Monday, January 16, 2017

My philosophy on activism

My response to a request to comment on academics and activism,
from a journalist/scholar writing for the New Indian Express.

My activist philosophy is based on Bertrand Russell's statement: "Facts which ought to guide the decisions of statesmen (sic)... do not acquire their importance if they remain buried in scientific journals." (Betrand Russell, The Social Responsibilities of Scientists, 1962)

I regard my "activist" responsibility to be the sharing of results of research on language and literacy development that are often "buried in scientific journals," findings that appear to be unknown to the public but that could make life much easier as well as more interesting for millions if they were more widely known.

I do this largely in the form of letters to the editor to newspapers throughout the world, and I post my letters (published and unpublished) on facebook, on and link to them on twitter. I have not kept track of my published letters, but I estimate that over 1000 have been published. (I am still far behind the world record holder, Subhash Chandra Agrawal from New Delhi, who has probably published over 4000 by now.)

I don't know if my letters have done much good, but I feel compelled to continue. As stated in Jewish philosophy, You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to desist from it"  (Ethics of the Fathers (2, 21).

Stephen Krashen

Saturday, January 14, 2017

The secretary of education's first priority

Sent to the Wall St. Journal

The Secretary of Education's First Priority. Re: Who's Afraid of Betsy Devos? (January 14).

The Wall St. Journal asserts that Betsy deVos is dedicated to  "helping poor kids escape failing public schools," blaming low academic achievement on public schools. 
   Research consistently confirms that low academic achievement is the result of poverty. In some urban areas, the child poverty level is 80% (the national average is an unacceptable 21%; in high-scoring Finland it  is 5%).
   When researchers control for the effect of poverty, American students' performance on international tests is near the top of the world. This shows that low achievement is not due to poor teaching, low standards, or unions. The major cause is poverty.    
   Poverty means food deprivation, insufficient medical care, and little access to reading material; each of these has a strong negative impact on school performance. The best teaching in the world will not help if children are hungry, ill, and have nothing to read.
   Let's do the obvious and do it immediately: improve food programs, improve in-school health care, and invest more in libraries and librarians. This will work. For example, in a study involving 40 countries, my colleagues and I reported that the presence of an adequate school library significantly reduces the negative effect of poverty on reading achievement.
   Making sure no child is left unfed, no child lacks proper health care, and all children have access to quality libraries will improve academic achievement, as well as the quality of life for millions of children. This should be the first priority of the new Secretary of Education.
Stephen Krashen

original article:

Study involvoing 40 countires: Krashen, S., Lee, S.Y. and McQuillan, J. 2012. Is the library important? Multivariate studies at the national and international level. Journal of Language and Literacy Education, 8(1): 26-36.  (available at, under "free voluntary reading")
   Levels of child poverty: UNICEF Innocenti Research Centre (2012), ‘Measuring Child Poverty: New league tables of child poverty in the world’s rich countries’, Innocenti Report Card 10, UNICEF Innocenti Research Centre, Florence.
   Control for the effect of poverty: Carnoy, M and Rothstein, R. 2013, What Do International Tests Really Show Us about U.S. Student Performance. Washington DC: Economic Policy Institute. 2012. Payne, K. and Biddle, B. 1999. Poor school funding, child poverty, and mathematics achievement. Educational Researcher 28 (6): 4-13; Bracey, G. 2009. The Bracey Report on the Condition of Public Education. Boulder and Tempe: Education and the Public Interest Center & Education Policy Research Unit.;
   Impact of poverty:  Berliner, D. 2009. Poverty and Potential:  Out-of-School Factors and School Success.  Boulder and Tempe: Education and the Public Interest Center & Education Policy Research Unit.;   Krashen, S. 1997. Bridging inequity with books. Educational Leadership  55(4): 18-22.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Libraries, librarians and school success

Sent to the Philadelphia Inquirer, Jan 10, 2017

The most important sentence in "Philadelphia school district librarians: A species nearly extinct?" (January 9) is: "The research is clear: Students who attend schools with libraries and credentialed librarians perform better on standardized tests than those who lack them. Lower-income students benefit the most."

The reason: Studies show that the most consistent and important predictor of reading achievement is the amount of self-selected reading students do. The school library is an important source of reading material for all students and is often the only source for students living in poverty. The school librarian is often the major source of information and advice about selecting reading material and is responsible for making sure quality reading material of interest to students is available, whether print or electronic.

Given the centrality of reading ability, the Philadelphia School District's lack of support for libraries and credentialed librarians makes school success impossible for many students.

Stephen Krashen
Professor Emeritus
University of Southern California

original article:

Monday, January 9, 2017

A business lesson for schools: only test small groups

Submitted to the Los Angeles Times, Jan. 9, 2017

Samuel Abrams' fifth "business lesson" for schools ("The wrong and right business lessons for schools," January 8) is to stop testing every student but use only "high quality exams administered to small groups of students," as in done in Finland. Research by distinguished scholar David Berliner and his colleagues supports this recommendation: more testing does not result in higher test scores. 

We can do this now using the NAEP (National Assessment of Educational Progress), a highly respected standardized test given to small groups of students who each take a portion of the test every few years. Results are extrapolated to estimate how larger groups (states, large districts) would score, and the NAEP is used to compare our achievement to that of other countries.

Let's find out if the NAEP tells us what we need to know about student performance, and whether the time-consuming and expensive tests we currently give students add any useful information.

Stephen Krashen
Professor Emeritus
University of Southern California

"More testing does not result in higher test scores: Nichols, S., Glass, G., and Berliner, D. 2006. High-stakes testing and student achievement: Does accountability increase student learning? Education Policy Archives 14(1). OECD.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Focus on interests to result in more learning

Published in the Straits Times, Singapore (January 2, 2017).

I predict that Singapore's move toward helping students develop their interests and talents will result in far more student learning and more satisfaction ( ("Learning through life rather than exams"; Dec 27, 2016).

This was clear to the Greek philosopher Plato (The Republic, VIII, 7): "Compulsory physical exercise does no harm to the body, but compulsory learning never sticks in the mind ....". 

Those who have developed encyclopedic knowledge and mastery of their fields did it through attempting to solve problems of great interest to them, not through "study."

Stephen Krashen
Professor Emeritus
University of Southern California

Original article:

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Bill Nye, The Science Guy shouldn't believe everything he reads about the Common Core.

Stephen Krashen

On Big Think, Bill Nye (The Science Guy) advises us to "use your critical thinking skills. Evaluate evidence. Don't believe everything you read or see" (December 20, 2016). Mr. Nye is a good example of doing exactly that, reading and evaluating evidence carefully from all sides of an issue.  Except in one major case: The Common Core.

Mr. Nye is an enthusiastic supporter of the Common Core standards, because, he says, there are some basic principles everybody needs to know. On Big Think in September, 2014, he says that everybody needs to learn "a little bit of physics, chemistry, mathematics and you got to learn some evolution. You've got to learn some biology ... Everybody's got to learn the alphabet. Everybody's got to learn to read. The U.S. Constitution is written in English so everybody's got to learn to read English." (

I completely agree and I think that nearly all educators and parents agree.  Mr. Nye says that the opposition to the common core stems from teachers not wanting to teach subjects they are not very interested in,  and parents' concerns that the content of the core might conflict with their beliefs. 

But the oppoition to the Common Core among professional educators is different:  It is because the standards that make up the official Common Core State Standards (CCSS) are developmentally inappropriate, were created without sufficient consultation with teachers and research on learning, and their validity has never even been investigated.  

In addition, the CCSS imposes a staggering amount of testing. despite research showing that increasing testing does not increase achievement.

Finally, CCSS does not address the real problem in American education.  Critics complain about our unspectacular scores on international tests, but when researchers control for the effect of poverty, American test scores are near the top of the world. Our unimpressive overall scores are because the US has the second highest level of child poverty among all 34 economically advanced countries (now over 20% nationally and around 80% in some inner city school districts), compared to high-scoring Finland’s child poverty level of 5%).

Poverty means poor nutrition, inadequate health care, and lack of access to books, among other things. Study after study confirms that all of these have a profound negative impact on school performance. The best teaching and best standards in the world will not help if students are hungry, ill and have little access to books. 
Instead of protecting children from the effects of poverty, the common core cointinues to invest billions in inappropriate and harmful standards, and useless testing.
I suggest Mr. Nye take a closer look at this issue. 

Literacy: The problem is not professional development. The problem is poverty and lack of access to books.

Sent to the Washington Post, Dec. 23.

As Ellen O'Neill notes in her letter (December 23, 2016), professional development for teachers is important for literacy development.  But there is no crisis in professional development: The problem is poverty. 
The poverty rate for public school students in the District of Colombia is among the highest in the country; this means few books in the home and few bookstores. As noted previously in the Post (March 9, 2015), DC's school libraries serving at-risk students suffer from a shortage of books and have few credential librarians. Clearly, many children in DC have very little access to reading material.
More access to books results in more reading, which in turn means better reading achievement.
The best professional development in the world will be worthless if students have little or nothing to read.

Stephen Krashen

Ellen 0'Neill: Give teachers more training to improve students’ reading proficiency, Washington Post, Dec 23, 2016.

DC Poverty rate:;
Poverty and access to books: Smith, C. , Constantino, R.  and Krashen, S. 1997. Differences in print environment for children in Beverly Hills, Compton and Watts. Emergency Librarian 24,4:4-5; Neuman, S. & Celano, D. (2001). Access to print in low-income and middle- income communities. Reading Research Quarterly, 36(1), 8-26. 
Given access, children read: Lindsay, J. 2010. Children's Access to Print Material and Education-Related Outcomes: Findings from a Meta-Analytic Review. Naperville, IL: Learning Point Associates.
Noted previously in the Post: Unequal shelves in D.C. school libraries benefit wealthier students, Washington Post, March 9, 2015:
More access > more reading > better reading achievement: Krashen, S. 2004. The Power of Reading. Libraries Unlimited.