Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Krashen's Concerns about Scholastic Reading Report

The talk on the Texas school librarians' listserv for the past couple of days has been about Scholastic's latest "research" about kids' reading habits and opinions. Today, Ty Burns posted Stephen Krashen's June 20th post to the ALA forum about his concerns with the Scholastic study. (see below)

It seems to me that just about any "research" on young people's reading habits that is funded and carried out by one of the most powerful publishing companies in the field of children's literature should be accepted with skepticism. Thank you Dr. Krashen, for helping clarify some of the questionable points contained in the Scholastic study!

From: Stephen Krashen
To: aaslforum@ala.org
Date: Fri, 20 Jun 2008 13:13:34 -0700 (PDT)
Subject: [aaslforum] Scholastic researchers need to read more
The Scholastic 2008 Kids and Family Reading Report: Why Scholastic's Researchers Need to Read More
Stephen Krashen
www.elladvocates.org/blog
June 18, 2008

Scholastic recently released a survey on how much and what children are reading these days, interviewing 501 children, ages 5 to 17, and their parents or guardians from 25 cities (Scholastic, 2008).

As is often the case, the Scholastic report was sent to newspaper reporters before it was released to the public. In other words, scholars had no chance to read it (or as they say these days, to vet it) before descriptions appeared in the press.

This is in stark contrast to the way scientific knowledge has been traditionally disseminated: Research is first submitted to professional journals, and will only be published if it passes review by other scholars. The reviewers make sure the study is done correctly, and that there is a full and competent review of previous research in the area, so that readers can determine how the results relate to previous research. Acceptance of the report can take several months, and it could be a year until the paper appears in print. At first, it is read only by professionals, those who read the journals, who often debate the results and may attempt to replicate the study.

In the field of educational research, all this has changed. Non-academic organizations (think tanks, government agencies, and private companies) with large budgets now produce their version of research, and utilize public relations avenues to send the report immediately to the media. Scholars can only read these reports well after descriptions have appeared in the media, descriptions written by reporters who may or may not have specialized knowledge, who are often unaware of other research in the area, and who nearly always have deadlines to meet. By the time the real experts read the report, it is already old news, the results have already been widely disseminated, and often stimulate important policy changes.

When the cold fusion report was released to the media before being submitted to review by other scientists, the researchers were widely criticized. When this happens in education, there are no complaints. In fact, what happens in education is worse: The studies are now given to the media before scholars can see them, and reporters are not allowed to share them until they are officially released (they are "embargoed"). In the case of cold fusion, scientists got the information at the same time reporters did.

This was the case with the Scholastic report on reading. Not surprisingly, different media reports said different things about it. Some reporters interpreted the findings as showing that reading is on a decline, e.g. WSB radio in Atlanta posted an article with the title, "Fewer kids reading for fun," and the Desert Sun in California ran the headline "Kids don't read for fun." But the School Library Journal headline was "Kids still wild about books."

Actually, it is impossible to draw any real conclusions from the Scholastic report about whether children are reading more or less than they used to. The problem is that those who wrote the survey questions did it in such a way that it is impossible to compare the results with those done years ago. The Gold Standard of surveys is the NAEP (National Assessment of Educational Progress). Unfortunately, Scholastic and NAEP asked different questions and categorized children into age groups in different ways.

For example, Scholastic asked children if they read "never, once a year, more than once a year, once a month, 2 to 3 times a month, once a week, 2 to 3 times a week, 4 to 6 times a week, every day." NAEP asked if they read "never or hardly ever, a few times a year, once or twice a month, once or twice a week, almost every day."

Scholastic divided age categories into ages 5-8, 9-11, 12-14, and 15-17. NAEP only asked questions of nine, 13, and 17 year olds.

To analyze the amount of reading among the age groups, Scholastic presented the data in terms of type of reading done (books, comics, magazines, newspapers). NAEP only asked about "reading for fun." A comparison could not be made because many readers in the Scholastic study read more than one genre, but this information was not included.

(For a summary of recent NAEP results, see Iyengar and Ball, 2007.)

There is, however, some important data in the Scholastic report.

Children read a lot

Even though we cannot compare reading today and reading in previous years, nor can we compare younger and older readers, for reasons outlined above, it is clear that the data shows that young people are doing a lot of reading: About 2/3 reported that they read at least two to three days a week. (Oddly, Scholastic categorizes those reading four to six times a week as "moderate" readers, reserving the "high frequency" reader category for those who said they read every day).

Children respect readers

Only 9% said that the reason they didn't read more was that "reading is not cool." This agrees with our recent results: Only 7% of our sample of over 2000 children in grades 4 to 6 disagreed with the statement: " People I know who read a lot are interesting and fun" and 56% were in full agreement with the statement (Schatz, Pierce, Ghalambor, and Krashen, in press).

Poor reading competence not a barrier

When asked why they do not read more for fun, only 9% of the sample said it was because "I don't read that well." Even for the youngest group, ages 5 to 8, only 13% said this was the reason they didn't read more. This runs counter to the current wisdom that proclaims we have a literacy crisis due to children's low reading ability.

Few children dislike reading

Only 15% of the Scholastic sample said that the reason they don't read more is that they don't like to read. This also agrees with our findings: We found only 10% of our sample chose "not very much" in response to the statement "I like to read" (Schatz et. al., in press; see also Schatz and Krashen, 2006). This also runs counter to current wisdom that proclaims that children need to be bribed to read, i.e. reward systems.

The importance of self-selection

Scholastic reported that 89% of the young readers agreed that their favorite books were the ones they chose themselves. This result was consistent across all age groups and gender. The positive impact of self-selection on literacy development has been demonstrated in the research literature (e.g. Lee, 2007).

A lot of children use the internet

Scholastic reported that 79% of their sample said they used the internet and even 53% of the youngest group, ages 5 to 8, said they used the internet. This agrees with a great deal of research (reviewed in Krashen, 2007).

More internet use, more reading

Scholastic also reported that high frequency users of the internet were more likely to be high frequency readers (but see above for Scholastic's definition of high frequency reader), and were slightly more likely to have read a non-required book, magazine, comic or newspaper than low frequency internet users. Also, 37% of the entire sample said they used the internet to find a book in a series they were interested in, and 10% said they wrote an on-line review of a book they read. The relationship between internet use and reading has been studied extensively, with several studies confirming that more internet use is related to more reading, and in improvement in reading (research reviewed in Krashen, 2007).

No mention of the core problem

As is the case with all surveys of this kind, there was no mention of the core problem in literacy: Access to books for children of poverty. The Scholastic report tells us only that 47% of the children came from families earning under $53,000. Research tells us that children of poverty have far less access to books and other reading material than other children: They live in neighborhoods with inferior school libraries and fewer bookstores, and have access to fewer books in school, because of inferior classroom and school libraries (Krashen. 2004). We would expect children of poverty to have the most trouble finding interesting reading, but this kind of analysis, easy to do with the data available in the Scholastic report, was not done.

Scholastic and reading

I find it ironic that Scholastic's website first offers a visual presentation of a summary of the report. Lower down on the page they provide the option of downloading the report and actually reading it.

It is also ironic that Scholastic's researchers, it seems, didn't do much reading: There is no bibliography, no mention of previous surveys or research in this area, and, as noted above, reason to believe that the researchers were unaware of previous work. Clearly, the Scholastic report would not have been accepted by any respectable professional journal in its present form.

Frustration

The Scholastic report has already been distributed widely, and as noted above was available to reporters before scholars could see it. I am hopeful that other scholars familiar with this area of research will review the report and publish their views. Their papers will, however, have a hard time penetrating the public's consciousness. Going the usual route, submission to a professional journal, with its time delay and the fact that only a handful of people will know about and even fewer will read such a paper, is no longer an option. Letters to the editor, always worth trying, are limited in length by newspapers, and only a small percentage are published; in addition, they need to submitted soon after the original report appears, which is nearly impossible to do when the report requires careful reading and analysis.

The internet appears to be the only option. Even if a website has only a modest number of readers, it is possible that those who read a post will pass it along to others, and eventually the paper will be widely disseminated. My hope is that this happens with this paper.


References

Iyengar, Sunil. and Ball, Don. 2007. To Read or Not to Read. Washington, DC: National Endowmnent for the Arts.

Krashen, Stephen. 2004. The Power of Reading. Westport, CI: Libraries Unlimited and Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

Krashen, Stephen. 2007. Free voluntary surfing. International Journal of Foreign Language Teaching, 3(1): 2-9. [ijflt.com]

Lee, Syying. 2007. Revelations from three consecutive studies on extensive reading. RELC Journal 38/2:150–70.

Schatz, Adrienne, Pierce, Kim, Ghalambor, Ken, and Krashen, Stephen.
More on the "Literacy Crisis": Do children like to read? Knowledge Quest (in press).

Schatz, Adrienne and Krashen, Stephen. 2006. Attitudes toward reading in grades 1-6: Some decline in enthusiasm but most enjoy reading. Knowledge Quest 35: 46-48.

Scholastic. 2008 Kids & Family Reading Report. http://www.scholastic.com/aboutscholastic/news/readingreport.htm

1 comment:

Book Bag said...

Perhaps some courses in logical thinking are in order--for the governing entities!