Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Our Schools Are Not Broken: The Problem is Poverty--by Stephen Krashen

President Obama should replace Arne Duncan with Stephen Krashen as Secretary of Education; Krashen's analysis is accurate and insightful. 
I've included some key highlights from Krashen's speech entitled: "Our Schools Are Not Broken: The Problem is Poverty" originally given as the commencement speech at the Graduate School of Education and Counseling, Lewis and Clark College on June 5, 2011

To hear the full speech, begin at 34:34

Video streaming by Ustream

Krashen Explains Why Poverty, Not Poor Teaching, Is The Real Problem:
Reduce poverty to improve education, not vice-versa.The fact that American students who are not living in poverty do very well shows that there is no crisis in teacher quality. The problem is poverty.
The US Department of Education insists that improving teaching comes first: With better teaching, we will have more learning (higher test scores, according to the feds), and this will improve the economy. We are always interested in improving teaching, but the best teaching in the world will have little effect when students are hungry, are in poor health because of inadequate diet and inadequate health care, and have low literacy development because of a lack of access to books. (4) Also, studies have failed to find a correlation between improved test scores and subsequent economic progress. (5)
The relationship is the other way around: "We are likely to find that the problems of housing and education, instead of preceding the elimination of poverty, will themselves be affected if poverty is first abolished.” (Martin Luther King, 1967, Final Words of Advice).
Krashen's Solutions:
If poverty is the problem, the solution is full employment and a living wage for honest work. Until this happens, we need to do what we can to protect children from the effects of poverty. This means (1) continue to support and expand free and reduced breakfast and lunch programs ("No child left unfed," as Susan Ohanian puts it). It means (2) make sure all schools have an adequate number of school nurses; there are fewer school nurses per student in high poverty schools than in low poverty schools. (6)
It means (3) make sure all children have access to books.
Access to books > more reading > literacy development
There is very clear evidence that children from high-poverty families have very little access to books at home, at school, and in their communities. (7)
Studies also show when children have access to interesting and comprehensible reading material, they read. (8)
And finally, when children read, they improve in all aspects of literacy, including vocabulary, grammar, spelling, reading and writing ability.9 In fact, I have concluded that reading for pleasure, self-selected reading, is the major cause of literacy development. Making sure that all children have access to books makes literacy development possible. Without it, literacy development is impossible.
The power of libraries
In support of this chain of logic, a number of studies show that school library quality and the presence of credential librarians are related to reading ability. The leader of this research in the United States is Keith Curry Lance, who, with his associates, has reported that school library quality is related to reading achievement in a number of different states. (10)
Related to the poverty issue, the results of some recent studies have suggested that access to books, either at home or at the school library, can mitigate or balance the effect of poverty: The positive impact of access to books on reading achievement is about as large as the negative impact of poverty. (11)

You can read the full text of the speech here.

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