Jul 3, 2012

BOOK: The Knowledge Deficit

The Knowledge Deficit
E.D. Hirsch, Jr.

As I dove into the book, I began to worry because he spoke so much about reading. For the most part, I'm a math teacher. Quickly, though, I realized that his ideas apply to the entire American educational system. As a nation, why are we failing behind? As teachers, why do we seem to spin our wheels? From struggling readers, to standardized tests, to the achievement gap, I think Mr. Hirsch paints a clear picture about the cause of these challenges.

I encourage you to read the book. I do want to copy a couple of things, though.

"The idea that reading skill is largely a set of general-purpose maneuvers that can be applied to any and all texts in one of the main barriers to our students' achievement in reading. It leads to activities that are deadening for agile and eager minds, and it carries big opportunity costs. These activities actually slow down the acquisition of true reading skill. They take up time that could be devoted to gaining general knowledge, which is the central requisite for high reading skill (14). 

"At the youngest ages, two through seven, long before children can read as well as they can listen, progress in language occurs chiefly through listening and talking, not through reading and writing" (27). 

"It is intuitively obvious that any limit on children's ability to understand a text that is being read aloud to them usually limits their ability to understand that same text when they read it by themselves. Yet this obvious connection has not been adequately exploited in early reading materials and programs, which take such a formalistic view of reading comprehension that they neglect the systematic expansion of children's general knowledge and accompanying vocabulary" (28).

"We now know that the relevant background knowledge needed for reading comprehension must be domain-specific in order to enable the reader to form an adequate situation model" (43).

"There is little scientific reason to expect that expertise in reading can be more quickly and effectively learned through the explicit methods employed in these reading programs, or that the 'metacognitive strategies' used by experts are abstract, transferable abilities that can be detached from substantive knowledge of the subject matter of the text. We know from large-scale studies that these now universally applied methods do not work" (47).

"When James Coleman, the great sociologist of education, analyzed the school characteristics that had the greatest impact of educational achievement and equity, he found that effective use of time was a chief factor. Most importantly was 'intensity,' a persistent, goal-directed focus on academics that caused classroom time to be used productively. Schools with greater academic intensity produced not only greater learning but also great equity. Such good schools not only raise achievement generally but also narrow the achievement gap between demographic groups" (86).

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