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[Susan notes: Here is useful information others can cite.]

Published in New York Times
02/09/2002

It's the Lack of Books, Not Lack of Phonics

California's children have low reading test scores because of lack of access to books, not lack of phonics instruction.

The Times reported that California "dropped phonics" and test scores "plunged." ("California leads chorus ...," Feb. 9). California's fourth graders were last in the US on the national NAEP reading exam in 1992, but this was not due to dropping phonics. The Language Arts framework committee in 1987, which I served on, did not drop phonics, as some claim. We proposed that language arts should be literature-based. This is not controversial, but part of the definition of language arts.

According to Prof. Jeff McQuillan's research, reading scores in California were low before our committee met in 1987. There was no plunge. There is overwhelming evidence that California's low scores are due to a lack of access to books: California has the worst school libraries in the country, is near the bottom of the US in quality of public libraries, and a large number of California's children have few books in their homes. This analysis agrees with studies that show that access to books is closely linked to scores on the national NAEP exam, and that children who read more read better, write better, and have larger vocabularies.

Test scores have risen in California in recent years not because of more phonics. A new test, the SAT9, was introduced in 1998, and test scores are always low when a new test is introduced. They then rise each year until recalibration is necessary. California has shown no improvement on the national NAEP test since intensive phonics was introduced.

The phonics hysteria that has gripped California and the rest of the nation is based on false premises.

Stephen Krashen
Professor of Education
University of Southern California


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