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The untold story of the root cause of America's education crisis--and the seemingly endless cycle of multigenerational poverty.
It was only after years within the education reform movement that Natalie Wexler stumbled across a hidden explanation for our country's frustrating lack of progress when it comes to providing every child with a quality education. The problem wasn't one of the usual scapegoats: lazy teachers, shoddy facilities, lack of accountability. It was something no one was talking about: the elementary school curriculum's intense focus on decontextualized reading comprehension "skills" at the expense of actual knowledge. In the tradition of Dale Russakoff's The Prize and Dana Goldstein's The Teacher Wars, Wexler brings together history, research, and compelling characters to pull back the curtain on this fundamental flaw in our education system--one that fellow reformers, journalists, and policymakers have long overlooked, and of which the general public, including many parents, remains unaware.
But The Knowledge Gap isn't just a story of what schools have gotten so wrong--it also follows innovative educators who are in the process of shedding their deeply ingrained habits, and describes the rewards that have come along: students who are not only excited to learn but are also acquiring the knowledge and vocabulary that will enable them to succeed. If we truly want to fix our education system and unlock the potential of our neediest children, we have no choice but to pay attention.
About the Author
Natalie Wexler is an education journalist whose work has appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Atlantic, and other publications. She is a senior contributor to Forbes.com and the coauthor, with Judith C. Hochman, of The Writing Revolution: A Guide to Advancing Thinking Through Writing in All Subjects and Grades. Before turning to education, Wexler worked as a freelance writer and essayist on a variety of topics, as well as a lawyer and a legal historian.
“Essential reading for teachers, education administrators, and policymakers alike.” —STARRED Library Journal
“Education journalist Wexler mounts a compelling critique of American elementary schools…. An informative analysis of elementary education that highlights pervasive problems.”—Kirkus Reviews
“There's a huge gulf between what teachers believe about how to teach reading and what scientists have found—which is why so many students have continued to struggle despite their teachers' often heroic efforts. The key to success, it turns out, is exactly the thing teachers have been taught to scorn most: knowledge. It's far more important than the supposedly transferable comprehension 'skills' they're trained to focus on. This critical volume, in which Natalie Wexler deftly lays out the case for knowledge, should begin tipping the scales back toward what best serves students of every age and background.”—Doug Lemov, author of Teach Like a Champion 2.0: 62 Techniques that Put Students on the Path to College; co-author of Reading Reconsidered: A Practical Guide to Rigorous Literacy Instruction
“For parents, teachers, and anyone who cares about the potential of education to brighten kids' futures, reading The Knowledge Gap will be an eye-opening experience. Through vivid classroom scenes and stories of would-be reformers, Natalie Wexler exposes a crucial aspect of education that is often overlooked: In most American elementary schools, teachers are not given the training and support they need to provide deep, rich content—about history, social studies, science, language and the world around them. And students, especially vulnerable ones, suffer for it.”—Peg Tyre, author of The Good School: How Smart Parents Get Their Children the Education They Deserve
“The knowledge gap is real, and its effects are profound. This book offers an accurate, engaging, and clear description of the problem and how to solve it. It’s a must-read for educators, parents and policy makers.”—Dr. Judith C. Hochman, founder of The Writing Revolution; co-author, The Writing Revolution: A Guide to Advancing Thinking Through Writing in All Subjects and Grades
"Natalie Wexler has identified a critical factor that has gone missing in public education, and although it sounds counterintuitive, that factor too often is education—foundational knowledge—itself. For more than three decades, reformers and politicians have lashed teaching and learning to accountability and test results in the name of raising expectations for all. The Knowledge Gap boldly argues that in the process, they have underestimated and lost track of what children, particularly in elementary and middle schools, can and must learn in order to achieve."—Dale Russakoff, author of The Prize: Who's in Charge of America's Schools?
“Natalie Wexler adopts multiple perspectives—the scientist, the teacher, the philanthropist, the historian, and others—to offer a comprehensive answer to the simple question ‘Why don’t American students read well?’ This book is smart, important, and a fascinating read.”—Daniel T. Willingham, author of The Reading Mind: A Cognitive Approach to Understanding How the Mind Reads; professor of psychology, University of Virginia
“Using concrete and compelling examples, Natalie Wexler reveals that most American classrooms follow a misguided approach to teaching reading that is especially damaging to students from low-income families. But she also shows that when educators rely on materials backed by research, they can go a long way toward producing the educated citizens we need. For anyone concerned about educational equity and excellence, The Knowledge Gap provides a way to think about both the problem and solutions.”—Karin Chenoweth, author of Schools that Succeed: How Educators Marshal the Power of Systems for Improvement; creator of the ExtraOrdinary Districts podcast
"Natalie Wexler is a powerfully engaging writer, and The Knowledge Gap is a timely and sobering investigation of what is broken in the nation's education system. Artfully weaving together portraits of teachers and students with scientific findings on the learning process, Wexler thoughtfully explores the power of knowledge—and makes a strong case for how and why the nation should harness it to improve outcomes for all students."—Ulrich Boser, author of Learn Better: Mastering the Skills for Success in Life, Business, and School, or How to Become an Expert in Just about Anything
“As a teacher and the leader of a state school system, I have seen the debilitating impact on a child of an education devoid of historical, cultural, and scientific knowledge—and the human potential unleashed when that knowledge is allowed to develop. Natalie Wexler is not the first to boldly raise this issue, but The Knowledge Gap may be the clearest and most cogent telling of a story not told often enough. As an industry, education is often ignorant of its own past and of how the present came to be. Masterfully capturing a complex tale, Wexler shows us that something is wrong, explains how it happened, and reminds us that it doesn’t have to be that way.”—John White, Louisiana State Superintendent of Education
“Using real world examples, Natalie Wexler convincingly affirms the primary responsibility of elementary schools to empower the most disadvantaged students with knowledge of the words and worlds that a society assumes is necessary for human flourishing. She makes a compelling case that depriving students of this core knowledge in the name of teaching ‘skills and strategies’ or embracing the latest educational fads only exacerbates their disadvantage. The Knowledge Gap is a must read for educators genuinely interested in achieving better outcomes for kids.”—Ian Rowe, Chief Executive Officer, Public Prep Network