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Krashen: Easy Money for Schools, No Strings Attached!

Retired professor Stephen Krashen has become one of the nation's most prolific writer of letters devoted to pointing out clear truths about education in the United States. He often sees what many would-be reformers overlook. Today I am sharing two cogent comments he has offered recently.

Easy Money for California Schools, No Strings Attached
Sent to the Long Beach Star Telegram, October 11, 2010
I wonder if the new coalition to win Race to the Top funding knows what will happen if they succeed ("LBUSD joins other districts on education reform," Oct. 11). Acceptance of the money gives the federal government a huge say in how schools are run. This will include a tremendous amount of unnecessary and unjustified testing, far more than we had with No Child Left Behind, at a time when children are already over-tested. It will also cost billions, at a time when schools are facing severe budget cuts. There is no scientific evidence showing that increasing testing increases student learning.

If California is interested in the $700 million Race to the Top money there is an easier way. Also, instead of a single payment, California would save $600 million dollars every year forever, a move that by itself would take care of about 5% of the total budget shortfall. All we have to do is drop the high school exit exam: According to analyst Jo Ann Behm, the exit exam costs the state about $600 million per year. Studies of high school exit exams show that they are useless: They do not lead to higher employment, higher earnings, or improved academic achievement. In fact, researchers have yet to discover any benefits of having a high school exit exam.


The problem is poverty: Evidence from Gerald Bracey

The entire basis for the national standards/testing movement is our low scores on international tests when compared to other countries. Our scores, however, are only low because we have such a high percentage of children in poverty, compared to other countries that participate in international tests. When we consider only middle-class children who attend well-funded schools, our math scores are near the top of the world (Payne and Biddle, 1999).

Here is another analysis, using reading test scores, that comes to the same conclusion. The PIRLS test was given to ten year olds in 35 countries in their own language. Bracey (2009) presented this data, along with relevant socio-economic data on the poverty level of the schools American children attended (defined as participating in free or reduced price lunch programs):

American students attending schools with
- less than 10 percent in poverty averaged 589 (14% of students).
- 10-24.9% in poverty averaged 567 (20% of students)
- 25 to 49.9% in poverty averaged 551 (30% of students)
- 50 to 74.5% in poverty averaged 519 (21% of students)
- 75% or more in poverty averaged 485 (15% of students)

Clearly, students in schools with lower levels of poverty did better. Of great interest to us is the fact that American children attending low poverty schools (25% or less) outscored the top scoring country, Sweden (561). Bracey also points out that "if the students in schools with 24-49.9% poverty constituted a nation, it would rank fourth among the 35 participating nations" (p. 155).

The problem is poverty, not our teachers, our unions, the parents, or the children. The solution is to protect our children from the disadvantages of poverty, through health care, nutrition, and access to books. Geoffrey Canada claims that his approach is to attempt to do just that in the Harlem Children's Zone schools (NY Times, October 12, 2010; but see Krashen, 2010a,b).

Thus far, the Arne Duncan department of education has chosen to ignore this route (while praising the Harlem Children's Zone), and spend billions on useless national standards and national tests, focusing on measuring rather than helping.

Dr. Stephen Krashen

Bracey, G. 2009. Education Hell: Rhetoric Versus Reality. Alexandria, VA: Educational Research Service.
Payne, K. and Biddle, B. 1999. Poor school funding, child poverty, and mathematics achievement. Educational Researcher 28 (6): 4-13.
Krashen, S. 2010a. A suggestion for Geoffrey Canada. www.schoolsmatter.info. October 12, 2010.
Krashen, S. 2010b. Shocking revelations from Goeffrey Canada's autobiography. www.schoolsmatter.info.
October 13, 2010.

What do you think? Would students be better served by re-directing funds currently going to the exit exams? Is poverty the root of our educational achievement gap?

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