cover image The Knowledge Gap: The Hidden Cause of America’s Broken Education System—and How to Fix It

The Knowledge Gap: The Hidden Cause of America’s Broken Education System—and How to Fix It

Natalie Wexler. Avery, $27 (336p) ISBN 978-0-7352-1355-5

In this illuminating study of the philosophies and practices of the American education system, education journalist Wexler (The Writing Revolution) argues that low student test scores result from a mistaken emphasis at the elementary level on context-free reading skills and strategies rather than content-rich curricula that give students “a body of knowledge about the world.” Test scores improve and income-related test gaps narrow, Wexler finds, when kids start learning history, science, and social studies in kindergarten. Wexler examines different pieces of the problem, including deficiencies in teacher training (teachers aren’t taught the cognitive psychology of how people learn) and the use of ineffective attempted compromises such as balanced literacy (an approach that attempts to “balance” teaching full-word recognition and phonics). Wexler spends a year inside Washington, D.C., classrooms, observing that skills-based, content-averse lessons actually impede learning, while students tackling content-rich Core Knowledge Language Arts curriculum’s lesson blocks on ancient Mesopotamia, Greek myths, and American history demonstrated enormous vocabularies, high engagement, and the ability to make insightful connections. Wexler presents content-oriented curricula as an obvious remedy that can be embraced by teachers, parents, and administrators who agree that “education is essential if democracy is going to function.” This thought-provoking take on curricular reform is well-supported; it’s less abrasive and perhaps more persuasive than earlier calls for this kind of reform. [em](Aug.) [/em]