Sunday, June 29, 2014

How is language acquired?

Sent to The Japan News, June 29, 2014

I appreciate Helene Uchida's mentioning my work ("Teaching 'kid-friendly' grammar", June 29) but her description is not quite accurate: Language acquisition, we have concluded, does not require "meaningful interaction." It requires comprehension of messages, called "comprehensible input." 
This means that we acquire languages when we understand what we hear and read, not when we speak or write. The ability to speak and write is the result of language acquisition, not the cause. 
This is an important point: It means that the value of interaction is what the other person says to you, not what you say to them. It also means that we should not force students to speak before they are ready.
From her description, much of what Ms. Uchida does provides comprehensible input, especially hearing stories. I hope she will reconsider other aspect of her method.
Research supporting this approach is now available for free, at  For studies done in Japan with EFL students, please see

Stephen Krashen
Professor Emeritus
University of Southern California

original article:

PRIMARY ADVICE / Teaching ‘kid-friendly’ grammar
June 29, 2014; The Japan News
By Helene Uchida / Special to The Japan News Q: I understand that grammar can be dull for children, but I believe it is still essential in language learning. Am I wrong? Could you give me some advice on how to incorporate grammar into a child’s lesson and still keep it “kid-friendly”?
D.B., teacher
Vancouver, Canada A: I notice that you are teaching in Canada, so your situation is most likely different from ours in Japan. Middle and high school English teachers here tend to focus on grammar and translation methods; primary school English programs are still in the infancy stage.
Granted, grammar is the structure all languages hinge on.
The question is, “Should we teach grammar to prescribe language or describe it?” Clearly, the current Japanese system of prescribing English grammar rules does not contribute to communication.
Stephen Krashen, a pioneer in second language acquisition, states: “Acquisition requires meaningful interaction in the target language—natural communication—in which speakers are concerned not with the form of their utterances but with the messages they are conveying and understanding.”
I think the key point here is “messages.” Youngsters worldwide could not care less about grammar; most do not even know what grammar is. Because their attention span is short, young learners enjoy discovering and using words or phrases that easily work for them in sending and receiving messages. This can be coordinated in the classroom by the teacher orchestrating “message” activities, such as naming flash cards, recognizing words or images on posters, imagining the meaning of content as picture books are being read to them, understanding the teacher’s requests, commands and praises, and making statements or asking questions for clarification with peers.
Primary school students can easily understand the following sentences with visuals: Taro is a boy. Sumi is a girl. Bo is a dog.
They can understand and in some instances construct similar sentences without knowing what a subject, verb, complement or article is. Later on, after sentence structures like these become natural to them, the teacher can tell them subjects are what the sentence is about. The teacher can hand them a print with simple sentences, such as the ones above, and ask them to circle the subjects. After completing that exercise, the teacher can ask them where the subject usually occurs. They will notice it is usually at the beginning of a sentence.
Such exercises help students describe the language that they have been using to communicate with others. I think this is better than prescribing rules, which makes them hesitate because fear of making a mistake takes priority over communication. Understanding and appreciating grammar at this point in the learning process is akin to “fine tuning.” Language structure has already been established via experiences.
* * * * *
Readers are encouraged to send questions on any theme related to teaching English to younger learners, particularly those at the primary school level, to Helene J. Uchida by e-mail at or fax at (03) 3217-9820. Questions should preferably be written in English, accompanied by your name, occupation and the area in which you live.
Uchida is the director of Little America, a Fukuoka-based company for training teachers of English.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Missing from the debate: Pleasure reading in English

Sent to the South Chine Morning Post, June 28, 2014.
I have participated in the Great Native Speaker Teacher debate in the South China Morning Post (letters by Vaughen Rapatahana, June 11, Michael Shaw, June 17, my letter, June 23, Regina Ip, June 27).
Missing from all of these letters, including mine, is any mention of the biggest factor in helping students develop to high levels of English proficiency: self-selected pleasure reading. Those who read more develop higher levels of reading ability, writing ability, grammar, vocabulary and spelling, and studies consistently show that the amount of pleasure reading done in English is the best predictor of advanced English proficiency (eg. TEOFL).
What every English teacher should do, whether native or not, is help students develop a pleasure reading habit in English. This can be done by allowing students some time for reading in school, beginning with easy readers and moving on to comprehensible authentic reading, and by introducing students to genuinely interesting reading material.
What Hong Kong needs to do is make sure that interesting reading material is easily available in school and public libraries. This will not only make English classes more effective but will also ensure that growth in English will continue after students finish school.

Stephen Krashen

Some Sources:
Krashen, S. 2004. The Power of Reading. Heinemann Publishing Company and Libraries Unlimited.
Krashen, S. 2011. Free Voluntary Reading. Westport: Libraries Unlimited.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Strengthening school libraries boosts students’ performance

Published in the Chicago Sun-Tunes, June 30.

Strengthening school libraries is an easy and inexpensive way to improve school performance ("CPS board warned of drought of librarians," June 26.)
There is enormous evidence that self-selected pleasure reading is the source of much of our literacy development: Those who read more read better, write better, spell better, have larger vocabularies, and better grammar.
Most students in CPS live in poverty. Students who live in poverty are "behind" in reading because they have few books in their homes, live in neighborhoods with few bookstores and few good public libraries. Their only sure source of books is the school library.
The importance of the school has been confirmed in study after study: Better school libraries with credentialed libraries mean higher reading scores. In our recent study, based on data from 40 countries, we found that access to a good school library was positively related to reading scores, and nearly offset the negative effect of poverty. In other words, school libraries and school librarians can help close the achievement gap.
Stephen Krashen

original article:
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.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Summer Reading: Bring back the pleasure

Sent to the Wall Street Journal, June 25

Summer Reading for Parents (June 25) shows how the common core is pushing publishers and parents in the wrong direction. None of these fads, all featured in the WSJ article, is supported by research, experience, or common sense: reward stickers,  restricting children to reading at “their level," and a de-emphasis of fiction.
Rewarding reading can send the message that reading is so unpleasant that bribes are necessary. The rewards also focus children more on what they need to remember to do to get prizes than the pleasure of reading. 
Restricting children to reading at a certain level makes the incorrect assumption that readers must know nearly every word to understand and enjoy texts. John Holt tells this story:
"… One day, in one of our many free periods, (one of my students) was reading at her desk. From a glimpse of the illustrations I thought I knew what the book was. I said to myself, "It can't be," and went to take a closer look. Sure enough, she was reading Moby Dick. When I came close to her desk she looked up. I said, " Are you really reading that?" She said she was!  I said, "Do you like it?" She said, "Oh, yes, it's neat!" I said, "Don't you find parts of it rather heavy going?" She answered, "Oh, sure, but I just skip over those parts and go on to the next good part."
Holt continues: "This is exactly what reading should be and in school so seldom is- an exciting, joyous adventure. Find something, dive into it, take the good parts, skip the bad parts, get what you can out of it, go on to something else. How different is our mean-spirited, picky insistence that every child get every last little scrap of understanding that can be dug out of a book."
Nonfiction and other kinds of "light reading" form the bridge between "conversational" and "academic" language: nearly all those who have mastered academic language have read a great deal of lighter material that they found to be highly interesting, and that did not involve any struggle, only intensive interest. All this fiction and light reading did not result in full academic competence, but provided them with the linguistic competence and knowledge that helped make more demanding texts comprehensible.
Children's book publishers should continue their excellent job of providing wonderful children's literature, concentrating on great stories and fascinating nonfiction texts that excite children and motivate them to read more.

Stephen Krashen


Kohn, A.  (1999). Punished by rewards: The trouble with gold stars, incentive plans, A's, praise, and other bribes.  Boston: Houghton Mifflin (second edition)
Krashen, S. (2003). The (lack of) experimental evidence supporting the use of accelerated reader. Journal of Children’s Literature, 29 (2): 9,16-30.
Leveled books:
Holt, J. 1967. How teachers make children hate reading,
Value of fiction:
Krashen, S. 2004. The Power of Reading. Heinemann Publishing Company and Libraries Unlimited.
The common core:
Krashen, S. 2013. Access to books and time to read versus the common core standards and tests.  English Journal 103(2): 21-39.

Intensive Systematic Phonics, Tests of Reading Comprehension, and the Garan Effect

An article in the Guardian announced that a new study confirmed the positive effect of intensive systematic phonics. In my letter  to the Guardian(see below) I said that the study only confirmed what we already know: "Intensive phonics instruction helps children do better on tests in which they are asked to pronounce words out loud, and on tests of spelling. Not mentioned is the consistent finding that intensive phonics instruction makes no significant contribution to performance on tests in which children have to understand what they read."

I like to refer to this as the Garan Effect: The National Reading Panel (NICHD, 2000) concluded that the experimental research supports intensive systematic phonics.  Garan (2002), in an examination of this report, noted that the impact of intensive phonics is strong on tests in which children read lists of words in isolation, but it is miniscule on tests in which children have to understand what they read. Thus, intensive phonics instruction only helps children develop the ability to pronounce words in isolation, an ability that will emerge anyway with more reading. Garan's results agree with the results of many other studies that show that intensive phonics instruction has a positive impact on tests of decoding but not on tests of comprehension (Krashen, 2009).

Two responses of my claims have been posted on twitter. Both deserve a more detailed response than twitter allows.

In one tweet, it was maintained that the unpublished report that was the basis for the Guardian article (Grant,  2014) did in fact contain data on tests in which children had to understand what they read and that intensive phonics-trained students did better: Students who had studied of intensive systamatic phonics appeared to do well on the English SAT Stage 2 test at age 11, with 94% scoring at the 4+ level, (where 4 = "expected" and 6 = is the highest level), compared with 79% for the entire country (England), and 82% for "similar schools." 

Before we rush to reject the Garan Effect, however, it needs to be pointed out that (1) Grant (2014) asserts that the differences are statistically significant, but provides us only with percentages, no means, no standard deviations, no sample size, and no details about the tests of statistical significance.
(2) The data is based on the 2004 English SAT. That test included sections on writing and spelling in addition to reading comprehension, and I have been unable to find scores for the individual components.
(3) True experiments demand a comparison group that differs from the experimental group in only one way.  Did the intensive phonics graduates' educational experience differ in other important ways from comparisons? For example, a number of studies show that performance on reading and writing components is related to the amount of reading students do, especially free voluntary reading (Krashen, 2004).  Did the intensive phonics students have more access to books and more encouragement and time to read (e.g. sustained silent reading)?

The "Grant challenge" deserves examination, but it is not nearly enough to reject the impressive body of evidence supporting the Garan Effect.

A second challenge, also delivered by twitter, is data from Connelly, Johnston, and Thompson (2001), who  showed that intensive phonics-trained six year olds did better on the Comprehension portion of the Neale Analysis of Reading Test than children with much less phonics instruction. On the Neale, however, students read passages aloud, and are then asked comprehension questions.  While reading, their errors are tallied, and only those who make less than a certain number of errors are asked comprehension questions. This is not a situation that encourages a focus on meaning.

Connelly, V.,  Johnston,  R., and Thompson, B. 2001. The effects of phonics instruction on the reading comprehension of beginning readers. Reading and Writing 14: 423-457.
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.
Grant, M. 2014. Longitudinal Study from Reception to Year 2 (2010-2013) and Summary of an earlier Longitudinal Study from Reception to Year 6 (1997-2004). Unpublished paper.
Krashen, S. 2004. The Power of Reading. Second edition. Portsmouth: Heinemann and Westport: Libraries Unlimited

Krashen, S. 2009. Does intensive decoding instruction contribute to reading comprehension? Knowledge Quest 37 (4): 72-74.

Thanks to Debbie Hepplewhite and Maggie Downie for their comments.

My letter to the Guardian, published June 23, 2014

The limits of phonics
The Guardian's enthusiastic report about the efficacy of phonics is an example of "cold fusion" journalistic practice: Presenting research reports to the public before the scientific community has reviewed them. I provide one brief "peer review" here. Neither the study (thanks to the Guardian for providing a link to the preliminary report) nor the Guardian's article point out that the study only confirms what we already know: intensive phonics instruction helps children do better on tests in which they are asked to pronounce words out loud, and on tests of spelling.
Not mentioned is the consistent finding that intensive phonics instruction makes no significant contribution to performance on tests in which children have to understand what they read. Real reading ability is the result of actual reading, especially of books that readers find interesting. Good readers eventually acquire nearly all the rules of phonics and spelling, as a result of reading.
Stephen Krashen  Professor emeritus, University of Southern California

Friday, June 20, 2014

Support benefits for vets. Don’t support the common core.

Sent to the Santa Monica Daily Press
June 20, 2014

There is concern about a US Senate bill (S. 2450) that would expand medical coverage for veterans.  The cost will be high, about $50 billion per year.

I propose we pay for this important bill by dumping the common core state education standards.  The standards will probably cost taxpayers close to $50 billion a year – all common core tests will be given online, which means each student must have an updated computer (figure 50 million students with a new computer every three years), and new software and infrastructure.  The common core is bringing in more testing than ever seen in the history of our planet. This requires additional funding to create, score, and regularly revise tests.

Paying for veteran benefits makes good sense.  In contrast there is no evidence that the common core will help children and plenty of evidence that it will not. Studies show that increasing testing does not improve school performance. The new standards may be "tougher" but this does not mean they are better. The common core, as Susan Ohanian has characterized it, is simply a “radical untried curriculum overhaul” combined with “nonstop national testing."

Stephen Krashen

Common Core testing: Asking the big questions.

Sent to the Washington Post, June 20, 2014

According to "Field test of Common Core exams went well, officials say," (June 19), the "field-testing" was largely about how students react to online testing and what testing experts call "item-analysis," which means eliminating tricky items. These are low-level aspect of field-testing.

There is no indication that the big questions will be asked now or ever: Is all this testing, the largest investment in testing ever made, worth it? Will it improve student achievement?

Stephen Krashen

Original article:

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

The CC$$ in a Taiwan newspaper (& my response)

Sent to the Taiwan News, June 18.
America's new common core is a bad solution to a problem that does not exist ("Common core, in 9 year old eyes," June 18).
The common core is intended to fix America's "broken schools," but the major problem in education in the US is poverty: The US now ranks 34th in the world out of 35 economically developed countries in child poverty: when researchers control for the effect of poverty, US international test scores are at the top of the world.
The obvious path is to protect children from the impact of poverty: improve nutrition through school food programs, improve health care through investing more in school nurses, and improving access to books through investing in school libraries. Studies show, unsurprisingly, that children who are hungry, ill and have little or nothing to read, do not do well in school. Instead, the US government is investing billions in a tougher, more "rigorous" curriculum and instituting an astonishing amount of testing, more than we have ever seen on this planet. There is no evidence that any of this will help children.
Susan Ohanian has provided an accurate description of the common core: “a radical untried curriculum overhaul” combined with “nonstop national testing."
Stephen Krashen
Note: The article that was in the Taiwan News was reprinted from the New York Times.

Encouraging Reading: An Easier Path

Sent to the Guardian, June 17.
Some may approve of Sir Michael Wilshaw's plan to fine parents who don't read to their children ("Schools should fine 'bad parents'," says Ofsted chief,” June 17), in light of the overwhelming research showing that read-alouds are beneficial: Children who are read to regularly consistently do better on tests of vocabulary, grammar, and listening comprehension, and read-alouds do an excellent job of stimulating interest in books. But there is an easier path: Make books available, and inform parents of the value and pleasure of reading aloud.
In the US, the Reach Out and Read organization has had remarkable success using a modest and inexpensive intervention: While in waiting rooms for well-child pediatrician's appointments, hospital staff members show parents reading activities they can do with their children, with a focus on reading aloud to the child, and staff members discuss the importance of reading, which the physician does as well. The families receive free books at each doctor visit. Reach Out and Read is aimed at lower-income groups who have little access to books and thus typically score considerably lower than average on vocabulary tests.
Studies show that children participating in these programs make excellent gains in vocabulary. In one study over a three-year span subjects had an average of only three well-child appointments in which their doctors discussed books and they received an average of four books over three years. Nevertheless, the children did far better than comparison children on vocabulary tests, scoring closer to middle-class norms.
The families cooperate with this program eagerly. There is no need to use force.
Stephen Krashen
original article:
Reach Out and Read:
Krashen, S. 2011. Reach out and read (aloud). Language Magazine 10  (12): 17-19.
Mendelsohn A., Mogiler L., Dreyer B., Forman J., Weinstein S., Broderick M., Cheng K., Magloire T., Moore T. and Napier C. 2001. The impact of a clinic-based literacy intervention on language development in inner-city preschool children. Pediatrics 107(1): 130–134.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Summer reading: A cure for the school-year learning loss

Published in the South China Morning Post, June 23 as "Summer reading helps literacy"

Re: "Encourage your child to read over the summer break," June 17.

I refer to the article, "Between the lines: encourage your child to read over the summer break" (June 17).
For many students, the problem is not the "learning loss" that takes place during the summer; it is the loss in literacy development that takes place during the school year. Research consistently shows that we improve in literacy by doing large amounts of interesting reading for pleasure. This is often not possible during the school year, because of the pressure of school work and exams.
In one of our studies, we examined the case of a high-school student whose reading scores declined during the school year, but rose substantially during each summer break. It was her summer reading that was responsible for her improvement during her high-school years.
Her mother (co-author of our study) joked that it might be a good idea to keep her daughter at home during the school year in order to increase her improvement on tests of reading.
Stephen Krashen

Our study: Lin, S-Y, Shin, F., & Krashen, S.  2007. Sophia’s choice: Summer reading. Knowledge Quest 35(4).  Available at:

Original article:

Sunday, June 15, 2014

The limits of phonics

Published in the Guardian (UK), June 23, 2014

Re:  "Phonics education technique shown to have positive impact on literacy,"June 16

The Guardian's enthusiastic report about the efficacy of phonics is an example of "Cold Fusion" journalistic practice: Presenting research reports to the public before the scientific community has reviewed them.  I provide one brief "peer review" here.

Neither the study (thanks to the Guardian for providing a link to the preliminary report) nor the Guardian's article pointed out that the study only confirmed what we already know: Intensive phonics instruction helps children do better on tests in which they are asked to pronounce words outloud, and on tests of spelling.

Not mentioned is the consistent finding that intensive phonics instruction makes no significant contribution to performance on tests in which children have to understand what they read: Real reading ability is the result of actual reading, especially of books that readers find very interesting. Good readers eventually acquire nearly all the rules of phonics and spelling, as a result of reading.

Stephen Krashen
Professor Emeritus
University of Southern California

Original article:
Hat-tips Michael Rosen, Brian Cambourne

Some sources
Limited impact of phonics:
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.

Smith, F. 2004. Understanding Reading. Erlbaum (5th edition)

Real reading ability comes from reading.
Krashen, S. 2004. The Power of Reading. Heinemann Publishing Company and Libraries Unlimited.
Sullivan, A. and Brown, M. 2013. Social inequalities in cognitive scores at age 16: The role of reading. London: Centre for Longitudinal Studies, Institute of Education, University of London

Friday, June 13, 2014

Writing Tests Should Go

Published in the Taipei Times, June 12.

The composition section is the most contentious part of the Comprehensive Examination ("Blame game won’t solve exam problem: minister," June 13).

I have a suggestion: Drop the composition section entirely.

Testing students on writing proficiency makes no sense: Studies show that our ability to write using the accepted conventions of writing, including organization and mechanics, is largely the result of reading, which is why reading and writing scores are always so highly correlated: those who read a great deal do better on both reading and writing tests.

Essays are also the hardest part of language exams to grade, requiring consultation among graders and a great deal of tedious work.

Stephen Krashen

original article:

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Classic comics returns

Submitted to the Southtown Star (Chicago)
Graphic novels and real literature: A comment on classic literature in comic form

Using graphic novels to present classic literature ("Vickroy: Classic literature in comic form has broader reach, teachers say," June 11) is similar to the classic comics movement, popular during the "golden age" comics in the 1940's and 1950's.  Classic comics were more acceptable to parents and teachers, but studies done at this time revealed that students were not nearly as enthusiastic. In one study, seventh graders rated ninth of 15 comic types in popularity, and when students are simply asked what comics they like,  classic comics were never mentioned.
It should be pointed out, however, that the graphic novels and comics of today are often of very high quality and many qualify as real literature. For beginners, try The Watchmen, an examination of the problems when invincible super-heroes are given too much authority (from Cicero's quote, "Who is watching the Watchman?"),  and The Dark Kniight Returns, which features interesting discussion between Batman and Superman concerning the occasional conflict between personal ethnics and the law.

Stephen Krashen

original paper:

The Key to Student Success

Sent to the Bergen County Record (New Jersey)
Hat-tip: Jim Trelease
"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.” (Martin Luther King, 1967, Final Words of Advice).

Readers of The Record might be interesting in knowing that Christoper de Vinck's column, "Key to student success lies in the home" (June 11) is going viral, as they say these days.  It is a clear statement of the insanity gripping education, and points clearly to the most important issues: Poverty and parent-child relationships. 

A great of evidence supports Mr. de Vinck's argument: Study after study confirms that middle-class American children in well-funded schools outperform nearly every country in the world on international tests: As de Vinck states, the problem is not teachers, unions, or lack of technology, it is poverty.  Poverty means insufficent nutrition, lack of health care, and lack of access to books, all of which are associated with poor school performance.  It is also likely that poverty and the stress it places on parents contributes to what Mr. de Vinck calls "chaos in the home."

The billions we are cheerfully spending on "rigorous" standards and massive testing needs to be spent on protecting children from poverty and working toward full employment at a living wage.

Stephen Krashen

De Vinck column:

Opinion: Key to student success lies in the home
June 10, 2014
The Bergen Record
Christopher de Vinck is the language arts supervisor at Clifton High School in New Jersey. His 13th book is “Moments of Grace” (Paulist Press).
LET’S CREATE a national program called “No Child Left behind,” and flood the schools with standardized tests. Let’s change the name and call it “Race to the Top.” Let’s put kids in uniforms. Let’s increase the school day. Let’s pay teachers less money. Let’s pay teachers more money. Let’s create charter schools. Let’s create schools just for boys. Let’s create schools just for girls. Let’s have kids pray in school. Let’s create common core standards. Let’s blame the college teacher-education programs. Let’s blame the teachers. Let’s blame the parents. Let’s give the governors and the business community the keys to the schools. Let’s flood the schools with technology. Let’s call schools boring. Let’s blame the curriculum.
Don’t you see how foolish we have been? Don’t you see that all of these initiatives are focused on the politics of education and not education? Don’t you realize that none of these attempts has made any difference in the education of children for the past 40 years?
Based on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (the nation’s report card), the average reading scores for 17-year-olds today is not significantly different from the scores in 1971.
For the past 43 years our nation has been dodging the real reasons why our system of education has been stagnant.
Stable homes
I have worked in public education for my entire career, 38 years of tending to high school students as a teacher and as an administrator day after day, month after month, year after year. I can say with certitude why many students are doing poorly in school: Kids from financially stable homes are more successful students than kids from financially chaotic homes. Kids who come from homes with socially stable adults stay in school and succeed, and kids who live with socially chaotic adults don’t succeed in school and drop out at a significantly high rate.
Poor education in this country has nothing to do with the quality of the teachers, curriculum, computers, buildings, race, uniforms and ideology. The problems in our system of education stem from children who are not nourished intellectually, emotionally, physically and spiritually at home each day.
The problem in our education system is that we are working with the ideal as to what schools should be with our blatant, national refusal to tend to the realities of what many children’s homes are truly like.
Children who live in chaos at home are the very same children who look nice in uniforms, look angelic with their hands folded in prayer and who ache inside to be loved.
Reading and love
The children who are read to each night are the children who succeed in school. The children who are kissed each night with the words “I love you” whispered into their hearts are the children who are confident. The children who wake up to eggs and juice in the morning are the successful children with physical energy. Children who limit their exposure to social media are the children who are dazzled with the school’s teachers and curriculum. The children who sit at the dinner table and talk about their day are the children who love school.
Vision of their future
Helen Keller wrote that “knowledge is love and light and vision.” Children gain that love at home. The school turns the lights on in the classroom, and the teachers guide the children to the vision of their future.
Without love at home, there is no education.
As Plato wrote more than 2,000 years ago, “Knowledge which is acquired under compulsion obtains no hold on the mind.”
Education reform is not hiding in the tests. Education reform is hiding in the home.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

LA Times editorial and some reactions re bilingual education and SB 1174

" Over the last 16 years, academic research has largely found that good bilingual programs are just as effective at teaching English skills, and often slightly better at it, than classes that immerse students in English."
This is better coverage than we usually get. But the research 16 years ago was quite positive about bilingual education. And too bad the LA Times is not aware of the McField and McField study. We need to do a better job of spreading the word.  Amazing that they published the ignorant Chris Daley "flat earth" letter.

A lot has changed since 1998, when Proposition 227 all but wiped out bilingual instruction in California public schools. The matter is due for reconsideration; a bill that passed the state Senate last week would allow that to happen.
SB 1174, by state Sen. Ricardo Lara (D-Bell Gardens), would place a measure on the November 2016 ballot to repeal Proposition 227 and allow local school districts to decide whether they want to bring back bilingual education rather than continue with the current system, which aims to move students toward full-time English use as quickly as possible.
Over the last 16 years, academic research has largely found that good bilingual programs are just as effective at teaching English skills, and often slightly better at it, than classes that immerse students in English. Along the way, they also teach students literacy in their native language.
Another reason to consider bilingual education: Shortly after Proposition 227 passed, testing and accountability requirements were imposed on schools. The academic skills of students, including those who aren't fluent in English, are now measured every year. That means that if bilingual education is failing students, that failure will become clear quickly, and schools will face potential disciplinary measures if they don't fix the problem.
A third factor: The globalization of the economy means that bilingualism confers a significant advantage in the work world.
Yet there were good reasons Proposition 227 passed. Bilingual education is more expensive. The state suffered continual shortages of qualified bilingual teachers. Worse, bilingual education was often poorly done. It's important to consider the academic studies that have shown slightly better results for bilingual classes, but remember that those studies involved top-notch programs with outstanding teachers. California's public schools seldom came close to the model, and before Proposition 227, thousands of students were handed diplomas without ever having mastered English.
To persuade voters, supporters of bilingual education will have to demonstrate that they can overcome these obstacles.
Dual immersion programs, a subset of bilingual education in which students from different language backgrounds study in two languages, gaining fluency in both, have often succeeded and are increasingly popular. Such programs exist in California, but they have been small and have involved populations of motivated parents and students. Bringing them up to scale so that they work statewide might be difficult.
These are debates worth having, and SB 1174 would provide the forum for them.
Readers React: Bringing back bilingual education – LETTERS published in the LA Times, June 8
It's about time we reconsider the research that tells us that a transitional bilingual program leads to fluency in two languages. ("Is bilingual education worth bringing back?," Editorial, June 5)
Let's not fall into the trap of testing a subject in English that has been taught in the primary language. Let's not expect a child to be truly bilingual before five or six years of instruction. It's a gradual process. Let's find "top-notch programs with outstanding teachers."
Everyone needs a chance to succeed academically. It's possible. It will be good for all students, and for the future of Los Angeles.
Frances Goldstein
Sherman Oaks
The writer is a retired L.A. Unified School District bilingual education teacher.
SB 1174 by state Sen. Ricardo Lara (D-Bell Gardens) to allow for the return of bilingual education is a horrible idea.
In 1998, Proposition 227 passed easily, not because a bunch of xenophobes were behind it but because leaders in non-English-speaking communities supported it. They understood that to be successful, you had to know English.
Teaching a second language to all students is a great idea. This should start in the early grades, but non-English speakers should not be given credit for studying English or the language they already know.
All other instruction must be in English if our children are to have the skills they will need to succeed in a more competitive world.
Chris Daly

Saturday, June 7, 2014


" (Bill) Gates has said that one of the benefits of common standards would be to open the classroom to digital learning, making it easier for software developers — including Microsoft — to develop new products for the country’s 15,000 school districts.
In February, Microsoft announced that it was joining Pearson, the world’s largest educational publisher, to load Pearson’s Common Core classroom materials on Microsoft’s tablet, the Surface. That product allows Microsoft to compete for school district spending with Apple, whose iPad is the dominant tablet in classrooms.
Gates dismissed any suggestion that he is motivated by self-interest."

Inigo Montoya challenges common core testing program

Comment on Ed Week blog, ELLs Test-Drive New English-Language Proficiency Assessments

Posted at: language/2014/06/wida_field_testing_new_english.html

Inigo Montoya: You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means. ...  (from: The Princess Bride).

We are told that ELLs are about to "test drive" the "New English-Language Proficiency Assessments." (June 5).

What does "test-drive" mean? I suspect it means that basic diagnostics such as internal reliability and item-analysis will be done. I suspect that it does not include the most important diagnostic: Validity, especially predictive validity.  Will there be any attempt to see if all this testing will do students any good?

Will the students be paid for their service?

Recommended reading (Outrageous self-promotion): Krashen, S. 2008. The fundamental principle: No unnecessary testing (NUT).  The Colorado Communicator vol 32,1. Page 7, 2008. Available for free download at:  (scroll down)

Friday, June 6, 2014

Arne Duncan suggests year-round school as a solution to the summer slide. I disagree.

Arne Duncan has suggested that year-round school is the solution to the summer slide.  Thanks to the common core, year-round school will make things worse.

Research tells us that those living in poverty have the least access to books. Students living in poverty also show the most summer loss, and those who read more over the summer make better gains in reading achievement. Providing more access to interesting reading material by investing in public libraries and librarians is an excellent way to deal with summer learning loss.
School during the summer means more common core, and less chance of pleasure reading happening. The common core discourages pleasure reading, because of its harsh set of standards, nonstop testing, and restriction to reading at or above "grade level," which for half of our students means a limitation to difficult reading (by definition, half of the students read below grade level, because grade level means the 50th percentile). In addition, there is less funding than ever for school libraries, thanks the huge amount of money being spent on online testing.
Some sources:
Poverty and access to books: Neuman, S. and Celano, D. 2001. Access to print in low-income and middle-income communities. Reading Research Quarterly 36(1): 8-26.

Summer loss and poverty, more reading and gains:
Allington, R. and McGill-Franzen, Anne. 2012. Summer Reading: Closing the Rich/Poor Reading Achievement Gap. New York: Teachers College Press.
Heyns, Barbara. 1975.  Summer Learning and the Effect of School. New York: Academic Press.
Kim, Jimmy. 2003. Summer reading and the ethnic achievement gap, Journal of Education for Students Placed at Risk 9, no. 2:169-188.
Shin, Fay. and Krashen, Stephen. 2007. Summer Reading: Program and Evidence. New York: Allyn and Bacon.
The common core and reading: Krashen, S. 2013. Access to books and time to read versus the common core standards and tests.  English Journal 103(2): 21-39. (available at


Posted as a comment on "Ed. Groups Urge More Federal Spending for Common-Core Tests," at:

More money to support the biggest boondoggle in the history of education?

There is zero research supporting the value of on-line testing, and no plans to do even small scale studies. The amount of money on-line testing will cost will be staggering and will increase dramatically. Every student has to have access to an modern computer with up-to-date capacity, and just to keep up with changes, the computers will have to be replaced every three years and the entire infra-stucture might have to be altered or replaced. Moreover, we are increasing the amount of required testing far beyond NCLB levels, a move that also has no support in the research.

All this at a time when budgets are strained, and there is little or no money for essentials, for things that have been consistently shown to help students.

PS: One of the two groups pushing for more money for testing technology, CoSN, is itself financially supported by companies that are profiting from the increase in testing and technology in the schools: Pearson, Microsoft, Dell, (see: and, of course, The Gates Foundation (, a major funder of the common core.

Monday, June 2, 2014

This should settle the bilingual education debate

Bilingual Programs Facilitate Students' Acquisition of English
Letter published in Education Week, July 9, 2014

 A recent Learning the Language blog post on California bilingual education is right: Things have changed dramatically since the dismantling of bilingual education in California caused by the passage of Proposition 227.
The most important change is that there is more evidence than ever that bilingual education works, and that bilingual education does a better job of helping children acquire English than all-English "immersion" programs do. In their paper "The Consistent Outcome of Bilingual Education Programs: A Meta-analysis of Meta-analyses," Grace McField and David McField considered comparisons of bilingual education and English immersion that had been included in previous meta-analyses. (Their study is published in The Miseducation of English Learners, edited by Grace McField and released by Information Age Publishing earlier this year.)
The authors concluded that, when both program quality and research quality are considered, the superiority of bilingual education was considerably larger than that reported in previous analyses. This should settle the argument: Bilingual programs, when set up correctly and evaluated correctly, do not prevent the acquisition of English—they facilitate it.

Stephen Krashen
Professor Emeritus of Education
University of Southern California