The California Reading Revival

Over at the "ELL Advocates" blog, whole language apologist Stephen Krashen makes a lame attempt to poke holes in Sol Stern's recent Fordham report, Too Good to Last: The True Story of Reading First. In particular, he takes issue with Stern's claim that the Golden State's adoption of whole language reading in 1987 led to California's disastrous, bottom of the barrel NAEP performance in 1992. Krashen is right about one point: The '92 NAEP was the first to break out results state-by-state, so it's impossible to know whether California's scores "plummeted," as Stern argues. But then Krashen goes on to make a fool of himself. First, he offers this stunning piece of revisionist history:

Whole language, according to (urban) legend, was introduced by the 1987 Framework committee, which I was a member of. The 1987 Framework committee never mentioned whole language. We recommended that language arts be literature-based, hardly a revolutionary idea. Phonics was never forbidden.

This is ridiculous; of course California adopted whole language reading in 1987. For the definitive history of this episode, see here. Then Krashen goes on to argue:

Of great interest, and rarely noted, is that fact that California still ranks at the bottom of the US. NAEP scores released 2007 show that California is still in the basement, in a virtual tie for last place with Mississippi and Louisiana. Dumping whole language did not improve things.

But if dumping whole language did not improve things, why have the state's African-American fourth graders gained 19 scale-score points on the NAEP since 1992 (equivalent to about a grade and a half) while its Hispanic fourth graders have gained 15 points (more than a grade level)--even while the state received a wave of new Hispanic immigrants during this period? Something has improved things dramatically for these groups of children--and the most likely explanation is the introduction of scientifically-based reading instruction.

Someone should tell Krashen: except among fringe elements, the reading wars are over--and scientifically-based reading instruction won.

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