I read an interesting and optimistic article by Christopher Hollenback in this month's Pages Magazine. The article, entitled "Improved Reading Scores and a Chamber of Secrets", explores possible causes of a heartening trend, that elementary school students are reading more, and at a higher level. According to the article, the U.S. Department of Education's National Assessment of Educational Progress results "show that the number of nine-year-olds reading more than 20 pages a day is up a stunning 92 percent since 1984. While only 13 percent read that much in 1984, 25 percent do now." Several experts are quoted on the trend, and "agree that something positive is happening."
The experts are not in as much agreement regarding the cause of the improvement. Some credit the Harry Potter series, because national reading scores started to climb right around the time that the first Harry Potter book was published in the U.S.. They also note that kids were motivated to read the Harry Potter books even when they were above the kids' reading level. Others are more skeptical, and cite other causes (parenting, school curriculum changes, teachers, and increased media promotion of intermediate-level books).
I am far from being an expert, but I personally believe that the Harry Potter books deserve some of the credit. They made reading cool for a lot of kids. They had kids waiting in line in bookstores for an early glimpse at each book. They taught kids not to be afraid of reading longer books. But I'm sure that some of the other factors cited have also made a difference. I think that schools are more supportive of having teachers read aloud, and having entire classes and schools undertake silent reading time. These things have to help, too.
The article goes on to discuss the question of whether or not kids can read too much, and to recap the things that parents can do. You should read the full article for details.