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Friendly Amendments

Posted By: Stephen Krashen on August 21, 2005

Some Friendly Amendments
Stephen Krashen

David Berliner is absolutely right about the tremendous impact of poverty. I have some friendly amendments to his argument.

(1) A confirmation of the power of poverty is our recent study in which we found that High SES English learners do as well or better than Low SES native speakers on tests of mathematics and even reading (Krashen and Brown, 2005).
(2) Concerning the idea that there are exceptions, those who made it despite poverty, there may be fewer cases than we think. Ed Trust claimed to have found quite a few high-poverty schools that did well. But they classified a school as high-performing if students in ANY grade scored in the upper third of the schools in its own state in EITHER math or reading. Thus, a good performance by one grade level (in some schools only one classroom) on one test could have qualified a school as "high performing." If we require three grades to be in the upper third, the number of high performing schools drops considerably. In California, it drops from 355 schools to four schools, which included one magnet school. The three other schools had a total combined enrollment of 391 students. (Krashen, 2002).
(3) It has been claimed that certain high-poverty groups succeed, and do so because of hard-work and grim determination. Specifically the Vietnamese boat people and the Hmong are champions in doing homework and do well in school, getting high grades. A closer analysis suggests that the performance of the Vietnamese students was not as high as reported; moreover, it is not clear that those studied were low SES. The Hmong are clearly high-poverty and do get good grades, but do not perform well on standardized tests, which suggests that hard study may result in higher grades, but not necessarily higher competence (Krashen, 2005)
(4) Several respondents asked Prof. Berliner for practical suggestions. Here is one. Improve library quality. Many studies confirm that greater access to books results in more reading for pleasure, and more pleasure reading results in more literacy development as well as more knowledge (Krashen, 2004). Studies also confirm that children of poverty have very little access to books at home, in their neighborhoods (inferior public libraries), and, sadly, at school (inferior school and classroom libraries) (Smith, Constantino and Krashen, 1996; Di Loreto and Tse, 1999; Neuman and Celano, 2001). Increasing the supply of books and providing time to read can have a dramatic impact on literacy development. It is one aspect of poverty that we can deal with promptly and easily.

Di Loreto, C., and L. Tse, L. 1999. Seeing is believing: Disparity in books in two Los Angeles area public libraries. School Library Quarterly 17(3): 31-36.
Krashen, S. 2002. Donít trust Ed Trust. Substance 27 (6): 3.
Krashen, S. 2004. The Power of Reading. Heinemann Publishing Company
Krashen, S. 2005. The hard work hypothesis: Is doing your homework enough to overcome the effects of poverty? Multicultural Education 12(4): 16-19.
Krashen, S. and Brown, C.L. 2005. The ameliorating effects of high socioeconomic status: A secondary analysis. Bilingual Research Journal 29(1): 185-196.
Neuman, S., and D. Celano. 2001. Access to print in low-income and middle-income communities. Reading Research Quarterly 36(1): 8-26.
Smith, C., R. Constantino, and S. Krashen, S. 1996. Differences in print environment for children in Beverly Hills, Compton and Watts. Emergency Librarian 24(4): 4-5.
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 Friendly Amendments by Stephen Krashen on August 21, 2005
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