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:

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:

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:

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:

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  and SBAC
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: