Monday, March 14, 2022


 Most teachers don’t question the idea of trying to teach reading comprehension as a set of discrete skills. It’s simply the water they’ve been swimming in, so universal and taken for granted they don’t even notice it. It’s not about test scores; it’s just the way to teach kids to read. And if kids don’t seem to be getting it, the solution is to double down, through middle school, if necessary. But there’s a conundrum at the heart of these efforts: despite many hours of practice and an enormous expenditure of resources, American students’ reading abilities have shown little improvement over more than twenty years, with about two-thirds of students consistently scoring below the “proficient” level. Most fourth-graders aren’t actually ready to progress from “learning to read” to “reading to learn.” Writing scores are even worse: about three-quarters of eighth- and twelfth-graders score below proficient. International tests have shown that our literacy levels are falling, for both children and adults. “We seem to be declining as other systems improve,” a federal official who oversees the administration of international tests has observed. “There is a lot to be concerned about.”

The stagnation in reading scores isn’t the only distressing feature of the education landscape: many American students lack basic knowledge about the world. On the most recent nationwide test of eighth-graders, only 18 percent scored proficient or above in U.S. history, as did only 23 percent in civics and 27 percent in geography—the lowest scores on national tests in any core subject areas. Even students at well-regarded colleges can display a weak grasp of history and government.

Natalie Wexler, The Knowledge Gap (8-9). [2019] Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

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