Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Irresponsible journalism

Submitted to USA Today (Dec. 28)

To the editor:

There have been thousands of research studies done in the last 50 years on how we learn foreign languages, published in reputable scientific journals and books.  Using case histories, experiments and correlational studies, researchers have examined topics such as which methods are more efficient, the role of listening and reading as compared to speaking and writing, the impact of correction and formal grammar study, and the role of personality and motivation.

"Easy ways to study foreign languages" (December 26) included none of this rich storehouse of knowledge, presenting  only the opinions of one (junior) reporter. 

I understand that the writer is a "college contributor." The fault is with the USA Today editors for not providing guidance.  Editors would never allow a reporter to give advice on how to treat cancer without insisting that sources be consulted.  Unfortunately, irresponsible reporting is typical when the topic is education.

Stephen Krashen

Original paper:

Easy ways to study foreign languages

By Maija Inveiss
Struggling to learn a foreign language? A lot of people are in the same boat. Whether you’re just starting to learn a new one or are brushing up for a semester abroad, use these tips to improve your language skills.
Find an organization: Many schools have clubs and organizations that focus on specific foreign languages. At these student meetings you can find others also struggling to pick up a new language, as well as those who have the expertise to help you improve your skills. Importantly, it’s a great way to practice by talking with others — perhaps the best way to pick up a new language. You can also learn about the culture of the country you’re studying.
Watch Netflix: Watch foreign-language films on Netflix. At first, watch the movie with the subtitles — but then turn them off.  Watching American and British TV is often cited as a big way people from other countries have learned English. Learning in this way is fun, too. Don’t have Netflix? No problem! Find a radio station or news station.
Use Duolingo: The app Duolingo is a fun way to refresh your language skills and a great way to study in bite-size pieces. The app provides a well-rounded approach to foreign languages.
Find a pen pal: Services like My Language Exchange can help connect students with other people in who want to practice a foreign language. Reddit also has threads designed to find pen pals. Often you might be able to find a native speaker. Native speakers can teach you slang and more conversational phrases. My Language Exchange gives users 115 different languages to choose from.

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Should high school be just college prep?

Sent to the New York Times, Dec. 28, 2015.

We are told that "As Graduation Rates Rise, Experts Fear Diplomas Come Up Short," (Dec. 27) because high graduates' performance on college entrance exams and national tests is disappointing.  But we are not told if performance on these tests successfully predicts college success or that scores have declined. 

But even if research shows a decline in college readiness, all this means is that high school is not simply college prep. This may be a good thing. We should not be sending the message that college is the only path to career success and life satisfaction. 

Nor is universal college good for society. As former Secretary of Health, Education and Labor, John W. Gardner noted: "The society which scorns excellence in plumbing as a humble activity and tolerates shoddiness in philosophy because it is an exalted activity will have neither good plumbing nor good philosophy: neither its pipes nor its theories will hold water."

Stephen Krashen
original article: http://www.nytimes.com/2015/12/27/us/as-graduation-rates-rise-experts-fear-standards-have-fallen.html?_r=0

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Rosetta Stone: Expensive and unimpressive

Sent to the New York Post, Dec. 24. 2015

Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña advises parents to buy Rosetta Stone if they are not happy with cuts to foreign language programs. ("Fariña suggests buying Rosetta Stone to learn foreign languages," Dec. 23.)

As the Post points out, a major problem is expense: Rosetta Stone costs $200, which few parents can afford: half of NY City students live below the poverty line.

There's another reason: Rosetta Stone is not especially effective and there is evidence that it is not especially interesting. Despite all of Rosetta Stone's advertising, only two (unpublished) studies have been done examining its effectiveness. Both conclude that Rosetta Stone was no better than traditional language study.

In a third study, 150 people were asked to do Rosetta Stone in Spanish, Chinese or Arabic for 10 hours a week for 20 weeks. Nearly 80% of the subjects dropped out before completing the first week of a 20-week course and only one person completed the entire course. Among the reasons: the program “was not compelling enough for continued study."

Those interested in the details can read my review, available for free at ijflt.com and at www.sdkrashen.com: Krashen, S. 2013.  Rosetta Stone: Does not provide compelling input, research reports at best suggestive, conflicting reports on users’ attitudes.
International Journal of Foreign Language Education, 8(1).

Stephen Krashen


Wednesday, December 23, 2015

More Unsupported Claims about Technology and 21St Century Learning

The Consortium for School Networking (CoSN) is one of several groups pushing for more money for technology in the schools.  In a recent document (CoSN, 2015), they assert that "Education is going digital" (p. 6) and claim that "schools still lack the broadband speeds to deliver 21st century learning, encounter major problems with capacity, and do not meet current industry wireless standards" (p. 5). 

The only evidence cited supporting this statement is the results of a survey of 531 "district administrators/technology leaders/Chief Technology Officers …. from 48 states." (p. 7). These tech specialists agreed that the technology in their schools needed improvement, and that their schools' technology was far behind industry standards and recommendations. 

No teachers were included in the survey, those who actually use the technology regularly.  There was no concern with whether the current level of technology is sufficient to meet the needs of teachers and students in school today, nor any discussion of whether industry standards are appropriate for education. The document does not define what 21st century learning is and what technology is required to achieve it.  Nor is any research cited showing that technology helps students learn more.  In fact, there is evidence that so far, it does not (OECD, 2015).
It is no surprise that CoSN is financially supported by companies that are profiting from the increase in testing and technology in the schools: Pearson, Microsoft, Dell, (see: http://www.cosn.org/about/corporate-sponsorship/corporate-and-media-partners) and, of course, The Gates Foundation (http://www.aasa.org/ClosingtheGap.aspx).

Consortium for School Networking. (2015). CoSN’s 2015 annual E-rate and infrastructure survey. Retrieved from http://cosn.org/sites/default/files/pdf/CoSN_3rd_Annual_Survey_Oct15_FINALV2.pdf.
OECD (2015), Students, Computers and Learning: Making the Connection, PISA, OECD Publishing, Paris.
DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1787/9789264239555-en

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Acquire Mandarin from a robot?

The US Department of Education 2016 National Education Technology Plan (http://teach.ed.gov) includes praise for "Robot-Assistant Language Learning (RALL-E), a robot that will interact with students in Mandarin, with appropriate facial experession and gestures (p. 16). The claim is that this is a low-anxiety was of interacting in a second language. The federal report does not mention that the company that produces RALL-E, Alelo, Inc is a for-profit company (https://www.alelo.com/rall-e-project/).  Their board consists largely of business and legal experts.  No evidence of RALL-E's effectiveness is presented other than this statement on their brochure: "We conducted a focus group test of the initial prototype in May 2014. The results of the focus group provided preliminary validation of the research questions, and provided useful student feedback for how to prioritize future development. The next focus-group test will be held in January 2015." (There is no news about the results of the January 2015 session.) The reports on their website reveal no special knowledge about language acquisition and language teaching.
Nevertheless, RALL-E got an endorsement from the US Department of Education.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

When we can talk seriously about "Every Child Succeeds"

A comment on the old education law, "No Child Left Behind" (Susan Ohanian, December, 2006).

When Congress passes
No Child Left Unfed,  
No Child Without Health Care and
No Child Left Homeless,
Then we can talk seriously about
No Child Left Behind.

Updated version: A comment on the new education law, "Every Child Succeeds."

When Congress passes
Every Child is Well-Fed,
Every Child has Proper Health Care and
No Child is Left Homeless,
Then we can talk seriously about
"Every Child Succeeds"

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Does reducing standardized testing cause lower test scores?

Sent to the Concord Monitor, Dec. 15
Does reducing standardized testing cause lower test scores?
The Monitor's headline, "Initial education pilot program results show less than half of students in participating districts meet achievement levels in reading and math," (Dec 14) suggests that reducing the amount of standardized testing results in lower test scores. 
In the pilot program, students took fewer standardized tests and more teacher-made tests. Before we conclude that these students did worse, we must have a basis for comparison.  We do not have data from previous years, nor do we know what the achievement levels were in districts with students with similar backgrounds: It is well-established that factors such as poverty have a powerful influence on test scores.
We also do not know if the pilot group had more or less total time dedicated to testing and test-preparation than other students.
Finally, statements about the percentage of students at or above "proficiency" levels are misleading.  Many experts have claimed that American "proficiency” levels are set much too high, in a deliberate effort to make schools look bad: According to our standards, a large percentage readers from high-scoring countries would be ranked as non-proficient. New Hampshire is among the highest scoring states in the US, but fewer than 40% of  New Hampshire students scored at the proficient level or above in Math in 2014.
Stephen Krashen
Original article: http://www.concordmonitor.com/community/town-by-town/concord/20044856-95/initial-education-pilot-program-results-show-less-than-half-of-students-in-participating-districts
Proficiency levels: Bracey Offers the Answer Sheet on NAEP. (http://www.schoolsmatter.info/2009/04/bracey-offers-answer-sheet-on-naep.html)
State test scores: http://my.doe.nh.gov/profiles/profile.aspx

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

The common core: Does it work?

Sent to the Washington Post, Dec. 8, 2015.

Missing from the discussion of the adoption of common core standards and tests in Catholic schools is whether the common core does students any good ("Backlash over Common Core extends to US Catholic Schools," Dec. 7.)

At this time, there is no convincing evidence that the use of the common core standards or tests are related to better school performance, nor is there evidence of any positive long-term effect.  The common core is an experiment done on millions of students, without any plan to see if it works. 

There is, however, strong evidence that the  common core profits the technology industry that supplies online testing, and that soon will supply daily online modules ("competency-based education") to deliver the common core.

The Catholic church and other school systems not required to use the common core should take a harder look before accepting this costly and unproven curriculum.

Stephen Krashen
Professor Emeritus
University of Southern California


Thursday, December 3, 2015

NCLB should not get credit for improvement in math scores

Response to LA Times letter written by Tracy Young, Director of Education Reform at the George W. Bush Institute. Ms. Young worked for Margaret Spellings during her last year as Secretary of Education under President GW Bush. Ms. Spellings made the same claims Ms. Young did in her letter, and I wrote similar responses.

NCLB should not get credit for improvement in math scores
Sent to the Los Angeles Times, Dec. 3, 2015

Tracy Young ("True reform in education," Dec 3) incorrectly claims that NCLB (No Child Left Behind) was the reason for improvement among Hispanic and American-African fourth graders from 1999 to 2008 on the NAEP (National Assessment of Education Progress) math test. 

The data, however, shows Hispanic and American-African nine year olds made substantial gains on the NAEP before NCLB took effect, with scores rising steadily since the test was first administered in 1973. 

Also, the gains claimed for NCLB between 1999 and 2008 are highly suspect.  The largest gains for both Hispanic and American-African students during this time period occured between 1999 and 2004.  NCLB was signed into law on January 8, 2002.  William Mathis of the University of Vermont concluded that NCLB only began to reach full implementation in 2006.

Stephen Krashen
Professor Emeritus
University of Southern California

The data: Figures 23 and 24 of The Nation's Report Card, covering mathematics scores from 1973 to 2012.
Full implementation: William Mathis, 2006. The Accuracy and Effectiveness of Adequate Yearly Progress, NCLB's School Evaluation System. The Great Lakes Center for Education Research & Practice. East Lansing, MI. http://www.greatlakescenter.org

Saturday, November 28, 2015

The Performance Gap

Published in the Los Angeles Daily News. December 10, 2015

The gap between test scores of students living in poverty and those from higher-income families remains with us ("Good, bad, expected news in latest school test scores," Nov. 27).
We know why. Children of poverty suffer from food deprivation and have inferior health care: both of these have a devastating effect on school performance. We also know that developing high levels of literacy requires a great deal of self-selected reading of interest to the students: Children of poverty have little access to books at home, in school and in their neighborhoods. The best teaching in the world will not help if children are hungry, ill, and have nothing to read.
What should be done? The obvious first step is to protect children from the effects of poverty: Let's spend less on standardized tests, eliminating those not demonstrated to improve learning, and invest more in school food programs, health care, and in libraries and librarians.

Stephen Krashen
Professor Emeritus
University of Southern California

original article: http://www.dailynews.com/opinion/20151127/good-bad-expected-news-in-latest-school-test-scores-thomas-elias

Friday, November 27, 2015

Lift kids out of poverty before expecting higher test scores

Published in the Los Angeles Times, December 1, 2015

No Child Left Behind gets undeserved credit for making schools pay attention to students living in poverty ("Education's sweet spot," editorial, November 27).

Experienced educators have always been aware of the effects of poverty and know which schools and students are the most impacted.  Also, educational research has confirmed the negative effects of poverty on learning for decades. 

Recommending more precise measurements to identify needy schools is like recommending that fire departments invest in expensive and highly accurate thermometers so that firefighters get the exact temperature of dangerous and rapidly spreading fires before trying to put them out.

Instead of spending billions on unnecessary testing, let's invest in protecting children from the impact of poverty, i.e. expanded and improved food programs, improved health care, and improved school and public libraries in high-poverty areas. The best teaching in the world has little effect when children are hungry, undernourished, ill, and have little access to reading material.

Stephen Krashen

Original article: http://www.latimes.com/opinion/editorials/la-ed-adv-school-reform-20151127-story.html

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Why are college graduation rates declining?

Comment on “Despite efforts to increase them,  university graduation rates fall.” Hechinger Report, 11/17 (by John Marcus)
Published at:

The decline in college graduates has two obvious sources: The huge expense of college in a time of economic difficulty for everyone but the super-wealthy, and the growing understanding that college might not be the best route for everybody, despite the administration's push for increased college graduation rates.

Former US Secretary of Heath, Education and Welfare John Gardner warned us of the consequences of not paying attention to other forms of post-secondary education: "The society which scorns excellence in plumbing as a humble activity and tolerates shoddiness in philosophy because it is an exalted activity will have neither good plumbing nor good philosophy: neither its pipes nor its theories will hold water."


Monday, November 16, 2015

Time spent reading is a valid predictor of reading achievement; should we force students to read more complex texts?

Response to the claim that reading an extra 4.7 minutes a day, using Accelerated Reader, helps struggling readers catch up.  Based on ten million children using Accelerated Reader.

Comment published at  http://hechingerreport.org/mining-online-data-on-struggling-readers-who-catch-up/  in response to “Mining online data on struggling readers: A tiny difference in daily reading habits is associated with giant improvements.” 

Prof. Duke's observation that better readers will naturally read more might be correct, but we have strong evidence that time spent reading per se is an excellent predictor of reading achievement. This includes studies of sustained silent reading in which adding a few minutes a day does increase proficiency significantly.

In these studies, students were not reading in preparation for accelerated reading-type tests.  There was no or very little accountability.

The finding that reading more complex tests results in better reading does not mean we should force students to read harder books: A study done in 1958 (!!!) showed that as students mature, they select more complex books and select from a wider vaieity of genres (LaBrant, 1958). 

SSR research: Krashen, S. (2004). The power of reading. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann and Santa Barbara: Libraries Unlimited (second edition).
Krashen, S. (2011). Free Voluntary Reading. Westport: Libraries Unlimited.
Nakanishi, T. 2014. A meta-analysis of extensive reading research. TESOL Quarterly 49(1), 6-37.
Accelerated reading tests not necessary: Krashen, S. 2003. The (lack of) experimental evidence supporting the use of accelerated reader. Journal of Children’s Literature 29 (2): 9, 16-30.  (available at www.sdkrashen.com)
1958 study: LaBrant, L. (1958). An evaluation of free reading. In Research in the three R’s, ed. C. Hunnicutt and W. Iverson. New York: Harper and Brothers, pp. 154-161.

Original article:

Mining online data on struggling readers who catch up: A tiny difference in daily reading habits is associated with giant improvements
By Jill Barshay
What’s the difference between kids who remain at the bottom of the class and those who surge ahead to the top half?
   It might be as little as 4.7 minutes, in the case of reading.
   According to a November 2015 report on almost 10 million U.S. schoolchildren who practice reading using an online software program called Accelerated Reader, a shockingly small amount of additional daily reading separated the weak students who stay at the bottom from those who catch up over the course of a school year.
   The analysis of struggling readers was part of an annual report, called What Kids Are Reading, produced by Renaissance Learning, the maker of Accelerated Reader. The report also noted which books are the most popular at each grade level, and attempted to gain insight into how kids become better readers as they progress from first grade through 12th. Real student data was used, but the children’s identities were kept anonymous in the research analysis. (Findings from the first report and an explanation of the report’s limitations can be found in a piece I wrote last year here).
   In this year’s report, Renaissance Learning found that roughly 200,000 of the 1.4 million fifth graders in its student database began the 2014-15 school year reading at a very low level, among the bottom quarter of fifth graders nationally. Most of them finished the school year in this unfortunate category. But 28 percent of these students somehow got out of the bottom quarter by year’s end. And a smaller subset of those students — five percent of the 200,000 — did something spectacular: in less than a year, they were reading as well as the top 50 percent of fifth graders.
The computer doesn’t know everything that affected them, but it does know that these spectacular students read an average of 19 minutes a day on the software. By contrast, the kids who remained at the bottom read only 14.3 minutes a day. Over the course of fifth grade, the catcher-uppers read 341,174 words. That’s 200,000 more words that those who remained strugglers.
   “I wouldn’t say to a group of educators, ‘Hey, all you’ve got to do is five more minutes,’ but five more minutes is really helpful,” said Eric Stickney, director of educational research at Renaissance Learning. “But if they’re just sticking with low-level books that aren’t expanding their vocabulary, and not really understanding what they’re reading, five extra minutes isn’t going to be helpful.”
   There were two other differences, too. The kids who caught up were choosing to read more challenging texts. (Accelerated Reader allows students to select their own books and articles from a list). And they had higher comprehension, answering 80 percent of the multiple-choice questions after each book correctly, compared with a 72 percent correct rate among those who remained at the bottom.
   Stickney suspects that the students who are making these leaps are receiving extra help at school from talented teachers, and not just reading more on software.
   Indeed, at least one expert in early literacy development, particularly among children living in poverty, says we cannot tell from this study whether the extra five minutes a day is causing kids to make dramatic improvements. In an e-mailed comment, University of Michigan Professor Nell Duke explained that stronger readers spend more time reading. So we don’t know if extra reading practice causes growth, or if students naturally want to read a few minutes more a day after they become better readers. “It is possible that some other factor, such as increased parental involvement, caused both,” the reading growth, and the desire to read more, she wrote.
   Stickney also noticed in his data that it was possible to make this extraordinary one-year leap from bottom quarter to top half even as late as eighth grade. Again, we don’t anything about this subset of students. It’s plausible, for example, that some of these leapers hail from well-educated immigrant families and were already strong readers in their native languages. But it’s also possible that some of these leapers suddenly had a breakthrough after years of struggle.
   Even the eighth graders who made the impressive jump aren’t reading very much, though; the report finds interest in reading rapidly deteriorates after elementary school. The eighth graders who leapt from the bottom to the top read for only 16 minutes a day, three minutes less than the motivated fifth-grade leapers.  Eighth graders who remained in the bottom quarter read less than 10 minutes a day, four minutes less than bottom students in fifth grade.  But the word difference was enormous. In that small amount of time, the eighth-grade leapers read almost 500,000 words — 300,000 more than those who remained at the bottom. The more exposure to words, the more kids build their vocabularies, and the more they understand.
   Teachers typically recommend 20 to 30 minutes of reading practice a night. One data mining lesson here is that you can get away with a lot less and still make extraordinary gains.

Friday, November 13, 2015

"I just have no talent for languages."

Lots of people think they have no talent for languages. The reason, I think is that they have been in classes that provide very little comprehensible input and focus on grammar learning and memorizing vocabulary. In these cases, students are forced to try to acquire language using brain mechanisms that were not designed for it. Tragically, when they fail, they blame themselves.
    Here is an analogy: You are asked to paint a wall. But instead of doing it with your preferred hand, you have to do it with your other hand. And you have to face away from the wall and paint it by leaning over and reaching the wall between your legs. You will probably do a lousy job of painting the wall under those conditions.  Do you blame yourself, and conclude you just have no talent for painting walls? Of course not. The fault is the technique, not your ability.
   Anyone does not acquire much from a traditional language class should not conclude that he or she has no talent for languages. The fault was the method, not the student’s.
S. Krashen

Invest in School Libraries

Sent to the Philadelphia Inquirer,  November 13

"Push to narrow the digital divide" (November 12) argues that we need to invest more in school libraries: There is strong research evidence supporting this argument.
The importance of the school library has been confirmed in study after study: Better school libraries staffed with credentialed librarians 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.
We complain about the low levels of literacy in young people, but we cripple and even destroy the most obvious source of reading material, which is often the only source for those living in poverty.

Stephen Krashen
Professor Emeritus
University of Southern California

Study after study: Kachel, D. 2013. School Library Research Summarized. Mansfield University.
Our recent study: 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.

original article:  http://www.philly.com/philly/opinion/20151112_Push_to_narrow_the_digital_divide_.html

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

The White House summit backs the wrong horse

Stephen Krashen
Comment on: White House Announces $375 Million for High School Redesign (Education Week)

At the time of the White House summit on high schools, it was announced that high school dropout rates had decreased, and that 81% of American students now graduate from high school in four years, an all-time high. Yet summit leaders still think that there are too many who fail to graduate in four years and "a fundamental reworking of secondary school is necessary."
The last time I looked, the US ranked about 20th in the world in dropout rate, with 19 countries having a lower percentage of dropouts. Some of the countries that did better are very small (Switzerland, Iceland), but more important, all have lower rates of poverty.

Study after study has shown that poverty is the major factor in predicting school achievement.  My review of the research (In Krashen, S. 1999. Condemned Without a Trial: Bogus Arguments Against Bilingual Education. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann Publishing Co.) concluded that the major reason students drop out is economic pressure: They had to work to help their families.

Rather than discuss protecting students from the negative impact of poverty or even trying to reduce poverty, conference attendees focused on new technology, pushing untested but drastic and expensive solutions such as competency-based education. 

Posted at: http://blogs.edweek.org/edweek/high_school_and_beyond/2015/11/white_house_announces_375_million_for_high_school_redesign.html

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Responses to Ed Week puff piece on competency-based education

I have posted two responses/comments to the Education Week article, “Personalized Learning, Competency Education Need Policy Support, Group Says” (http://blogs.edweek.org/edweek/marketplacek12/2015/11/personalized_learning_competency_education_need_policy_support_group_says.html)

I quote from the article, then give my comments.

Ed Week: The federal frameworks advise policymakers on moves that the organization said could close persistent learning gaps, improve equity, and "dramatically increase student achievement."

SK: YES IT COULD. But there is no evidence that it does: "Although an emerging research base suggests that CBE is a promising model, it includes only a few rigorous evaluations and analyses of current and ongoing CBE pilots and similar programs."
(This is from the National Governor's Association "Expanding Student Success: A Primer on Competency-Based Education from Kindergarten Through Higher Education, " a document that aggressively pushes CBE.)

Ed Week: On the federal policy level, redesign of assessment around student-centered learning was "Issue #1," with the report's author writing that the current Elementary and Secondary Education Act "relies on static, end-of-year, summative assessments that have motivated many educators to 'teach to the test,' narrow the curriculum and focus on some, instead of all, students." To create personalized, competency-based systems requires "multiple measures of learning in real time."

SK: IN OTHER WORDS: we don't need end of the year standardized tests anymore. We can now do online instruction (based on the common core) and test students on the their progress regularly, as often as every day, leading to greater and greater profits for the testing industrial complex. This is why the president cheerfully announced the new limits on standardized testing. 
"Multiple measures" = more tests of different kinds = more profits


Monday, November 9, 2015

Online testing: One of the greatest boondoggles of all time

Posted as a comment following "Paperless Testing: Most Grade 3-8 Students To Be Assessed Online in 2016," Education Week, November 6, 2015 http://blogs.edweek.org/edweek/marketplacek12/2015/11/paperless_testing_most_grade_3-8_students_to_be_assessed_online_in_2016.html?cmp=eml-enl-eu-news3

This is one of the greatest boondoggles of all time, a never-ending source of profit for the testing and computer industry.
It requires all students to have access to up-to-date computers.  As we know, computers need to be replaced every three years because of "progress" in technology.
It means that every time there is new "progress," we need to spend more money on the latest technology.
There is no evidence that online testing is better than old-fashioned testing, no evidence that it produces more accurate and useful results. To my knowledge, there is currently no attempt to gather this kind of evidence.
If the brave new online testing fails, teachers will be blamed, and there will be more money spent on technology and professional development.

Stephen Krashen

Sunday, November 8, 2015

The usual arguments for competency-based education and why they are invalid.

 Posted at https://www.edsurge.com/news/2015-11-07-making-education-competent

John Baker presents the usual arguments for competency-based education (CBE): it allows students to move through the curriculum at their own pace, and is "personalized": students can choose "how they want to learn."
Not quite.
CBE only allows students to move through pre-packaged programs at their own pace, programs that divide instruction into small, concrete modules that are limited to what can be easily tested.  
The "personalization" offered by CBE is limited to what can be done on a computer. 
Not mentioned in the current discussions of CBE is the lack of research supporting it. A recent report from the National Governer's Association, a report enthusiastic about CBE, includes this statement: "Although an emerging research base suggests that CBE is a promising model, it includes only a few rigorous evaluations and analyses of current and ongoing CBE pilots and similar programs."

See also other comments by Emily Talmage and Cheri Kiesecher

Original article:
John Baker
Nov 7, 2015

“Are you saying I’m incompetent?”
That’s what my friend asked when I told her the newest trend in education is “competency-based education.”
I’ll be honest. I don’t love the term. I don’t like implying that today’s grads are “competent” and yesterday’s weren’t. After all, I was one of yesterday’s grads. But I’m the CEO of a company that builds technology, not terminology, so I guess I’m stuck with the term.
What the term means, though, is something pretty revolutionary.
These days, educators don’t have to move a class through the curriculum based on a set period of time. Instead, today’s teachers can personalize education for each student. The curriculum has less to do with the time it takes the whole class to understand the material, and more to do with individual students mastering or becoming “competent” at those concepts.
The flexibility that comes with competency-based education is rewriting the way schools, universities, government and industry are educating people. It’s come along at the right time. A few years ago we didn’t have the computing and networking power to make personalized education possible. Competency-based education uses the latest analytics tools to measure the performance of individual students or whole classes—and allows teachers to make changes as they go. Students have more power to choose exactly how they want to learn concepts—whether it’s game-based learning or something more traditional—and can do so at their own pace.
This flexibility makes some people nervous. There will be those who argue that if education needs to change at all, it needs to go “back to basics.” For some, the best education system is always going to be the one they grew up with. Maybe with desks in neat rows and classrooms with chalk dust and pencil sharpeners where kids learn the reading, writing and arithmetic—or the “Three R’s.”
None of that addresses the real problems we’re seeing in education today.
As someone who works in education technology, the biggest concerns I hear are the rising cost of tuition for students, the cost of delivering education for institutions and the time it takes to complete a degree. Did you ever sit in class wondering when the instructor would get through the stuff you already knew? Students don’t have to put up with that anymore. If you show up for a corporate training session with knowledge of the subject, you can move right into the next module. Under competency-based education students get rewarded for what they already know—or can learn quickly.
Did you ever sit in class as a topic whizzed by you? And because you didn’t fully understand that one important lesson, the next lessons felt like Greek. You probably got frustrated. Lots of us—me included—experienced that in school. Competency-based education can stop that downward spiral before it even begins. Students get the help they need to master important concepts in such a targeted and efficient way.
But the social benefits of competency-based education go beyond using people’s time more efficiently. It also helps use space more efficiently. That’s’ one reason governments are looking at ways of making competency-based education the law.
Ohio passed a bill this summer that “requires public institutions to submit a competency-based program plan to the Governor by December 31, 2015. If no plans are submitted from the public institutions, Ohio will work with Western Governor’s University to extend their competency-based programming into Ohio.”
That’s strong stuff. And there’s a practical reason behind this new law.
Todd A. Rickel, Vice Provost and Executive Dean at the College of Applied Science and Technology in Akron Ohio, says that one of the arguments that got the attention of state political leaders are the space and cost savings.
“Just about anyone can learn just about anything, just about anywhere,” says Rickel. “The restrictions of time and space don’t apply since time depends on the learner and space depends on where the student lives and works—not on expensive facilities.”
In Ohio, political leaders have realized another economic benefit of competency-based education: getting skilled workers trained quickly for in-demand employment opportunities. In medical schools, competency-based training gets doctors trained and working in communities where they’re needed more quickly—saving and improving lives. It creates an integrated learning system—one that doesn’t end when medical school training ends, but integrates education and innovation across the entire health system.
So to answer my friend’s question more fully: no, competency-based education doesn’t mean past graduates were incompetent. But it does mean that today’s students get to move ahead based on what they know, which is better for the student, more efficient for the institution and provides real, positive social and economic change for the country.
Moving backwards—back to the three-Rs and the old-fashioned way of doing education—that would be incompetent. This is an exciting time to be in education and, moving forward, I can’t wait to see what happens next.
John Baker is CEO of Desire2Learn

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Fiction: The hottest topic of all?

Published in Literacy Today, Jan/Feb 2016 (vol 33, number 4)

The Sept/Oct 2015 of Literacy Today  contains somewhat contradictory messages: reading "informational texts" is considered "a hot topic" that "should be hot," a view that coincides with the common core's heavy focus on nonfiction ("What's hot in 2016").  Fiction is not mentioned.

But college student Brandon Dixon ("Literacy is the answer") tells us that fiction has made the difference in his life, contributing not only to his knowledge of the world but also to his ethical development and understanding of other people's views. 

Mr, Dixon is not alone. In a recent interview in the Guardian (October 28), President Obama gives fiction the credit for his understanding that "the world is complicated and full of greys ... (and that) it's possible to connect with someone else even though they're very different from you."

Research solidly supports both Mr. Dixon's and President Obama's conclusions:  Studies confirm that fiction readers develop high levels of literacy, a great deal of knowledge in many different areas, the capacity to empathize with others and a greater tolerance for vagueness. In a recent study from the University of London, fiction reading was a very strong predictor of adult vocabulary knowledge, stronger than reading non-fiction.

With these powerful testimonies, supported by empirical evidence,  fiction should be a hot topic in literacy, maybe the hottest one of all.

Stephen Krashen


Interview with President Obama: http://www.theguardian.com/books/2015/oct/28/president-obama-says-novels-taught-him-citizen-marilynne-robinson?CMP=share_btn_tw

Fiction and literacy development: Krashen, S 2004. The Power of Reading. Heinemann and Libraries Unlimited.  Sullivan, A. & Brown, M. 2014. Vocabulary from Adolescence to Middle Age. Centre for Longitudinal Studies, University of London

Knowledge: Stanovich, K., and A. Cunningham. 1992. Studying the consequences of literacy within a literate society: the cognitive correlates of print exposure. Memory and Cognition 20(1): 51-68.
Stanovich, K. and A. Cunningham. 1993. Where does knowledge come from? Specific associations between print exposure and information acquisition. Journal of Educational Psychology, 85(2): 211-229. Stanovich, K., R. West, R., and M. Harrison. 1995. Knowledge growth and maintenance across the life span: The role of print exposure. Developmental Psychology, 31(5): 811-826. Sullivan, A. & Brown, M. (2014). Vocabulary from adolescence to middle age. London: Centre for Longitudinal Studies, University of London. West, R., and K. Stanovich. 1991. The incidental acquisition of information from reading. Psychological Science 2: 325-330. West, R., K. Stanovich, and H. Mitchell. 1993. Reading in the real world and its correlates. Reading Research Quarterly 28: 35-50.

The ability to empathize: Kidd, D. & Castano, E. (2013). Reading literary fiction improves theory of mind. Science, 342 (6156), 377-380.

Tolerance for vagueness:  Djikic, M., Oatley, K. & Moldoveanu, M. (2013). Opening the closed mind: The effect of exposure to literature on the need for closure. Creativity Research Journal, 25(2), 149-154.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Reducing Testing: Credit where credit is due

Sent to USA Today, October 25, 2015

The "Obama plan" to reduce testing in schools is welcome, and it is gratifying to know that the administration is taking at least some of the blame for over-testing our children (“Obama plan limits standardized testing to more more than 2% of class time, Oct. 24).

USA Today might consider giving some of the credit for this welcome shift to those who made it happen: United Opt Out, a group of parents, educators, students and activists who have worked tirelessly to inform the public of the problems with over-testing and to inform parents of their right to refuse testing for their children. 

USA Today might also consider giving some credit to scholars who have carefully documented the negative impact of over-testing, including Aflie Kohn, whose book, The Case Against Standardized Testing was published in 2000 and Susan Ohanian, who wrote One Size Fits Few, published in 1999. 

This has been a long struggle.

Stephen Krashen

original article: http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/2015/10/24/obama-schools-test/74536886/

Don't ignore vocational education

Published in  South China Morning Post, October 28, 2015 as "Need good plumbers and philosophers"

Paul Yip is concerned about the overemphasis on examinations and preparation for the university in Hong Kong schools, and the lack of emphasis on vocational education ("Poverty rate has fallen, but has quality of life risen in HK?" October 24).  The same unfortunate trend exists in the United States. 

Former US Secretary of Heath, Education and Welfare John Gardner warned us of the consequences of this policy:

"The society which scorns excellence in plumbing as a humble activity and tolerates shoddiness in philosophy because it is an exalted activity will have neither good plumbing nor good philosophy: neither its pipes nor its theories will hold water."

Stephen Krashen
Professor Emeritus
University of Southern California

Original article:  http://www.scmp.com/comment/insight-opinion/article/1871276/hong-kongs-poverty-rate-may-have-fallen-has-peoples-quality

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Has Califronia abolished the high school exit exam? Not quite.

Sent to California State Senator Fran Pavley and State Assembly Representative Richard Bloom, October 10, 2015.

According to news reports, Gov. Brown has "abolished" the high school exam.  Not quite.  The bill Gov. Brown signed (AB 172) does not abolish the exit exam forever.  In fact, it requires that a panel be set up to "provide recommendations" for a new high school exit exam. 

I hope the panel reads the research on high school exit exams.  Several studies have been done showing that high school exit exams do not lead to more college attendance, do not result in increased student learning and do not result in higher employment. In fact, researchers have yet to discover any benefits of having a high school exit exam.

I will be happy to provide the details of the research.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Unsubstantiated claims about common core tests

Sent to US News, October 1, 2015

Contrary to Scott Sargrad's claims ("Tests can be golden," September 30), there is no evidence that the common core tests are a "more rigorous and honest look at students' performance." All the recent California results showed is that the new tests are harder.  As education expert Alfie Kohn has repeatedly pointed out, harder does not necessarily mean better.

There is also no evidence for Sargard's claim that passing the common core high school test means a student is better prepared for college. No study has been done showing a correlation between common core test performance and college success, nor, to my knowledge, are any such studies planned.

Stephen Krashen

Original article: http://www.usnews.com/opinion/knowledge-bank/2015/09/30/california-colleges-are-realizing-common-cores-promise

Twitter exchange:
1. I sent link to my letter to Scott Sargrad via twitter.
2. His response: @skrashen @JoanneSWeiss CCSS developed based on college readiness and 232 colleges agree tests show readiness, incl entire Cal State system
3. My response: @scottsargrad @JoanneSWeiss The 232 colleges took a vote? "Looks good to us."? Please provide link to methodology.
4. His second response: @skrashen @JoanneSWeiss See all the higher ed agreements for PARCC http://bit.ly/1MK5TsR  and SBAC http://bit.ly/1Gl1O9H
5. My second response. @scottsargrad @JoanneSWeiss Thank you for the links. The colleges agreed to use them, but there is no data showing validity.

In other words: "No study has been done showing a correlation between common core test performance and college success, nor, to my knowledge, are any such studies planned."

Scott Sargrad is the director for standards and accountability on the education policy team at Center for American Progress. Prior to joining American Progress, Sargrad served as the deputy assistant secretary for policy and strategic initiatives in the Office of Elementary and Secondary Education at the U.S. Department of Education.
Joanne Weiss, included in this exchange, is Former Chief of Staff at U.S. Department of Education.
These are Arne Duncan people.  I am surprised and happy that Mr. Sargrad responded to me.

See also Susan Ohanian’s penetrating analysis: http://susanohanian.org/core.php?id=847