Why So Many Kids Struggle to Learn, Winter 2022

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


MINDING THE GAP (republished from Forbes, no paywall or ads)

What If School Integration Isn’t the Key to Education Equity?, January 12, 2022

It’s a worthy goal, but evidence indicates it’s neither necessary nor sufficient to boost outcomes for vulnerable students.

7 Ways Our Intuition Can Mislead Us About Learning, January 3, 2022

Our perceptions about what’s working in the learning process often conflict with scientific findings. That can make it harder for teachers and students to be successful. …

Harvard Has Dropped Its SAT Requirement, But Don’t Expect More Diversity, December 27, 2021

Harvard has made SAT and ACT scores optional for applicants for the next four years, joining a growing trend. But if colleges expect that policy to result in greater student diversity, studies show they’re likely to be disappointed. …

Click here to see all of Natalie’s posts that are now available (for free) at Minding the Gap.



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. …



A Sharp Critique of Standards-Based Reform, Summer 2021 (book review)

In a recent book, Morgan Polikoff pins his hopes on high-quality curricula selected by the states. …



They Don’t Need No Education: Elementary schools deliberately fail to teach knowledge, hurting their most vulnerable students, September 27, 2020

Testing may have exacerbated the focus on skills over content. But the roots of the obsession with skills go deeper. They rest on suspicion of the very idea that knowledge should be transmitted. …



Do the Benefits of Digital Devices in School Classrooms Outweigh the Downsides? … NO: Devices May Help, but Not as Used Today, February 21, 2020

Digital devices have the potential to yield benefits in the classroom, but the way they’re commonly used only exacerbates existing inequalities. A different approach would change that, but there’s no saying when that might happen, and meanwhile the education of many students is suffering. …



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. …



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….



How Common Core Can Help in the Battle of Skills vs. Knowledge, August 28, 2015

Standardized tests are commonly blamed for narrowing the school curriculum to reading and math. That’s one reason Congress is considering changes in the law that could lead states to put less emphasis on test scores. But even if we abolished standardized tests tomorrow, a majority of elementary schools would continue to pay scant attention to subjects like history and science. …



The inappropriate focus on reading and math hurts students, February 26, 2018

The resignation of D.C. Schools Chancellor Antwan Wilson in the wake of two embarrassing scandals at the high school level could provide D.C. schools with an opportunity to change course and regain its reputation as a national model of education reform. But that can only happen if officials recognize the true source of both scandals: elementary school, long considered the bright spot in the system. …

Why Americans can’t write, September 24, 2015

It’s no secret that many Americans are lousy writers. Just ask any college professor or employer, including those at prestigious institutions. With the advent of e-mail, writing ability has become more important than ever, and writing deficiencies have become increasingly apparent. …



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. …