The Knowledge Gap

Winner of a silver medal from the Nautilus Book Awards in the category of Social Sciences and Education



The Knowledge Gap was selected for promotion by BookBub through its newsletter, eBookDaily.

“Is it possible to create a more inclusive and fairer education system? The Knowledge Gap shows the way.” Daisy Christodoulou, tes.

The Knowledge Gap is not just a scholarly work. It pulsates with vivid detail as it winds its way through the strange terrain of the Educational Upside Down. Anyone who seeks to understand the quixotic state of educational ideas in American schools and beyond should place it on the top of their summer reading list.” Greg Ashman, Quillette

“The best book I have seen on improving elementary schools.” Jay Mathews, Washington Post

“The Knowledge Gap makes a persuasive case for attending to the importance of rich content and high-quality curricula in elementary classrooms.” Carnegie Corporation of New York

“This book serves as a reminder of our own potential knowledge gap and provides an opportunity for educators to be wiser consumers of information with the ability to ‘distinguish between approaches that are likely to produce the outcomes we want and those that will only lead to a heartbreaking waste of precious time.'” Sheryl Ferlito, Perspectives on Language and Literacy

“Wexler … has made a first-rate case for content. … If you are among the uninitiated on the value of content knowledge for kids, buy a copy. If you’re already among the true believers, buy two copies and put them in the hands of persuadable educators.” Robert Pondiscio, Education Next

“In this compelling work, journalist Wexler pinpoints the underlying issues that plague the American public education system, provides context to recent educational reforms, and offers possible solutions.”  Library Journal (starred review)

“A compelling critique of American elementary schools” that “highlights pervasive problems.” Kirkus Reviews

“Illuminating and thought-provoking.” Publishers Weekly

THE KNOWLEDGE GAP focuses on a long-overlooked issue lying at the heart of what is known as the achievement gap: the failure of most elementary schools, and especially those serving low-income children, to systematically build knowledge of the world.

Every school day, elementary teachers spend hours drilling students on comprehension skills and strategies like “finding the main idea” or “making inferences,” in an effort to boost their reading ability–and their scores on standardized reading tests. Subjects like history, science, and art have virtually disappeared from the curriculum in many schools.

In fact, these schools are doing the exact opposite of what can actually turn students into good readers. Comprehension strategies can be useful–when delivered in limited doses and connected to specific content. But cognitive science has shown that the primary factor in whether you’re able to understand what you read is whether you possess relevant background knowledge and vocabulary.

The prevailing narrow, skills-focused approach to literacy instruction can hold any child back, but its effects fall hardest on those at the bottom of the socioeconomic spectrum. Children from more educated families often absorb knowledge about the world at home. But those from less educated families have to rely on schools for the kind of knowledge that will equip them to do well on tests—not to mention in high school, college, and life. Every year they spend in school without getting that knowledge puts them farther behind their more affluent peers. By the time they get to middle or high school, it’s often too late for them to catch up.

Through the stories of educators, students, and parents, The Knowledge Gap examines what elementary literacy instruction currently looks like, how it evolved to this point — and how it can be changed so that all students receive a meaningful, rigorous education.

Excerpts from the book have appeared in The Atlantic, Chalkbeat, MindShift, American Educator, and the blog of the Albert Shanker Institute.

Read or listen to interviews with Natalie and presentations about The Knowledge Gap:


Morning Joe, MSNBC

After Words With Natalie Wexler, C-SPAN

Good Morning Washington, WJLA



Why Prior Knowledge Wins the Game (two-minute video from Edutopia)

Western NY Science of Reading Conference, November 2022

Iniciativa Educacao, Lisbon (in English)

Why Teaching Social Studies Is Teaching Reading, The OC for Social Studies Conference



Total Information AM

South Dakota Public Broadcasting

The Pulse (WHYY/NPR) (episode on comprehension)


On Point (WBUR/NPR)

Leonard Lopate at Large, WBAI

Forum, KQED

All of It, WNYC

The Record, KUOW

St. Louis in Tune, KWRH

Nightside with Dan Rea, WBZ



Science of Reading Leadership with Dr. Christy Lamb and Terri K. Hunt

All for Literacy with Dr. Liz Brooke

Through the Educational Looking Glass with Don Sturm and Courtney Eddleson

Lars og pal with Lars Sandaker

Education Uncharted with Amanda Bratten (Propello)

Raising Healthy Kid Brains podcast with Amy Nielson

TeachThought Podcast panel discussion with Emily Hanford and others

The Literacy View with Faith Borkowsky, Judy Boksner, and Mary McCool Berry

Building Knowledge with Kristen Rodriguez

Mr. Nico Summer Schoolin’ with Nico Eaglin

Melissa and Lori Love Literacy (with Judith Hochman)

On the Scene with SST 13 with Mary Williams

The Inquiring Mind with Stanley Goldberg

After the Bell with Cassie Tabrizi

Talking to Teens

Alabama Literacy Network’s Podcast with Shelley Vail-Smith

The Charles Love Show (second hour)

Catalysts for Change with Jill Shah

Rethinking Intervention with Emily Freitag

Tests and the Rest with Mike Bergin and Amy Seeley

Filling the Pail with Greg Ashman

Rethinking Intervention with Emily Freitag and Christina Gonzales

PodcastED with Doug Tuthill

EDVIEW 360 Podcast, Voyager Sopris: Righting the Wrongs of the Elementary Education System

EWA Radio: Can Schools Close “The Knowledge Gap”?

Just a Few Questions with Marc Sims

Education is Power with Chris Stewart (Facebook Live)

Melissa and Lori Love Literacy (second appearance)

More Teacher Talk: Transforming Teaching and Learning for Disadvantaged Pupils

Full Prefrontal: A Podcast About Exposing the Mysteries of Executive Function

Ed’s Not Dead: A podcast covering today’s hottest education issues

Off the Assembly Line: A Podcast with Rebecca Reed

ExtraOrdinary Districts: Ordinary school districts that get extraordinary results

Vrain Waves: Teaching Conversations with Minds Shaping Education

Science of Reading: The Podcast

The Learning Curve with Bob Bowdon and Cara Candel

The Report Card with Nat Malkus

Education Research Reading Room with Ollie Lovell

Principal Center Radio with Justin Baeder

Melissa and Lori Love Literacy



Racket News, Substack Q&A: Natalie Wexler of Minding the Gap, May 13, 2024

EdSource/KQED, This Literacy Expert Reveals the Key Problem Undermining American Education, April 25, 2024

Edutopia, “Why Our Youngest Readers Need ‘Knowledge,’ Not ‘Skills,’ July 28, 2022

Edutopia, “Is It Time to Drop ‘Finding the Main Idea’ and Teach Reading in a New Way?, July 28, 2020

American Educator, “Building Knowledge: What an Elementary Curriculum Should Do”, Summer 2020

EdNC, “Reading instruction needs to improve. Who will lead the charge, and how?”, February 17, 2020

Perspectives on Language and Literacy, “The Importance of Knowledge” (International Dyslexia Association), Fall 2019

MindShift (KQED) ,”Why Deeply Diving Into Content Could Be the Key to Reading Comprehension,” October 22, 2019

Chalkbeat, “Want better readers? Spend less time teaching kids to find the main idea, ‘Knowledge Gap’ author Natalie Wexler argues”, September 16, 2019

District Administration, “Closing the knowledge gap: Why schools are failing to teach fundamental reading and comprehension skills–and how to change it”, October 2019


Click HERE to order The Knowledge Gap through the publisher’s website or HERE to order from Amazon.

Listen to an excerpt from the audio version, read by the author, below. To order the audio book, click HERE.