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

Sunday, November 06, 2011

To improve reading in California: Let’s try the obvious

Sent to the Santa Monica Daily Press, November 5, 2011

California still ranks near the bottom of the country in fourth grade reading, according to the results of the national NAEP test, announced at the beginning of November.

California was in the basement the first time NAEP scores were analyzed by state, in 1992. When this happened, whole language was blamed and California reacted by adopting an intensive phonics approach to language arts. But the scores remained low. A few years later, our low scores were blamed on bilingual education, and California reacted by adopting an English-only approach. Still, our scores remained low.

Back in the 1990’s researcher Jeff McQuillan published a number of analyses demonstrating that the real cause of the low scores was lack of access to reading materials, specifically the fact that California ranked at the bottom of the country in quality of school libraries as well as number of school librarians per student. This conclusion agrees with common sense as well as an enormous amount of evidence showing that the amount of wide, self-selected reading children do is a powerful predictor of reading test scores, and that overall library quality and the presence of a credentialed librarian are also related to reading test scores.

The most recent contribution to this research comes from Keith Curry Lance and Linda Hofschire, who reported recently in the School Library Journal that cuts in library staffing were related to lower reading scores, or a slower increase than would normally be expected.

The problem is not restricted to school libraries: In the annual “America’s Most Literate Cities” report, in the category “Library Support, Holdings, and Utilization,” six California cities were in the bottom seven (out of 75), including Los Angeles.

The plan now is to invest in standards and tests, despite research showing that increasing standardized testing does not increase school achievement. Why do we insist on spending money on weighing the animal rather than feeding it? Why this reluctance to even consider the idea of investing more in our public and school libraries?

Stephen Krashen

Professor Emeritus

University of Southern California

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