Sunday, January 22, 2017

Response to “Who’s afraid of Betsy DeVos” (Jan. 14) (published in Wall St. Journal)

Published in the Wall St. Journal (Jan. 22)

Original title: The secretary of education’s first priority

Research consistently confirms that low academic achievement is the result of poverty. In some urban areas the child poverty level is 80%. In high-scoring Finland, it is 5%. When researchers control for the effect of poverty, American students’ performance on international tests is near the top in the world. This shows that low achievement isn’t due to poor teaching, low standards or unions. The major cause is poverty.
Making sure no child is left unfed, no child lacks proper health care and all children have access to quality libraries will improve academic achievement, as well as the quality of life for millions of children. This should be the first priority of the new secretary of education.
Stephen Krashen
Letter appeared at:

Original version submitted to the Wall St Journal:

NOTE: My letter stimulated comments on the Wall St Journal website.
Robert Ray: Clarence Thomas and Ben Carson do not agree with you.
Keven Burns: Emeritus Professor Krashen can also explain why Abraham Lincoln could not read or write. 
My response: If we look at cases of those who succeeded academically despite poverty, they all had access to books.  I discussed these cases The Power of Reading (2004): Ben Carson became a reader, thanks to his mom's encouragement and the library. Once he started reading, he improved dramatically in school. Lincoln had little formal education, but was a dedicated reader, as were others with little schooling who succeeded in life,e.g. Thomas Edison, who dropped out of elementary school!  As a boy, Edison sold newspapers on a train, and spent his time in a local library during layovers.
These cases support my point. We need to make sure all students have access to reading material.  For many young people living in poverty today, their only access to books is the school library. 
The research on school libraries is strong: Better school libraries mean higher reading scores, and the presence of a credentialed school librarian is also related to better reading achievement.
(Note: There is a word limit on comments.)

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