Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Bill Nye's unjustified dismissal of evidence for an afterlife

Bill Nye's dismissive comments on the afterlife should have appeared on a site called "Little Think."  Like many other "skeptics," Mr. Nye seems to be unaware of the serious research done on out-of-body phenomena, near death experiences, reincarnation, and possession using a variety of methodologies, done by competent professionals and published in scientific journals.

Mr.Nye made a similar error in the past with his unjustified praise of the Common Core. Again, his conclusion was based on a very superficial knowledge of the issues.   Please see:

Bill Nye's afterlife comments:

Mandarin Fever in Tanzania

Tanzania has suffered an outbreak of Mandarin Fever. A comment on “Learn Mandarin to Break Language Barrier for a Brighter Future, Students Told,”  in the Daily News (Tanzania).

The enthusiasm for Mandarin in many countries today is based on the false premise that Mandarin will become a very important international language. It is true that Mandarin is the most widely spoken first language in the world with 1.2 billion speakers but English is the most widely spoken language in general (native speakers and non-native speakers) with about 1.5 billion. And English far more useful world-wide. It is the international language of science, aviation, and business. 

A second  premise is that Mandarin is essential for doing business with China.  Over 300 million students are now studying English in China, which is about the same number of fluent English speakers in the United States – former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman observed that China may soon be the largest English-speaking country in the world.  It is challenging for any Mandarin student to achieve the level of competence in Mandarin necessary to do business, but there are many Chinese English speakers who are at that level now.

Nevertheless,  acquiring some Mandarin is a very good idea, as long as our expectations are reasonable and the method is correct.  It can lead to a better understanding and appreciation of the astonishingly rich Chinese culture.  For those interested in languages,  exposure to Mandarin, a language completely different from those we have studied before, is a profound experience. I am a beginning Mandarin student: Mandarin classes, using a very effective and pleasant method called TPRS, have taught me a tremendous amount about how language is acquired.

Stephen Krashen

Posted at:

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Carol Black's A Thousand Rivers and the Great Phonics Debate

"The following statement somehow showed up on my Twitter feed the other day:
'Spontaneous reading happens for a few kids. The vast majority need (and all can benefit from) explicit instruction in phonics.;
This 127-character edict issued, as it turned out, from a young woman who is the 'author of the forthcoming book Brilliant: The Science of How We Get Smarter' and a “journalist, consultant and speaker who helps people understand how we learn and how we can do it better.”
It got under my skin, and not just because I personally had proven in the first grade that it is possible to be bad at phonics even if you already know how to read. It was her tone; that tone of sublime assurance on the point, which, further tweets revealed, is derived from “research” and “data” which demonstrate it to be true.
Many such 'scientific' pronouncements have emanated from the educational establishment over the last hundred years or so. The fact that the proven truths of each generation are discovered by the next to be harmful folly never discourages the current crop of experts who are keen to impose their freshly-minted certainties on children. Their tone of cool authority carries a clear message to the rest of us: 'We know how children learn. You don’t.'"
So they explain it to us.
The 'scientific consensus; about phonics, generated by a panel convened by the Bush administration and used to justify billions of dollars in government contracts awarded to Bush supporters in the textbook and testing industries, has been widely accepted as fact through the years of “No Child Left Behind” and “Race to the Top,” so if history is any guide, its days are numbered. Any day now there will be new research which proves that direct phonics instruction to very young children is harmful, that it bewilders and dismays them and makes them hate reading (we all know that’s often true, so science may well discover it) — and millions of new textbooks, tests, and teacher guides will have to be purchased at taxpayer expense from the Bushes’ old friends at McGraw-Hill."

From: Carol Black, A Thousand Rivers,

Note sent to Carol Black, August 28, 2016

You won't be surprised to learn that the "consensus" reached by the National Reading Panel on the value of intensive explicit phonics instruction has been challenged.
Professor Elaine Garan of Fresno State University re-examined the National Reading Panel's own data and concluded that the impact of intensive phonics instruction is strong only on tests in which children read lists of words in isolation; it is minuscule on tests in which children have to understand what they read. In my own work, I have found other studies showing the same thing. 
Study after study has shown that performance on tests of reading comprehension is heavily influenced by the amount of self-selected free voluntary reading that children do, not whether they have had intensive systematic phonics. 
This conclusion is consistent with the views of Frank Smith and Kenneth Goodman who have, for decades, presented strong evidence that our ability to decode complex words is the result of reading, not the cause.
Garan's work was published in very prestigious and respectable places but for some reason it has not gotten the publicity it deserves.
Stephen Krashen
Garan, E. (2001). Beyond the smoke and mirrors: A critique of the National Reading Panel report on phonics. Phi Delta Kappan 82, no. 7 (March), 500-506.
Garan, E. (2002) Resisting Reading Mandates. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.
Krashen, S. 2009. Does intensive decoding instruction contribute to reading comprehension? Knowledge Quest 37 (4): 72-74.

Monday, August 22, 2016

High school grades vs. the SAT.

Published in the Boston Globe, August 23, 2016

"Colleges cutting ties with the SAT" (August 22) is supported by research. In a study published in 2007, UC Berkeley scholars Saul Geiser and Maria Veronica Saltelices found that adding SAT scores to high school students' grades in college prep courses did not provide much more information than grades alone. In 2009, William Bowen, former President of Princeton University, Matthew Chingos, Senior Fellow of the Urban Institute, and Michael McPherson, President of the Spencer Foundation, reached similar conclusions in their book Crossing the Finish Line: Completing College at America's Universities.

In other words, it appears that teacher evaluation of students does a better job of evaluating students than standardized testing does: The repeated judgments of professionals who are with students every day is more valid that a test created by distant strangers.

Stephen Krashen
Professor Emeritus
University of Southern California

Friday, August 19, 2016

Failing schools or inaccurate reporting?

Sent to the Los Angeles Times, August 19

Dave Pierce ("Early Learning," letters, August 19) is tired of reading stories about failing schools.  Mr. Pierce thinks the problem is parents who don't make their children do homework, but there is good evidence that the problem is that the media gives the public the impression that our schools are much worse than they are.

Every year, national polls report that people rate their local schools much more positively than they do schools in the US in general. In last year's Gallup Poll, 70% of parents said they would give the public schools their oldest child attended a grade of A or B, but only 19% would give public schools in the nation A or B.

The explanation: Parents have direct information about the school their children attend, but their opinion of American education comes from the media. For decades, the media has been reporting more academic failure than actually exists.

American schools are doing quite well: When researchers control for poverty, American students' international test scores rank near the top of the world.

Stephen Krashen

Monday, August 15, 2016

The problem is poverty, not unions: Response to Fox News

August 15, 2016.

The low ranking of US students on international tests (“If your child's school is failing, thank a union," foxnews, August 15) has nothing to do with unions.  There is overwhelming and consistent research that it has everything to do with poverty. When researchers control for the effects of poverty, American students rank near the top of the world. Also, middle class American students in well-funded schools score very well on international tests.     
About 25% of American children live in poverty – the highest level of all industrialized countries, and in some urban districts, 80% of students live in poverty. This is the reason for our mediocre overall scores.
Poverty means poor nutrition, poor health care, and underfunded school libraries, which means little access to books.  Spending on schools is NOT directed at protecting students from high poverty families from the effect of poverty.
Real reform means less spending on useless tests and computers – let's only spend on tests and technology demonstrated to help students. Instead, lets spend on making sure no child is left unfed, no child is without proper health care, and every child has access to good libraries and helpful librarians.

Stephen Krashen
Author: The Power of Reading (2004, second edition, Libraries Unlimited).

Original article:

How to raise graduation rates in LAUSD: Improve school libraries, support librarians

Sent to the Los Angeles Times: August 14, 2016

If LAUSD wants to raise graduation rates (editorial, August 14), it might consider investing more in libraries and librarians.
LAUSD students scored far below the national average on the national reading test (NAEP) in 2015; these scores are closely connected to how much students read on their own.
Research also tells us that more reading means better grammar, spelling, vocabulary, writing and more knowledge of literature, social science, and science, all crucial for school success.
Research consistently shows that students read more when they have more access to books. LAUSD students have very little access to books at home, in their communities, or at schools.
According to the Times' article, "The Poverty Gap," the national level of poverty is 15%. But 80% of LAUSD students live at or below the poverty line. Students living in poverty have far fewer books in the home.
In 2015, Los Angeles ranked 68th out of 77 American cities in public library quality.
In LAUSD's school libraries the books-per-student ratio is 35% below the state average.
The presence of a credentialed librarian is related to reading achievement. LAUSD has one teacher-librarian for every 5,784 students, the national average is one per 1,026.
The low graduation rates are no surprise.

Stephen Krashen

original article:

Sources and details:
More reading means better ….. : Krashen, S. 2004. The Power of Reading. Second edition. Libraries Unlimited.
More access to books > more reading. Krashen. S 2004. Ibid.
80% of LAUSD students at or below poverty line.
Fewer books in the home: Krashen, 2004, ibid,
LA Libraries 68th out of 77: (2015) "America's Most Literate Cities report."
LAUSD school libraries 35% below state average:
Credentialed librarians: Studies by Keith Curry Lance and Associates: Small, R.V. and Snyder, J. (2009). The Impact of New York’s School Libraries on Student Achievement and Motivation--- The Phase II In-Depth Study. School Library Media Research, 12.

Friday, August 12, 2016

Teachers are not the problem, poverty is

Published in the Washington Post, August 18, 2016
Regarding the Aug. 12 news article “Gates Foundation to ‘stay the course’ with approach to education policy”:
Melinda Gates still thinks that teacher quality is the problem in American education. Of course we should always be trying to improve teaching, but there is no teacher quality crisis in the United States: When researchers control for the effect of poverty, American students score near the top of the world on international tests. Our overall scores are unimpressive because of our unacceptably high child-poverty rate, now around 21 percent. The problem is poverty, not teacher quality.
Poverty means food deprivation, lack of health care and lack of access to books. Each of these has a strong negative influence on school performance. Let’s forget about developing new ways of evaluating teachers, fancy databases and other ideas from Gates that have no support in research or practice. Instead, let’s invest in making sure no child is left unfed, no child lacks proper health care and all children have access to quality libraries.
 Stephen Krashen

Published at:

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Why is research on bilingual education ignored?

Proposition 227 dismantled bilingual education in California. But Proposition 58, which would reverse much of Prop 227, has "has so far generated only the slightest ripple of attention." ("Not a bang but a whimper: bilingual ed ban’s likely exit," August 8, The Cabinet Report).
The following appears close to the end of the article: "The education community, backed up by piles of research, never embraced the tenets of Prop. 227 …."
THIS IS A RARE MENTION OF THE STRONG RESEARCH SUPPORTING BILINGUAL EDUCATION. Despite the many attempts of some of us to share the results of this research with the public, it never became part of the debate in 1998 and is peripheral today.
In the final sentence of the aritlce, the founder of the California Tea Party Coalition is quoted: “(Removing the bilingual ban) seems like such a disservice to kids, because everything they are going to need and everything they are going to do is in English.”

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Don't forget the real problem with testing

Sent to the Fort-Worth Star Telegram, August , 2016

The problems described in "STAAR Struck" (August 7) can  eventually be solved, or at least reduced enough to stop complaints from coming. The testing boondoggle will continue, however, with more and more testing in various forms, despite evidence that more testing does not lead to more achievement. 
I suspect that the tests are flawed on purpose, in order to encourage resistance and debate over details. When repairs are made, it will give critics a sense of accomplishment, while they forget what the real problem is: huge sums of money wasted on tests that have never been shown to do students any good, while genuine educational needs are unmet. 
Stephen Krashen
Professor Emeritus
University of Southern California

More testing does not lead to more achievement.  Nichols, S., Glass, G., and Berliner, D. 2006. High-stakes testing and student achievement: Does accountability increase student learning? Education Policy Archives 14(1). OECD. 

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Bilingual education helps English language development

Sent to the San Diego Union-Tribute August 7, 2016

Ron Unz is wrong when he states that "Bilingual education programs fail our students," (Aug 5).  Contrary to Unz' claim, the passage of Proposition 227 in 1998, which dismantled bilingual education, did not result in better English proficiency.
It is true that English learners' Stanford 9 scores went up after 227 passed, but so did scores of all students and subgroups in California. A new version of the test was introduced the year before the English-only law was passed. Scores increased each year as students and teachers became more familiar with the test, a well-documented pattern when new standardized tests are introduced. Careful scientific studies have shown no obvious improvement in English language development resulting from the passage of Prop. 227.
Also, experimental studies consistently show that students in bilingual programs outperform comparison students in all-English programs on tests of English reading.

Stephen Krashen

Crawford, J. and Krashen, S. 2015. English Leaners in American Classrooms. Portland: DiversityLearningK12
Jepsen, C. and de Alth, S. 2005. English learners in California schools. San Francisco: Public Policy Institute of California
McField, G. and McField, D. 2014.  "The consistent outcome of bilingual education programs: A meta-analysis of meta-analyses." In Grace McField (Ed.) The Miseducation of English Learners. Charlotte: Information Age Publishing. pp. 267-299.
Parrish, T. 2006. Effects of the Implementation of Proposition 227 on the Education of English Learners, K–12: Year 5 Report. American Institutes for Research and WestEd.

original article:

Friday, August 5, 2016

Notes on language experience

Notes on Language Experience    Stephen Krashen
August, 2016  DRAFT

Language Experience was frequently used and discussed several decades ago, but is not mentioned much these days, possibility because there is no chance for publishers to make money from it.   It was popular in first grade classes for native speakers of English in the United States, but it can easily be used in first or second language development, for beginners up to low intermediate of any age, and could be a powerful source of written comprehensible input.

There are several versions of language experience, but they all are in agreement with Hall's definition (Hall, 1978): "... a method in which instruction is built on the use of reading materials created by writing down children's spoken language." (p. 2).1

Here is one simple manifestation:
1.     The student dictates a very short story or anecdote to the teacher.
2.     The teacher writes out the story or anecdote (these days using a word processor) and makes copies of the story.
3.     The student and other students read the story, which could become part of the classroom library.

Current research and theory predicts that language experience will work: It is compelling comprehensible input,  and fully utilizes one of the most powerful ways of making input compelling: personalization. The stories children dictate are usually about themselves, their interests, and their lives. Language experience thus has a strong similarity to TPRS (Teaching Proficiency through Reading and Story Telling), a method of teaching second languages that relies on stories co-constructed by teachers and students (Ray and Seely, 2015). Studies thus far show that TPRS is effective for second language acquisition (Dziedzic, J. 2012; Varguez, K. 2009. Watson, 2009; Pippins and Krashen, 2015).

I present here a brief review of language experience research.  None of the studies used exclusively language experience.  In every case, it was mixed with
direct instruction (e.g. word attack skills, phonics).  Comparison groups always had direct instruction as well, so this is probably not a serious confound. Except for McCanne (1966), all  studies in table 1 deal with English as a first language.

Table 1 presents only grade one2  results for "Paragraph Reading" tests in which children have to understand what they read. The results presented here agree closely with the Bond and Dykstra (1967) presentation of the Hahn, Kendrick, Stauffer and Vilscek  et. al. (reported as Cleland, p. 127-8) studies , in which means were adjusted for pretest performance on measures of word reading, vocabulary, spelling, letter names, IQ and other tests (table 46, p. 75).

 Table 1: Research on the Effectiveness of Language Experience, comparied to Basal Programs (positive = language experience superior to traditional (basal) group).
N (exp/comp)
journal papers

Vilscik, Morgan & Cleland, 1966
1 year

no data
Harris and Serwer, 1966
1 year

exp = 1,141
no data
Stauffer, 1966
1 year

no data
Kendrik & Bennett, 1966
1 year

McCanne, 1966
1 year

no data
Hahn, 1966
1 year


Hall, 1965
1 semester

M. Stauffer
1 year

grant report

Lamb, 1971
1 year


(a)   A third group did language experience as well, but also included instruction in the International Teaching Alphabet.  The experimental group did slightly better than the ITA group (d=.13) and the ITA group outperformed the basal comparison group (d = .13).  The Language Experience group did about twice as much self-selected reading than the other groups, reading an average of 15.5 books in a month in grade 2.
(b)   Significance fell just short of the .05 level, one-tail, with t = 1.60 (df = 108), p = .056. The difference was easily significant at the .10 level.  Calculation by SK.
(c)   Effect sizes (ES) were calculated from data presented in journal papers, but this was only possible in two cases.
(d)   Harris and Serwer point out that the basal reader method "held a slight lead ... It was associated with slightly but significantly highest results in meaningful silent reading comprehension" (p. 634). Unfortunately, it was not possible to calcualte the effect size. 
(e)   McCanne reported that "reading comprehension" included two subtests, but did not describe the tests.

Table 2: Research summary

no dff

Journal papers

grant report



The scorecard presented in table 2 shows a slight advantage for Language Experience, with the advantage coming from dissertation research. Dissertation research is sometimes thought to be lower quality than published research, but Glass, McGaw and Smith (1981) concluded that dissertation reearch is of slightly higher quality in terms of design than published research (p. 51). Also, experimental effects reported in dissertations are typically lower than effects reported in published studies, reporting less support for favored hypotheses (p. 67, 226).

Note also that the advantage for the basal group in Harris and Serwer (1966), while significant, was "slight" (comment d, table 1) and the results of only one study are firmly negative (Kendrick and Bennett, 1966).

This is a crude analysis: There was a wide variation in procedure among the studies (see Vilscek, 1968) and details of several studies were not available to me. The only commonality is that reading is largely done from texts dictated by the students. 

What is clear, however, is that language experience deserves another look, under more carefully controlled experimental conditions.  Language experience  stories have tremendous potential: They are free, and can form the basis for a classroom library, and can be easily shared on the internet.


(1) Some history: "The story (of language experience) begins over sixty years ago [this article was published in 1965] when Miss Flora J. Cooke, a teacher at the Chicago Institute, later at the Francis Parker school, Chicago, began experimenting with a 'natural' method of teaching beginners to read through recording on the blackboard the children's oral expressions relating to current experiences. Miss Cooke stated her hypothesis concerning this innovation. Children may learn to read as naturally as they learn to talk, she said ... She found that the children readily learned to read records she prepared of their own experiences without following any particular method of teaching reading." ( p. 280). (From Hildreth, 1965).

(2) Language experience for older children (grades 2 and 3) sometimes included self-selected reading (Harris, Serwer, and Gold, 1967).  Such a study is no longer a test of language experience alone, but is still a test of the more general Comprehension Hypothesis.  It should be pointed out, however, that regular book reading happened in grade 1 studies as well. In Vilscek, Morgan, and Cleland (1966), a first grade study, children "transitioned" to "instructional reading in trade books" when each child reacher the "primer instructional level" (p. 35). Another first grade study, Kendrick and Bennett (1966) included reading library books and stories from textbooks as "reading activities"  as well as language experience (p. 95).


Bond, G. and Dykstra, R. 1976. The cooperative research program in first-grade reading instruction. Reading Research Quarterly 2(4) (Entire issue).
Dziedzic, J. 2012. A comparison of TPRS and traditional instruction, both with SSR. International Journal of Foreign Language Teaching 7(2): 4-6.
Glass, G., McGaw, B., and Smith, M.L. 1981. Meta-analysis in Social Research. Beverly Hills: Sage Publications.
Hahn, H. 1966. Three Aproaches to Beginning Reading Instruction - ITA, Language Experience and Basal Readers. The Reading Teacher 19(1966) 590-594.
Hahn, H. 1967.  Three approaches to beginning reading instrution – ITA, language experience, and basal readers – extended to second grade.  The Reading Teacher 26: 711-715.
Harris, A. and Morrison, C. 1969. The CRAFT project: A final report. The Reading Teacher 22: 335-340.
Harris, A. and Serwer, B. 1966. The CRAFT project: instructional time in reading research. Reading Research Quarterly 2: 29-56.
Harris, A. and Serwer, B. 1966. Comparing reading approaches in first-grade teaching with disadvantaged children. The Reading Teacher 19: 631-635.
Harris, B., Serwer, B. and Gold, L. 1967. Comparing reading approaches in first grade teaching with disadvantaged children = extended into the second grade. The Reading Teacher 20: 699-703.
Hildreth, G. 1965. Experience-related reading for school beginners. Elementary English 42: 280-292.
Kendrick, W. 1966. A comparative study of two first grade language arts programs. The Reading Teacher 20: 23-30.
Mallett, G. 1977. Using language experience with junior high native Indian students. Journal of Reading 21: 25-28.
McCanne, R. 1966. Approaches to first grade English reading instruction for children from Spanish-speaking homes. The Reading Teacher 70:70-75.
Pippins, D. and Krashen, S. 2016. How well do TPRS students do on the AP? International Journal of Foreign Languge Teaching. 11(1): 25-30.
Ray, B. and Seely, C. 2015. Fluency Through TPRS Storytelling, Expanded 7th Edition. Berkeley: Command Performance Institute.
Vilscek, E. 1968. What research has shown about the language-experience program. In Vilscek, E. (Ed.), A Decade of Innovations: Approaches to Beginning Reading. Proceedings of the Twelfth Annual Convention, International Reading Association. Newark, Delaware: International Reading Association. pp. 9-23.
Vilscek, E., Morgan, L. and Cleland, D. 1966. Coordination and integrating language arts instruction in first grade.  The Reading Teacher 20:31-37.
Varguez, K. 2009. Traditional and TPR Storytelling instruction in the Beginning High School Spanish Classroom. International Journal of Foreign Language Teaching 5 (1): 2-11.
Watson, B. 2009. A comparison of TPRS and traditional foreign language instruction at the high school level. International Journal of Foreign Language Teaching 5 (1): 21-24.