Statements from the Knowledge Matters Campaign Scientific Advisory Committee

March 28, 2024

Given the role of policy in advancing the literacy cause, and studies showing that recently passed state “science of reading” laws seldom note the important role of building content knowledge, we offer this model language for legislators drafting reading legislation:

Comprehensive, coherent literacy instruction must begin in the earliest grades—PreK and Kindergarten—so that as students are learning to read, they are also building their reading comprehension.  

Instruction aligned to the science of reading should be designed around the research on reading comprehension, which includes the important role that content knowledge plays in literacy.  

Prioritizing the acquisition of knowledge across a broad range of topics should be the focus of instruction and will require high-quality curricula in, and daily time devoted not just to English language arts, but also to science, social studies, and the arts. English language arts curricula should be rich in content about the natural and social world, with topics sequenced to provide opportunities to build oral and academic language so that students can make meaning of the words and sentences they encounter in print.  

Achieving this vision for literacy instruction will require reimagining teacher preparation programs and resourcing curriculum-based professional learning opportunities and coaching to support teachers in applying a comprehensive understanding of the science of reading in each of these disciplines.

The Knowledge Matters Campaign Scientific Advisory Committee

August 15, 2022

As reading researchers, we are deeply invested in seeing research insights translate into instructional practices in schools that promote high levels of literacy, learning, and success for each and every student. We support all avenues for making this happen.

In recent years, the “Science of Reading” movement has served as an important catalyst, fueled by grassroots activism, educator networks, and strong journalism. It has become a potentially powerful – and welcome – vehicle for promoting improved and more equitable outcomes for all students.

The Science of Reading movement has been successful in raising awareness of the importance of foundational reading skills (e.g., phonological awareness, knowledge of letters and sounds, knowledge of phonics, decoding skills). There is little doubt these skills, which allow students to understand how the spoken sounds of the language are represented in print, are foundational to reading success and to literacy acquisition and development more generally; a worldwide research literature, across many first and additional languages, attests to this. Literacy is simply not possible without mastery of these skills, a fact that should no longer be a point of contention.

Unfortunately, the Science of Reading has often been interpreted far too narrowly as exclusively focused on foundational skills. Reading success requires much more than foundational skills. There are other factors critical for literacy development, including those that address language, meaning, and communication. Among the most important is knowledge. Knowledge is necessary to comprehend what we read. Foundational skills are literally meaningless unless readers can make sense of words and texts. This sense-making requires knowledge that must be systematically built (not just activated!) through instructional experiences and curricula that evoke curiosity and the desire to learn more. In short, knowledge matters.

Our charge is to bring knowledge into the vibrant and dynamic conversation about the Science of Reading. In fact, we believe that the Knowledge Matters discussion has significant potential to inspire educators, and will bring more hearts and minds to the discussion. Here’s why:

The Equity Imperative: Educators care deeply about equity in education; in fact, equity has arguably been the most prominent theme in K–12 discourse in recent years. At its heart, the #KnowledgeMatters movement is an equity movement, pointing a path to supporting all students as readers, writers, thinkers, and learners. Knowledge-building is particularly critical for children who have inequitable opportunities to gain it. All students have knowledge and other assets that educators must value, understand, and build upon. But they also have the right to an education that builds new knowledge, addresses their instructional strengths and needs, and offers opportunities to apply their knowledge in ways that have meaning for them and their communities.

Student Engagement: The role of student engagement looms large in educator discourse. Who doesn’t love seeing a child’s eyes light up with wonder? Knowledge-rich curricula can inspire this delight and curiosity about the world. One of the clearest takeaways from the Knowledge Matters School Tour is that knowledge-rich curricula can get children buzzing about their learning, as the voices on this site readily attest. A thirst for knowledge is as motivational for the child as it is for the teacher.

Applicability in All Grades: Centering knowledge helps speak to educators who think that the Science of Reading is only about foundational skills. This misconception is keeping the conversation from reaching many upper-grades teachers, as they may presume that the Science of Reading discussion is not relevant to them. The broad, PK–12 applicability of knowledge can help to broaden the audience for Science of Reading discussions.

We call on literacy and education leaders, as well as K–12 journalists, to bring the role of knowledge to the forefront of Science of Reading conversations, in hopes of expanding the conversation and building more bridges between research and practice. Knowledge matters. It’s as simple—and complicated—as that.

The Knowledge Matters Campaign Scientific Advisory Committee