11 votes

Elementary Education Has Gone Terribly Wrong: In the early grades, U.S. schools value reading-comprehension skills over knowledge. The results are devastating, especially for poor kids.

4 comments

  1. [2]
    vakieh Link
    The title implied something the article doesn't claim - I (possibly ironically) read it as 'reading-comprehension skills' vs 'knowledge' - and the pedagogic debate is almost 100% settled there,...

    The title implied something the article doesn't claim - I (possibly ironically) read it as 'reading-comprehension skills' vs 'knowledge' - and the pedagogic debate is almost 100% settled there, which is rare A F for anything pedagogic in the slightest. Reading comprehension skills ARE better than knowledge, one is a multiplier on everything you do from that point onward where the other is a static boost.

    Problem is it's actually talking about 'reading-comprehension skills' vs 'reading-comprehension knowledge', which is entirely different. I would name it a bit different, i.e. 'reading-comprehension techniques' vs 'reading-comprehension practice in context'. And anyone who follows any mainstream pedagogic tradition post-1900 will immediately be able to tell you why the second one is going to do better than the first. What on earth has happened with the development of Common Core to allow the first to be what is taught? Crazy...

    5 votes
    1. dubteedub Link Parent
      That is the actual correct interpretation of the article, as it goes into at length. It is not discussing reading comprehension skills versus reading comprehension knowledge. It is discussing the...

      I (possibly ironically) read it as 'reading-comprehension skills' vs 'knowledge'

      That is the actual correct interpretation of the article, as it goes into at length.

      It is not discussing reading comprehension skills versus reading comprehension knowledge. It is discussing the focus on teaching reading comprehension (i.e. teaching students to read or providing students with a short chapter to read and summarize) versus teaching knowledge in general (particularly social studies and science).

      despite the enormous expenditure of time and resources on reading, American children haven’t become better readers. For the past 20 years, only about a third of students have scored at or above the “proficient” level on national tests. For low-income and minority kids, the picture is especially bleak: Their average test scores are far below those of their more affluent, largely white peers—a phenomenon usually referred to as the achievement gap.

      All of which raises a disturbing question: What if the medicine we have been prescribing is only making matters worse, particularly for poor children? What if the best way to boost reading comprehension is not to drill kids on discrete skills but to teach them, as early as possible, the very things we’ve marginalized—including history, science, and other content that could build the knowledge and vocabulary they need to understand both written texts and the world around them?

      And anyone who follows any mainstream pedagogic tradition post-1900 will immediately be able to tell you why the second one is going to do better than the first.

      The article actually references several studies that found kids who had knowledge of a topic actually did better on reading testing of that subject even if their reading skills were poor. I won't copy the entire discussion of it, but it was about knowledge of baseball vs. reading ability.

      In the late 1980s, two researchers in Wisconsin, Donna Recht and Lauren Leslie, designed an ingenious experiment to try to determine the extent to which a child’s reading comprehension depends on her prior knowledge of a topic.

      It turned out that prior knowledge of baseball made a huge difference in students’ ability to understand the text—more so than their supposed reading level. The kids who knew little about baseball, including the “good” readers, all did poorly. And all those who knew a lot about baseball, whether they were “good” or “bad” readers, did well. In fact, the “bad” readers who knew a lot about baseball outperformed the “good” readers who didn’t.

      The article also references other studies that back up this initial one, as well as other statistics that show general knowledge is an enabler of further knowledge and ability.

      3 votes
  2. Akir Link
    I kind of agree and disagree with this article. It feels anti-intellectual, without actually being so. I was really gifted at reading at a young age, but I saw that most of my peers had real...

    I kind of agree and disagree with this article. It feels anti-intellectual, without actually being so. I was really gifted at reading at a young age, but I saw that most of my peers had real problems and many of them were behind the reading levels they were expected to have at their age, at least up to the start of high school when reading wasn't measured as often. School was mostly a breeze for me, while many of my peers were struggling to keep up with the lessons.

    The methodology of the baseball experiment actually explains my biggest problem with the article. The reason why children who had no knowledge about baseball had worse reading comprehension than the children who did makes perfect sense. Baseball, to a child, is a very complex system with many moving parts. It would be like explaining how Java class inheratance works to a layman; they may be able to understand some of the terms, but they won't understand their significance or how things work together, and it's made more confusing because there are words the person already knew that are being used with different definitions than they know. The problem is not that they don't know the words, but that they don't have a grasp of the underlying system. I personally don't know enough about baseball to know who the shortstop is and thus would have failed the test. If that test had the students read a short briefing about how baseball works and what the terms refer to, it would have helped to even out the scores for the students with good reading comprehension.

    I think my real issue with this article is that it just seems to be too simple of an understanding of the issue. I 100% agree that students should get a more rich learning experience, that's for sure. The solution to get over the problem of unfamilliariaty in regards to reading is not to avoid the subjects, but to expose students to them.

    But my biggest issue is that it's yet another voice criticizing common core standards. In case I need to explain why that's a problem, Common Core (and any other type of standard) is the goal; the problem is implementation - how we get to that goal. The writer of the article conflates the two, which is problematic for obvious reasons. It talks about how the standards tell teachers to use nonfiction, but doing a quick search I can't find the word nonfiction mentioned before Year 6. The student he uses as an example at the beginning of his article is in the first grade. The standards do talk about informational texts for every year, but that does not necessitate nonfiction.

    5 votes
  3. AFineAccount Link
    I'd be interested to see how much of the gap between low-income students and high-income students who have both been exposed to similar comprehension-focused materials comes down to a matter of...

    I'd be interested to see how much of the gap between low-income students and high-income students who have both been exposed to similar comprehension-focused materials comes down to a matter of digital illiteracy. Lower-income homes typically do not benefit from the same internet connection quality that upper-income homes do, and have fewer skills when it comes to verifying and trusting the information they find online.

    This digital divide may hinder children's ability to acquire the knowledge they need to perform at similar levels as upper-income students. Basically, as upper-income students have increasingly greater access to information and knowledge than lower-level ones, it doesn't matter how much comprehension skills either group has. The digital gap between them will grow.

    2 votes