Tuesday, January 27, 2015

The Limits of Conscious Grammar: Some Observations by Experts

Stephen Krashen

The Monitor Hypothesis says that consciously learned language is available as a Monitor, or an editor. We think about rules before we say/write something or after, and make corrections when we realize what we said, or about to say, is wrong. The conditions for the use of the Monitor are severe: The performer has to (1) Know the rule; (2) Be thinking about correctness (3) Have time to retrieve and apply the rule. (Krashen, S. 1981. Second Language Acquisition and Second Language Learning. New York: Prentice-Hall. Out of Print.)
Over-use of the Monitor (Krashen, 1981) happens when Monitor-use interferes with communication, when we are overconcerned with correctness (Hemingway, 1927; Berra, no date). Knowledge of grammar does not make a significant contribution to communication (Walker, 2002).
Hemingway on the overuse of the Monitor.
"The major, who had been the great fencer, did not believe in bravery, and spent much time while we same in the machines correcting my grammar. He had complimented me on how I spoke Italian, and we talked together very easily. One day I had said that Italian seemed such an easy language to me that I could not take a great interest in it; everything was so easy to say. 'Why, then, do you not take up the use of grammar?'  So we took up the use of grammar, and soon Italian was such a difficult language that I was afraid to talk to him until I had the grammar straight in my mind."
Ernest Hemingway, "In Another Country." In Men without Women, Scribner, paperback fiction. 1997, p. 46-47. Originally published 1927.

Baseball star Yogi Berra on the overuse of the Monitor:
"You can't think and hit at the same time."

Limits of grammar knowledge in real production and comprehension.
Letter to the London Times, August 29, 2002
Sir: While my wife (1953 O-level French, fail) happily bargains with French market stallholders, I (1953, A-level French, pass) and only stand by muttering "No, tomatoes are feminine" or "You should be using the subjunctive!"
I  was even able, when paying the bill at a small hotel, to say beautifully and accurately in French: "Had we not been awoken at 3am by the dustcart, it would not have been necessary for us to have raided the mini-bar for a bottle of water."
Unfortunately I had to reply on my wife to understand the reply: "Sorry, but it is still going to cost you 50 francs."
Yours faithfully,
H.L.M. Walker
Saffron Waldon, Essex.

What It Takes to Be an Expert Grammar User: Daniel Tammet

Stephen Krashen

   The case of Daniel Tammet became well known after a documentary, Brainman, was made. It has been shown world-wide since May, 2005. Tammet suffers from savant syndrome, a form of autism characterized by “an obsessive need to order and routine” (Tammet, 2007) and in his case, and extraordinary ability to deal with numbers. The documentary featured his linguistic abilities: After ten days of study of Icelandic, Tammet was able to converse in the language with two native speakers for 15 minutes. Tammet now knows ten languages.
   Much of his ability in language acquisition is, without question, really a profound ability in language learning, not acquisition: Tammet has an incredible memory. He holds the European and British record for memorizing pi, at 22,514 digits. (This is, incidentally, sixth in the world. The world record is held by Chao Lu, 67,890; see http://www.pi-world-ranking-list.com).
   It is clear, however, that he uses both learning and acquisition: While studying Lithuanian, while working as an English teacher in Lithuania, he worked with a teacher: “I wrote words down as I learned them to help me visualize and remember them” (conscious learning) and read children’s books . . . (acquisition)” (Tammet, 2007, p. 134). (Parenthetical notes added by SK.)
  When he started working on Icelandic, he read texts aloud so his teacher could check his pronunciation (conscious learning), but he also stated that “the large amount of reading helped me to develop an intuitive sense of the language’s grammar (acquisition)” (pp. 208-209).
   “When I’m learning a language there are a number of things that I consider essential materials to begin with. The first is a good-size dictionary (conscious learning). I also need a variety of texts in the language, such as children’s books, stories and newspaper articles, because I prefer to learn words within whole sentences to help give me a feeling for how the language works (acquisition)” (p. 161).
   Tammet has set up a website, selling lessons in beginning and intermediate Spanish and French (http://www.optimnem.co.uk). An inspection of the syllabi, available without charge, reveals that the focus of each lesson is a point of grammar.
   Before we conclude from this case that the best approach is a combination of acquisition and learning, we have to remember that Daniel Tammet has memorized pi to 22,514 digits. A safer conclusion is that conscious learning works well for those with the prodigious mental powers of Daniel Tammet.

Tammet, D. 2007. Born on a Blue Day. Free Press.
From: Krashen, S. 2012. Seeking a justification for skill-building. In: In: Proceedings of the 19th Annual KOTESOL International Conference, Seoul, Korea, 2011. pp. 13-20  (at http://sdkrashen.com/articles.php?cat=6, scroll down).

Monday, January 26, 2015

Is the issue Feds vs. States?

Senator Alexander is wrong -- the issue is not 'feds v states'

Lamar Alexander: "Most of the controversy that exists today is the result of Washington getting involved [in state education policy] over the last six or seven years."  (http://time.com/3681776/lamar-alexander-no-child-left-behind/)

I disagree. Whether the standards and tests come from the feds or the states, there is still
(1) too much testing;
(2) no evidence that the standards and tests will help students and no effort to find out if they have worked in the past or will help in the future;
(3) no need for the fanatic focus on standards and tests: There is overwhelming evidence that poverty is the problem, not a lack of standards and tests;
(4) far far far too much money going into the tests, money that is badly needed elsewhere.

States that don't do the common core or who have rejected it typically have their own version of testing hell.  

Published in Substance, January 28, 2015: http://www.substancenews.net/articles.php?page=5410&section=Article

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Not whether but how to evaluate teachers

Sent to The Economist, January 25, 2015

According to "America's New Advocacy," (January 24), "Many schools are in the grip of one of the most anti-meritocratic forces in America: the teachers’ unions, which resist any hint that good teaching should be rewarded or bad teachers fired."
This is incorrect: The objection is to how teachers are evaluated, specifically the use of student gains on standardized tests. A number of studies have shown that rating teachers using test score gains does not give consistent results. Different tests produce different ratings, and the same teacher’s ratings can vary from year to year, sometimes quite a bit.

In addition, using test score gains for evaluation encourages gaming the system, trying to produce increases in scores by teaching test-taking strategies, not by encouraging real learning. This is like putting a match under the thermometer and claiming you have raised the temperature of the room.

We are all interested in finding the best ways of evaluating teachers, but using student test-score gains is a very inaccurate way to do it.

Stephen Krashen

Some sources:
Different tests produce different ratings: Papay, J. 2010. Different tests, different answers: The stability of teacher value-added estimates across outcome measures. American Educational Research Journal 47,2.
Vary from year to year: Sass, T. 2008. The stability of value-added measures of teacher quality and implications for teacher compensation policy. Washington DC: CALDER. (National Center for Analysis of Longitudinal Data in Educational Research.) Kane, T. and Staiger, D. 2009. Estimating Teacher Impacts on Student Achievement: An Experimental Evaluation. NBER Working Paper No. 14607 http://www.nber.org/papers/w14607;

Original article: http://www.economist.com/news/leaders/21640331-importance-intellectual-capital-grows-privilege-has-become-increasingly

Friday, January 23, 2015

21st Century Skills Requires a 21-Hour School Day

Sent to the Oregonian, January 23.
Re: "With trepidation, state school board tells districts to schedule more students for full school year," January 22, 2015.
The best way to make sure students get enough hours of instruction is to extend the school day. We should take a dramatic step to make sure all students will be prepared to deal with the ever more high-tech world they will live in.
A study published in the Journal of Irreproducible Results concluded that a 21-hour school day is optimal, with continuous classes and no breaks, except for two breaks for meals and one lavatory visit.
Among the many advantages would be fewer discipline problems and quieter classrooms because of sleep deprivation, which the authors observed  "lessened the students' rebellious impulses."
The researchers also intend to do studies to determine whether food is really necessary for school children.
Stephen Krashen
President: Society for the Promotion of Kindergarten Kalculus

Robert O. Neal, Ed.D. and Louis deJour Hicks, Ed.D.
The Magnun University Graduate School of Education
Magnun, Tennessee
Published in The Journal of Irreproducible Results, 36 (6): 17 (1991)
available at:

Original article: http://www.oregonlive.com/education/index.ssf/2015/01/with_trepidation_oregon_board.html

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Expanding the floor of the cage

Sent to the Washington Post, Jan 22, 2015
Re: "What are the odds that Congress actually rewrites No Child Left Behind? 50-50, Arne Duncan says." (Jan 21).
In their hearings on the reauthorization of the education law, the Senate Education committee is considering a number of options for testing: They include keeping the old system of testing every student every year, as well as various proposals to make moderate reductions in testing.
Not discussed is another option: Stop testing altogether, and take time out to consider the massive evidence that the standardized tests we are forcing on children are very harmful, both for cognitive and psychological development, and bleed money from places where it is badly needed.
We must insist that no test be given to students unless it has been demonstrated that the test is helpful. Even if a test is shown to be helpful, it must be demonstrated that the investment in the test is more beneficial for students than investing elsewhere (e.g. health care, food programs, libraries).  It is now time for a Real Testing Moratorium (see eg http://www.fairtest.org/time-real-testing-moratorium).
Modest reductions in testing only "expand the floor of the cage." 

Stephen Krashen

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Trust Teachers

Sent to the Washington Post, Jan 14.
A new proposal for the revision of the federal education law calls for annual testing to see how students are progressing, to allow teachers "to diagnose and help their students." ("AFT backs annual testing, with an asterisk," Jan 14).
The proposal is saying, in other words, that teacher evaluations of students means nothing: We should value scores on a single test constructed by distant strangers more than the judgments of professionals who work with students every day.
Those who place high value on standardized test results should trust the competence of American teachers: when researchers control for the effects of poverty, American students rank at the top of the world on international tests.
Keeping annual standardized testing has one major advantage over relying on teacher judgments: It is expensive, and computer and testing companies can continue to make good profits.
Stephen Krashen

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

The "need" for standardized testing

Arne Duncan, in support of keeping federal testing requirements for standardized testing:  "I believe parents, and teachers and students have both the right and the absolute need to know how much progress all students are making each year towards college and career readiness,"  

If you are a teacher and you need a standardized test to know how much progress your students are making, you are in the wrong profession, as Arne Duncan obviously is.  If you are a parent, and you need a standardized test to know how your child is doing, you don't trust teachers, as Arne Duncan doesn't. 

(For some evidence of the value of teacher judgments (grades) in predicting college success, see studies cited in: Krashen, S. 2008. The fundamental principle: No unnecessary testing (NUT).  The Colorado Communicator vol 32,1. Page 7, 2008; posted at: http://skrashen.blogspot.com/2013/12/a-fundamental-principle-no-unnecessary.html)

Saturday, January 10, 2015

A modest proposal: fund community colleges, pay for it by dumping the common core

President Obama's plan to fund community colleges is projected to cost about $60 billion over ten years, with the states to contribute $20 billion. I have a suggestion for coming up with the money: Dump the entire Common Core, standards, tests and all. The common core tests alone are projected to cost much more than funding community colleges: all tests must be given online, which means new equipment, constant upgrading and replacement, and each test administration will cost about $30 per student. This totals a lot more than six billion a year.  (Do the math: a new laptop every three years for 500 million students.)

There is no evidence that the brave new standards and tests will help students learn more, and no evidence that they are necessary: Studies show that American students' performance on international tests is not a result of low standards. It is strongly related to our very high level of child poverty: When researchers control for the effects of poverty, American students score at the top of the world.

In contrast, there is good reason to make community college more accessible. It will make college much more affordable, solving a serious problem.  Also, it will help the employers find qualified workers in areas in which there are shortages. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, these include areas such as carpentry, electrical work, construction, and plumbing, specialties that do not require a four-year degree. Apprenticeship programs in these areas have declined, but community colleges can fill the gap very well.

The common core is a bad plan that ignores the real problem in education. Supporting community colleges,  in contrast, can benefit employers,  reduce unemployment, and improve the lives of many families.

Post-script: I recognize the bureaucratic complexities of this plan – most of the cost of the Common Core must come from the states, not the federal government, and the President's plan calls for more federal support of community colleges. But I am sure a way can be worked out so that the community colleges benefit from the money saved by eliminating the Common Core.

The President's plan includes this: "Community colleges must also adopt promising and evidence-based institutional reforms to improve student outcomes." If this means CCCC, a common core for community colleges, with rigid and unlreasistic standards and nonstop testing, I withdraw my proposal.

Remember who the real enemy is

"Remember who the real enemy is." (Heymitch to Katniss, in Catching Fire)

There is a good reason why some educators are reluctant to let young people read The Hunger Games  ("If we stop telling kids what to read, they might start reading again," Jan. 10).

The Hunger Games reveals the philosophy behind the Department of Education's Race to the Top. Distract the oppressed by forcing them to compete against each other to gain a few small prizes from the oppressor. 

Posted as a comment at: http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/wonkblog/wp/2015/01/10/if-we-stop-telling-kids-what-to-read-they-might-start-reading-again/

Beware of multiple measures

I predict that there will be lots of discussion about testing in connection with "rewriting" the federal education law.  And some of this will be a call for multiple measures, which seems to be a step in the right direction, especially when proponents mention seemingly reasonable assessments, eg student feedback, classroom observations. 

Watch out: Anthony Cody points out that these measures are considered valid by the Gates Foundation only if they correlate with higher test scores (chapters 2 and 3, The Educator and the Oligarch, 2014, Garn Press).

Friday, January 9, 2015

Disrespecting professional judgment

Sent to the Washington Post, Jan 9
Several experts claim that without annual standardized testing, we don't know if students are progressing  ("Education Secretary Arne Duncan to outline education priorities and defend testing," January 9.).
They are telling us, in other words, that teacher evaluations of students mean nothing: We should value scores on a single test constructed by distant strangers more than the judgments of professionals who work with students every day.
Stephen Krashen
Original article: http://www.washingtonpost.com/local/education/obama-administration-draws-line-in-sand-over-testing/2015/01/09/12e3d9da-9818-11e4-aabd-d0b93ff613d5_story.html

Protect children from the impact of poverty

Sent to The Hill, Jan 9
"America is secretly number one internationally in education," (Jan. 9) announced a study showing that American students score at the top of the world on international tests when researchers control for the effects of poverty. Actually, this result is not new:  Similar findings have been reported consistently for quite a while. 
The results of these studies show that our unspectacular test scores are not because of teachers, teachers unions, or schools of education, but because of poverty. The US has an unacceptable 25% rate of child poverty, higher than all other industrialized countries, and much higher than it was in the past: the lowest recorded rate of child poverty in the US was 13.8%, in 1969. In contrast, high-scoring Finland has only 5.4% poverty.
The solution is not "shutting down failing schools," as proposed in the article. Studies show that school and teacher-factors play a small role in student academic success. Far more important is dealing with out-of-school factors, specifically the effect of poverty. Poverty means food deprivation, lack of health care, and lack of access of books. The best teaching in the world will have little effect when children are hungry, ill, and have little to read.
Our first priority is to protect children from the impact of poverty, by improving food programs, increasing the number of school nurses, and investing in school and public libraries. Instead, we are investing in the Common Core, accurately described by Susan Ohanian as “a radical untried curriculum overhaul” and “nonstop national testing.”
Stephen Krashen

Original article: http://thehill.com/blogs/congress-blog/education/228952-america-is-secretly-number-one-internationally-in-education

The Hill
Rachel Burger
Are U.S. schools really underperforming? A new study may change the perception of American public education’s shortcoming as one of cash, not curriculum.
For years, a narrative of the U.S. lagging behind other industrialized countries has dominated the media. For example, the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) ranks the United States as 27th in math and 17th in reading internationally — far below the international average — while the U.S. maintains the highest federal education budget in the world.
The United States certainly has underwhelming scores, but that isn’t the whole picture.
A new Columbia University study by Michael Rebell and Jessica Wolff has found that the United States outperforms every single country in the world when controlling for schools with a child poverty rate of less than 20 percent.
While noted education experts have started to come out against standardized testing in response to the U.S.’s supposedly abysmal performance, perhaps a new takeaway should be drawn. Namely, our “education” problem is really a problem of poverty.
Given the United States’ huge education budget, it may seem baffling that schools would need even more money, but consider how funding is dispersed in the United States. Nearly half of school revenue comes from local property taxes, meaning per-student spending increases with more affluent neighborhoods. For example, in Philadelphia, poor school districts would need an additional $1 billion to have the same funding as the rich public schools.
Even school districts contribute to making poor schools poorer. Research from Education Next suggests that districts do not distribute education resources equally between schools even when they are serving the same kids. Poorer schools tend to have more junior — and thus less experienced — teachers and produce lower test scores. Those failing schools often lose federal funding once again due to their poor scores. The cycle continues.
But, contrary to what many experts say, the solution is not simply pouring more money into failing schools. The more fundamental problem is that American students are set up to underachieve because they must attend these failing schools. Most students do not have an option not to.
Fortunately, parents are using school voucher systems when it is made available to give their children access to high-performing private schools. For example, in Washington D.C., almost half (41 percent) of all students offered vouchers used them through the duration of the offered program (three years). Not only that, but study after study has shown that private schools regularly outperform public schools across the country. One recent report from the Journal of Public Economics concludes that private schools do better because “public schools may in fact not have experienced significant incentives to compete” and “few public schools have been forced to close.”
The solution, then, is students should be allowed to evacuate failing schools by giving them the opportunity to attend private or high-achieving public schools. They should be offered the chance to experience what being first in the world in education looks like, particularly if they are in areas with a child poverty rate of higher than 20 percent.
As tragic as it may seem, the only way for such a policy to be imposed is by incentivizing failing schools to perform well with an ultimatum of closure. Instead of being subjected to an extensive reform process that hasn’t been known to be effective, failing schools should shut down. This is policy is often called “the parent trigger” and has been implemented in several states. Administrators running a successful school will make good use of the new funds.
In an outcry against school vouchers, Jeff Bryant recently proclaimed, “Vouchers... turn public dollars for education into private coin to be expended as parents wish and legislators allow.” However, the more important question is what’s the problem with giving parents the right to choose a future for their children? At the end of the day, legislators should not only allow it, they should encourage it.
Burger is a Young Voices Advocate living in Washington, DC.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

In-school independent reading works

Sent to the New York Times, Jan 8

I was astounded to read that studies show that indepndepnt reading time in school has "litte connection" to more or better reading ("Study Finds Reading to Children of All Ages Grooms Them to Read More on Their Own," January 8). 

This claim, announced by the National Reading Panel nearly 15 years ago, was based on a small, incomplete sample of studies and was replete with errors in reporting.  Study after study has confirmed by sustained silent reading works for all ages, first and second language, and in a variety of locations. 

Stephen Krashen

original article: http://mobile.nytimes.com/2015/01/08/us/study-finds-reading-to-children-of-all-ages-grooms-them-to-read-more-on-their-own.html?referrer=

A few sources
"based on small, incomplete sample, many errors": Krashen, S. (2001). More smoke and mirrors: A critique of the National  Reading Panel report on fluency. Phi Delta Kappan 83, 119-123. Krashen, S. (2005). Is In-School Free Reading Good for Children? Why the National Reading Panel Report is (Still) Wrong. Phi Delta Kappan, 86(6), 444-447. Krashen, S. (2006). SSR is a very good idea. Reading Today (Aug/Sept 2006).

"all ages, first and second language, variety of locations": Cho, K.S. and Kim, Hey J. (2004). Recreational reading in English as a foreign language in Korea: Positive effects of a sixteen-week program. Knowledge Quest 32(4), 36-38.; Krashen, S. (2007). Extensive reading in English as a foreign language by adolescents and young adults: A meta-analysis. International Journal of Foreign Language Teaching 3 (2), 23-29; Lee, S. Y. (2007). Revelations from Three Consecutive Studies on Extensive Reading. Regional Language Center (RELC) Journal, 38 (2), 150-170;  Mason, B. (2004).The effect of adding supplementary writing to an extensive reading program. International Journal of Foreign Language Teaching, 1(1), 2-16;  Nakanishi, T. (2014). A meta-analysis of extensive reading research. TESOL Quarterly, DOI: 10.1002/tesq.157; Smith, K. (2011). Integrating One hour of in-school weekly SSR: Effects on proficiency and spelling.  International Journal of Foreign Language Teaching (IJFLT).  7 (1), 1-7.  (ijflt.com); 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. Tse, S. K.,  Xiao, X.Y., Ko, H. W., Lam, J. W. I., Hui, S. Y., & Ng, H. W. (in press). Do reading practices make a difference? The analysis of PIRLS data for Hong Kong and Taiwan fourth-grade students. Compare: A Journal of Comparative and International Education.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

When researchers control for the effect of poverty, American test scores are near the top in the world.

America's schools.
Sent to The Personal Finance Cheat Sheet, Jan. 6, 2015
Stephen Krashen

An article in The Personal Finance Cheat Sheet (http://wallstcheatsheet.com/personal-finance/the-20-worst-public-schools-in-america.html/?a=viewall#ixzz3O21gUU85) http://wallstcheatsheet.com/personal-finance/the-20-worst-public-schools-in-america.html/begins with this statement:"We often hear data about how America is performing in science, math, or reading. For instance, in 2012, the U.S. ranked 27th in math and 17th in reading in a 34-country comparison by the OECD."

Not mentioned is the fact that when researchers control for the effect of poverty, American test scores are near the top in the world.

Our unspectacular overall scores are because the United States has the second highest level of child poverty among all 34 economically advanced countries, now roughly 25 percent, compared with high-scoring Finland’s 5.4 percent.  In some American inner cities, the poverty rate is over 80%.

Poverty means poor nutrition, inadequate health care, and lack of access to books, among other things. All of these negatively affect school performance. The best teaching in the world has little effect when students are hungry, ill, and have little or nothing to read.

Monday, January 5, 2015

The limits of extensive, systematic phonics

Frank Smith calls this "the never-ending debate." 

Re: "Teacher training fails on literacy" (Jan. 5, 2015)  Sent to The Australian
The Australian fully accepts the assertion of the NSW Board of Studies that that explicit, systematic phonics is supported by research, and joins the report in scolding universities that do not emphasize it in teacher education.
The writers of the report are clearly unaware that study after study shows that those who have endured explicit, systematic phonics, a method that demands that we teach all major rules of phonics in a strict order to all children, results in better performance only on tests in which children pronounce words presented on a list, in isolation. Explicit, intensive phonics has no effect on tests in which children have to understand what they read.
Rejection of explicit, systematic phonics not does exclude the teaching of "basic" phonics. A small amount of consciously learned knowledge of the rules of phonics can help in the beginning stages to make some texts more comprehensible, but there are severe limits on how much phonics can be learned and applied because of the complexity of many of the rules.
This conclusion is consistent with the views of Frank Smith and Kenneth Goodman who have, for decades, presented strong evidence that our ability to decode complex words is the result of reading, not the cause.

Stephen Krashen

First section of Australian editorial:

Teacher training fails on literacy


MANY primary school teachers are ill-equipped to help students learn to read, with an audit of education degrees revealing the teaching of reading is mired in theory, with too little focus on practical skills.

The nation’s first evaluation of the content covered in teaching degrees identifies “significant concerns” about the skills of many existing teachers in proven methods for teaching reading and questions whether graduating teachers are properly equipped.

The report by the NSW Board of Studies, Teaching and Educational Standards reveals the time spent on the subject and the strategies covered vary considerably between universities.

It calls for guidelines setting out core ​essential content for the teaching of reading, including a range of evidence-based ​approaches and the appropriate balance of theory to practice.

“Although research evidence from recent major studies into the teaching of reading unequivocally supports the explicit and systematic teaching of ... phonics in the early years of schooling, it is not apparent that all graduate teachers would be able to do so,” it says.

“While all programs address early literacy learning, the place of phonics in programs is variable. For example, phonics is variously addressed as one teaching strategy that may be used, as a remediation strategy only or as an essential strategy for the teaching of reading.”