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Answer Sheet
Posted at 10:24 AM ET, 09/25/2011

The LEARN Act’s real effect on literacy

The Literacy Education for All, Results for the Nation Act, or LEARN ACT, was introduced in both houses of Congress earlier this year with the aim of providing federal funds to support state and local literacy programs.

Supporters argue that passage of the legislation would be an important step in the country’s literacy policy. Opponents say there is no evidence that the $12 billion proposal will work and plenty that it won’t.

I published a post in May expressing opposition to the legislation, by linguist Stephen Krashen, professor emeritus at the University of Southern California and an educational researcher and activist in the fields of second language acquisition, bilingual education, and reading. This month Richard M. Long, director of government relations of the International Reading Association, wrote in support of LEARN.

Here again is Krashen, who takes the post written by Long and offers a point-by-point counter-argument. You can read more of Krashen on literacy at his website.

By Stephen Krashen

Here are my comments on Richard Long’s defense of the LEARN Act.

RL = Richard Long’s statements

SK = my comment

RL: “Although each has helped some students to learn, none made

systemic changes at and across each grade level for each student.”

SK: No. Each component of LEARN has a disappointing track record.

RL: “Like the current pre-curser program, the Striving Readers Comprehensive Literacy Program, LEARN takes the best elements from earlier programs, adds new knowledge about writing and reading, and requires each state to bring together professionals from a wide array of disciplines and professions to identify needs and present ideas for meeting those needs.”

SK: All previous studies of the impact of Striving Readers have shown weak or no effects. What are the “best elements?” There is no document that presents provides evidence for “the best elements of earlier programs” that I know of. What is the “new knowledge?” Does it include lots of self-selected reading and read-alouds? I hope so, but this certainly isn’t new.

RL: “The resulting state literacy plans, already begun in 46 states (plus the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico), include assessments at all levels that will help instruction and keep the programs on track. Districts then situate their requests for program funding within a coherent state plan, generating the kind of alignment needed for consistent and genuine change.”

SK: In English, this means there will be lots more testing, including lots of interim testing. This is the last thing we need.

RL: “Rather than a piecemeal federal policy, LEARN establishes the centrality of instruction that is aligned across grade levels and across subjects. Extending features of the Striving Readers Comprehensive Literacy program, LEARN emphasizes smooth transitions from early childhood programs to elementary school, elementary school to middle school, and middle to high school.”

SK: In English, this means a national language arts curriculum from K-12, based on a program with an unimpressive track record.

RL: “It provides professional development about literacy and assessment of literacy for teachers in all content areas and for principals who collaborate on building instructional programs based on teacher knowledge and scientific evidence.”

SK: This means to make sure that everybody is trained to do what LEARN says they should do. In previous years, “scientific evidence” meant any study that concluded that heavy phonics is great. Now it will mean any study supporting phonemic awareness, phonics, direct instruction of vocabulary and direct instruction in text structure. (Read the actual LEARN Act, and also my comment on it, on www.sdkrashen.com) Studies showing that phonemic awareness, most phonics, much of vocabulary and nearly all of our competence in text structure are a result of massive reading, no matter how they are done, are not “scientific.”

RL: “In addition, LEARN enables schools to intervene directly when the needs of learners demand even more to make a difference.”

SK: In other words, if it isn’t working, do it harder.

RL: “In short, LEARN is not a souped-up Reading First or Right to Read Program.”

SK: LEARN extends the underlying philosophy of Reading First to all language-arts instruction.

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By  |  10:24 AM ET, 09/25/2011

Categories:  Reading

 
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