Saturday, August 27, 2016

Carol Black's A Thousand Rivers and the Great Phonics Debate

"The following statement somehow showed up on my Twitter feed the other day:
'Spontaneous reading happens for a few kids. The vast majority need (and all can benefit from) explicit instruction in phonics.;
This 127-character edict issued, as it turned out, from a young woman who is the 'author of the forthcoming book Brilliant: The Science of How We Get Smarter' and a “journalist, consultant and speaker who helps people understand how we learn and how we can do it better.”
It got under my skin, and not just because I personally had proven in the first grade that it is possible to be bad at phonics even if you already know how to read. It was her tone; that tone of sublime assurance on the point, which, further tweets revealed, is derived from “research” and “data” which demonstrate it to be true.
Many such 'scientific' pronouncements have emanated from the educational establishment over the last hundred years or so. The fact that the proven truths of each generation are discovered by the next to be harmful folly never discourages the current crop of experts who are keen to impose their freshly-minted certainties on children. Their tone of cool authority carries a clear message to the rest of us: 'We know how children learn. You don’t.'"
So they explain it to us.
The 'scientific consensus; about phonics, generated by a panel convened by the Bush administration and used to justify billions of dollars in government contracts awarded to Bush supporters in the textbook and testing industries, has been widely accepted as fact through the years of “No Child Left Behind” and “Race to the Top,” so if history is any guide, its days are numbered. Any day now there will be new research which proves that direct phonics instruction to very young children is harmful, that it bewilders and dismays them and makes them hate reading (we all know that’s often true, so science may well discover it) — and millions of new textbooks, tests, and teacher guides will have to be purchased at taxpayer expense from the Bushes’ old friends at McGraw-Hill."

From: Carol Black, A Thousand Rivers,

Note sent to Carol Black, August 28, 2016

You won't be surprised to learn that the "consensus" reached by the National Reading Panel on the value of intensive explicit phonics instruction has been challenged.
Professor Elaine Garan of Fresno State University re-examined the National Reading Panel's own data and concluded that the impact of intensive phonics instruction is strong only on tests in which children read lists of words in isolation; it is minuscule on tests in which children have to understand what they read. In my own work, I have found other studies showing the same thing. 
Study after study has shown that performance on tests of reading comprehension is heavily influenced by the amount of self-selected free voluntary reading that children do, not whether they have had intensive systematic phonics. 
This conclusion is consistent with the views of Frank Smith and Kenneth Goodman who have, for decades, presented strong evidence that our ability to decode complex words is the result of reading, not the cause.
Garan's work was published in very prestigious and respectable places but for some reason it has not gotten the publicity it deserves.
Stephen Krashen
Garan, E. (2001). Beyond the smoke and mirrors: A critique of the National Reading Panel report on phonics. Phi Delta Kappan 82, no. 7 (March), 500-506.
Garan, E. (2002) Resisting Reading Mandates. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.
Krashen, S. 2009. Does intensive decoding instruction contribute to reading comprehension? Knowledge Quest 37 (4): 72-74.

Monday, August 22, 2016

High school grades vs. the SAT.

Published in the Boston Globe, August 23, 2016

"Colleges cutting ties with the SAT" (August 22) is supported by research. In a study published in 2007, UC Berkeley scholars Saul Geiser and Maria Veronica Saltelices found that adding SAT scores to high school students' grades in college prep courses did not provide much more information than grades alone. In 2009, William Bowen, former President of Princeton University, Matthew Chingos, Senior Fellow of the Urban Institute, and Michael McPherson, President of the Spencer Foundation, reached similar conclusions in their book Crossing the Finish Line: Completing College at America's Universities.

In other words, it appears that teacher evaluation of students does a better job of evaluating students than standardized testing does: The repeated judgments of professionals who are with students every day is more valid that a test created by distant strangers.

Stephen Krashen
Professor Emeritus
University of Southern California

Friday, August 19, 2016

Failing schools or inaccurate reporting?

Sent to the Los Angeles Times, August 19

Dave Pierce ("Early Learning," letters, August 19) is tired of reading stories about failing schools.  Mr. Pierce thinks the problem is parents who don't make their children do homework, but there is good evidence that the problem is that the media gives the public the impression that our schools are much worse than they are.

Every year, national polls report that people rate their local schools much more positively than they do schools in the US in general. In last year's Gallup Poll, 70% of parents said they would give the public schools their oldest child attended a grade of A or B, but only 19% would give public schools in the nation A or B.

The explanation: Parents have direct information about the school their children attend, but their opinion of American education comes from the media. For decades, the media has been reporting more academic failure than actually exists.

American schools are doing quite well: When researchers control for poverty, American students' international test scores rank near the top of the world.

Stephen Krashen

Monday, August 15, 2016

The problem is poverty, not unions: Response to Fox News

August 15, 2016.

The low ranking of US students on international tests (“If your child's school is failing, thank a union," foxnews, August 15) has nothing to do with unions.  There is overwhelming and consistent research that it has everything to do with poverty. When researchers control for the effects of poverty, American students rank near the top of the world. Also, middle class American students in well-funded schools score very well on international tests.     
About 25% of American children live in poverty – the highest level of all industrialized countries, and in some urban districts, 80% of students live in poverty. This is the reason for our mediocre overall scores.
Poverty means poor nutrition, poor health care, and underfunded school libraries, which means little access to books.  Spending on schools is NOT directed at protecting students from high poverty families from the effect of poverty.
Real reform means less spending on useless tests and computers – let's only spend on tests and technology demonstrated to help students. Instead, lets spend on making sure no child is left unfed, no child is without proper health care, and every child has access to good libraries and helpful librarians.

Stephen Krashen
Author: The Power of Reading (2004, second edition, Libraries Unlimited).

Original article:

How to raise graduation rates in LAUSD: Improve school libraries, support librarians

Sent to the Los Angeles Times: August 14, 2016

If LAUSD wants to raise graduation rates (editorial, August 14), it might consider investing more in libraries and librarians.
LAUSD students scored far below the national average on the national reading test (NAEP) in 2015; these scores are closely connected to how much students read on their own.
Research also tells us that more reading means better grammar, spelling, vocabulary, writing and more knowledge of literature, social science, and science, all crucial for school success.
Research consistently shows that students read more when they have more access to books. LAUSD students have very little access to books at home, in their communities, or at schools.
According to the Times' article, "The Poverty Gap," the national level of poverty is 15%. But 80% of LAUSD students live at or below the poverty line. Students living in poverty have far fewer books in the home.
In 2015, Los Angeles ranked 68th out of 77 American cities in public library quality.
In LAUSD's school libraries the books-per-student ratio is 35% below the state average.
The presence of a credentialed librarian is related to reading achievement. LAUSD has one teacher-librarian for every 5,784 students, the national average is one per 1,026.
The low graduation rates are no surprise.

Stephen Krashen

original article:

Sources and details:
More reading means better ….. : Krashen, S. 2004. The Power of Reading. Second edition. Libraries Unlimited.
More access to books > more reading. Krashen. S 2004. Ibid.
80% of LAUSD students at or below poverty line.
Fewer books in the home: Krashen, 2004, ibid,
LA Libraries 68th out of 77: (2015) "America's Most Literate Cities report."
LAUSD school libraries 35% below state average:
Credentialed librarians: Studies by Keith Curry Lance and Associates: Small, R.V. and Snyder, J. (2009). The Impact of New York’s School Libraries on Student Achievement and Motivation--- The Phase II In-Depth Study. School Library Media Research, 12.

Friday, August 12, 2016

Teachers are not the problem, poverty is

Published in the Washington Post, August 18, 2016
Regarding the Aug. 12 news article “Gates Foundation to ‘stay the course’ with approach to education policy”:
Melinda Gates still thinks that teacher quality is the problem in American education. Of course we should always be trying to improve teaching, but there is no teacher quality crisis in the United States: When researchers control for the effect of poverty, American students score near the top of the world on international tests. Our overall scores are unimpressive because of our unacceptably high child-poverty rate, now around 21 percent. The problem is poverty, not teacher quality.
Poverty means food deprivation, lack of health care and lack of access to books. Each of these has a strong negative influence on school performance. Let’s forget about developing new ways of evaluating teachers, fancy databases and other ideas from Gates that have no support in research or practice. Instead, let’s invest in making sure no child is left unfed, no child lacks proper health care and all children have access to quality libraries.
 Stephen Krashen

Published at:

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Why is research on bilingual education ignored?

Proposition 227 dismantled bilingual education in California. But Proposition 58, which would reverse much of Prop 227, has "has so far generated only the slightest ripple of attention." ("Not a bang but a whimper: bilingual ed ban’s likely exit," August 8, The Cabinet Report).
The following appears close to the end of the article: "The education community, backed up by piles of research, never embraced the tenets of Prop. 227 …."
THIS IS A RARE MENTION OF THE STRONG RESEARCH SUPPORTING BILINGUAL EDUCATION. Despite the many attempts of some of us to share the results of this research with the public, it never became part of the debate in 1998 and is peripheral today.
In the final sentence of the aritlce, the founder of the California Tea Party Coalition is quoted: “(Removing the bilingual ban) seems like such a disservice to kids, because everything they are going to need and everything they are going to do is in English.”