral standards play a role in all this.  Surveys show that people who liked Mr. Trump saw the Access Hollywood tape where he casually referenced groping women as mere “locker room talk”; those who didn’t like him considered it the worst thing in the world.

Research has has shown that we all tend to filter documentary evidence through our own biases.  I think the Internet just makes it easier for us to select only the news with which we agree, or “fits” our definition of the truth.

Ray Myers 

There Was an App for That!

“All the News That’s Fit to Print.”  Well, not exactly anymore, at least in its News App NYT Now.  As you may already know, the motto of the New York Times has run into some roadblocks in the digital age.  It’s all about the decline in the number of subscribers over the past year.  In May 2015, NYT Now had 334,000 total unique subscribers?  Over the last three months, the app averaged only 257,000 unique users.

So what is the Times to do?  Facebook and Twitter, baby!  No “Old Gray Lady” anymore.  The Times now has an audience development team that will be looking to third party platforms.  I guess it was just a matter of times(s?).  NYT Now is not the first app that the Times has retired.  In 2014, it shut down NYT Opinion because it failed to gain much traction.

Maybe some people still just like to read the printed newspaper?  In this case, it seems that the Times is chasing the digital audience, and there is nothing wrong with that.  But instead of printing all the news that’s fit to print, they may be only reporting the news that the digital reader wants to “fit?”

Ray Myers

P.S.

Two weeks ago a new book was published on Amazon as well as other online book publishing formats. I authored one of the essays in this book: “Changed During the Sixties.” The book’s title is “Turning Points: Discovering Meaning and Passion in Turbulent Times.” I hope you will enjoy reading these essays about personal and professional transitions made during this time.

P.P.S.

During the remainder of August, I will only be posting commentary on Mondays. I will be “resting” on Labor Day, but will resume my posts on a regular M-W-F basis on September 12.

Read the Classics on Your Cell Phone

Twenty minutes at a time on a daily basis will be your limit however.  All you need to do is download this handy app on your cell phone (free on iOS devices). There is a small selection of these classics (e.g. “Moby Dick”) right now but the library is expanding daily.  It’s called Serial Reader, and I’m thinking this will be taking reading the classics to a whole new level that maybe some of us may not want?

You will not have to buy a book to treasure and read at your leisure.  You will only have to check your phone daily to read the latest installment.  No skipping ahead here.  You will become, what I will call, a programmed reader, unencumbered by hardbound or paperback copies of any classic you might want to read.  Lighten your load.  All you need is internet connectivity to make it so. No need to browse those bookstores and libraries any more.  It can all be in the palm of your hand. 

But let’s not forget that we do not all have to be Serial Readers.  It’s still your choice, and the reading of books now seems to come in a variety of ways.  According to a New York Times survey of subscribers  in July and August of last year: 38% only read physical books; 4% only read books on electronic devices; and 58% only read physical books and books on electronic devices. Read on, Macduff!

Ray Myers

Analog Fever in the Digital World

Got to have those 45s!  This phenomenon appears to be more than a nostalgic whim. but I am sure that it plays some part.  Some say that the marginalization of the physical (e.g., 45 rpm records) has propelled it into the realm of luxury.  But perhaps the biggest irony is that the best place to locate and buy analog items is online.  Maybe it really doesn’t matter how you get it, so much as it is the ownership of something that is both sensual and symbolic.  It’s reviving an old fashioned consumer experience: you are the “owner” of the latest from a favorite musician, author, film maker, and so on. 

At the same time, analog fever does not function in opposition to digital dominance, but in concert with it.  YouTube video clips actually show analog social media devices that may be of interest to viewers.  No more streaming if that’s not for you.  You get to own what you like, and control its access as you determine best.  And this is now called a “luxury” that we had lost in the digital world.

I’m old enough now to have lived in both the analog and digital worlds.  I guess it’s all about ownership, independence, and prized possessions.  Maybe it’s like handing or texting someone a reading list of favorite books as opposed to actually sharing the books themselves?

Ray Myers



Apps versus Web and Online Publishing

I still enjoy reading the newspapers and magazines the old-fashioned way – paper in hand, coffee or other beverage sometimes, by my side.  Now there are so many other ways to keep informed about whatever is of interest, and finding out whatever else may be of interest, that your choices have become virtually unlimited.  And the media you choose in order to stay informed may truly be the “message.”  

Are you an “apps” or web person?  Digital publishers are now engrossed in making marketing decisions that will increase their readerships and revenues.  The mobile website seems to be prevailing in terms of focusing their publication efforts on being the most effective investment of time and resources.  As some experts note, it’s become increasingly difficult for anybody trying to do something independently on their own.  Unfortunately, the quest for getting people addicted to their business model (i.e., Google, Apple), may outweigh their support for the endeavors of creative working people.  

So I don’t think this is the way things were supposed to be.  Truly, what a tangled web we have weaved.  We still may think that we are the masters of our “Internet destinies,” but you still may have more control when you go to the library (I mean the one with books, magazines, and newspapers in a building).

Ray Myers


Read On – Pixels or Print?

Well, I would have guessed pixels, and I would have been wrong.  The printed page seems to be rising from the paper ashes (no pun intended) and reclaiming some part of the reading market lost to the digital media in recent years.  The American Booksellers Association counted 1,712 member stores in 2,227 locations in 2015, up from 1,410 in 1,660 locations five years ago.  Publishers are once again investing in their infrastructure for print books.

Paperback sales rose by 8.4 peecent during the first five months of this year.  Maybe we all need to be more sensorially engaged in the reading of a book than we would like to admit.  Flipping through the pages, or perhaps even the different aromas of well-worn pages or freshly printed texts, are part of sensations of reading that we now miss.  The printed words themselves may take us different places as we read, and maybe the relative permanence of the printed pages gives us some assurance that we can always visit there again whenever we wish.

Arguably the digital page can always be retrieved and personal comments and notations retained in the digital device of our choosing.  And we can still share these observations and asides digitally across the Internet or even join the local Book Club, but still something seems to be missing.  Maybe it’s that old human touch when someone hands you a book that they have enjoyed (with notations included) and shares that experience with you.  

Ray Myers 



What’s in Your School Bag?

Probably more than parents had to buy in the past. And it seems to be the same case in both the public and private school sectors. Parents can now also search on the web for online services that help them get all the supplies their children may need for that first day of school. Of course, traditional school supply retailers and mega-stores also realize that parents are doing more in providing needed school supplies and are now marketing school supplies’ packages that are competitive in pricing.

Some private schools may include school supplies in their tuition pricing, including individual iPad access for all of their students. Public schools in more affluent communities may also be able to provide educational technology tools for their students, but there clearly seems to remain an economic and digital divide across our schools.

Thirty-one percent of school districts in New York have less state aid than they did in the 2009-10 school year. I think that this shrinking support also reflects a disastrous disregard for the economic needs and challenges facing the middle class in this country. These students need more support in preparing for their futures, not less!

Ray Myers

This is Your Brain on Google – Part Two

It’s like an all-you-can-eat buffet. Just as you may have seen how people fill their plates multiple times and still leave room for dessert, the Internet makes it possible for anyone to fill their brain with anything they want. For buffet goers, what they choose to eat and what they need nutritionally, however, may not be the same thing. Similarly, advertisers on the web have also figured out how to give us a steady diet of only what we want to see, and hopefully buy!

It also seems that we may be “over-socializing” on the web to the detriment of developing our own “real” inter-personal skills. But there is still hope. Remove access to the digital communication tools for several weeks, and researchers have found that social, emotional, and intelligence skills will improve. Sounds a little like going through withdrawal from an addictive habit.

The good news is that our brains can be retrained. Nothing is forever. What a wonderful gift this is, but it is still very much a choice for us.

Ray Myers

This is Your Brain on Google – Part One

Have you been gorging on information?   Well please don’t feel too bad because you are not the only one.  Reseachers are now just beginning to study what the Internet may actually be doing to our brains, and Google seems to be the most likely subject.  Doesn’t everybody google?

There is a lot of think about here, at least for my brain, so I am going to blog about it this week in “smaller” pieces that might work for me.  Today let’s  begin with the fact that the brain is a muscle.  The more we search on Google, for example, the stronger it becomes.  But it seems that the better (i.e., faster) we become at searching, the more likely we are to overestimate our intelligence.  At the same time, we also seem more likely to skim what we read.  Faster but not better?

I now see more Trivia games and challenges online.  Perhaps an example of a game where we feel that we can test or improve our memory (intelligence?) as many times as we want everyday?  Ironically, early research tells us that we are more likely to remember where we found desired information, but not the actual details it contained.

Ray Myers


My Wild and Crazy Online Senior Summer Vacation

What better way to prepare for college life than spending all that spare time taking MOOCs online or working at a chess camp. Not that there is anything wrong with that, but don’t you think that these kids might be missing something, or enjoy doing something else? I guess some recent high school graduates just can’t wait to dig into real time higher education academia. But are taking courses online what higher education is all about?

Well okay, these courses are really just meant to be resume builders, whether you actually complete them or not! They surely fill up those resume pages, and who knows who might be impressed or curious? I remember when I had a summer job packing college textbooks for the Collier-MacMillan Publishing Company, I simply thought of it as making some summer spending money and possibly saving some cash for the school year ahead. And just to think, I could have included it in my college resume under “Advanced College Preparatory Reading,” or “Getting to Know the Names of Every College Bookstore in the Country.”

Please excuse me of I’m getting a little nostalgic here. I was just a “packer” in a book publisher’s warehouse. We were the male brawn of the shipping operation, while the ladies and coeds (summer) were the more cerebral “pickers” of the correct books for the college bookstore customers. Life was much simpler then.

Ray Myers

Movies on the Move Digitally

I don’t go to the movies that often.  And now with all of our digital wizardry we will be able to see new releases on our own personal devices much sooner than we ever thought possible, if the movie industry agrees.  Why go to the movie theaters at all?  It use to be a great place to take a date (maybe some of you remember?)

It the movie companies all agree, which they have not, we may have made “going to the movies” a thing of the past, making it a more personal, individual experience, like reading a book, digitally or the old-fashioned printed page way.  Take your pick, but it seems that everything is moving in a “faster is better” way.  At the same time, there are so many more ways to access any information or entertainment you want at any time.  OstensIbly, this will make  everything fit into your busy and busier daily schedules more easily.  But how much more do you want, and how much time do you have?

For a more “senior” person like me, more time is certainly available, and I have the freedom to control the amount of time spent in the digital and real worlds.  But with so many more digital devices easily available, it can become so much easier to live life exclusively digitally.  Unfortunately of you do, you may miss having a real life that can combine the best aspects of both.

Ray Myers


Free Distance Ed in India for Visually Challenged

There are a lot of challenges in this government-led initiative in southern India.  Bangalore University in Karnataka is now offering free undergraduate and graduate courses to the visually impaired, as well as widows, jail inmates, and transgenders.  Unfortunately, the biggest hurdle seems to be the requirement that these visually challenged students (and other eligible groups’ members) must have completed pre-university level training, or have participated in the Open University program and have reached 18 years of age.  While government officials tout that they have created a distance or open learning mode, there still seem to be many layers of bureaucratic prerequisites creating challenges themselves.  I lived and worked in Karnataka for two years as Peace Corps Volunteer in the late sixties, and returned to Bangalore in 2006 to attend an international conference on educational technology for the disabled.  And for the month of July 2008, I returned to the Karnataka town where I had worked as a Peace Corps  Volunteer to assist the Deshpande Foundation in its inaugural work there.  

I have been very fortunate to have had these opportunities to work in India over the course of my career.  From my perspective as a recently retired federal employee, which included many conversations with other countries’ representatives as they explored the appropriate uses of technology within their educational systems, I believe that technology empowers learners of all different levels of abilities to create options for learning that works best for them.  Government bureaucracies can help, but sometimes I think they can get in the way.  For individuals with disabilities, however, governments should still continue to play a role in supporting their citizens’ access to the most appropriate learning tools they may need.

One program funded by the federal government that works domestically and internationally to provide such support is Bookshare (www.bookshare.org).   They are very actively involved in India as part of their international outreach.  Please take some time to visit their website and find out more about their initiatives for learners with print disabilities.

Ray Myers


Social Media Laureates?

So I was just reading about the awarding of the U.S. Poet laureate award to Juan Felipe Herrara, a very well-deserved honor to the first Latino to attain this prestigious position. Certainly well-deserved recognition for a man who has also worked as an actor, playwright and musician, in addition to receiving awards for fiction and nonfiction for young children and adults.

Now this makes me wonder if there will someday be awards given to social media commentators? Maybe the real question is whether this type of media is really literature after all. Probably not in the sense of traditional publications in print form, but the media of expression in the virtual world is much more an open platform.

Who will eventually decide what is worthy of national or international distribution when we all can become publishers of what we express through digital media?

Ray Myers