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

Tuesday, November 04, 2014

Does Common Core help or hurt in creating more avid readers?

Stephen Krashen
Reading Today 32 (3): 10-11. ("Two Takes" section)

We need to be concerned about developing avid readers: An impressive number of studies confirms that avid or "self-selected" reading is the main source of our reading ability, vocabulary knowledge, our ability to handle complex grammatical constructions, spelling, and our ability to write in an acceptable style.
The Common Core Publishers Criteria mentions self-selected reading: "Additional meterials" should be provided that "ensure that all students have daily opportunities to read texts of their choice on their own during and outside of the school day."
There is good evidence that given access to comprehensible, interesting texts, young people do in fact read them. Those living in poverty (about 23% of the children in the US, UNICEF Innocenti Research Centre, 2012) have, however, little access to reading material. They live in homes with fewer books, live in neighborhoods with fewer bookstores, and often live far from public libraries. Their main source of reading material is the school library.
Keith Curry Lance's research in the US shows that library quality (based on number of books, presence or absence of a credentialed librarian, and staffing) is positively related to literacy development. A recent study done by Syying Lee, Jeff McQuillan and myself, which appeared in the Journal of Language and Literacy Education, in 2012, on PIRLS test results, found that the same was true internationally. Our results suggest that access to a good school library can offset, to a large extent, the negative impact of poverty on reading achievement. These results confirm the importance of avid reading.
Despite this research, support for libraries has been dwindling (see Michael Kelley's, "LJ’s Budget Survey: Bottoming Out? which appeared in  the Library Journal. ) In contrast, we are investing an astonishing amount of money on Common Core testing.
The common core requires far more testing than the amount required under No Child Left Behind. It also requires that tests be delivered online. This means billions to make sure all students are connected to the internet with up-to-date computers, billions for upgrading and billions for  replacement of equipment declared to be obsolete, because of the never-ending development of new technologies.
Increasing testing does not result in better student achievement, as evidenced by the 2006 report "High-stakes testing and student achievement: Does accountability increase student learning?" by Sharon Nichols, Gene Glass, and David Berliner  - and to my knowledge, there has been no attempt to determine if the brave new online tests will help students.
In contrast, as mentioned above, there is substantial evidence showing that libraries can improve achievement, and some evidence suggesting that the impact of the library is profound for students living in poverty.
Some people think that because of ebooks, libraries as we know them are not necessary for avid readers. The cost of ebooks and ebook readers make this option impossible for most school libraries, as well as for private ownership by many people. When the price of ebook readers drops to $10 and ebooks to $.50 and ebooks become fully sharable, they will be indeed be a big help.
Rather than invest in libraries and librarians, the Common Core requires that we invest in more testing and more expensive testing.
In other words, we are investing in weighing the animal but are not investing in feeding it.


  1. Yes and Amen to all of the above and here's more to think about. I work with students in a junior high that are required to write a 3 paragraph essay as a part of their "High Stakes Testing". You know there is something wrong when they are penalized for writing 5 paragraphs and told to bring it back to the required 3. Also, library circulation is key, not for numbers' sake but for the knowledge that students are reading. Those who read more write more.

  2. Dr. Krashen, thank you for bringing to light the decrease in school library funds, while resources continue to be allocated for test prep and other poor education practices.

    One point for clarification: Does the Common Core require that we invest more in testing? My understanding is Race to the Top is responsible for this.

    Thanks! -Matt