Home > Uncategorized > “Knowledge Building”, Like Test Scores, Correlates with Poverty

“Knowledge Building”, Like Test Scores, Correlates with Poverty

December 13, 2018

Forbes education writer Natalie Wexler’s recent article, “Why Knowledge Building Curricula Matter More Than School Choice” overlooks several fundamental realities. Contrasting the positions of “choice” critic Diane Ravitch and Robert Pondiscio, a senior fellow at the pro-charter Thomas B. Fordham Institute, Ms. Wexler analyzes school choice to the choice one can make when purchasing toothpaste. She asserts that such a choice is bogus because:

…the vast majority of schools—especially at the elementary level—offer the same dangerously flawed approach, regardless of whether they’re charters or not.”

And what is that “dangerously flawed approach?

Government ratings focus on annual reading and math scores, just as the toothpaste ratings focused on yearly cavity rates. Schools can sometimes boost test scores in the elementary years by focusing on comprehension “skills.” But, as cognitive scientists have long known—and as few educators, education professors and education reformers are aware—the most important factor in comprehension is background knowledge. In high school, when the classwork and the tests start assuming more knowledge and vocabulary, things fall apart.

Kids with highly educated parents arrive at school with more knowledge and vocabulary and continue acquiring it outside school… (and) that enables them to get higher test scores, because they’re better able to understand the reading passages. But their schools get the credit, regardless of whether they actually provided the knowledge.

In Ms. Wexler’s world, the lack of a curriculum based on knowledge-building is the problem, a problem that she believes is slowly being addressed:

The good news is that several elementary curricula that do focus on building knowledge have recently been developed, and an increasing number of schools—in both the charter and traditional public school sectors—are adopting them. But they still constitute only a small fraction of the total, and school rating systems, which place primary weight on test scores and little or none on curriculum, don’t help parents find them.

But Ms. Wexler’s world, like that of E.D. Hirsch, the founder and chairman of the Core Knowledge Foundation, poverty is an immaterial exogenous factor and test scores that measure “core knowledge” replace those that (presumably) measure academic achievement. And that world, devoid of the realities of poverty and politics, has nothing to do with the real world public education lives in.

Ms. Wexler concludes her essay with this analysis of the school choice debate:

I agree with Pondiscio that it’s unfair for wealthier parents to have the ability to choose a school while lower-income parents don’t. And I agree with Ravitch that charter schools have drained resources from traditional public schools and made it harder for many to succeed. But I also think that, given the far more fundamental problems with our education system, those issues are largely beside the point.

Unfortunately, by viewing the “fundamental problem with our education system” as being the lack of a curriculum based on “knowledge building” Ms. Wexler overlooks the REAL fundamental problems, which are the underlying disparities in preparedness for school caused by poverty and the overriding desire to use standardized testing to measure “school effectiveness”.

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