Tuesday, December 14, 2010

How to fix education and schools

How to "fix things fast" in education: Support libraries and librarians
Sent to TIME Magazine, Dec 14, 2010

TIME's report that the US "lags behind" countries like Finland and South Korea" 
on the PISA reading test ("In school, China on the rise," Dec 20), and TIME's 
positive evaluation of the film Waiting for Superman (The Best Movies of 2010, 
Dec. 20), leads to the conclusion that there is something seriously wrong with 
American education and that "we have to fix things fast." A closer look at the 
data shows that what is wrong is our unacceptably high rate of child poverty.

Poverty had a huge impact on American PISA reading test scores. American 
students in schools with less than 10% of students on free and reduced lunch 
averaged 551, higher than the overall average of any of the 34 member countries 
of the OECD (Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development).  Those in 
schools with 10 to 25% of students qualifying for free and reduced lunch 
averaged 527. Among the OECD countries, only Korea and Finland did better.

In contrast, American students in schools with 75% of more of children in 
poverty averaged 446, second to last among the 34 OECD countries. 

Our overall scores are less impressive because we have one of the highest rates 
of child poverty among all the countries tested. According to a 2005 UNICEF 
report, the US has a child poverty rate of over 21.9%; in contrast, the rate in 
high-scoring Finland is only 2.8%. 

Among other things, high poverty means less access to books at school, at home 
and in the community. Less access to books means less reading, and less reading 
means lower performance on tests such as the PISA.  

What all this means is that our first priority should be to protect children 
against the effects of poverty, including making sure all children have access 
to reading material. And the obvious way to do this is to support school and 
public libraries and school librarians. 

The PISA report confirms this: Reading fiction for enjoyment and on-line reading 
were associated with higher PISA reading scores across all countries tested.

Stephen Krashen

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