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[Susan notes: Steve Krashen makes the excellent point about a serious, permanent solution to the teen literacy problem. Imagine a solution that doesn't blame teens or teachers.]

Published in U. S. News and World Report

To the editor

"A new read on teen literacy"(February 28) exaggerates the high school situation, ignores the real problem in literacy, and also ignores an obvious part of the solution.

Although many American students do not reach the arbitrarily defined "proficient" level on national reading tests, students in the US score quite well in reading when compared to those in other countries. The real problem is that students in high poverty areas have much lower levels of literacy than more privileged students.

Research shows that students who live in high poverty areas have vastly inferior access to books: They have fewer books at home, live in neighborhoods with inferior public libraries, and attend schools with inferior classroom and school libraries. Research has also established that those who have more access to reading material read more, and those who read more, read better.

The first step in any serious campaign to improve literacy in high school students is to make sure that all students have access to interesting, comprehensible texts, and the obvious way to do this is to improve school and public libraries.

If we are interested in a permanent solution, I suggest we invest the 1.5 billion the government is planning to spend on "raising high-school standards and performance" (much of which will be spent on new tests and cash rewards for teachers) in a trust fund, the interest to go to libraries in high-poverty areas.

Stephen Krashen

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