"A child's learning is the funtion more of the characteristics of his classmates than those of the teacher." James Coleman, 1972

Thursday, September 22, 2011

IRA's Richard Long defends the LEARN Act, Krashen responds

Richard M. Long, director of government relations of the International Reading Association, has posted a defense of the LEARN Act on Valerie Strauss' blog, The Answer Sheet.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/post/will-the-learn-act-help-kids-learn-to-read/2011/09/21/gIQA7dLTlK_blog.html

I present here Mr. Long's arguments, and my point by point commentary:

Richard Long's essay:

Many students either graduate from high school not ready for the literacy demands of college and the workplace or fail to graduate. Why is that? Don’t we know how to teach reading and writing?

The answer is that although we know how to teach reading and writing, we are not matching what we know to each school and to each child in a coordinated way. Federal initiatives over the past 40 years, each offered as a solution, have provided only a piece of the puzzle.

Initiatives have included the Right to Read Initiative, the Basic Skills Program, Reading Excellence, Reading First, programs in Head Start and other child care programs, Title I, job training programs, and even programs offered for new recruits in the military. Although each has helped some students to learn, none made systemic changes at and across each grade level for each student.

The introduction earlier this year of the Literacy Education for All, Results for the Nation Act (or the LEARN Act) in the House and in the Senate is an important step in literacy policy for our nation.

Like the current pre-curser program, the Striving Readers Comprehensive Literacy Program, LEARN takes the best elements from earlier programs, adds new knowledge about writing and reading, and requires each state to bring together professionals from a wide array of disciplines and professions to identify needs and present ideas for meeting those needs.

The resulting state literacy plans, already begun in 46 states (plus the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico), include assessments at all levels that will help instruction and keep the programs on track. Districts then situate their requests for program funding within a coherent state plan, generating the kind of alignment needed for consistent and genuine change.

Rather than a piecemeal federal policy, LEARN establishes the centrality of instruction that is aligned across grade levels and across subjects. Extending features of the Striving Readers Comprehensive Literacy program, LEARN emphasizes smooth transitions from early childhood programs to elementary school, elementary school to middle school, and middle to high school.

It provides professional development about literacy and assessment of literacy for teachers in all content areas and for principals who collaborate on building instructional programs based on teacher knowledge and scientific evidence.

In addition, LEARN enables schools to intervene directly when the needs of learners demand even more to make a difference.

In short, LEARN is not a souped-up Reading First or Right to Read Program. It uses lessons from these past programs in the context of new knowledge about learning and change to build a future in which literate students graduate from high school ready for college, work, and citizenship.

My comments on Richard Long's defense of the LEARN Act.

RL = Richard Long's statements

SK = my comment

Note: Please read my detailed critique of the LEARN Act, posted on http://sdkrashen.com/index.php?cat=4

RL: "Although each has helped some students to learn, none made systemic changes at and across each grade level for each student."

SK: No. Each component of LEARN has a disappointing track record.

RL: "Like the current pre-curser program, the Striving Readers Comprehensive Literacy Program, LEARN takes the best elements from earlier programs, adds new knowledge about writing and reading, and requires each state to bring together professionals from a wide array of disciplines and professions to identify needs and present ideas for meeting those needs."

SK: All previous studies of the impact of Striving Readers have shown weak or no effects (Krashen, 2011, citation below). What are the "best elements"? There is no document that presents provides evidence for "the best elements of earlier programs" that I know of. What is the "new knowledge"? Does it include lots of self-selected reading and read-alouds? I hope so, but this certainly isn't new.

RL: "The resulting state literacy plans, already begun in 46 states (plus the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico), include assessments at all levels that will help instruction and keep the programs on track. Districts then situate their requests for program funding within a coherent state plan, generating the kind of alignment needed for consistent and genuine change."

SK: In English, this means there will be lots more testing, including lots of interim testing. This is the last thing we need.

RL: "Rather than a piecemeal federal policy, LEARN establishes the centrality of instruction that is aligned across grade levels and across subjects. Extending features of the Striving Readers Comprehensive Literacy program, LEARN emphasizes smooth transitions from early childhood programs to elementary school, elementary school to middle school, and middle to high school."

SK: In English, this means a national language arts curriculum from K-12, based on a program with an unimpressive track record. (Again, see Krashen, 2011, citation below)

RL: It provides professional development about literacy and assessment of literacy for teachers in all content areas and for principals who collaborate on building instructional programs based on teacher knowledge and scientific evidence.

SK: This means make sure everybody is trained to do what LEARN says they should do.

In previous years, "scientific evidence" meant any study that concluded that heavy phonics is great. Now it will mean any study supporting phonemic awareness, phonics, direct instruction of vocabulary and direct instruction in text structure. (Read the actual LEARN Act, and also my comment on it, on www.sdkrashen.com) Studies showing that phonemic awareness, most phonics, much of vocabulary and nearly all of our competence in text structure are a result of massive reading, no matter how they are done, are not "scientific."

RL: In addition, LEARN enables schools to intervene directly when the needs of learners demand even more to make a difference.

SK: In other words, if it isn't working, do it harder.

RL: In short, LEARN is not a souped-up Reading First or Right to Read Program.

SK: LEARN extends the underlying philosophy of Reading First to all language arts instruction.

Krashen, S. 2011. A Suggestion: Dump Striving Readers, Give the Money to School Libraries in High Poverty Areas http://www.schoolsmatter.info/2011/02/suggestion-dump-striving-readers-give.html

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