If other American industries performed as well as the Education sector, the raft of Chapter 11 bankruptcies would clog courts in the United States for decades to come. “There is an achievement gap in reading between the U. S. and other countries,” scholar E. D. Hirsch, Jr., reported recently at the American Enterprise Institute.
“There is an achievement gap within the U. S. as well, with the U. S. lagging behind 20 countries.” Thus, in 20 countries, students do not post widely disparate grades that vary as significantly by race and income level as they do in America.
Hirsch came to AEI to discuss his most recent book, The Knowledge Deficit. “The news is in fact more alarming than most people realize, since our students perform relatively worse on international comparisons the longer they stay in our schools,” Hirsch writes in The Knowledge Deficit. “In fourth grade, American students score ninth in reading among thirty-five countries, which is respectable.”
“By tenth grade, they score fifteenth in reading among twenty-seven countries, which is not promising at all for their (and our) economic future.”
As to that other achievement gap, Hirsch writes, “The average reading scores of Hispanics have hovered some twenty-five points below that of whites, while scores of blacks are nearly 30 points below that of whites.”
“These large gaps tell only part of the story: whites cannot read well either,” Hirsch reveals in his book. “More than half of them—some 59 percent—fail to read at a proficient level.” Hirsch, author of the bestselling 1987 book Cultural Illiteracy, has toiled in education for many a decade.
“A teacher once told me that she hated standardized tests,” Hirsch remembers. “When I asked her, ‘Would you think they were so bad if your students aced them?’ she said, ‘No, then I’d love them.’”
Hirsch alleges that most education reforms, including charter schools and No Child Left Behind, have failed. “The one place where the No Child Left Behind Act has benefited students is in fourth-grade reading scores and they have been pilloried for being phonics-oriented,” Hirsch said at AEI.
“‘Educationists’ dominate rhetoric,” Hirsch explained at AEI. “They call core knowledge ‘rote.’”
“What they call ‘rote’ was very effective,” Hirsch observed. Unfortunately, educationists run the education schools that train the teachers of tomorrow who teach the students of the future. In other words, it’s vicious cycle time, and has been for decades.
“What I consider ‘rote’are the arguments educationists use on core knowledge,” Hirsch says. “They call multiplication tables ‘track and kill.’” Meanwhile, Hirsch notes, “SAT scores are down since 1963.”
“High-income children also fell off, belying the notion that the drop in test scores was due to more low-income kids taking the test.”
“Old people grow blunt; they haven’t time for slow niceties,” the 78-year-old Hirsch writes in The Knowledge Deficit. “Let me be blunt about the implications of the intellectual history I have traced in this chapter and the implications of this book.”
“If its recommendations are followed, reading scores will rise for all groups of children, and so will scores in math and science, because, as common sense would predict, reading is strongly correlated with ability to learn in all subjects.”
“Reading achievement is highest among countries with core knowledge curriculum in international comparisons and core knowledge studies,” Hirsch pointed out at AEI. Hirsch is the founder of the Core Knowledge Foundation which has developed a curriculum that emphasizes, among other things, instruction in history and science as well as practice in Math and verbal skills.
“It is now used in several hundred schools (with positive effects on reading scores), and it is distinguished among content standards not only for its interest and richness, but also because of the carefully-thought-out scientific foundations that underlie the selection of the topics,” Hirsch writes in his most recent book.
Not too surprisingly, Hirsch casts a skeptical eye on some of the more superficial, though costly, innovations embraced by school districts everywhere. “Universal access to computers does not by itself go very far in fostering the democratic ideal of making all students competent irrespective of their social backgrounds,” he writes.
Echoing Thomas Jefferson on newspapers and government, Hirsch concludes, “If we had a choice between offering each child a computer and imparting to each the broad knowledge that enables a person to use a computer intelligently, we should unhesitatingly choose knowledge.”
Malcolm A. Kline is the executive director of Accuracy in Academia.