"The whole people must take upon themselves the education of the whole people and be willing to bear the expenses of it. There should not be a district of one mile square, without a school in it, not founded by a charitable individual, but maintained at the public expense of the people themselves." -- John Adams

"No money shall be drawn from the treasury, for the benefit of any religious or theological institution." -- Indiana Constitution Article 1, Section 6.

"If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilisation, it expects what never was and never will be...nor can they be safe with them without information. Where the press is free and every man able to read, all is safe." – Thomas Jefferson

Monday, March 14, 2011

The Horse Isn't Dead

[NOTE: Don't miss the video at the end of this post]

You'd think that after all this time someone would hear what's being said. Stephen Krashen has been hollering it for years...Gerald Bracey before him...and others.
It's the economy, stupid!
That famous statement from the Clinton Campaign is still true today...but not for the reason you might think.

The economy is bad...we all know that. Unemployment is high (but dropping) and the media/politicians/super-rich are doing a good job of pitting one segment of the middle class against another (public workers vs. private worker, for example). The current joke going around the internet is:
"A public union employee, a tea party activist, and a CEO are sitting at a table with a plate of a dozen cookies in the middle of it. The CEO takes 11 of the cookies, turns to the tea partier and says, 'Watch out for that union guy. He wants a piece of your cookie.'"
But the real tragedy in our economy is the approximately 20% (and growing) of our children who live in poverty.

Why are our international test scores so low? Why do we continue to have "failing" schools? It's the poverty, stupid! I'd say this was beating a dead horse, but since nothing has changed, the horse isn't dead yet.

Some recent posts by Stephen Krashen (and dozens of not so recent posts) tell the story.

The most recent, titled, Let's blame (1) teachers (2) schools of education (3) the decline of the US (4) lack of a national education program (5) parents, but not the real culprit: POVERTY, gives us some guidelines for how to address the problem.
...When students are hungry, have serious health problems, and have not read much because of the absence of books in their environment, all the determination, hard work and inspired teaching in the world will be of little use.

A modest proposal:
  • No child left unfed (Susan Ohanian): In addition to free/reduced price lunch, a good breakfast.
  • Better health care: More school nurses in high poverty schools.
  • Improve school and public libraries, especially in high poverty areas.
  • Pay for this by reducing testing (NUT = No unnecessary testing, posted at http://sdkrashen.com/index.php?cat=4)
In response to a teacher blaming parents for low school achievement Krashen wrote Don't blame parents, blame poverty. In it he said,
"...There is, however, no evidence showing that parents today are any less or more committed to their children than in previous decades...

...Instead of forcing often overworked and exhausted parents to do school duties, let's help them out...we must protect children against the effects of poverty by making sure all children have adequate diets, health care, and access to quality libraries.
In response to a Thomas Donlan's editorial in Barron's online, In Search of Excellence Krashen wrote One More Time: It's Poverty and said,
The difference in achievement among states is largely because of poverty. The correlation between the percentage of children in poverty and grade 4 2009 reading NAEP scores is high (r = .52). As Donlan notes, Massachusetts is a high-scoring state: Their NAEP reading score was the highest in the US. But Massachusetts also has one of the lowest rates of child poverty.

Poverty means hunger, malnutrition, lack of medical care, and little access to books, and studies have shown that all of these are related to school achievement. (Krashen, 1999, Martin, 2004, Berliner, 2009).

Research shows that middle-class American children in well-funded schools, who don't have these barriers, score at the top of the world (Payne and Biddle, 1999; Bracey, 2009; Berliner, in press).

...The solution making sure all children have adequate food...medical care, and access to good school and public libraries.
Finally, it's not just Krashen. An estimated 16 million children in the United States live in poverty -- the highest percentage of any industrialized nation. How can children learn when they're hungry? How can they concentrate on reading when they don't know where there next meal is coming from? How can they learn multiplication tables when they witness their parents fighting over money or lack of it? How can they focus on standardized tests when they have to live in their cars and vans? A recent edition of 60 Minutes aired a segment on homeless children in the United States. It's 13 minutes long. It's a MUST SEE!



Listening to the children in this episode of 60 minutes I'm reminded of Charlie Bucket...
And now, very calmly, with that curious wisdom that seems to come so often to small children in times of hardship, he began to make little changes here and there in some of the things he did, so as to save his strength. In the mornings, he left the house ten minutes earlier so that he could walk slowly to school, without ever having to run. He sat quietly in the classroom during recess, resting himself, while the others rushed outdoors and threw snowballs and wrestled in the snow. Everything he did now, he did slowly and carefully, to prevent exhaustion.
Charlie was lucky enough to find a Golden Ticket.
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