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