Sunday, September 12, 2010

A call for accuracy by Stephen Krashen

Here is a letter written by Stephen Krashen that he submitted to Time Magazine:

A call for accuracy: A response to "A call for action"
Sent to Time Magazine, September 11, 2010

"A call for action" (September 20) is based on two incorrect claims: American students are poor in reading, with 69% of 8th graders "below proficient", and the US "trails most other rich nations" in science and math.

The late Gerald Bracey published compelling data showing that the "proficient" level on our national reading test is set far too high: Bracey reported in 2007 that only 29% of American children scored at the proficient level or higher. According to Bracey's analysis, only 33% of Swedish children would have scored proficient or higher on our tests, and Sweden consistently ranks at or near the top of the world in reading. Setting the proficiency level unreasonably high is an excellent way of making our students look bad.

Our science and math test scores are unspectacular, but the problem is not science and math education. Studies show that American students from well-funded schools who come from high-income families outscore all or nearly all other countries on international tests. Only our children in high poverty schools score below the international average. Our scores look low because the US has the highest percentage of children in poverty of all industrialized countries (25%, compared to Denmark's 3%). Our educational system has been successful; the problem is poverty.
"A call for action" is a call for tougher schools and longer school days, a painful and hopeless path. Instead, we should be focused on protecting children from the effects of poverty: Proper nutrition (no child left unfed), health care, and access to books. When this happens, all American children will have the advantages that middle class children have and our test scores will be among the best in the world.
Stephen Krashen


The proficient level

Test scores in math and science:
Payne, K. and Biddle, B. 1999. Poor school funding, child poverty, and mathematics achievement. Educational Researcher 28 (6): 4-13.

Impact of poverty
Berliner, D. 2009. Poverty and Potential: Out-of-School Factors and School Success. Boulder and Tempe: Education and the Public Interest Center & Education Policy Research Unit.
Bracey, G. 2009. Education Hell: Rhetoric vs. Reality. Educational Research Service
Krashen, S. 1997. Bridging inequity with books. Educational Leadership 55(4): 18-22.
Martin, M. 2004. A strange ignorance: The role of lead poisoning in “failing schools.”


  1. We espouse equality of opportunity through public education without acknowledging a responsibility for readiness. The concept of social capital is not new. Wrapping around the child -- applying the resources of all social services has become a criteria for educational assistance in my province. Social services, health and justice have to become involved. That is for the few. We simply refuse to accept collective responsibility for insuring all children come to school with the best support. Since we fail to acknowledge our responsibility there, it is frustrating to me to read the education system remains the sole factor in learning. Health and justice experience the same problems within their own areas. It seems only the market place is governed by unalterable laws. It sickens me when I let myself think about our concepts of the Darwinian free market and how they are so easily transferred to the vulnerable children in schools.

  2. Yes yes yes. Tasmania's government schools espouse middle class values, ideals, goals,culture, outcomes and curriculum. Completely irrelevant to and irrespective of the whole communities of families who don't adhere to that 'culture'. In Tas thirty percent of population lives on and below poverty line. It is unjust to judge another culture on our values and expect them to 'compete' equally. It is immoral and not ok. Many families with generations unemployed. Rents and food, petrol and electricity are very high here in Hobart. There is no food money left. I'm solo parent I've lived it prior to working again.

    What I've further realized is that it's the middle classes like myself who live off this social inequity nurses, social workers, teachers, police...

  3. Don't forget the examples of MN and MA using the Singapore math framework for state curriculum. They now rank in the top ten "nations". MN has little or no state control of schools like MA which makes the case for less noggin-navigation on the part of states.

    What it comes down to is that our faith in testing is silly.


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