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NCLB Outrages

Ending poverty, not adding tests, is solution to school woes

The good news is that although our professional organizations still don't 'get' the message, thanks to Stephen Krashen's good efforts, some media is beginning to.

Mercedes Olivera

Tests, tests and more tests won̢۪t fix the problems with our nation̢۪s schools.
More funding would certainly help in an era of widespread state budget deficits.
But the real problem, says Stephen Krashen, is poverty.

That's the message the linguistics and education scholar gave to bilingual educators at the annual conference of the National Association for Bilingual Education. About 3,000 educators attended the event in Dallas this week.

Krashen has a point.

It̢۪s become almost axiomatic these days to talk about America's educational system as "broken." U.S. students do poorly on tests when compared with those in other countries, especially in math and science.

But recent studies also reveal that U.S. students from middle-class families and well-funded schools outscore students in nearly all other countries.

"Our average scores are less than spectacular because the U.S. has the highest percentage of children in poverty of all industrialized countries," said Krashen, professor emeritus at the University of Southern California

"People think that our schools were once very good and that they have declined, and the best way to make them better, as good as they were in the good old days, is 'rigorous' standards and tests to enforce the standards. But the assumptions aren̢۪t true."

Poverty means inadequate nutrition, inadequate health care, exposure to toxic chemicals in the environment and little access to books. All those factors are strongly associated with lower school performance, he said.

"If all of our children had the same advantages middle-class children have, our test scores would be at the top of the world," Krashen said.
He criticized the Obama administration̢۪s move to spend billions on new standards and tests, which he said will do little to improve a child's ability to learn.

"Our children will experience more " he said.
His comments probably fell on receptive ears, said Viviana Hall, a local NABE committee member and a bilingual education/ESL specialist.
"Dr. Krashen began saying this in the 1980s," she said. "He is always pushing everyone to see the need to end poverty. If we were to measure students by social class, we would see poverty is the main reason for the gap in educational scores."

And this affects Latino students more than other groups -- most come from low-income families and now represent the majority of students in Texas public schools, said Rudy Rodríguez, a Denton school board member and retired university education professor.
He says the decline in support for public education by lawmakers, especially in Texas, couldn̢۪t come at a worse time.

Rodríguez said he had become very optimistic in recent years because of a new spirit of support for bilingual education through dual-language programs.

But his optimism was dampened by the billions slashed from public education last summer by the GOP-controlled state Legislature. "We should all be focused on improving -- not slashing -- our public education system," he said. "That's where our future is."

— Mercedes Olivera
Dallas Morning News


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