Literacy Is Knowledge

Robert Pondiscio in City Journal:

BookEducators, policy makers and business leaders often fret about the state of math education,” the New York Times reported in May. “But reading comprehension may be a larger stumbling block.” Indeed, schools and teachers consistently have better luck improving student skills in math than in reading. A fresh reminder of the difficulty came in August, when New York released scores from its first round of tests aligned with the Common Core State Standards, now adopted by most states. Students in schools across the state fared poorly on the tests; some of the city’s most celebrated charter schools posted disappointing results as well. The silver lining is that by adopting reading curricula aligned with the Common Core and abandoning failed approaches to literacy instruction, New York City could be poised to lead a reading renaissance in the coming years—but only if city schools also make significant shifts in classroom instruction and exercise patience.

Math is relentlessly hierarchical—you can’t understand multiplication, for example, if you don’t understand addition. Reading is mercilessly cumulative. Virtually everything a child sees and hears, in and out of school, contributes to his vocabulary and language proficiency. A child growing up in a book-filled home with articulate, educated parents who fill his early years with reading, travel, museum visits, and other forms of enrichment arrives at school with enormous advantages in knowledge and vocabulary.

More here.