MINDING THE GAP (recent posts)

The College Kids Are Not All Right, June 2, 2024

Reports from professors point to an alarming decline in cognitive capabilities, even at selective institutions.

A Call for an End to Reading Comprehension Instruction, May 22, 2024

A new brief from the Fordham Institute provides a useful primer on flaws in the standard approach.

How to Help Older Students Who Struggle to Read, May 17, 2024

Many students above third grade need help deciphering words with multiple syllables.


D.C. Needs More Than Phonics to Lift Its Students’ Reading Scores, April 16, 2024

Pairing effective phonics instruction with in-depth knowledge-building can narrow achievement gaps that haven’t budged since 1998.


Why Problems With Literacy Instruction Go Beyond Phonics, December 2, 2022

In the aftermath of “Sold a Story,” let’s also look at ways schools are failing students in comprehension and writing.


Why So Many Kids Struggle to Learn, Winter 2022

Teachers continue to be trained in ways that ignore the findings of cognitive science.


How to Show Kids the Joy of Reading, August 2020

Deloris Fowler had seen educational reforms come and go. Then one of them surprised her.

Elementary Education Has Gone Terribly Wrong, August 2019

In the early grades, U.S. schools value reading-comprehension skills over knowledge. The results are devastating, especially for poor kids. …

Why American Students Haven’t Gotten Better at Reading in 20 Years, April 13, 2018

Every two years, education-policy wonks gear up for what has become a time-honored ritual: the release of the Nation’s Report Card. Officially known as the National Assessment of Educational Progress, or NAEP, the data reflect the results of reading and math tests administered to a sample of students across the country. Experts generally consider the tests rigorous and highly reliable—and the scores basically stagnant. …



How Classroom Technology Is Holding Students Back, December 19, 2019

In a first grade classroom I visited a few years ago, most of the six-year-olds were using iPads or computers. They were working independently on math problems supposedly geared to their ability, while the teacher worked separately with a small group. I watched as one boy, whom I’ll call Kevin, stared at an iPad screen that directed him to “combine 8 and 3.” A struggling reader (like almost all his classmates), he pressed the “Listen” button. But he still didn’t try to provide an answer. …



The Connections Between Writing, Knowledge Acquisition, and Reading Comprehension, Fall Edition 2019

Monica was diagnosed with dyslexia as a child … “I didn’t think I was going to go to college because I was special ed,” she told an interviewer, “and special ed kids don’t go to college.” … Just three years later, however, Monica had passed her New York Regents exams in English and American history–scoring an impressive 91 on the latter. Eventually, she not only attended college but graduated with a degree in sociology. ...



The case for teaching about sharks and mummies, not captions and the main idea, August 6, 2019

How do students best learn to read? Equally important, how do students learn to love reading? The Common Core emphasizes reading comprehension skills, like identifying the main idea of a text. Yet in her new book, “The Knowledge Gap,” Natalie Wexler argues that teaching those skills in a vacuum, rather than centering instruction around interesting and rigorous content knowledge, hurts both student achievement and engagement.



How Testing Kids for Skills Can Hurt Those Lacking Knowledge, August 12, 2019

In 1987, two researchers in Wisconsin, Donna Recht and Lauren Leslie, constructed a miniature baseball field and installed it in an empty classroom in a junior high school. They peopled it with four-inch wooden baseball players arranged to simulate the beginning of a game. Then they brought in sixty-four seventh- and eighth-grade students who had been tested both for their general reading ability and their knowledge of baseball. …



Writing and Cognitive Load Theory, June 24, 2019

Cognitive load theory has been described as one of the most important discussions in modern psychology that educators need to be familiar with. Natalie Wexler looks at what the implications of this theory are for the way we teach writing, and what it means in the classroom. …



Beyond “Sold a Story,” December 21, 2022

Though much more is needed, recent pieces from the Courier Journal and Ed Post show how to broaden literacy coverage.

No, Anti-CRT Laws Don’t Actually Outlaw Lessons That Might Make Students Uncomfortable, March 28, 2022

These laws are a bad idea, but widespread misreporting of their “discomfort” provision is making things worse.

The Media Blind Spot Hiding a Big Problem in American Classrooms, September 11, 2019

Six years ago, I thought I knew a lot about education. I’d been writing about the topic for several years. And yet I knew nothing about a fundamental and pervasive problem that was undermining the decades-long effort to improve educational outcomes, especially for disadvantaged students: the widespread assumption that teaching kids reading comprehension “skills and strategies” is more important than building their knowledge in subjects like history and science….



Everyday Conversations: How They Help Your Child Become a Strong Reader, Fall 2023

For children to become strong readers, they need to learn a huge number of words—at least 100,000 by the time they get to eighth grade. It’s impossible to teach that much vocabulary directly; children gain most of their vocabulary indirectly, as their knowledge of the world expands. Much of this learning happens through conversations and read-alouds. So parents and caregivers play a crucial role in giving their children access to the vocabulary, complex sentence structure, and knowledge they need to be successful, beginning at birth.

Building Knowledge: What an Elementary Curriculum Should Do, Summer 2020

Despite billions of dollars and massive efforts on the part of thousands of highly dedicated and intelligent people over the past 25 years, the size of the test-score gap between the wealthiest and the poorest students hasn’t changed.1 Our mediocre standing on international literacy rankings is largely a reflection of how low our lowest scores are.2 Teachers in high-poverty schools in Washington, D.C., have told me they’ve had students at all levels of ability, including the highest, but some of their stories were deeply disturbing.

One Sentence at a Time: The Need for Explicit Instruction in Teaching Students to Write Well, Summer 2017 (with Judith C. Hochman)

When Monica entered high school, her writing skills were minimal. After repeating first grade and getting more than 100 hours of tutoring in elementary school, she’d managed to learn to read well enough to get by, and she was comfortable with math. But writing seemed beyond her reach. …