Thursday, September 20, 2018

Libraries, books and overcoming the effect of poverty

Published in the New York Times, September 20, 2018
To the Editor:
Re “Why libraries still matter.” [ (Sunday Review, Sept. 90]
Not mentioned in Eric Klinenberg’s essay is the importance of libraries and books to school success. 
Studies consistently show that children of poverty typically have low levels of literacy development. But research also shows that children of poverty have little access to books at home, in their neighborhoods and at school, and that increasing access to books and other reading material results in more reading. 
Increasing reading increases vocabulary, increases the ability to read and write, and results in better grammar and better spelling.
The library is a major source of reading material for many children of poverty.
Our research, as well as the work of Keith Curry Lance, confirms that more investment in libraries and librarians means better language and literacy development, and that supporting libraries can help overcome the negative effect of poverty on literacy development and school success.

Stephen Krashen

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Disrespecting the president?

Published in the Malibu Times, Sept 13, 2018

In a letter to the Malibu Times (Sept 6), Sasha Maslansky states that he is “sick of the disrespect that Arnold York continues to show to our president.”  

I am sick of the disrespect that Mr. Trump has shown to every American, except for extremists who share Trump’s uninformed positions and the super-wealthy who profit from Trump’s “take from the needy, give to the greedy” policies. 

Arnold York is doing what a newspaper editor should do. 

“To announce that there must be no criticism of the president, or that we are to stand by the president, right or wrong, is not only unpatriotic and servile, but is morally treasonable to the American public.”
- Theodore Roosevelt. 

Stephen Krashen

Monday, September 17, 2018

Brief comments on Hard Words (Why aren't kids being taught to read?)

S. Krashen. Sept 16, 2018
Hard Words ( champions systematic intensive phonics, teaching all the rules of phonics is a strict order to all children. Here are objections to their conclusions.
(1) Researchers admit we have not discovered all the rules.
(2) Even among those rules that have been described, some are extremely complex.
(3) Many children learn to read with little or even no phonics instruction.
(4) Studies show that intensive phonics produces strong results only on tests in which children pronounce words out of context. Systematic intensive phonics has little or no impact on tests in which children have to understand what they read.
(6) The best predictor of performance on tests in which children have to understand what they read is real reading, especially self-selected reading.
(7) “Basic phonics” can be helpful: teaching straight-forward rules that children can learn and can actually apply to texts to make them more comprehensible. Our ability to use complex rules is acquired as a result of reading.
(8) I know of no scholars or teachers who support “zero phonics.”

Supporting bibliography is available for free download at, section on phonics and phonemic awareness. Many of these points have been presented by Frank Smith and Kenneth Goodman.
Hard Words strongly supports the report of the National Reading Panel. For another point of view, please see papers in the Phi Delta Kappen by Garan, by Krashen, and by Yatvin. I will supply references if requested.

Friday, June 29, 2018

Some characteristics of a bad research paper.

Stephen Krashen

Journal of English Language Teaching (ELTAI, India 2018.  (60, 3, p. 19). (I was invited to comment on the characteristics of a good ESL research paper, word limit = 500 words.)

1.      Make the paper too long (Krashen, 2012a).   Example: Far too many papers waste space on long and irrelevant literature reviews, designed only to show that the author has done some reading. When we ask the time, we don't want to know how watches are constructed.”  Georg Christoph Lichtenberg (1742-1799)  
2.      Fill the paper with unnecessary jargon and jibberish (Krashen, 2012b). Incomprehensible papers are a good way of avoiding criticism:“As long as academics write in the tortured vocabulary of specialization for seminars and conferences, where they are unable to influence public debate, they are free to espouse any bizarre or ‘radical’ theory” (Hedges, 2010: p.125).  Such papers do not advance knowledge.
3.     Publish in an expensive journal or an even more expensive book. Prices of journals and books are now outrageous, which means research is not available to most people unless they have access to a first-class university library. Universities make it worse by insisting that professors only publish in these expensive journals or collections. 
Mathematician Tim Gowers, winner of the Fields Medal (math’s Nobel Prize), has led a boycott of the Elsevier publishing company because of their high prices. His solution is open-access journals published on the internet that do not charge readers and that either don’t charge authors or charge only minimal fees to meet some of the journals’ expenses (e.g. not US $600 but US $10). 

Education should be the first field to encourage and accept open access, but instead it seems to be the last. The results of educational research should be made freely available to all teachers, researchers, and interested members of the public.  

Note: Many of my papers and books are available for free download at I am gradually adding more, and I intend to add this one. 
Also published here:

Hedges, C. 2010. Death of the Liberal Class.(New York: Nation Books). 
Krashen, S. 2012a. A short paper proposing that we need to write shorter papers. Language and Language Teaching (Azim Premji University). 1(2): 38-39.
Krashen, S. 2012b. Academic jibberish. RELC Journal. 43 (2): 283-285.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Gates Foundation Ignores Poverty's Hold on Student Performance

Education Week, June 19, 2018
To the Editor:
The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation wants to "diagnose the root cause of poor performance" by investing $68 million to expand education grantmaking abroad ("The Gates Foundation's Education Plans Go International," Curriculum Matters blog, June 3, 2018). But we already know what causes poor performance. Study after study over many decades has concluded that poverty is the culprit.
Until our country's government and citizens take steps to substantially reduce and eventually eliminate poverty by ensuring every person has full employment at a living wage, we can do a lot to protect students from the negative impact of poverty. Many low-income children suffer from food deprivation, lack of medical care, and lack of access to books&—all of which affect their school performance. We can invest more in food programs, medical care and school nurses, and libraries and librarians.
The Gates Foundation seems to have no interest in doing this. Instead, the foundation seems to be concerned about better data analysis and improving teaching and classroom practice. The best teaching in the world will have no effect if students are hungry, ill, or have nothing to read.
Stephen Krashen 
Professor Emeritus of Education 
University of Southern California 
Los Angeles, Calif.

Friday, June 8, 2018

You can improve in reading at any age

Sent to the AARP Bulletin, June 8, 2018

“You can help students read: (AARP Bulletin, June 2018; seems to accept the conclusion that if children are not “proficient” readers by the end of grade 3, they are more likely to do poorly in school. (“Students who do not reach reading proficiency by the end of third grade are four times less likely to graduate from high school…”).

There are good reasons for rejecting this pessimistic conclusion: First, there is nothing magic about grade 3. The study that the AARP Bulletin cites only examined the relationship between reading ability in grade 3 and eventual high school graduation. There is every reason to expect that the same relationship would hold for reading ability at every other grade. 

But more important, there is no reason to expect that poor reading ability at any age inevitably leads to poor reading forever and school failure. A great deal of research confirms that students can improve in reading at any age, given the right conditions: Access to interesting reading material and a time and place to read them.  Programs such as AARP Experience Corps can be a big help: When children are read and hear stories, they acquire the language they need to understand written texts and develop an interest in reading on their own. 

Stephen Krashen
Professor Emeritus
University of Southern California

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

We know the “root cause” of poor school performance.

Sent to Education Week
The Gates Foundation wants to “diagnose the root cause of poor performance.”   (“The Gates Foundation's Education Plans Go International,”June 3, 2018).
We already know what it is. Study after study done over many decades has concluded that the root cause is poverty. 
There are two things that can be done.  First, reduce and eventually eliminate poverty by working towards full employment at a living wage. Gates et al have made things worse by selling schools expensive and untested technology, such as computers used for the unnecessary testing required by the common core. Second, until we eliminate poverty, we can do a lot to protect students from the negative impact of poverty. Children of poverty suffer from food deprivation, lack of medical care and lack of access to books, each of which effects school performance. We can invest more in food programs, improved medical care (eg school nurses), and libraries and librarians. 
We don’t have to worry about “improving teaching and classroom practice.”  The best teaching in the world will have no effect if students are hungry, ill, and have nothing to read. 
Stephen Krashen

Original article

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has announced a $68 million commitment to expand its education grantmaking abroad.
The foundation is well known for its global development work, particularly its efforts to combat malaria and infectious disease. But its education grantmkaking has been mostly focused on the United States—where it has not always been well received.
Girindre Beeharry, the foundation's director of global education learning strategy, announced the strategy in a post on the foundation's website. In the post,  Beeharry writes that, while 90 percent of primary-age students around the world today attend school, including many more girls than ever, quality remains an ongoing challenge.
To find out how the foundation could help, he and others from the foundation spoke to teachers, academics, government officials, and parents in several countries, including Ethiopia,  India, Kenya, Nigeria, Pakistan, and Uganda.
Beeharry hints that the decision to embark on this listening tour came at least partly from lessons learned from the foundation's K-12 work in the United States. 
"We have learned that improving education is incredibly difficult and complex," he writes. "We also know that schools in the United States and ones in low- and lower-middle-income countries face fundamentally different challenges that require unique solutions. We set out to learn more, and to determine how we could make a meaningful difference globally." 
The funding announcement doesn't specify exactly what kinds of grants the foundation will make—but does say that it wants to "deepen the evidence and develop tools and approaches, with an emphasis on foundational learning —such as reading and mathematics in primary grades."
It also spells out four pillars for the grants. 
·       Make data about learning outcomes comparable across countries;
·       Diagnose the root cause of poor performance;
·       Identify strategies to improve teaching and classroom practice
·       Understand the access barriers that prevent girls from completing secondary education.

Gates recently announced a change in strategy to its U.S. education programming, with a heavier focus on improvement replacing its former emphasis on teacher performance.

Monday, June 4, 2018

The benefits of biingualism

Sent to the Chicago Tribune (June 4, 2018)

Carpentersville’s English-language law was supposed to unify, but critics say it did the opposite. Now it’s been repealed” (June 4) accurately cites research showing that  immigrants are motivated to acquire English and most do so successfully. 

Research also documents a number of benefits of bilingualism. In brief, students in schools that use well-designed bilingual programs acquire more quickly English than students in schools that use English-only “immersion” programs: Immersion programs supply more English, but bilingual education provides more comprehensible English, which is what fuels language acquisition.

In addition, studies show that bilingualism is good for the brain: those who regularly use two languages suffer less from dementia. Bilingualism also provides economic advantages: if you want to sell your product, it helps if you speak your customers’ language. 

Carpentersville is moving in the right direction. 

Stephen Krashen
Professor Emeritus
Rossier School of Education, University of Southern California
Los Angeles, CA 90089-0031
213 259 6292

Sunday, June 3, 2018

Let’s not test writing using artificial intelligence. In fact, let’s not test writing at all.

Submitted to South China Morning Post
Re: China’s schools are quietly using AI to mark students╩╝ essays ... but do the robots make the grade? May 29, 2018
If the purpose of testing student writing is to “make recommended improvements in areas such as writing style, structure…”, that is, to improve instruction, it makes no sense to use artificial Intelligence to test writing. In fact, it makes no sense to test writing at all. Writing proficiency consists of (1) mastery of the special language of writing, which includes accuracy in the conventions of writing (e.g. spelling, punctuation, grammar) and appropriate writing style. Only a tiny fraction of this can be taught.  A substantial amount of research shows that mastery of the language of writing is absorbed, or “acquired,” through reading, not from instruction. 
A second aspect of writing proficiency consists of knowing how to use writing to solve problems. When we write down our thoughts, we clarify and stimulate our thinking. The act of writing, in other words, doesn’t help us master the special language of writing – this comes from reading – but actual writing can help us solve problems and make us smarter. As writing expert Peter Elbow has noted, it is difficult to hold more than one thought in mind at a time. When we write our ideas down, and reread what we have written, it is easier to see the relationship between our ideas, improve our thinking, and come up with better ideas. Teachers can tell students how to do this:  the strategies that make up the “composing process” are simple to describe (e.g. reread and revise, delay editing until you are satisfied with your message), but it is impossible to test to see whether writers actually use these strategies. 
We can save a great deal of time and money, and also help young writers acquire the written language by not testing writing, and by investing the money in libraries. We can help young writers develop strategies for using writing to solve problems by engaging them in writing about problems that truly interest them. 

Stephen Krashen

Wednesday, May 9, 2018


Presentation at Library of Congress Literacy Awards Conference
Stephen Krashen  (

Martin Luther King: "We are likely to find that the problems of housing and education, instead of preceding the elimination of poverty, will themselves be affected if poverty is first abolished.”
Dr. King was right: The most important factor in literacy development is poverty. 

Those living in poverty have far less access to reading material in their homes, schools and neighborhoods. 
The Scholastic Report(p. 16): the number of children’s books in the home according to income level. 
35K less

Neuman & Celano (2001): public libraries in middle-income neighborhoods in Philadelphia open more evenings, stayed open longer, far more juvenile books per child than libraries in poorer neighborhoods.  Conclusion: “Children in middle-income neighborhoods were likely to be deluged with books. However, children from poor neighborhoods would have to aggressively and persistently seek them out" (p. 15). 

Children who live closer to libraries do more pleasure reading over the summer (Heyns, 1985). 
Ramos & Krashen (1998): The impact of one trip to the public library, 2nd& 3rdgraders  (10 books per child!).  
Survey: 3 weeks after visit
Child survey (n = 93)First time at public library: 62%; Reading more since visit 62% 
Parent survey (n=75) Children more interested in reading since visiting library: 96%; Notice improvement in child’s reading: 94%;  Child spends more time with books: 94%; Children asked parent to take them to the library since the visit: 67%.

READING > LITERACY (reading, writing, grammar, vocabulary, spelling) & HABITS OF MIND
(Self-selected, narrow reading, usually includes lots of fiction).
UK Study: Predictors of scores on vocabulary test at age 42 (Sullivan, A. & Brown, M. 2014. Univ. of London)
- Reading at age 42: independent of reading at 16 & younger, previous vocab, parent occupation/education
- Fiction: high-brow and middle-brow, but not low-brow > nonfiction
Mason & Krashen (2017): Self-selected reading and TOEIC performance (one hour = .6 TOEIC pts.)
Knowledge of literature, social science, science, practical knowledge: West, Stanovich, & Mitchell (1993). 
Elizabeth Murray (Breaking Night): "Any formal education I received came from the few days I spent in attendance, mixed with knowledge I absorbed from random readings of my or Daddy's ever-growing supply of unreturned library books. And as long as I still showed up steadily the last few weeks of classes to take the standardized tests, I kept squeaking by from grade to grade."
Geoffrey Canada (Fist, Stuck, Knife, Gun): "I loved reading, and my mother, who read voraciously too, allowed me to have her novels after she finished them. My strong reading background allowed me to have an easier time of it in most of my classes.”
Habits of mind: empathy, appreciation of complexity: Kidd, D. & Castano (2013), Oatley & Moldoveanu (2013). 

Poor spelling an indication of more serious problems. (Published in Washington Post, 3/30,18) 
Mr. Trump’s spelling mistakes reflect problems deeper than a failure to proofread (“Elected to read, not to proofread,” March 21, 2018). My research shows that poor spelling is often the result of not having a reading habit. Studies also show that those who read a lot know more about history and science. They also have greater empathy with others, and understand that the world is complex.  Mr. Trump is a perfect example of a non-reader.     Stephen Krashen

NAEP/PIRLS studies: POVERTY > LITERACY; ACCESS  > LITERACY – library balances effect of poverty!

Predictors of NAEP reading test scores, grade 4, 1992, 42 states 
r2 = .72.   From: McQuillan, 1998.  Access = books in home, school, community. Replication Krashen et al; 2012. 

Predictors of reading - The PIRLS 2006: over 40 countries, tested in first language
Independent reading
Library: 500 books
r2 = .63  from: Krashen, S., Lee, S.Y. & McQuillan, J. 2012. Is the library important? 
Replicated, 2011, 2016. No effect for early literacy.

Control for poverty, US scores near top of the world:  Carnoy & Rothstein, 2013 (problem is NOT teachers, schools of education, unions)

PATHS: (1) Reduce, eliminate poverty (2) Protect children against the effects of poverty.  (How to pay for it: reduce unnecessary testing: Krashen, 2008: NUT.)

Post-script: There is no evidence of a serious decline in reading. The real problem is POVERTY.
Minutes per day of reading

Link and Hopf, 1946; Rideout et al, 2010
Why we think “kids these days” don’t read much: Schatz, A., et al, 2008.

Carnoy, M.  & Rothstein, R.  (2013). What Do International Tests Really Show Us about U.S. Student Performance.Economic Policy Institute.
Heyns, B. 1975. Summer Learning and the Effect of School. Academic Press.
Kidd, D., & Castano, E. (2013). Reading literary fictionimproves theory of mind.  Science, 342.Djikic
Krashen, S. 2008. The fundamental principle: No unnecessary testing (NUT).  The Colorado Communicator vol 32,1. Page 7, 2008.
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.
Link, H. & Hopf, H. (1946). People and books: A study of reading and book-buying habits. New York: Book Manufacturers’ Institute.
Rideout, V., Foehr, U., & Roberts, D. (2010). Generation M2: Media in the lives of 8 to 18 year-olds. Menlo Park, CA: Kaiser Family Foundation.
Mason, B. & Krashen, S. 2017. Self-selected reading and TOEIC performance. Shitennoji University Bulletin, 63.  
McQuillan, J. 1998. The Literacy Crisis: False Claims and Real Solutions. Heinemann Publishing Company. 
Neuman, & Celano, (2001). Access to print in low-income and middle- income communities. Reading Research Quarterly, 36(1).
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)
Schatz, A., Pierce, K., Ghalambor, K. and Krashen, S. 2008. More on the "literacy crisis": Do children like to read? Knowledge Quest 37 (1): 40-41.
Scholastic, Kids & Family Reading Report, 6thedition
Ramos, F. and Krashen, S. 1998. The impact of one trip to the public library: Making books available may be the best incentive for reading. The Reading Teacher 51(7): 614-615.
Smith, C. , Constantino, R. & Krashen, S. 1997. Differences in print environment for children in Beverly Hills, Compton and West, R., Stanovich, & Mitchell, H. (1993). Reading in the real world and its correlates. Reading Research Quarterly, 28