Reading may be fundamental, but too many boys in middle school lack that critical educational building block.
For the last decade, educators fretted over the academic gender gap -- girls outperforming boys on standardized tests -- yet the divide remains obvious in reading.
There is plenty of blame to go around -- disengaged parents, uninterested publishing houses, distracting video games and teaching styles -- but not as many clear answers.
"I would say there is a crisis," said Walter Dean Myers, a children's book author. "Too many parents have walked away from this idea ... that education is a family concept, is a community concept, is not simply something that schools do."
There is also hope.
Myers will speak Wednesday at the University of Washington's Information School on "Books & Boys -- Making It Work!"
The debate over whether boys are falling behind and in crisis has raged for years among academics, educators and writers. Reading remains one of their top concerns. In Seattle's public schools, sixth-grade boys trailed their female classmates by more than 10 percentage points in the standardized reading test in 2006.
Reading often loses its hold on these children as they near and hit middle school, a time when reading and their social worlds become more complex.
"A lot of times, when boys get to middle school they are feeling sort of disenfranchised from the educational" experience, said Pamela LaBorde, children's librarian at the Seattle Public Library's Ballard branch.
The problem isn't necessarily that boys don't read, it's that they are often practical readers, LaBorde said, reading magazines and even manuals.
"I think we feel like boys just aren't good readers because they aren't curling up with 'Little Women,' " LaBorde added.
The reasons behind the reading gender gap are complex -- everything from cultural changes to behavioral differences -- but researchers know the brains of boys and girls develop at different rates....
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