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Re: One more time...

Posted By: Stephen Krashen on August 22, 2005
Fads, the “downhill slope” and that test from 1895: A response to W. Rost
Stephen Krashen

Re: Whole language and multiculturalism are considered to be”fads” that have caused damage. Not so. There is strong evidence that whole language has been successful, as has bilingual education. Critics are free to disagree with this evidence but are not free to ignore it.

Krashen, S. 1999. Three Arguments Against Whole Language and Why They are Wrong. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.
Krashen, S. 2002. The NRP comparison of whole language and phonics: Ignoring the crucial variable in reading. Talking Points, 13(3): 22-28.
Krashen, S. 1999. Condemned without a Trial: Bogus Arguments Against Bilingual Education. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.
The most recent review of research on bilingual education: Slavin, R. and Cheung, A. 2005. A synthesis of research on language of reading instruction for English language learners. Review of Educational Research 75(2).

Re: “By any measure, educational performance has been in a continual down slope for decades.”

Universities have been complaining about the decline of the quality of incoming students for well over 100 years in the United States.

In 1930, for example, Thomas Biggs of Teachers College concluded that “there has been no respectable achievement even in the subjects offered in the secondary school curricula.” According to Hofstadler (1963), Biggs found that in math, only half the students could find the area of a circle, over half of those who did one year of high-school French could translate “Je n’ai pas parlé a personne”, after a year of ancient history students did not know who Solon was, after a year of American history students could not describe the Monroe Doctrine, and English classes resulted in written English that was “in a large fraction of cases shocking in their evidence of inadequate achievement” (Hofstadler, p. 304).

Hofstadler, R. 1963. Anti-intellectualism in American Life. New York: Vintage Books.

In 1874, Harvard University instituted written entrance examinations, and many (more than half) of the applicants failed. Ten years later, another study yielded the same results which resulted in the establishment of remedial writing classes. As a result of an analysis of essays written in 1894, the Harvard Board of Overseers criticized high school writing teachers for the poor performance of the students. Note that these were the best students in the country attending the best university of its time (James Berlin, cited in “The Role of Prebaccalaureate Programs (AKA Remediation) in the California State University,” (http://www.calstate.edu/AcadSen/Records/Resolutions/2004-2005/2687.shtml)

If we believe all this, our high schools were terrible in 1874 and have been getting even worse ever since. Another interpretation is that there has been no decline in performance, that we have always been expecting too much. For additional evidence against the claim that performance has been declining, see:

Bracey, G. 1997. Setting the Record Straight. Alexandria, Virginia: ASCD
Rothstein, R. 1998. The Way We Were? The Myths and Realities of America’s Student Achievement. New York: Century Foundation.

It is not at all clear that the eighth grade exam of 1895 is real. It could be an “urban legend.” For discussion of this possibility, who took the exam if it was real (maybe 10% of the population), and the exam questions, see; http://www.arthurhu.com/index/washtest.htm; http://www.arthurhu.com/2000/06/more1895.txt; http://www.snopes.com/language/document/1895exam.htm.

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 One more time... by William Rost on August 19, 2005
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