Stephen Krashen on federal education testing plan: “This is a nightmare.”

Atlanta educator Cindy Lutenbacher sent me this link to a commencement speech delivered by linguist and educational researcher Stephen Krashen at the Lewis & Clark College Graduate School of Education and Counseling earlier this month. (Krashen has spent a lot of time studying literacy and the importance of access to books to transforming educational outcomes for poor kids.)

I like to listen to commencement speeches so I tracked down a video of Krashen’s performance. The written version is a much milder version of what Krashen actually said at the commencement, which you can watch here. (He comes on at 34:34)  His presentation to the graduates is much more passionate and conversational. (And it’s funnier.)

He advocates that we reduce testing and invest the money in anti-poverty measures — books, school nurses and expanded free lunch and breakfast programs.  He argues that American teachers are among the best in the world, if we judge them on middle-class learners.

It is quite a speech:

63 comments Add your comment

Jordan Kohanim

June 10th, 2011
6:08 pm

AMEN! This is so important and true!

catlady

June 10th, 2011
6:12 pm

Krashen is well-respected, unlike other educational “leaders” frequently mentioned here.

Lee

June 10th, 2011
7:02 pm

“He argues that American teachers are among the best in the world, if we judge them on middle-class learners.”

Yeah, but then there’s that pesky little problem of trying to teach quadratic equations to students with an IQ of 85. I’d like to hear his plan to deal with that – other than feed them breakfast, give them an Advil and a book.

justbrowsing

June 10th, 2011
8:25 pm

Anti poverty measures and increasing accessibility to libraries are wonderful- but it does not mean that those who it could benefit the most are necessarily going to CHOOSE to take advantage of them – for whatever reason….

Cindy Lutenbacher

June 10th, 2011
8:28 pm

@ Lee
Perhaps you can visit some of Krashen’s articles to find your answers.
As the mother of a child who has been aptly labeled as MID (Mildly Intellectually Disabled), I can assure you that our schools are not trying to teach her quadratic equations.

d

June 10th, 2011
8:32 pm

Of course no one will listen who is in a position to actually make a difference here. I was in a room with about 8,000 other educators all booing Arne Duncan when he stressed ramped up testing. I honestly wish I could get some of my students to just pick up a book to read for fun. There are so many other distractions, but I believe I may be having my Economics students visiting the school library as a class every few weeks now.

MB

June 10th, 2011
8:48 pm

More accurately he advocates -VERY strongly – for access to books *through libraries* in his speech. At 43:29, he starts his discussion of the importance of access to libraries as, he notes, many economically disadvantaged students only have access to books through their school libraries. He also cites studies which show that access to books through school libraries has a positive effect at almost exactly the same strength that poverty negatively impact reading scores.

MB

June 10th, 2011
8:53 pm

Go, d! Collaborate with your media specialist and find some good non-fiction as well as fiction for your students to read. (Freakonomics, maybe?) He or she can help you come up with creative ways to share their reading experiences – pleasure reading of works that will expand their horizons!

Veteran teacher, 2

June 10th, 2011
9:46 pm

I think we need to all post this to facebook and send to every politician we have access to. He needs a sponsor with $ to take on Gates and Co.!!

teacher&mom

June 10th, 2011
10:04 pm

Perhaps Krashen will be invited at the Gold Dome!

teacher&mom

June 10th, 2011
10:13 pm

Big Mama

June 10th, 2011
10:20 pm

Maureen, do you have an idea of the amount of money currently spent on testing in the state of Georgia?

teacher&mom

June 10th, 2011
10:24 pm

Here’s an example of why NCLB and RttT policies hurt good schools and destroy effective practices.

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/06/06/education/06oneducation.html?_r=1&ref=education

Politicians convince the public their policies are intended to foster creativity and experimentation while eliminating failing schools. Unfortunately, their policies have unintended consequences because they affect ALL public schools.

special ed teacher

June 10th, 2011
11:23 pm

Ms. Lutenbacher, in Georgia a child with an IQ of 85 is in general education classes being taught quadratic equations. A child labeled MID has an IQ much lower and wouldn’t be in the same classes. Also, the child with an IQ of 85 is quite possibly not receiving special education services since IQ’s between 80 and 120 are considered average.

Patricia

June 10th, 2011
11:30 pm

Thank you so much Maureen for posting this!! I was fortunate to meet Dr. Krashen many years ago when I was gaining my certification in ESOL. He was just as amusing at that time and very to the point. Namely the research was clear and continually supported about how best to effectively teach students who were acquiring English. I appreciated that so much about him. At that time he was just getting into what he calls Free Voluntary Reading and its impact on the learning of students in poverty. I have provided class libraries for many years depending upon the grade levels I have taught and invariably students have come to me as essentially non-readers leave my class reading. Most of them read the sets of Boxcar Children books I had…some even took them home over the summer. Today, school in Georgia (and elsewhere I am sure) has become all about the CRCT and Coach books, etc. and less about the needs of the students we teach. A very narrow approach to reading needless to say!!

[...] See the rest here: Stephen Krashen on federal education testing plan: “This is a … [...]

Old School

June 11th, 2011
7:22 am

Back in the 90s, our high school went to a block schedule. I started having my classes read silently for the first 15 minutes. It could be a reading assignment for an academic class or they could choose from the material I had available: Readers Digest, Consumer Reports, Fine Home Building, and my personal collection of Pat McManus books. I needed the time to complete the required reports, check roll, finish readying materials for class (never had a planning period) and they needed time to settle down from the madness that was class change. I also wanted them to discover reading for the sheer pleasure of reading and often I read with them. The results were wonderful. I had fewer discipline problems, students were more focused and ready to work, and there were even days when they pleaded for more reading time.
I still hear from parents who are amazed at their children’s continued interest in reading and from former students sharing their latest books. (I also think the classical music I had playing continuously in the background helped make my classroom a calm yet energetic learning environment.)

I was not an academic teacher. I was an Engineering Drawing instructor.

Elizabeth

June 11th, 2011
7:39 am

Finally someone who knows what he is talking about!

Cindy Lutenbacher

June 11th, 2011
7:46 am

Dear Special Ed Teacher,
You are right, but the cutoff is only 80, not “much lower.” I think I misinterpreted the intent of the earlier posting: I’d thought the intention was to mock special needs kids and Krashen. I agree that kids who are just above the cutoff probably have different needs from those who can easily handle quadratic equations. But my daughter is still an avid reader, and kids of all stripes can benefit from what Krashen advocates.
Also, let’s all remember that IQ (and all standardized) tests are fallible. They were originally created with eugenics as the purpose, and they still suffer from many of those problems and more. The battery of tests my daughter went through was enormous and included my knowledge/perceptions of her and those of her teachers. I am confident that the conclusions are accurate. But let’s not forget Einstein’s story.

GaTeacher

June 11th, 2011
8:10 am

This is real and true. If Krashen’s theories presented here were applied education would improve exponentially.

Hermione

June 11th, 2011
8:10 am

teacher&mom: Thank you for posting the link to the NYT article. It certainly illustrates what so many of us have suspected about Rttt.

redweather

June 11th, 2011
8:32 am

We should require all parents of public school children to attend annual training sessions on how to help their kids succeed in school.

I_teach

June 11th, 2011
8:33 am

The cutoff is actually 70.. ;-)

However, this is the problem with Georgia’s “everyone goes to college and therefore must be in college prep classes..” NOT acknowledging that children bring different levels of ability to the classroom and making changes for that.

My own child is learning disabled-pretty severely. His HS is one of those who push every kid to take the SAT. I refused (even with my other child,who is gifted but tests poorly). They also had this same child in a dual-enrollment..and were HORRIFIED when I pulled him out of the college prep track.

why? he’d already long decided-and had earned scholarships to-6 different specialized schools which would teach him a trade.

until BOEs, starting with Duncan and friends, realize that kids with a below normal IQ will struggle unless they are given appropriate curriculum options, we are screwed.

not everybody should go to college; not everyone should be educated with that goal….

catlady

June 11th, 2011
8:37 am

How about more Krashen and less Michelle Rhee, Arne Duncan, et al? Why isn’t HE considered a “rock star?”

I_teach

June 11th, 2011
8:37 am

The cutoff is NOT 80-it is 70. (I know this, i have students whose IQs are at 75 and are in regular ed because they don’t qualify)

We must stop the push that all will attend college; we must address the learners who are less capable of learning the college prep curriculum. There is absolutely NO shame in going to a technical school, or learning a trade.

In the meantime, we are asking students who do not have the abilities to learn advanced concepts to do so, and testing them to death.

I have a son with severe dyslexia. I refused to allow them to continue him in the dual-enrollment-and made sure he had all the classes he needed to get into the tech school of his choice. I also refused to allow him to take the SAT or ACT.

He got accepted and is doing well, and is nearly done.

This one-size-fits-all-test-everyone regardless of ability mentality has GOT to go.

I_teach

June 11th, 2011
8:39 am

Catlady,
I have been following Rhee since her meteoric rise, and have found her laughable, but dangerous. Duncan? Test more! Funding based on competitive grants! Read “A Blueprint for Reform.” Competitive grants for funding over and over and over. All, of course,based on test scores.

Bill Gates is another I’d ask to sit down.

Struggling Teacher

June 11th, 2011
8:47 am

I_teach – I agree with the overtesting. I especially agree with the abuse of special needs children being placed in regular classrooms and forced to sit through concepts they can never grasp. Not all of us are forensic scientists. Some of us are lawn care providers. There’s need for both in our world.

Dr. John Trotter

June 11th, 2011
8:49 am

@ Cindy and Maureen: Thanks for the video! I put it on my Favorites. I haven’t finished it yet, but, so far, Brother Krashen is right on target. Poverty. Yep. Urban schools. Whatever we want to call it. This is the problem in American public education. I have been harping for years on this mantra: The motivation to learn is a social process or cultural phenomenon. All the testing in the world will not solve this problem, and imposing these stupid tests and the stupid prescriptive curricula on all teachers only worsens the problems in the public schooling process.

How many people know about testing with RTT?

June 11th, 2011
9:00 am

Maureen,
Please shed some light into this issue. RTT Testing will include four benchmark assessments in ELA/Reading and three in Math. These assessments are going to be computer based. Most of the tests will have constructed answers instead of multiple choice. Each school district is going to have to plan for this because it sounds like each student will be taking their exams at the same time. How is that going to work? How much money will we have to invest in a wireless system to make this happen along with laptop computers for each student.

Dr. John Trotter

June 11th, 2011
9:01 am

@ Catlady: Remember when I added Michelle Rhee and Arne Duncan to my constellation of Educational Hypocrites…joining Georgia’s own three biggest Educational Hypocrites, Crawford Lewis, Mark Elgart, and Beverly Hall? This is the starting line-up…Rhee, Duncan, Lewis, Elgart, and Hall. What a starting five! The basketball court is just dripping and slippery with phoniness. When I criticized Arne Duncan a couple of years ago (asking him, What are you going to do with the defiant, lazy, and disruptive students?…in reference to his wanting to re-constitute the failing schools by removing the teachers and the administrators) and Maureen weaved this into one of her Monday articles, this question of mine to Duncan went viral on the internet. Many people were laughing at my rather blunt question or at my moxie to actually ask it, but many were saying, “You know, he’s just telling the truth.” But, the good thing is that with enough research, you can see that Arne Duncan (and, if I recall correctly, President Obama was with him in this news conference) was confronted with the question that I asked. I think that the reporter even referenced me in the question. Hey, it all started on this blog! So watch out!

Maureen Downey

June 11th, 2011
9:10 am

@How many people know, I think those are good questions, and I can see what Decatur is spending as it is already doing the benchmark assessments throughout the year and the kids are doing the assessments on computers. However, not every grade takes the test at the same time so not every kid needs a computer at the exact same moment.
Fot those who have not yet watched the video, Krashen addresses that issue and asks those questions: I do think that we will see all students with their own computers — or computer-like devices — soon. I think we are moving to a time with fewer printed materials (textbooks, workbooks etc) into computer-based learning. Some experts see the smart phone technology as the model: cheaper, hand-held computers, in essence, that every kid will have.
Maureen

BehindEnemyLines

June 11th, 2011
9:17 am

Lemme see here … reduce accountability & direct even more money at those who are the least likely & least willing to seek improvement or contribute anything to society.

Yep, more of the usual tripe from this space, almost never fails to disappoint.

Cindy Lutenbacher

June 11th, 2011
9:35 am

Dear Special Teachers,
My bad! You are right: it’s 70. Please forgive this menopausal brain.
I think my points still hold, yes? Especially my support for libraries and inclusion of pleasure reading in the school day.
I agree that college should not be the be-all/end-all for every kid. That position is complicated by the fact that racism and classism have played and continue to play such potent roles in who was even given the opportunity to go to college. But I also have been reading that only twenty percent of future jobs will require a college degree.
Embracing and supplying educational resources for those who probably should not go to college must be linked to the need to pay living wages for and give societal respect to jobs that are not associated with a college degree.
My suspicion is that such changes in thinking will require a massive revolution in societal values and ways of relating to one another.

teacher&mom

June 11th, 2011
11:02 am

Pumpkin Eater

June 11th, 2011
11:24 am

What about the effect on other students of having some of these resource-draining special ed kids in the general ed classrooms? Sounds great on paper, but in reality, everyone loses. The joke is on the future.

NW GA Math-Science Teacher

June 11th, 2011
12:32 pm

OK, wait! I’m listening to this video and have it paused ‘casue I gotta say stuff on this! I have to check my data again, but I am absolutely sure that we were not “tenth out of 60″ in the PISA mathematics study. That’s simply erroneous data to start the presentation. It colors my perception of everything this expert says henceforward.

OK, I just looked it up: From the raw data, in math we scored 487 mean where Singapore scored 600. that’s number 31 out of 65. Number 23 out of 65 in Science. Number 17 out of 65 in Reading.

Then on to who isn’t a true country in his view: Dr. Krashen, have you been to Singapore? I have. I can tell you it is very much a country, though not on a scale with our own. There is even countryside – with a wonderfully functional monorail system. Too bad for them, someone needs to call and tell them they no longer count.

He specifies some of the smaller countries listed ahead of us, but he missed a few of the really tiny ones – like Germany and Japan. I believe that’s called “spin.” As far as twenty kids in Luxembourg taking the tests, I can find no data in my results discussing number of test takers in the specific countries – is that a solid figure or wholly fabricated for effect?

And then – well it’s terrible how much poverty there is in the US as compared to these other countries. I mean, $20K per year … well, I don’t even know how to begin. In some of these places, including Singapore, there’s true poverty. A friend from India put it this way to me: There you can have a really strong work ethic and do everything you can to find work and support your family and you can still starve to death. Man, they should just get over it and look at the REAL poverty we have here in America!

Now as far as poverty being the entire problem: The only digestion I see in the PISA report is a correlation of reading scores to percent socio-economically disadvantaged (though I’m not sure how solidly they stick to the $20K line) – it only shows an R^2 value of 0.46. That’s not great.

NW GA Math-Science Teacher

June 11th, 2011
1:16 pm

So, I made it through the whole speech. I do, at least, remember more clearly why I got out of the Secondary Education major as an undergrad (I came back through the TAPP program).

Dr Krashen, you are right that poverty is a major barrier to education, but you should present the arguments for that legitimately so that they would have more – well, legitimacy. I react strongly to the advice to folks on how to deal with the poor little poor kids ’cause I was one. The biggest thing always left out is choice. Teach them to choose and to be accountable for their choices. Again, I can hear Ms. Ingle tell me, “you’re poor – get over it! Do you want to be poor and educated or not?” I chose.

So he concludes with “our schools are working just fine.” I guess I have nothing further to add to that…

Private school guy

June 11th, 2011
1:19 pm

Krashen is a hero to school librarians everywhere. He fully understands the fallacy of standardized testing. It’s shameful that Obama who came into power under the mantra of change through Arne Duncan still supports the No Corporation Left Behind premise for improving education that was started under Bush. The formula that I often tell teachers and students is thus “The more you read the better your read, the better you read the more you will read” Increased reading improves vocabulary which is one of the foundations of nearly all testing from the CRCT to the GRE.

Cindy Lutenbacher

June 11th, 2011
1:49 pm

NW GA, Krashen has spent his life in studying, knowing, analyzing research. I suggest you write to him with your question about the PISA math scores. He really is brilliant with analysis, and I know he would gladly e-dialogue with you concerning the different understandings that you and he bring.
Also, I don’t know enough about international educational systems, but it’s my understanding that in many, many countries, education is not universal, so that those taking the tests may well be from more privileged classes. As I said, I’m not an expert on international education, so I could be wrong.

NW GA Math-Science Teacher

June 11th, 2011
2:43 pm

I’m sure there’s an explanation for it all. I should just hush about it and we should trust the education folks to handle this. “Our schools are working just fine.”

catlady

June 11th, 2011
4:34 pm

No, no, no NwGa: Don’t just hush. That is the problem. Too many people making unfounded statements as in the next thread. PLEASE dialogue with Krashen and see how he came up with that and tell the rest of us!!

Dr. T: Agree totally and there is one other in Georgia I’d love to be “checked on” as I suspect her claimed creds are too good to be true. Do you know of whom I am speaking?

And as to your statement about the lazy, defiant, disruptive, et al, I am sure you will be told, “A GOOD, COMPETENT teacher won’t have those problems.” Because we know, of course, that it is all THE TEACHERS’ FAULT that some kids are lazy, defiant, etc. and it screws up the whole class’ achievement.

Jerry Eads

June 11th, 2011
6:13 pm

@Cindy, you are indeed one of the most respected here, but it IS the case that there are some districts that interpreted the state’s recently invoked criminally inept math standards (never to even begin to be confused with curriculum) as requiring to teach special education kids essentially the cognitively unreachable equivalent of quadratic equations. Some of the very best special education teachers I’ve ever known retired rather than be forced to continue to torture their students so.

The state’s budget several years ago for LOW BID minimum competency (so-called “standards-based) testing was something north of 20 million dollars. I am afraid to ask what we waste on it now. We learn a tiny, tiny, tiny bit about AT BEST 2 or 3 percent of our students with such testing – the rest are either too far below the cut point or far enough above to be ignored (the research VERY clearly shows that there’s no point in paying attention to them – it only “pays” to work with the few kids who you might help pass).

I agree with Stephen. While $20-30 million is a tiny drop in the education budget bucket, we also hardly ever count the $ billions spent in wasted teaching time (actually “test prep”) ignoring the vast majority in order to focus on that tiny percentage of students who MIGHT pass whatever low bar is set on the state’s minimum competency tests. DO NOT blame the teachers or even (as tempting as it is) the administrators for this. Blame the state and federal leaders who insist that we close schools and hire and fire teachers and school leaders on the basis of poorly made low bid and grossly inaccurate tests that mandate one-size-fits-all 5th to 15th percentile “standards.”

Jerry Eads

June 11th, 2011
6:15 pm

ps, Maureen, again, NICE job.

Dr. John Trotter

June 11th, 2011
6:22 pm

@ Catlady: Are we talking about Sister Tyson? Hmm.

Joan Kramer

June 11th, 2011
6:51 pm

Dr. K’s speech (and thank you Maureen Downey for giving us the link to the speech) doesn’t say that our education system is perfect and doesn’t need improvement. The real crime here are the political and billionaire “experts” who claim to know what the rest of us need, when in fact all that they are doing is filling their own coffers. They are making tons of money off of testing and privatizing schools, and don’t forget textbooks. No other country where I have lived is doing the same to their own education systems. In fact, the best systems do the opposite as Dr. Krashen has shown us. I would go even further and say that it’s our political and economic system that is to blame — we do not provide for the poor, we jail them. Highly industrialized countries provide health care, education, and jobs. We need to join them.

catlady

June 11th, 2011
6:56 pm

Dr. T: No, think farther up in the (state) hire-archy (mistake made on purpose).

Another special ed teacher

June 11th, 2011
7:02 pm

For the special ed teacher that said an MID student would not be in the same class with a student having an IQ of 85, you are wrong. The trend for years has been to place all students of different levels in the same classes and “differentiate” so they can meet the same standards. Unfortunately in high school, not all students can meet all standards even with differentiation. Of course the people telling us to do this haven’t been in a classroom in 20 years either.

teacher&mom

June 11th, 2011
9:22 pm

@Joan Kramer: add to that amount the large sums of money spent on test-prep workbooks, computer software, etc. which promise to “increase” test scores. Most can be purchased with Title I money because the products are “research-based”. Of course, purchasing book or novels for classroom or school libraries is forbidden because they are not research based.

@catlady: hmmm…maybe Erin Hanes?

Cindy Lutenbacher

June 12th, 2011
7:52 am

Joan Kramer, amen. The millionaires and billionaires and the politicians who are in their pockets saw the education budgets across the nation as simply another raw material or untapped resource to loot. But they are very, very good at putting out a message that SOUNDS (I wish this blog could do italics…) reasonable to many people. They are very, very good at buying off potential opposition (such as Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers). They are very, very good at creating systems of power that disempower teachers and parents, making it harder to speak out against this abuse and theft.
I’m not saying Republican, Democrat, or even Independent, for I believe they are all implicated.

Cindy Lutenbacher

June 12th, 2011
8:33 am

@Jerry Eads, special ed teachers who have spoken here, and Lee,
You make an excellent point about the way that kids with special needs (whether they fall above or below the cutoff) are often thrown in with more typical learners, and the teachers are expected to just “deal with it.” In many circumstances, that fact of “dealing” works to the detriment of typical learners. And in many circumstances, this kind of special needs warehousing works to the detriment of the kids with special needs.
Krashen’s speech didn’t try to give answers to every single situation, but rather to put out general principles that make good sense educationally. Given the level of appreciation expressed in this particular day’s blog responses, I suspect that you all see those things, so I’m not trying to, oh I don’t know, defend?
I do think that I responded to Lee’s posting in a bit of a knee-jerk reaction, and I apologize. In earlier blogs, I recall seeing many, many postings that squarely placed blame on special needs kids and the federal legislation that gave our kids the right not to be thrown away. The blame was that “if only teachers didn’t have to deal with THOSE kids, then things would be okay…” Until the dialogue on this date’s blog, I don’t know that I realized how much it hurt to hear that blame.

The hurt comes from at least two sources. One is that no matter how much I fight for my kid, I don’t want her needs to be satisfied at the expense of other children. I remember about three years ago, when my daughter was in second grade, that her mainstream teacher, her special teacher, and I spoke briefly about helping Nikki deal with second grade social studies concepts. The teachers agreed that she needed more individual attention, and I argued against, saying, “But I don’t want to take anything away from the other kids in the class!” The mainstream class teacher smiled and said, “Don’t worry; it won’t. I know how to do this.” And she did (she’s still a goddess in my eyes).

The other part of my hurt (that I can identify, anyway) is just knowing from the inside place how difficult it can be to parent kids with special needs. And I have it GOOD, with a job I love (albeit not a well-paying one), friends who care (I’m a single mom), my 88-year-old mother’s high-energy genetics, and a high level of education. Going down the road of getting what my younger daughter needs has been unbelievably hard, one of the biggest challenges of my life, and it will continue to be for decades to come. I can’t even imagine how hard parenting a kid with special needs must be for parents without my advantages. [I've even written a book about my daughter's second grade year....please, God, let it find a publisher!]
So, when I see blame placed on kids with special needs, their parents, or legislation that has given our kids even an iota of a chance, my heart breaks.
But I do apologize for being over-sensitive about it all. I promise to try to do better.