Starbucks, ONE OF THE MOST FAMOUS LANGUAGE THEORISTS shouldn’t be so hastily ignored….

[Susan Ohanian notes: Here is a perfect example of how corporate America is unable to hear anything other than the usual corporate message.]

Submitted to Starbucks but not published
Dear Starbucks:

I just published a paper “Keep Your Brain Young: Read, Be Bilingual, Drink Coffee” in Language Magazine, October, 2010.Would you like a copy? Please let me know.

Hello Stephen,

Thank you for contacting Starbucks Coffee Company.

We sincerely appreciate your interest in Starbucks and your desire to present

your published a paper “Keep Your Brain Young: Read, Be Bilingual, Drink Coffee”. Unfortunately, at this time we do not accept unsolicited business ideas or proposals and we are unable to respond to requests to link to third party Web sites.

Thank you again for your interest in Starbucks.


Luisa M

Dear Luisa,

This wasn’t a business idea or proposal. Just thought Starbucks would be interested in knowing what the research says about drinking coffee, along with other means of delaying dementia. I offered to send you a copy. That’s it.

That’s all.

PS I am writing this from a Starbucks.

— Stephen Krashen, PhD, Prof. Emeritus, USC

About eslkevin

I am a peace educator who has taken time to teach and work in countries such as the USA, Germany, Japan, Nicaragua, Mexico, the UAE, Kuwait, Oman over the past 4 decades.
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5 Responses to Starbucks, ONE OF THE MOST FAMOUS LANGUAGE THEORISTS shouldn’t be so hastily ignored….

  1. eslkevin says:

    [Susan notes: Excellent letters that speak specifically to poverty.]

    Published in The Independent (UK)
    To the editor

    Letters to the editor published in the Independent (UK), Dec 14 in reaction to Britain’s low scores on the PISA.

    The first blames the “truculent laziness” of underclass children. The second (mine) blames poverty. The third says the Chinese do well on tests but are not creative. The fourth says we need better teachers and smaller classes and repeats the mantra that young people these days are illiterate and can’t do simple math.

    As usual, I included research citations with my letter. I assume the others didn’t, and that the editor thought their arguments were reasonable enough for publication.

    The overall heading for all four letters is unfortunate: “Children who defy teaching,” implicitly agreeing with the author of the first letter.

    Children who defy teaching

    It is worrying that Britain’s performance in education is falling relative to that of other countries, (“British schools slump in global league table”, 8 December).

    Look at those countries that come highest in the table. In their schools, lessons are more formal and regimented but discipline is excellent. In Britain, we are reluctant to talk about an “underclass” but we have a stratum of society in which income (wage or benefit) is low and the upbringing of children chaotic. These children are doomed from the moment they walk into school if not, indeed, from the moment that they are born.

    The report suggests that the level of achievement in English and maths of the bottom 20 per cent is sufficiently low as to limit their chances of gaining employment. This is not strictly true. I have taught many pupils of very limited ability who have good personal qualities, have drawn fulsome praise whilst on work experience and have gone on to find employment. When, however, limited ability is allied with a truculent laziness and aggressive “yobbishness”, then their employment prospects are bleak.

    The Government has little doubt where the fault for educational failure lies. Ofsted inspections are based on the principle that any child, no matter how wild, will respond with enthusiasm if only the quality of the teaching is good enough. We need to end this fiction and tackle the problem of the “underclass” in a determined manner. If we can succeed in this then improved educational performance will be just one of the benefits that society will reap.

    Stephen Shaw, Nottingham

    American scores on an international test of reading (the PISA) show exactly the same thing that UK scores show: children of poverty don’t read very well. American students in schools with few children of poverty scored near the top of the world, those in schools with mostly high-poverty children scored near the bottom of all countries tested.

    Similar to the UK results, our research also shows that middle-class English language learners often do better on reading tests than children of poverty who speak English as a first language.

    The research tells us why: studies done world-wide show that high poverty means less access to books at home, in school and in the community. This results in less reading, and less reading means lower performance on reading tests.

    A necessary part of the solution: more support for libraries and librarians in high-poverty areas.

    Stephen Krashen, Los Angeles

    — Stephen Krashen and Stephen Shaw

  2. eslkevin says:


    [Susan notes: Also read Why I’m Afraid The Gates Foundation Might Be Minimizing Great Tools For Helping Teachers Improve Their Craft on this topic.

    Gates isn’t reinventing the wheel; he’s providing it with a flat tire. As one writer accurately points out: Gates’ method has these videos “evaluated by strangers using some arcane point system.”]

    Published in New York Times
    To the editor

    Re “Teacher Ratings Get New Look, Pushed by a Very Rich Observer” (front page, Dec. 4), about the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s project to expand the use of video to rate teachers:

    It is naïve to think that a “cottage industry,” in which “retired principals, or even expert teachers” score thousands of hours of teacher videos, will improve teaching.

    The real problem is the lack of collaboration between novice and expert teachers. For example, we don’t expect coaches to work at a distance, rating their athletes. There is a relationship between coach and athlete, and trust that the feedback will improve the athlete’s performance.

    Why would anyone think that scoring a teacher’s performance in isolation would be sufficient for improvement?

    Susan C. Styer

    Aurora, Ill., Dec. 4, 2010

    The writer is the curriculum and assessment leader for science at the Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy.

    To the Editor:

    In 1972, at the University of Buffalo, I was fortunate to be part of a select group of young women who spent their entire senior year teaching kindergarten through sixth grade. We then analyzed videos of our lessons with a Ph.D. candidate. It was a profound and enlightening experience that proved invaluable in shaping my career.

    Now, 38 years later, Bill Gates has reinvented the wheel.

    Jane Lombardi

    Hempstead, N.Y., Dec. 4, 2010

    To the Editor:

    Have the big brains or big money investing millions of dollars to develop new measurements of classroom results thought about investing the same amounts to reduce class size? We already know that lower class size results in more effective teaching and improved learning. Rating teachers who have oversized classes is fruitless.

    Miriam Goldstein

    Belle Harbor, Queens, Dec. 4, 2010

    To the Editor:

    New methods of rating teachers and the finding that most teachers are scoring better than was expected are not news to many in the education field. The recording of lessons by new teachers, with critiques by experienced subject matter teachers from other districts, was standard practice in Connecticut when I was teaching in the 1990s.

    This process was primarily intended to help young instructors improve their techniques, but also to offer school districts information before granting tenure.

    That this method is now being fostered by Bill Gates’s foundation satisfies the longstanding demand of professionals — new and experienced — to have access to peer review, in order to improve their teaching in a way that is supportive rather than threatening.

    Pauline Dyson

    Williamsville, N.Y., Dec. 5, 2010

    The writer is a retired teacher.

    To the Editor:

    Teaching is an important job, but so is being a surgeon or a lawyer or a chief executive on Wall Street. Can you imagine those professionals having their every move monitored by video cameras and evaluated by strangers using some arcane point system? It would seem shockingly invasive and demeaning.

    I wonder if Bill Gates would ever consider treating them with such disrespect.

    Despite the presumed good intentions, Mr. Gates’s program reveals the kind of prejudice about teachers that pervades almost every conversation on the topic. We have come to diminish the stature of teachers while simultaneously believing that they have the most important jobs in the world.

    Teachers deserve to be evaluated by people who understand and can observe firsthand the complex, subtle messiness of classroom interactions. Good teachers have the interpersonal magic that excites and elevates the human spirit of their students in a way that cannot be reduced to points.

    Dehumanizing teaching, as this program will most certainly do, is not the way to improve education.

    Larry Geni

    Evanston, Ill., Dec. 4, 2010

    The writer was a high school physics teacher.

    To the Editor:

    I was disappointed that your article about teacher evaluations gave little attention to how classroom videos will be scored and who will score them.

    Thomas J. Kane, the Harvard economist leading the video project, envisions videos being taken in millions of classrooms. Does he really think there will be enough “retired principals, or even expert teachers” out there who are willing to score them?

    Catherine A. McClellan, a director for the Educational Testing Service working on the Gates project, said she plans to train hundreds of educators to score video lessons.

    Yet E.T.S. and other test-scoring companies have been known to label the low-paid, poorly trained temporary workers whom they hire to score standardized tests as “professionals.”

    I spent the last three years scoring tests, and I have seen the process at work. I think a healthy dose of suspicion is necessary, to say the least.

    Dan DiMaggio

    Minneapolis, Dec. 5, 2010

    The writer is the author of “The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Test Scorer,” an article in the December 2010 issue of Monthly Review.

    — multiple authors

  3. eslkevin says:

    [Susan notes: ]

    Published in New York Times
    To the editor

    Yahoo! At last, an item in the Times acknowledging poverty.

    Kudos to Krashen!

    Thomas L. Friedman notes that in countries like Denmark and Finland that

    outperform the United States in education, teachers graduate in the top

    one-third of their classes.

    But there is another explanation for why the United States lags behind: poverty.

    The percentage of children living in poverty in Denmark and Finland is under 3

    percent. In the United States the percentage is 21.

    Poverty means poor nutrition, substandard health care, environmental toxins and

    little access to books, all of which have a strong negative effect on school


    Middle-class American children attending well-financed schools outscore nearly

    all other countries. But our overall scores are unspectacular because we have

    such a high percentage of children living in poverty.

    Increasing pressure on teachers and parents will not significantly improve

    achievement, but if we can protect children from the effects of poverty,

    American tests scores will be at the top of the world.

    The writer is professor emeritus at the University of Southern California

    Rossier School of Education.

    — Stephen Krashen

  4. eslkevin says:

    ‘Performance Counts’ and other billionaires’ bullshit… Even The New York Times has found that so-called ‘value-added’ teacher rankings are based on what amounts to voodoo science

    George N. Schmidt – December 27, 2010

    After the State of Illinois was treated to a couple of virtually secret hearings on December 16 and December 17, 2010, to rush the so-called “Performance Counts” legislation through the Illinois General Assembly by January 11, to the few people who actually listened to every word given as testimony at the hearings the question was simple: How can anyone believe this bullshit?

    Advance Illinois director Robin Steans (above right) testified on December 16, 2010, before the “School Reform” hearing of the Illinois House of Representatives without any member of the committee challenging her qualifications to speak about complex teacher evaluation procedures that her group was proposing through the “Performance Counts” bill now moving into law in Illinois. Steans’s testimony was not made public and she did not provide it to Substance despite a request, possibly because many of the claims made it it have been disproven by actual research. With Steans above are two representatives who spoke on behalf of a group called “Stand for Children”, which didn’t even have an office in Illinois when it contributed more than $600,000 to candidates (including two members of the “School Reform Committee”, Keith Farnham — $50,000 — and Jehan Gordon — $100,000) during the five weeks before the November 2, 2010 elections. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.While virtually every professional educator and experienced community organizer devoted hours trying to remind the eight members of the hastily appointed “School Reform Committee” of the Illinois House of Representatives that it was not possible to do “Performance” evaluations of teachers based on dubious test score data, a handful of highly paid staff members with almost no teaching or training in education or research was allowed to parade unchallenged before the committee and peddle what would be recognized as statistical and scientific nonsense were it not for the fact that the two groups providing the support of the “Performance Counts” legislation are bankrolled to the tune of several million dollars by some of the wealthiest people in the Chicago area and the USA, and they have already shoveled an unprecedented amount of money into Illinois politics.

    During the testimony of witnesses on “School Reform” from groups called “Advance Illinois” and “Stand for Children,” the members of the “School Reform” committee virtually purred in agreement with the wealthy speakers. Virtually no critical questions were asked either about the qualifications of the Advance Illinois and Stand for Children crowd or the validity of the supposed “data” that they and their few supporters from elsewhere sprayed around during their talks.

    The assumption from the beginning was that “Performance Counts” was a done deal for Illinois, and everyone who was skeptical about it was supposed to sit down and cow because the committee — and the promise to railroad through the legislation — were the darlings of House Speaker Michael Madigan, the Chicago Democrat who has been bashing the Chicago Teachers Union since he helped get the 1995 Amendatory Act passed and bashing public education since long before that.

    Above, three of the members of the Illinois House “School Reform Committee”. Left to right, Keith Farnham, who received a $50,000 campaign contribution from “Stand for Children” a month before the November election, Democratic Representative Linda Chapa La Via, and Republican Representative Roger Eddy. In order to maintain the claim that corporate “school reform” in Illinois is “bipartisan,” Chapa La Via and Eddy are co-chairs of the “School Reform Committee” established following the Stand for Children contributions by House Speaker Michael Madigan. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.Not that it matters in Illinois whether a particularly bad set of ideas has any good reasons behind it. The voters will never get to find out what was said at the hearings, because the House School Reform Committee is not making available a transcript of its hearings, and the only way to get the video is to pay a privatized group called Blueroom for the privilege. Only those who privately taped, transcribed, and studied what was actually said by whom during the hearings would have access to the important activities. The public does not.

    On December 27, 2010, however, the venerable New York Times, often a fan of the latest fads in corporate “school reform”, shocked many of its readers by completely debunking the claims upon which so-called “value added” rankings of teachers are based. And the Times is simply catching up with all the credible research on the same topic. Conclusion, for anyone paying attention to both the fine print and the large-scale details: Value added is bullshit as a way of measuring schools, classrooms, and the teachers in them.

    NEW YORK TIMES ARTICLE OF DECEMBER 27, 2010, On Line posted December 26, 2010, published on Page One of the national edition of The New York Times December 27, 2010. Hurdles Emerge in Rising Effort to Rate Teachers, By SHARON OTTERMAN

    For the past three years, Katie Ward and Melanie McIver have worked as a team at Public School 321 in Park Slope, Brooklyn, teaching a fourth-grade class. But on the reports that rank the city’s teachers based on their students’ standardized test scores, Ms. Ward’s name is nowhere to be found.

    “I feel as though I don’t exist,” she said last Monday, looking up from playing a vocabulary game with her students.

    Down the hall, Deirdre Corcoran, a fifth-grade teacher, received a ranking for a year when she was out on child-care leave. In three other classrooms at this highly ranked school, fourth-grade teachers were ranked among the worst in the city at teaching math, even though their students’ average score on the state math exam was close to four, the highest score.

    “If I thought they gave accurate information, I would take them more seriously,” the principal of P.S. 321, Elizabeth Phillips, said about the rankings. “But some of my best teachers have the absolute worst scores,” she said, adding that she had based her assessment of those teachers on “classroom observations, talking to the children and the number of parents begging me to put their kids in their classes.”

    It is becoming common practice nationally to rank teachers for their effectiveness, or value added, a measure that is defined as how much a teacher contributes to student progress on standardized tests. The practice was strongly supported by President Obama’s education grant competition, Race to the Top, and large school districts, including those in Houston, Dallas, Denver, Minneapolis and Washington, have begun to use a form of it.

    But the experience in New York City shows just how difficult it can be to come up with a system that gains acceptance as being fair and accurate. The rankings are based on an algorithm that few other than statisticians can understand, and on tests that the state has said were too narrow and predictable. Most teachers’ scores fall somewhere in a wide range, with perfection statistically impossible. And the system has also suffered from the everyday problems inherent in managing busy urban schools, like the challenge of using old files and computer databases to ensure that the right teachers are matched to the right students.

    All of this was not as important when the teacher rankings were an internal matter that principals could choose to heed or ignore. City officials had pledged to the teachers’ union that the rankings would not be used in the evaluation of teachers and that they would resist releasing them to the public.

    But over the past several months, the system of teacher rankings has been catapulted to one of the most contentious issues facing the city’s 80,000-member teaching force. A new state law, passed this year to help New York win Race to the Top money, pledges that by 2013, 25 percent of a teacher’s evaluation be based on a value-added system. The city has begun urging principals to consider rankings when deciding whether to grant tenure. And the city now supports the release of the data to the 12 media organizations, including The New York Times, that have requested it.

    The departing schools chancellor, Joel I. Klein, defended the release of the rankings in an e-mail to school staff members, acknowledging that they had limitations but calling them “the fairest systemwide way we have to assess the real impact of teachers on student learning.”

    “For too long,” Mr. Klein wrote, “parents have been left out of the equation, left to pray each year that the teacher greeting their children on the first day of school is truly great, but with no real knowledge of whether that is the case, and with no recourse if it’s not.”

    But the United Federation of Teachers, the city’s teachers’ union, has sued to keep names in the rankings private, arguing that the data is flawed and would result in unnecessary harm to the reputation of teachers. The matter is now before Justice Cynthia Kern of State Supreme Court in Manhattan.

    New York City began ranking teachers in the 2007-8 school year as part of a pilot project intended to improve classroom instruction. The project, which cost $1.3 million, with an additional $2.3 million budgeted over the next 18 months, was expanded in the 2008-9 school year to give rankings to more than 12,000 fourth- through eighth-grade teachers.

    On the second day of the hearings, Robin Steans was joined by Chicago’s R. Eden Martin (center), who chairs the Civic Committee of the Commercial Club. Martin, who authored the disastrous “Renaissance 2010” privatization plan for Mayor Richard M. Daley, insisted that by this year “Performance” of individual teachers and the ban on teacher strikes in Illinois was the best way to implement the latest iteration of what he calls “school reform.” Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.In New York City, a curve dictates that each year 50 percent of teachers will receive “average” rankings, 20 percent each “above average” and “below average,” and 5 percent each “high” and “low.” Teachers get separate rankings for math and English.

    In support of the model, Douglas Staiger, an economics professor at Dartmouth College, cites research showing that if a teacher receives a high-performing score one year, there is a modest likelihood that he or she will receive a high-performing score the following year. The correlation is about 0.3, he said, with 1 being perfect, and 0 being no correlation. This means that about one-third of teachers ranked in the top 25 percent would appear among the top quarter of teachers the next year.

    While that year-to-year link may seem low, in the budding and messy exercise of trying to quantify what makes students learn, it is one of the strongest predictors of future student performance, along with the reduction of class size. That means that, on average, students placed for a year with a high-value-added teacher will do better than those placed with a low-value-added teacher. Dr. Staiger placed the improvement at about three percentile points on a typical standardized test.

    “This information is useful but has to be used with caution,” he said. “It’s that middle ground. It’s not useless, but it’s not perfect.”

    Yet a promising correlation for groups of teachers on the average may be of little help to the individual teacher, who faces, at least for the near future, a notable chance of being misjudged by the ranking system, particularly when it is based on only a few years of scores. One national study published in July by Mathematica Policy Research, conducted for the Department of Education, found that with one year of data, a teacher was likely to be misclassified 35 percent of the time. With three years of data, the error rate was 25 percent. With 10 years of data, the error rate dropped to 12 percent. The city has four years of data.

    The most extensive independent study of New York’s teacher rankings found similar variability. In math, about a quarter of the lowest-ranking teachers in 2007 ended up among the highest-ranking teachers in 2008. In English, most low performers in 2007 did not remain low performers the next year, said Sean P. Corcoran, the author of the study for the Annenberg Institute for School Reform, who is an assistant professor of educational economics at New York University.

    The high margin of error for most scores, something the city refers to as the confidence interval, is another source of uncertainty, Dr. Corcoran said. In math, judging a teacher over three years, the average confidence interval was 34 points, meaning a city teacher who was ranked in the 63rd percentile actually had a score anywhere between the 46th and 80th percentiles, with the 63rd percentile as the most likely score. Even then, the ranking is only 95 percent certain. The result is that half of the city’s ranked teachers were statistically indistinguishable.

    Not all of the outrageous claims against public schools were made by millionaire members of corporate school reform groups. On the first day of the hearing, Chicago’s “Chief Human Capital Officer” Alicia Winckler read from a script that included the claim that only six our of one hundred Chicago 9th graders completes a “four-year college” by age 25. The statement made by Winckler was typical of the Chicago bashing that was taking place during the hearings, but nobody on the “School Reform Committee” asked Winckler her qualifications to speak about public education. At the time of her December 16, 2010 testimony, Winckler had been in office in Chicago precisely one year. Her previous experience had been in corporate America, her most recent job at Sears Holdings. Her qualifications to testify about complex educational questions are nil, but no member of the “School Reform Committee” challenged her credentials or the stories she was repeating. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.“The issue is when you try to take this down to the level of the individual teacher, you get very little information,” Dr. Corcoran said. The only rankings that people can put any stock in, he said, are those that are “consistently high or low,” but even those are imperfect.

    “So if you have a teacher consistently in the top 10 percent,” he said, “the chances are she is doing something right, and a teacher in the bottom 10 percent needs some attention. Everything in between, you really know nothing.”

    In New York, the rankings face an additional set of issues. The state tests on which they were based became, over time, too predictable and easy to pass, and this summer the state began to toughen standards. Daniel Koretz, a Harvard professor whose research helped persuade the state to toughen standards, said that as a result it was impossible to know whether rising scores in a classroom were due to inappropriate test preparation or gains in real learning. Rankings that include the tougher standards will not be available until the next academic year.

    “It would make sense to wait until the problems with the state test are sorted out, because we are going to get it wrong a lot of the time,” Dr. Koretz said.

    City officials defended using the state tests as a basis for the rankings, saying that they remained predictive of other outcomes, like graduation rates. Echoing Dr. Corcoran, the officials said they were most interested in identifying teachers at the extremes. “We have read the studies on it, and it is the best quantitative method that we have,” said John White, a deputy chancellor. “When used in concert with other pieces of information, it can help us judge teacher effectiveness.”

    Beyond the formulas and tests, individual errors — like the one that led Ms. Ward to be left out altogether — have generated controversy. The teachers’ union claims that it has found at least 200 such errors, including teachers’ getting rankings for subjects they did not teach (sometimes they did well, sometimes poorly). Mr. White would not provide an estimate for the error rate, but noted that principals had 18 months to correct mistakes in class lists, starting from when the scores were first distributed.

    Mr. White said on Tuesday that before the next round of rankings was released, teachers would be able to review class lists to verify which students they taught, a practice that generally did not happen in the past. Douglas N. Harris, an economist affiliated with the center at the University of Wisconsin that produces the city’s rankings, called the science behind them promising, and said that they had jump-started a wider effort to come up with better measures of teacher performance, which was long overdue.

    But Dr. Harris urged caution in reading too much into the early crop of rankings, and added, “As a general rule, you should be worried when the people who are producing something are the ones who are most worried about using it.”

    December 27, 2010 at 4:40 PM

    By: Kathy Jacobs
    It’s not personal, Sonny. It’s strictly business.

    In an NPR article by Larry Abramson about cookie cutting great teachers (“Watch Again: Helping Teachers Improve Via Video”) the Gates Foundation is once more purporting to philanthropically assist teachers. In Memphis teachers have volunteered to be videotaped as part of the foundation’s Measures of Effective Teaching (MET) program. Supposedly, this clinical approach to improving teaching is the solution we’ve been waiting for. “The video is sent to researchers off-site who will never speak with the teachers they are watching. Those analysts will scientifically code the steps that teachers like Davis [one of the teachers participating in the videotaping] use to reach their students.”

    After one finishes singing kum ba yah, one has to continue reading the article where one will find a quote by the District Coordinator of the MET program: “Monica Jordan, who is coordinating the project for the district, says the district sees MET as a pathway to get away from subjective measures of teaching used in the past. She says it could lead to frank advice and a conversation like this for those who don’t measure up: ‘Because we’ve measured you and then we’ve tried to coach you in these ways to get you up that teacher effectiveness continuum, and you haven’t shown progress, we need to have a serious conversation about WHETHER THIS PROFESSION IS A GOOD FIT FOR YOU (caps added).’”

    Not a “good fit” is code for “get the hell out.” It is used by principals who want to bully teachers out of their buildings rather than stand in the dock and spout the idiotic assertions they make on paper to an uncaring Human Resources Department.

    Great teaching is an art. It is not test prep. Its qualities are as unquantifiable as those that make great actors, great surgeons, great mothers, great people. Bill Gates ought to stick to computers and quit trying to build himself a school district.

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