Sunday, May 29, 2016

Too little discussion about education

Sent to the Malibu Times (California), May 28, 2016

I have dedicated my entire working life to education. As a result, it is particularly important to me, and, I am sure, to all citizens, that candidates for the state senate and assembly include strong and specific campaign statements regarding their views on education.  One of the primary responsibilities of state government is education, but other than pious pronouncements that education is "important," the candidates in my district rarely mention it.

A few candidates argue for increased investment in preschool. Although some preschool programs are very helpful, many other preschool programs these days are very academically oriented, in order to prepare children for kindergarten, now called "kindergrind" by some educators.  There is no evidence that this kind of tough love is effective. In fact, in an article last May, Psychology Today reviewed child development research and concluded that "early academic training produces long-term harm."

Very young children are being pushed into excessive amounts of science, technology, engineering and math ("STEM") regardless of their personal interests, just as university students are, because of the widespread belief that there is a shortage of American experts in these fields. Several studies have shown, however, that this is not so.

Are the candidates aware of this issue?:

Some candidates propose more funding for technology, another two-edged sword. A  recent major review of computer use in 70 countries done by the Organization for Economic Organization and Development concluded that providing schools with computer technology has no academic advantage. My suspicion is that this is because implementation is in the form of pre-packaged programs developed by publishers and is not under the control of the real experts, the teachers.

How do the candidates feel about the use of technology in schools?

And what are their thoughts about the following?

- California has consistently had the lowest reading scores in the nation, and studies relate this problem to a lack of investment in libraries and librarians. Are the candidates committed to more support for our libraries and librarians?

- Bilingual education was dismantled in California in 1998 by prop 227, despite strong evidence that properly organized bilingual programs help language minority children acquire good academic English. In the November elections, Californians will vote on a proposal that will reverse aspects of 227 and once again allow districts to set up bilingual programs that help minority students. Do the candidates have a position on bilingual education?

- Children in California and in the rest of the country undergo a massive amount of unnecessary and expensive testing that does not contribute to their learning. Arizona State University professor David Berliner, for example, has reported that increasing testing does not increase school achievement. Have the candidates carefully examined the impact of testing on our students?

- There is a strong movement from publishing and computer companies toward "competency-based education," which is a new form of online programmed learning that may result in daily testing. There is little evidence that it works. A recent report from the National Governor's Association, an organization enthusiastic about competency-based education (CBE), states that there have been "only a few rigorous evaluations" of CBE programs.  How do the candidates feel about competence-based education?

About 40% of the state general fund budget goes to K-12 education, and another 10% to higher education. It is arguably the most important function of our state government.  We need to know more about the candidates' positions on educational issues.

Stephen Krashen
Professor Emeritus, USC, Rossier School of Education

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