Saturday, November 28, 2015

The Performance Gap

Published in the Los Angeles Daily News. December 10, 2015

The gap between test scores of students living in poverty and those from higher-income families remains with us ("Good, bad, expected news in latest school test scores," Nov. 27).
We know why. Children of poverty suffer from food deprivation and have inferior health care: both of these have a devastating effect on school performance. We also know that developing high levels of literacy requires a great deal of self-selected reading of interest to the students: Children of poverty have little access to books at home, in school and in their neighborhoods. The best teaching in the world will not help if children are hungry, ill, and have nothing to read.
What should be done? The obvious first step is to protect children from the effects of poverty: Let's spend less on standardized tests, eliminating those not demonstrated to improve learning, and invest more in school food programs, health care, and in libraries and librarians.

Stephen Krashen
Professor Emeritus
University of Southern California

original article:

Friday, November 27, 2015

Lift kids out of poverty before expecting higher test scores

Published in the Los Angeles Times, December 1, 2015

No Child Left Behind gets undeserved credit for making schools pay attention to students living in poverty ("Education's sweet spot," editorial, November 27).

Experienced educators have always been aware of the effects of poverty and know which schools and students are the most impacted.  Also, educational research has confirmed the negative effects of poverty on learning for decades. 

Recommending more precise measurements to identify needy schools is like recommending that fire departments invest in expensive and highly accurate thermometers so that firefighters get the exact temperature of dangerous and rapidly spreading fires before trying to put them out.

Instead of spending billions on unnecessary testing, let's invest in protecting children from the impact of poverty, i.e. expanded and improved food programs, improved health care, and improved school and public libraries in high-poverty areas. The best teaching in the world has little effect when children are hungry, undernourished, ill, and have little access to reading material.

Stephen Krashen

Original article:

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Why are college graduation rates declining?

Comment on “Despite efforts to increase them,  university graduation rates fall.” Hechinger Report, 11/17 (by John Marcus)
Published at:

The decline in college graduates has two obvious sources: The huge expense of college in a time of economic difficulty for everyone but the super-wealthy, and the growing understanding that college might not be the best route for everybody, despite the administration's push for increased college graduation rates.

Former US Secretary of Heath, Education and Welfare John Gardner warned us of the consequences of not paying attention to other forms of post-secondary education: "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."

Monday, November 16, 2015

Time spent reading is a valid predictor of reading achievement; should we force students to read more complex texts?

Response to the claim that reading an extra 4.7 minutes a day, using Accelerated Reader, helps struggling readers catch up.  Based on ten million children using Accelerated Reader.

Comment published at  in response to “Mining online data on struggling readers: A tiny difference in daily reading habits is associated with giant improvements.” 

Prof. Duke's observation that better readers will naturally read more might be correct, but we have strong evidence that time spent reading per se is an excellent predictor of reading achievement. This includes studies of sustained silent reading in which adding a few minutes a day does increase proficiency significantly.

In these studies, students were not reading in preparation for accelerated reading-type tests.  There was no or very little accountability.

The finding that reading more complex tests results in better reading does not mean we should force students to read harder books: A study done in 1958 (!!!) showed that as students mature, they select more complex books and select from a wider vaieity of genres (LaBrant, 1958). 

SSR research: Krashen, S. (2004). The power of reading. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann and Santa Barbara: Libraries Unlimited (second edition).
Krashen, S. (2011). Free Voluntary Reading. Westport: Libraries Unlimited.
Nakanishi, T. 2014. A meta-analysis of extensive reading research. TESOL Quarterly 49(1), 6-37.
Accelerated reading tests not necessary: Krashen, S. 2003. The (lack of) experimental evidence supporting the use of accelerated reader. Journal of Children’s Literature 29 (2): 9, 16-30.  (available at
1958 study: LaBrant, L. (1958). An evaluation of free reading. In Research in the three R’s, ed. C. Hunnicutt and W. Iverson. New York: Harper and Brothers, pp. 154-161.

Original article:

Mining online data on struggling readers who catch up: A tiny difference in daily reading habits is associated with giant improvements
By Jill Barshay
What’s the difference between kids who remain at the bottom of the class and those who surge ahead to the top half?
   It might be as little as 4.7 minutes, in the case of reading.
   According to a November 2015 report on almost 10 million U.S. schoolchildren who practice reading using an online software program called Accelerated Reader, a shockingly small amount of additional daily reading separated the weak students who stay at the bottom from those who catch up over the course of a school year.
   The analysis of struggling readers was part of an annual report, called What Kids Are Reading, produced by Renaissance Learning, the maker of Accelerated Reader. The report also noted which books are the most popular at each grade level, and attempted to gain insight into how kids become better readers as they progress from first grade through 12th. Real student data was used, but the children’s identities were kept anonymous in the research analysis. (Findings from the first report and an explanation of the report’s limitations can be found in a piece I wrote last year here).
   In this year’s report, Renaissance Learning found that roughly 200,000 of the 1.4 million fifth graders in its student database began the 2014-15 school year reading at a very low level, among the bottom quarter of fifth graders nationally. Most of them finished the school year in this unfortunate category. But 28 percent of these students somehow got out of the bottom quarter by year’s end. And a smaller subset of those students — five percent of the 200,000 — did something spectacular: in less than a year, they were reading as well as the top 50 percent of fifth graders.
The computer doesn’t know everything that affected them, but it does know that these spectacular students read an average of 19 minutes a day on the software. By contrast, the kids who remained at the bottom read only 14.3 minutes a day. Over the course of fifth grade, the catcher-uppers read 341,174 words. That’s 200,000 more words that those who remained strugglers.
   “I wouldn’t say to a group of educators, ‘Hey, all you’ve got to do is five more minutes,’ but five more minutes is really helpful,” said Eric Stickney, director of educational research at Renaissance Learning. “But if they’re just sticking with low-level books that aren’t expanding their vocabulary, and not really understanding what they’re reading, five extra minutes isn’t going to be helpful.”
   There were two other differences, too. The kids who caught up were choosing to read more challenging texts. (Accelerated Reader allows students to select their own books and articles from a list). And they had higher comprehension, answering 80 percent of the multiple-choice questions after each book correctly, compared with a 72 percent correct rate among those who remained at the bottom.
   Stickney suspects that the students who are making these leaps are receiving extra help at school from talented teachers, and not just reading more on software.
   Indeed, at least one expert in early literacy development, particularly among children living in poverty, says we cannot tell from this study whether the extra five minutes a day is causing kids to make dramatic improvements. In an e-mailed comment, University of Michigan Professor Nell Duke explained that stronger readers spend more time reading. So we don’t know if extra reading practice causes growth, or if students naturally want to read a few minutes more a day after they become better readers. “It is possible that some other factor, such as increased parental involvement, caused both,” the reading growth, and the desire to read more, she wrote.
   Stickney also noticed in his data that it was possible to make this extraordinary one-year leap from bottom quarter to top half even as late as eighth grade. Again, we don’t anything about this subset of students. It’s plausible, for example, that some of these leapers hail from well-educated immigrant families and were already strong readers in their native languages. But it’s also possible that some of these leapers suddenly had a breakthrough after years of struggle.
   Even the eighth graders who made the impressive jump aren’t reading very much, though; the report finds interest in reading rapidly deteriorates after elementary school. The eighth graders who leapt from the bottom to the top read for only 16 minutes a day, three minutes less than the motivated fifth-grade leapers.  Eighth graders who remained in the bottom quarter read less than 10 minutes a day, four minutes less than bottom students in fifth grade.  But the word difference was enormous. In that small amount of time, the eighth-grade leapers read almost 500,000 words — 300,000 more than those who remained at the bottom. The more exposure to words, the more kids build their vocabularies, and the more they understand.
   Teachers typically recommend 20 to 30 minutes of reading practice a night. One data mining lesson here is that you can get away with a lot less and still make extraordinary gains.

Friday, November 13, 2015

"I just have no talent for languages."

Lots of people think they have no talent for languages. The reason, I think is that they have been in classes that provide very little comprehensible input and focus on grammar learning and memorizing vocabulary. In these cases, students are forced to try to acquire language using brain mechanisms that were not designed for it. Tragically, when they fail, they blame themselves.
    Here is an analogy: You are asked to paint a wall. But instead of doing it with your preferred hand, you have to do it with your other hand. And you have to face away from the wall and paint it by leaning over and reaching the wall between your legs. You will probably do a lousy job of painting the wall under those conditions.  Do you blame yourself, and conclude you just have no talent for painting walls? Of course not. The fault is the technique, not your ability.
   Anyone does not acquire much from a traditional language class should not conclude that he or she has no talent for languages. The fault was the method, not the student’s.
S. Krashen

Invest in School Libraries

Sent to the Philadelphia Inquirer,  November 13

"Push to narrow the digital divide" (November 12) argues that we need to invest more in school libraries: There is strong research evidence supporting this argument.
The importance of the school library has been confirmed in study after study: Better school libraries staffed with credentialed librarians mean higher reading scores. In our recent study, based on data from 40 countries, we found that access to a good school library was positively related to reading scores, and nearly offset the negative effect of poverty. In other words, school libraries and school librarians can help close the achievement gap.
We complain about the low levels of literacy in young people, but we cripple and even destroy the most obvious source of reading material, which is often the only source for those living in poverty.

Stephen Krashen
Professor Emeritus
University of Southern California

Study after study: Kachel, D. 2013. School Library Research Summarized. Mansfield University.
Our recent study: 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.

original article:

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

The White House summit backs the wrong horse

Stephen Krashen
Comment on: White House Announces $375 Million for High School Redesign (Education Week)

At the time of the White House summit on high schools, it was announced that high school dropout rates had decreased, and that 81% of American students now graduate from high school in four years, an all-time high. Yet summit leaders still think that there are too many who fail to graduate in four years and "a fundamental reworking of secondary school is necessary."
The last time I looked, the US ranked about 20th in the world in dropout rate, with 19 countries having a lower percentage of dropouts. Some of the countries that did better are very small (Switzerland, Iceland), but more important, all have lower rates of poverty.

Study after study has shown that poverty is the major factor in predicting school achievement.  My review of the research (In Krashen, S. 1999. Condemned Without a Trial: Bogus Arguments Against Bilingual Education. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann Publishing Co.) concluded that the major reason students drop out is economic pressure: They had to work to help their families.

Rather than discuss protecting students from the negative impact of poverty or even trying to reduce poverty, conference attendees focused on new technology, pushing untested but drastic and expensive solutions such as competency-based education. 

Posted at:

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Responses to Ed Week puff piece on competency-based education

I have posted two responses/comments to the Education Week article, “Personalized Learning, Competency Education Need Policy Support, Group Says” (

I quote from the article, then give my comments.

Ed Week: The federal frameworks advise policymakers on moves that the organization said could close persistent learning gaps, improve equity, and "dramatically increase student achievement."

SK: YES IT COULD. But there is no evidence that it does: "Although an emerging research base suggests that CBE is a promising model, it includes only a few rigorous evaluations and analyses of current and ongoing CBE pilots and similar programs."
(This is from the National Governor's Association "Expanding Student Success: A Primer on Competency-Based Education from Kindergarten Through Higher Education, " a document that aggressively pushes CBE.)

Ed Week: On the federal policy level, redesign of assessment around student-centered learning was "Issue #1," with the report's author writing that the current Elementary and Secondary Education Act "relies on static, end-of-year, summative assessments that have motivated many educators to 'teach to the test,' narrow the curriculum and focus on some, instead of all, students." To create personalized, competency-based systems requires "multiple measures of learning in real time."

SK: IN OTHER WORDS: we don't need end of the year standardized tests anymore. We can now do online instruction (based on the common core) and test students on the their progress regularly, as often as every day, leading to greater and greater profits for the testing industrial complex. This is why the president cheerfully announced the new limits on standardized testing. 
"Multiple measures" = more tests of different kinds = more profits


Monday, November 9, 2015

Online testing: One of the greatest boondoggles of all time

Posted as a comment following "Paperless Testing: Most Grade 3-8 Students To Be Assessed Online in 2016," Education Week, November 6, 2015

This is one of the greatest boondoggles of all time, a never-ending source of profit for the testing and computer industry.
It requires all students to have access to up-to-date computers.  As we know, computers need to be replaced every three years because of "progress" in technology.
It means that every time there is new "progress," we need to spend more money on the latest technology.
There is no evidence that online testing is better than old-fashioned testing, no evidence that it produces more accurate and useful results. To my knowledge, there is currently no attempt to gather this kind of evidence.
If the brave new online testing fails, teachers will be blamed, and there will be more money spent on technology and professional development.

Stephen Krashen

Sunday, November 8, 2015

The usual arguments for competency-based education and why they are invalid.

 Posted at

John Baker presents the usual arguments for competency-based education (CBE): it allows students to move through the curriculum at their own pace, and is "personalized": students can choose "how they want to learn."
Not quite.
CBE only allows students to move through pre-packaged programs at their own pace, programs that divide instruction into small, concrete modules that are limited to what can be easily tested.  
The "personalization" offered by CBE is limited to what can be done on a computer. 
Not mentioned in the current discussions of CBE is the lack of research supporting it. A recent report from the National Governer's Association, a report enthusiastic about CBE, includes this statement: "Although an emerging research base suggests that CBE is a promising model, it includes only a few rigorous evaluations and analyses of current and ongoing CBE pilots and similar programs."

See also other comments by Emily Talmage and Cheri Kiesecher

Original article:
John Baker
Nov 7, 2015

“Are you saying I’m incompetent?”
That’s what my friend asked when I told her the newest trend in education is “competency-based education.”
I’ll be honest. I don’t love the term. I don’t like implying that today’s grads are “competent” and yesterday’s weren’t. After all, I was one of yesterday’s grads. But I’m the CEO of a company that builds technology, not terminology, so I guess I’m stuck with the term.
What the term means, though, is something pretty revolutionary.
These days, educators don’t have to move a class through the curriculum based on a set period of time. Instead, today’s teachers can personalize education for each student. The curriculum has less to do with the time it takes the whole class to understand the material, and more to do with individual students mastering or becoming “competent” at those concepts.
The flexibility that comes with competency-based education is rewriting the way schools, universities, government and industry are educating people. It’s come along at the right time. A few years ago we didn’t have the computing and networking power to make personalized education possible. Competency-based education uses the latest analytics tools to measure the performance of individual students or whole classes—and allows teachers to make changes as they go. Students have more power to choose exactly how they want to learn concepts—whether it’s game-based learning or something more traditional—and can do so at their own pace.
This flexibility makes some people nervous. There will be those who argue that if education needs to change at all, it needs to go “back to basics.” For some, the best education system is always going to be the one they grew up with. Maybe with desks in neat rows and classrooms with chalk dust and pencil sharpeners where kids learn the reading, writing and arithmetic—or the “Three R’s.”
None of that addresses the real problems we’re seeing in education today.
As someone who works in education technology, the biggest concerns I hear are the rising cost of tuition for students, the cost of delivering education for institutions and the time it takes to complete a degree. Did you ever sit in class wondering when the instructor would get through the stuff you already knew? Students don’t have to put up with that anymore. If you show up for a corporate training session with knowledge of the subject, you can move right into the next module. Under competency-based education students get rewarded for what they already know—or can learn quickly.
Did you ever sit in class as a topic whizzed by you? And because you didn’t fully understand that one important lesson, the next lessons felt like Greek. You probably got frustrated. Lots of us—me included—experienced that in school. Competency-based education can stop that downward spiral before it even begins. Students get the help they need to master important concepts in such a targeted and efficient way.
But the social benefits of competency-based education go beyond using people’s time more efficiently. It also helps use space more efficiently. That’s’ one reason governments are looking at ways of making competency-based education the law.
Ohio passed a bill this summer that “requires public institutions to submit a competency-based program plan to the Governor by December 31, 2015. If no plans are submitted from the public institutions, Ohio will work with Western Governor’s University to extend their competency-based programming into Ohio.”
That’s strong stuff. And there’s a practical reason behind this new law.
Todd A. Rickel, Vice Provost and Executive Dean at the College of Applied Science and Technology in Akron Ohio, says that one of the arguments that got the attention of state political leaders are the space and cost savings.
“Just about anyone can learn just about anything, just about anywhere,” says Rickel. “The restrictions of time and space don’t apply since time depends on the learner and space depends on where the student lives and works—not on expensive facilities.”
In Ohio, political leaders have realized another economic benefit of competency-based education: getting skilled workers trained quickly for in-demand employment opportunities. In medical schools, competency-based training gets doctors trained and working in communities where they’re needed more quickly—saving and improving lives. It creates an integrated learning system—one that doesn’t end when medical school training ends, but integrates education and innovation across the entire health system.
So to answer my friend’s question more fully: no, competency-based education doesn’t mean past graduates were incompetent. But it does mean that today’s students get to move ahead based on what they know, which is better for the student, more efficient for the institution and provides real, positive social and economic change for the country.
Moving backwards—back to the three-Rs and the old-fashioned way of doing education—that would be incompetent. This is an exciting time to be in education and, moving forward, I can’t wait to see what happens next.
John Baker is CEO of Desire2Learn