E.D. Hirsch

If you teach English, or you're a school leader -- and I'm particularly looking at you, friends in No Excuses charter schools, with our collective student gains in math that are 4x higher than those in English -- I think a bare minimum threshold is that you can: a. Explain E.D. Hirsch's arguments

b. Describe the degree to which your class/school adheres to or rejects his view

c. Justify why

I got turned onto re-reading Hirsch through Robert Pondiscio, who until recently worked for Hirsch's Core Knowledge Foundation as a blogger.

I have since read a lot more original Hirsch, including a number of his recent blogs. Here are five for your consideration. Please click through to all five if you have the chance, it's worth your time.


1. From Research Revolution

Being in my ninth decade, and having been interested in this topic for at least six of those decades, I have studied a wide range of psycholinguistic research. My hunch about the answer to that question is: Yes, there are far better and faster ways to induce language growth in our students.

2. From Mere Facts:

If we wish our students to perform well on a reading test, we ought to abandon the disparagement of “mere facts.” Nothing contributes more to a student’s reading abilities than wide knowledge of multiple domains, automatically accompanied by knowledge of many domain-specific, Tier 3 words. In sum, nothing contributes more to college and career readiness than broad general knowledge over multiple domains.

3. From Two Poems:

Decades of cognitive science research boil down to this: For understanding a text, strategies help a little, and knowledge helps a lot. I consider this the single most important scientific insight for improving American schooling that has been put forward in the past half century. But unless one is familiar with the research, it’s hard to overcome the cast of mind that regards reading and writing as a set of technical skills—just as devotees of the New Criticism had done.

4. From: Blame The Tests

It’s not very hard to make a verbal test that predicts how well a person will be able to read. One accurate method used by the military is the two-part verbal section of the multiple-choice Armed Forces Qualification Test (AFQT), which is known for its success in accurately predicting real-world competence. One section of the AFQT Verbal consists of 15 items based on short paragraphs on different subjects and in different styles to be completed in 13 minutes. The other section of the AFQT Verbal is a vocabulary test with 35 items to be completed in 11 minutes. This 24-minute test predicts as well as any verbal test the range of your verbal abilities, your probable job competence and your future income level. It is a short, cheap and technically valid test. Some version of it could even serve as a school-leaving test.

5. From Wealth of Words (Atlantic)

To grasp the significance of this remarkable result, it’s important to grasp the extreme difficulty of narrowing the verbal gap between advantaged and disadvantaged students. The problem has been called the Matthew Effect, an allusion to Matthew 25:29: “For unto every one that hath shall be given, and he shall have abundance: but from him that hath not shall be taken away even that which he hath.” Advantaged students who arrive in the classroom with background knowledge and vocabulary will understand what a textbook or teacher is saying and will therefore learn more; disadvantaged students who lack such prior knowledge will fail to understand and thus fall even further behind, relative to their fellow students. This explains why schooling often fails to narrow the gap and may even widen it.

The French data show that the Matthew Effect can be almost fully overcome—with an early start and curricular coherence. But how? Why didn’t the Matthew Effect sink those very early preschool children in France who started out as cognitive have-nots? Part of the explanation is simply quantitative: disadvantaged children at age two are at less of an absolute disadvantage. If the more knowledgeable kids start school knowing 200 words while the less knowledgeable know just 100, the latter may be far behind percentage-wise, but still, they’re just 100 words behind in absolute terms.

I worry that our response to interim assessments is to focus more on reading strategies than we should, and not enough on building knowledge, let alone systematically building knowledge.