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[Susan notes:

Krashen points out what's beneath the glitz of a program purchased with federal dollars.]

Submitted to Fort Worth Star-Telegram but not published

To the editor

The Fort Worth school district is getting federal money to purchase the Imagination Station, software that "educators say" can improve reading ("Schools get money for reading," Feb. 24). It is described as using "dragons, rainbows and games."

Not all educators are enthusiastic. The Imagination Station, despite the dragons and rainbows, is intensive phonics. A close look at the research shows that this approach results in higher test scores only on tests in which children read words out loud, in lists. It has only a microscopic impact on reading comprehension tests given after grade one.

Educators agree that some phonics is helpful, but there are severe limits on how much can be taught and absorbed. Many rules are complex, with numerous exceptions, and different phonics systems teach different rules. Nearly all reading materials for young children contain the basic phonics rules that are really useful, and nearly all children learn them.

What does impact performance on tests of reading comprehension is reading itself: Research consistently shows that those who read more read better. They also write better, spell better, and have larger vocabularies.

The problem is access to books. Children from low-income families have little access to books at home, live in communities with inferior public libraries, and attend schools with inferior school libraries. The Imagination Station costs $100 per child, and the total investment is $500,000. That money should be spent on school libraries.

Stephen Krashen, Emeritus Professor, USC

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