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NJTESOL/NJBE Fetes Scholarship and Award Winners
Stephen Krashen Throws Down Gauntlet in Keynote

ESL MiniConference reported the NJTESOL/NJBE awards dinner on the first night of a two-day spring conference in Somerset, New Jersey. Here is our exclusive coverage of the lively exchanges at this historic event. Photos by Robb Scott.

On May 16-17, 2002, the NJTESOL/NJBE held their annual spring conference, "Coming Together Through Languages and Literacies." One highlight of the two-day conference was Thursday evening's First Annual Awards Dinner, held at the Double Tree Hotel and Conference Center in Somerset, New Jersey.

The nearly 100 participants enjoyed a delicious three-course dinner, including a choice of either broiled salmon with dill herb sauce or sliced roasted NY sirloin with peppercorn sauce, and chocolate raspberry mousse for dessert. The big treats, however, were the honored guests.

Ana Mistral presents leadership award to David NashNJTESOL and NJBE scholarships of $1000 were awarded to four students who had learned English as a second language, excelled academically and are now embarking on the next stages of their American education at the college and university level. Each scholarship winner spoke in English and in their first languages, expressing their gratitude and determination to continue learning. Family members were also present to witness the event.

NJTESOL/NJBE President Dr. Ana Mistral presented the annual leadership award to David Nash, Assistant Director for Governmental Relations, of the New Jersey Principals and Supervisors Association. David Nash, a featured speaker whose Friday session would outline effective strategies for advocating for the needs of English language learners in today's policy-laden environment focused on educational accountability, was praised for his leadership and advocacy.

Mihri Napoliello receives the Presidential Award plaqueThe NJTESOL/NJBE Presidential Award went to Dr. Mihri Napoliello, a past president of NJTESOL/NJBE, for her contributions in the field of teacher training. Dr. Napoliello was overwhelmed when she arrived at the dinner to find her parents, Mr. and Mrs. De los Reyes, who were born in Cuba, her husband, Ralph, their two children and her sister--currently studying to be an ESL teacher--waiting for her at a table of honor.

The keynote speaker was Dr. Stephen Krashen, whose speech was titled "What's New in Bilingual Education? Five Short Talks." He was introduced by Judith O'Loughlin, an NJTESOL/NJBE past president and the organizer of the awards dinner event. "He's a very strong advocate of bilingual education throughout the United States," said Judy O'Loughlin. "He answers every letter to the editor and he writes articles constantly. And he's been a very big friend to us at New Jersey TESOL/NJBE. I'd like to introduce Dr. Stephen Krashen, Professor Emeritus at the University of Southern California."

Judy O'Loughlin and keynote speaker Steve KrashenDr. Krashen spoke on five key issues on which public opinion and federal policy today run counter to the interests of educators who believe whole language, recreational reading and bilingual education are good for learners of English as a second language.

Dr. Krashen blasted the findings of the Bush administration's National Reading Panel, a committee composed of, in his words, "a chief executive officer of a corporation, a physician, a physicist, about six educational psychologists...and one legitimate educator, Joanne Yatvin, who wrote the minority report."

U.S. Public Schools Receive Their Marching Orders

The findings of the National Reading Panel are the basis of a new Bush education law and also drive the funding priorities of the federal government, said Dr. Krashen. "You cannot get federal money for anything in education unless you show that your work is consistent with the results of the National Reading Panel," he explained, "and it is seriously flawed."

The panel has recommended activities to build "phonemic awareness," the ability to segment and blend phonemes, as a precursor to learning to read, according to Dr. Krashen, who showed that this recommendation--with broad implications for American public education--was based on a single study done with 15 Israeli children learning to read Hebrew as a first language. He reminded the audience that Hebrew is phonetically regular, while English is not. "This is nearly a hoax and a very dangerous one," said Dr. Krashen. "A serious research hypothesis that has so many practical implications, that's changed everyone's life, should be made of much, much sterner stuff...The entire phonemic awareness movement is based on the slimmest evidence." In his opinion, for English speakers and English learners, "phonemic awareness is the result of reading, not the cause of it."

Another major finding of the National Reading Panel is that intensive phonics instruction is more valuable than a whole language approach for developing English language skills. Dr. Krashen said that, based on his analysis of the research studies cited by the panel for this conclusion, if whole language is defined as teaching which "includes a lot of reading," the evidence really shows whole language is better. "Children in whole language classes read better," said Dr. Krashen. "They like reading more, they do more reading on their own and they do better on tests of telling stories." In addition, on tests of pure phonics, there is no difference between children in whole language and those receiving phonics instruction. "So, there's nothing lost," he concluded.

Sustained Silent Reading Gets Short Shrift By Panel

Dr. Krashen was flabbergasted that the National Reading Panel devoted 60 pages in its 600 page study to phonemic awareness, 60 more pages trying to demonstrate the superiority of phonics over whole language and just six pages to sustained silent reading, with the conclusion that "we are unable to determine from the research whether reading silently to oneself helps you learn to read." Does reading for pleasure help children learn to read?, asked Dr. Krashen. "The federal government says it doesn't know."

Dr. Krashen accused the National Reading Panel of not trying hard enough to find research on the effects of sustained silent reading (SSR). "They found 14 comparisons...I found 54, working just a little harder. In 51 cases out of 54, the children in sustained silent reading classes read at least as well or better. And when you look at long-term studies, the children in sustained silent reading studies never were worse, eight out of ten times read better."

Why Does the National Reading Panel Matter?

The reason this point is so important, explained Dr. Krashen, is that the National Reading Panel findings are diverting federal money into phonics and phonemic awareness instruction and away from school libraries, which could offer more books for students to read for pleasure, or "recreational reading."

Stephen Krashen speaks at NYTESOL/NJBE awards dinnerNot only is federal education policy wrongheaded, in Dr. Krashen's view, but public opinion in America has been hijacked by what he refers to as two "urban legends" which influence education decisions at local and state levels. The first urban legend, according to Dr. Krashen, is that when California introduced whole language in 1987, test scores plummeted. This legend has grown out of a 1992 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) test on which California's fourth-graders ranked last in the country, explained Dr. Krashen. "But was there a drop?," he asked. "This is a scandal ten times as outrageous as Watergate. They never looked." According to Dr. Krashen, 1992 was the first time the NAEP scores were analyzed by states, so there was no pre-test. "They assumed that things must have been much better in California before, but they never looked."

One of Dr. Krashen's doctoral students at USC, Jeff McQuillan, has looked at another test that was used in California from 1984 to 1990, the CAP test. According to his data, the scores over that period of time, stretching from before whole language was recommended by a committee (including Dr. Krashen) in 1987 to several years later, did not change. "We had nothing to do with test scores rising or falling," said Dr. Krashen. "They were low well before."

Dr. Krashen signs a book for middle school ESL teacher Elizabeth ParkMcQuillan's research strongly suggests that the reasons for California's entrenched low ranking on tests of educational achievement are related to the extremely limited access to reading material for children there. Dr. Krashen cited some of McQuillan's findings. "In the United States, the average elementary school library has 18 books per child," said Dr. Krashen. "In 1990, we were dead last in the country with 13 books per child...Today, thanks to our two education governors, it is now 11 books per child. Los Angeles Unified? Six books per child."

School librarians are crucial to the development of reading skills, too, according to research by Keith Curry Lance, cited by Dr. Krashen, who pointed out that California lags far behind the U.S. average of 900 students to each school librarian. "In California, when our 'literacy crisis' hit [in 1990]," he explained, "we had one for 5,000, by far the it's one for every 5,300. California spends exactly half of what other states spend on school libraries."

Public libraries in California also underserve the children of the state, said Dr. Krashen, who noted that library budgets have been slashed 30 percent since 1987, with children's services hit the hardest. In addition, according to data from McQuillan's research, California ranks in the bottom ten of the country, on a poverty scale, in terms of homes in which there are fewer than 25 books. "Our children in California are children in poverty," said Dr. Krashen, "where poverty among other things means fewer books."

The Pressure To Validate Political Rhetoric

One clear underlying message in Dr. Krashen's sincere call to arms was that America's young people are ill-served by politically driven rhetoric coupled with tighter education budgets and ever increasing pressures to perform on the latest standardized test. And he quoted his doctoral student, Jeff McQuillan, as praising the only saving grace in the lives of California's students: their teachers. During the past 20 years, McQuillan says, access to books has been low and is constantly getting worse, yet test scores have stayed the same. "That means California's teachers are doing a good job, doing the best they can under very difficult circumstances."

The fifth of Dr. Krashen's five mini-talks dealt with what he called the other "urban legend" which everyone believes is true, that test scores skyrocketed in California after Proposition 227, the Ron Unz initiative to abolish bilingual education. The test in this case is the SAT9, which was introduced in 1998, the year Prop 227 passed. Any rises in test scores in subsequent years, according to Dr. Krashen, are the combined results of natural test score inflation, bogus efforts to increase test scores and, in the unique case of the famous Oceanside district, bizarre forms of bilingual education used prior to passage of 227.

The Danger Ron Unz Poses for New Jersey's Educators

It is important for bilingual educators to really understand what has happened in California, warned Dr. Krashen. "The future of this group, of bilingual education in New Jersey rides on having an answer to this argument," he said, "because Unz is doing very well on his promise to eliminate bilingual education in every state...This is Armageddon."

There are two key aspects of California's Prop 227 experience which the mainstream media has not focused on when reporting the results of this intiative to abolish bilingual education, according to Dr. Krashen. One is that scores on the new SAT9 test went up everywhere in the state, even in districts which hadn't had bilingual programs before 1998 and even in the districts which received waivers to continue using bilingual education.

Oceanside's Spectacular Trajectory Or ...

The second important feature of California's landscape since 1998 has been the national prominence of the Oceanside school district, where SAT9 scores literally did skyrocket following conversion to a no-Spanish, all English immersion approach. Dr. Krashen cited an article in the Washington Post where Oceanside's superintendent Ken Noonan described the kind of bilingual program which existed there before Prop 227. According to Dr. Krashen, Noonan reported that the bilingual program at Oceanside had delayed English for four to five years. "This isn't a bilingual program," said Dr. Krashen. "This is a monolingual Spanish program."

"What we do in bilingual education is we use the first language in a way that facilitates and accelerates second language development," continued Dr. Krashen. "We are committed to English language development and the good bilingual models that we all agree with are ones that introduce ESL right from the very first day." The reason Oceanside had such low scores on the SAT9 the first year, and such higher scores the following, had more to do with the poor quality of their approach to bilingual education than with the elimination of bilingual education, according to Dr. Krashen.

Eyes on the Prize

Oceanside also represents the worst excesses of the test-prep mania which drives school districts in California to compete for cash prizes from the state department of education, according to Dr. Krashen, and to fear elimination if students' test scores don't improve. "Since 227, there has been a phenomenal emphasis on test preparation in the Oceanside district," he said. "Teacher professional days have been reduced--in some cases, eliminated. More focus on English and mathematics, because that's what's tested. We see this all over, where things have been cut back, cut back, to have more test prep."

A stark picture of the California school system was painted in painstaking detail by Steve Krashen in his keynote to New Jersey teachers last Thursday. By his account it is a system where elected officials are pressuring administrators to prove--on the backs of the children--that free reading, whole language and bilingual education were wrong. Where the growth of Ron Unz's nationwide anti-bilingual and any other anti-anything movement is spurred on by every point of improvement on the test that can be squeezed out of California's students, by hook or crook. All this pressure to push scores up by any means is, in Dr. Krashen's words, "like claiming you raised the temperature in the room when all you did was put a match under the thermometer."

Reference links:
Article about the National Reading Panel, by Elaine Garan, in Phi Delta Kappan
Search Education Week archives for Krashen letter about National Reading Panel
Home Page of Kenji Hakuta, of Stanford, who studied SAT9 Results
San Fran Chronicle story about pressure to raise test scores

By Robb Scott

2002 ESL MiniConference Online