[Susan notes: The New York Times printed Stephen Krashen's fine letter, inviting readers to respond. He will respond to the ones they choose on Sunday, July 22. I'm putting mine here, as it was not chosen.
Stephen Krashen hits the nail on the head. Poverty is not an "excuse"; it's an ugly reality for an increasing number of children whose families lead lives of desperation, ignored by the policy makers except when they're using these children's test scores to blame teachers for our economic woes. All this hoopla over snazzier testing is just an enormously expensive distraction to make the public blame teachers rather than the hedge fund managers, bankers, ALEC, and politicians who have put us in this fix.
Where are the newspaper headlines and editorials blaring the shame that we rank 34th out of 35 among "economically advanced countries?" ]
Published in New York Times
The common core standards movement seems to be common sense: Our schools should have similar standards, what students should know at each grade. The movement, however, is based on the false assumption that our schools are broken, that ineffective teaching is the problem and that rigorous standards and tests are necessary to improve things.
The mediocre performance of American students on international tests seems to show that our schools are doing poorly. But students from middle-class homes who attend well-funded schools rank among the best in the world on these tests, which means that teaching is not the problem. The problem is poverty. Our overall scores are unspectacular because so many American children live in poverty (23 percent, ranking us 34th out of 35 "economically advanced countries").
Poverty means inadequate nutrition and health care, and little access to books, all associated with lower school achievement. Addressing those needs will increase achievement and better the lives of millions of children.
How can we pay for this? Reduce testing. The common core, adopted by 45 states, demands an astonishing increase in testing, far more than needed and far more than the already excessive amount required by No Child Left Behind.
No Child Left Behind requires tests in math and reading at the end of the school year in grades 3 to 8 and once in high school. The common core will test more subjects and more grade levels, and adds tests given during the year. There may also be pretests in the fall.
The cost will be enormous. New York City plans to spend over half a billion dollars on technology in schools, primarily so that students can take the electronically delivered national tests.
Research shows that increasing testing does not increase achievement. A better investment is protecting children from the effects of poverty, in feeding the animal, not just weighing it.
The writer is professor emeritus at the University of Southern California Rossier School of Education.
Editors' Note: We invite readers to respond to this letter for the Sunday Dialogue. We plan to publish responses and Mr. Krashen's rejoinder in the Sunday Review. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org