Dig Deeper

Quick Reads

These short articles are perfect for sharing with family and friends—and cultivating new champions for knowledge.

9 Things Science Tells Us about How Kids Learn to Read and Think Critically
by The 74 and Knowledge Matters

This set of 9 flashcards offers a brief but thorough look at why knowledge is essential to reading comprehension and critical thinking.

How Rethinking Classroom Instruction May Have Boosted Student Achievement in Louisianaby Ashley Berner
After widespread adoption of carefully vetted, knowledge-rich curricula, achievement began rising very rapidly across Louisiana.

Kids Love Knowing Stuffby Karin Chenoweth
A visit to Edward Brooke Charter School shows that children are proud of their knowledge—and excited to learn more.

The Case for a Broader Approach to Educationby Jay P. Greene
Recent research shows evidence of the narrowing of the curriculum—and of general knowledge being crucial to achievement.

Coleman, Culture, and Reading Comprehension Testsby Lisa Hansel
One of the many strengths of the Coleman report, which was published in 1966, is its honesty in explaining that reading comprehension tests measure cultural knowledge and thus are not fair—unless we equalize opportunity to learn.

Why I’m Afraid of Personalized Learningby Lisa Hansel
For personalized learning to work, advocates will have to become far more careful about what students are learning and how they are able to build on their knowledge over several years.

STEM Education Is Vital—But Not at the Expense of the Humanities” by the Editors of Scientific American
Teaching “both music theory and string theory is a necessity for the U.S. economy to continue as the preeminent leader in technological innovation.”

The Crafts of Freedomby Scott Newstok
Examining Martin Luther King Jr.’s rhetorical power, Newstok shows the deep body of knowledge that infuses King’s words, making them timeless and compelling.

Knowledge Is Literacyby Robert Pondiscio
As Pondiscio writes, “To be educated in the liberal arts is to have a broad grasp of literature, art, music, history and the sciences. That’s also a fair description of what it takes to be a good reader.”

To narrow the achievement gap, teach kids knowledge in elementary schoolby Natalie Wexler
When standardized tests reveal large achievement gaps, what they’re really highlighting are differences in children’s opportunity to learn (not their ability to learn).

Book review: ‘It’s the curriculum, stupid’” by Daniel Willingham
This review of Amanda Ripley’s The Smartest Kids in the World: And How They Got That Way explains that high-performing nations have rigorous, shared curricula with which all students build a broad base of academic knowledge.

Longer Takes

These in-depth articles offer a wealth of information on how thinking and learning work, and why knowledge matters.

The Tyranny of Three Ideasby E. D. Hirsch, Jr.
This is the prologue to Hirsch’s new book, Why Knowledge Matters. Along with the over-testing of students and the persistence of the achievement gap, Hirsch explores “what may be the most recalcitrant political problem in American education—that few dare challenge our emphasis on individualism” instead of building communal knowledge in the elementary grades.

A Wealth of Words: The Key to Increasing Upward Mobility Is Expanding Vocabularyby E. D. Hirsch, Jr.
After demonstrating that a massive vocabulary is a key indicator of a high-quality education, Hirsch calls for well-sequenced, coherent, cumulative curricula to more efficiently build vocabulary (and the knowledge base that vocabulary represents).

Literacy Is Knowledge: Why Teaching Reading Means Teaching Contentby Robert Pondiscio
The Matthew effect—in which knowledge-rich children grow richer still, leaving their poorer peers behind—is in full force in schools that place skills above knowledge.

Why Don’t Students Like School? Because the Mind Is Not Designed for Thinkingby Daniel Willingham
Willingham, a cognitive scientist, explains how thinking works and why knowledge increases our analytical capacity.

Issue Briefs

These papers developed for the Knowledge Matters Campaign offer critical insights from teachers and researchers.

Inside the Common Core Reading Tests: Why the Best Prep Is a Knowledge-Rich Curriculum
By Ruth Wattenberg
By examining several items from PARCC and Smarter Balanced, which are Common Core ELA assessments, this brief shows that the tests expect students to know a great deal of science and social studies. Therefore, the best preparation for these assessments—and for college, career, and citizenship—is a well-rounded education that includes science, history, geography, civics, and the arts.

Complex Text: The Hidden Key to College Readiness
By David Liben, Silas Kulkarni, and Lisa Hansel

This brief uncovers why teens who seem to be good readers in high school often struggle in college. It explains why complex text is the best indicator of readiness for college reading, and includes sidebars by teachers who prepare their students for complex historical speeches and other primary-source documents by giving them deep background knowledge.

Job One: Build Knowledge—ESSA Creates an Opportunity, and an Obligation, to Help Every Child Become a Strong Reader
By Lisa Hansel and Robert Pondiscio 
Under the Every Student Succeeds Act, policymakers have the flexibility to incentivize districts and schools to make long-term investments in building students’ knowledge and vocabulary. This brief offers seven flexible, adaptable recommendations that will lead to better reading comprehension.

What School Can Be
By John B. King, Jr. 
The US Secretary of Education, John King, explains why “a rich range of course offerings isn’t a nicety. It’s a vital part of a thorough education, and a crucial element of social justice.”

Creating Community: The Benefits of a Shared Curriculum
By Diana Senechal
A teacher finds that a shared curriculum results in students developing a shared body of knowledge that deepens their interactions, enables teachers to more meaningfully work together, and provides an opportunity to find the best texts and to reject fads.

Building Knowledge: How Washoe’s Core Task Project Revealed the Key to the Common Core and Reading Comprehension
By Torrey Palmer
The Core Task Project was a teacher-led effort that created cycles of implementation, reflection, and observation to increase teachers’ knowledge. Over time, teachers shifted their instruction so that in the early grades, children learned how to read and acquired a foundation of academic knowledge and vocabulary.

Knowledge and Practice: The Real Keys to Critical Thinking
By Daniel Willingham
A strong body of evidence shows that analysis requires deep knowledge of the topic, and therefore critical thinking can’t be reduced to a set of skills and strategies. In short, to “think like a scientist,” a student must know the facts, concepts, and procedures that a scientist knows.