• Joanne Jacobs

Kids stream more, read less

The rise in screen time -- not just school closures -- is a factor in the decline in achievement, suggests Tim Daly, who runs the non-profit Ed Navigator, on Eduwonk.


"The longer students spent at-home, the more substantial were their learning setbacks," according to one study after another, he writes. But scores began dropping well before the pandemic.

From 2012 to 2020, National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) scores for nine-year-olds reading at the 10th percentile "dropped precipitously," Daly writes. Students were tested before the pandemic hit.


In the first decade of the 2000s, low-performing readers were "improving rapidly" and narrowing the gap with higher achievers. But gains leveled off by 2012. In 2020, 10th-percentile readers did much more, but there "was no comparable drop for high performers at the 75th or 90th percentiles."


Screen time more than doubled for babies and toddlers, from 1997 to 2014, with those form lower-income, less-educated families, he writes. A 2016-18 study found children aged 9 and 10 spending nearly four hours a day in front of screens, with more than an hour watching streaming videos.


That correlates with the decline in reading scores. "Young children who spend hours streaming videos each day are not interacting with adults or forming rich conversation habits that build a foundation for literacy," writes Daly. "Fewer children were reading for fun, with increasing numbers not doing it at all." Then schools closed.

. . . at a moment when the effects of screen time were already becoming evident for a subset of learners, kids began to spend more time on their screens than ever before. School was screens. Free time was screens. What else was there to do? By April 2020, the average U.S. child was on YouTube for 97 minutes per day.

Video streaming is "now the most preferred screen activity for tweens and teens," reports Common Sense Media. Children in lower-income households spend far more time on screens.


And the pandemic hit "educationally vulnerable" readers much harder than higher-achieving students.


Daly admits that math scores, which are more influenced by what happens at school, also showed the same pattern. Instruction matters. But he thinks schools need to work with parents to limit children's time on devices and what they're accessing.


On The Conversation, Joanne Orlando, a digital literacy researcher, has tips on how to get kids back to the physical world. "A newly released review comparing children’s screen time before and during COVID, shows children’s screen time spiked by a whopping 52% between 2020 and 2022," she writes. "Increases were highest for children aged 12 to 18 years, and for handheld devices and personal computers."



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