at LAUSD Board of Education meeting, February 11, 2014
discuss libraries, several important results from educational research will be
impact of poverty on educational achievement has been documented again and
again. Poverty means, among other things, inadequate diet, lack of health care,
and lack of access to books. Each of these has a powerful impact on achievement
(Berliner, 2009; Krashen, 1997). The best teaching in the world has little
effect when children are hungry,
undernourished, ill, and have little or nothing to read.
Luther King recognized this: "We are likely to find that the problems of
housing and education, instead of preceding the elimination of poverty, will
themselves be affected if poverty is first abolished" (King, 1967).
Research done since 1967 has confirmed that Dr. King is right: (Baker, 2007; Zhao,
2009; Ananat, Gassman-Pines, Francis, and Gibson-Davis, 2011).
FREE VOLUNTARY READING
IS THE MAJOR CAUSE OF LITERACY DEVELOPMENT
voluntary reading is reading because you want to, self-selected reading for
pleasure. Awide range of studies have
confirmed that free reading is the major factor in literacy development.
silent reading (SSR) studies: In SSR, a short period is set aside for
self-selected reading, with little or no accountability. Students who
participate in these programs consistently outperform comparison students on
measures of literacy, especially if the program is given sufficient time to run
(Krashen, 2004; 2007).
allow researchers to determine the impact of a predictor controlling for the
effect of other predictors, that is, assuming that other predictors have no
effect on each other. In multivariate studies, free voluntary reading has been
a consistent winner, successful predicting scores on the TEOFL test among ESL
students, as well as other measures. Traditional instruction has not done well
in these studies (Gradman and Hanania, 1991, Constantino, Lee, Cho and Krashen,
1997, Lee, 2005).
are valuable when we have a lot of them; then we can see what factors
successful cases have in common. In case after case, free voluntary reading is
given credit for academic success and for the development of higher levels of
cases include Goeffrey Canada, the
founder of the Harlem Children's Zone, who tells us: "I loved reading, and
my mother, who read voraciously too, allowed me to have her novels after she
finished them. My strong reading background allowed me to have an easier time
of it in most of my classes"
(Canada, 1995, p. 89).
Liz Murray, who grew up under extreme poverty, relates
that she only showed up for school just before the spring exams, in order see
what the tests would be like. She says she owed her education to her dad's
habit of borrowing library books from all over New York City and never
returning them: "Any formal education I received came from the few days I
spent in attendance, mixed with knowledge I absorbed from random readings of my
or Daddy's ever-growing supply of unreturned library books. And as long as I
still showed up steadily the last few weeks of classes to take the standardized
tests, I kept squeaking by from grade to grade." (from Shanahan, 2010). (For
additional cases, see Krashen, 2004.)
OF POVERTY HAVE VERY LITTLE ACCESS TO BOOKS.
Children of poverty have very few books at home,
live in neighborhoods with few bookstores and inferior public libraries, and
attend schools with inferior classroom and school libraries (Krashen,
THE MAJOR SOURCE OF BOOKS
FOR CHILDREN OF POVERTY IS LIBRARIES.
fact, libraries are their only chance.
LIBRARIES CAN MAKE UP
FOR THE EFFECTS OF POVERTY
results of a series of multivariate studies suggest that access to a good
library can balance, or can make up for the effects of poverty on reading achievement.
These studies are reviewed in Krashen (2011) and I present one here in detail.
Lee and McQuillan (2012) analyzed the results of the 2006 PIRLS test, given to
ten year old children in 40 different countries. Children took the tests in
their own language, and tests were of equal difficulty regardless of
language. Table 1 presents the results.
1: Multiple Regression Analysis: predictors of achievement PIRLS 2006 reading
library: 500 books
r2 = .61
The important data are the beta's – the larger the beta, the
stronger the effect. Clearly, poverty (SES) is the strongest predictor,
consistent with many many previous studies: Higher socio-economic status meant
better performance. The percentage of students allowed to do self-selected
reading during the school day was a positive predictor, but of modest strength,
consistent with the SSR research reviewed above.
The third predictor, percentage of children with access to a
school library with at least 500 books, was not only positively related to reading
scores, but was nearly as strong as the negative effect of poverty: In other
words, the school library had a strong positive effect which balanced the
impact of poverty's negative effect. This result makes sense: A major reason
children of poverty have low reading test scores is because they have little
access to books. When we supply access, in the form of libraries, they read
about as well as children from more affluent families.
The final result is that those receiving more direct
instruction in reading actually did somewhat worse on the reading examination.
Poverty: The child
poverty rate for the US is 23.1%. This is very high, the second highest among all
advanced economy countries (UNICEF Innocenti Research Centre, 2012), This is
the major reason for our unspectacular performance on international tests: When
researchers control for the effet of poverty, American children score near the
top of the world (Carnoy and
which always scores at or near the top of the world in reading achievement, has
only 5.3% child poverty.
Eighty percent of LAUSD
children live in poverty, the second highest of all big cities in the United
Access to books. The high rate of poverty among LAUSD
means little access to books, among other major problems. For LAUSD students,
libraries are of little help.
In the library category of the America's
Most Literate Cities study (Miller, 2013), Los Angeles public libraries ranked
near the basement: Los Angeles public libraries ranked 69th out of 77 cities.
I was not able to find data on
holdings in Los Angeles Unified school libraries, but the figures on school
librarians are alarming. Several studies confirm that the presence of a certified
librarian is an independent predictor of reading achievement (e.g. Lance and Hofschire, 2011).
In the US, there is one school librarian for every 916 students.
California ranks last, by far, in the US, with a ratio of approximately one
school librarian per 5,124 students (California Department of Education, 2012).
LAUSD has one certified school librarian for every 6,500 students (based on
data from Ratliff, 2014).
The TECHNOLOGY solution
not the first by whom the new are tried,
the last the lay the old aside."
Pope, An Essay on Criticism. (From
is often suggested that technology can solve the problem of access to books,
through high-powered computers with internet access and through e-books and
appears to be best to be a "deliberate" early adopter, not the very
first to use innovations (Rogers, 1983). Deliberate adopters wait until basic
problems are solved and prices go down. This is sensible practice in
educational technology. There is, at
present, no evidence supporting the current technology fever that has gripped
the schools, stimulated by the requirement that all testing related to the
Common Core be online.
In The National Education Technology Plan (US
Dept of Education, 2010), the US Department of Education insists that we
introduce massive technology into the schools immediately, because of the "the pressing need to
transform American education ...", even if this means doing it imperfectly: Repairs can be
done later: "...
we do not have the luxury of time: We must act now and commit to fine-tuning
and midcourse corrections as we go." In other words, we should all be
in without proper preparation wastes our students' time and will cost more
money in the long run. The cost of connecting all students to the internet, of
providing up-to-date computers for all students, the constant upgrading and
replacement as the computer industry makes "progress" as well as
repair of glitches will run into the billions, and will only increase in time. And all this is happening with no pilot studies,
no clear data showing the new technology will help students, and, as far as I
know, no plans to do such studies.
contrast, we already have an astonishing amount of evidence that providing
access to interesting, comprehensible books has a strong impact on literacy
development. Given access to interesting, comprehensible books, most students
will read them (Krashen, 2001, 2004), and when they do, their vocabulary, grammar,
writing style, vocabulary and knowledge of the world will improve.
conservative, careful and fiscally responsible path to improving literacy is by
investing in libraries and librarians, and delaying massive investment in
technology until there is good reason to believe that it will really help.
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