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[Susan notes: Although this is an older letter, the model holds up. Krashen rebuts the editorialist with facts, not just opinions.]

Published in Los Angeles Times

Don't Rely on a Biased Report

The Times editorial on August 28 ("Poverty is no excuse") accepts a Heritage Foundation Report on high-performing high-poverty schools as fact. The Heritage Foundation is a conservative think tank, "whose mission is to formulate and promote conservative public policies" (from www.heritage.org). It has, in other words, a clear bias and an openly stated conservative agenda. The Times needs to consider other points of view.

A good start would be the response to the Heritage Report, "No excuses, lots of reasons," published by the Education Policy Project (www.uwm.edu/Dept/CERIA). The authors of this report argue that the high-performing high-poverty schools that the Heritage Foundation reports on often had substantial supplementary sources of funding, and that data on poverty levels, test scores, and staffing is incomplete.

It should also be pointed out that the Bennett-Kew school, praised by the Times as a high-performing low-poverty school, has a policy of retaining low achieving kindergarten children for an extra year. According to an article in the Santa Cruz Sentinel on February 9, 2000, 18% of Bennett-Kew first graders are in this category and attend a special all-day "junior first" program "designed to shore up their basic skills." Exam preparation is intense at Bennett-Kew. Bennett-Kew children, according to the Sentinal, are tested constantly on small-scale versions of the fill-in-the-bubble standardized exams. One wonders if they are really increasing the temperature in the room, or simply lighting a match under the thermometer.

The Education Policy Project critique also notes that most of the schools studied by the Heritage Foundation do not extend beyond grade six. This is true of Bennett-Kew and is of concern. Scores in Bennett-Kew drop regularly with each year. Second graders in 1998 scored 60 on SAT9 reading, then fell to 58 the next year, and to 52 the next. Third graders in 1998 also scored 60 on SAT9 reading, and fell to 57 the next year and 49 the next. This pattern is true for all of Bennett-Kew's test results since the SAT9 was introduced.

Stephen Krashen
Professor of Education
University of Southern California

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