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Education Reporter

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The Knowledge Deficit: Closing the Shocking Education Gap for American Children. E. D. Hirsch, Jr., Houghlin Mifflin, 2006, 158 pp., $22.00.

Author and scholar E. D. Hirsch Jr. believes the American educational system is unfair to all children and costly to society. The preoccupation with education fads harms children in poor areas the most, but even children in the best U.S. schools cannot compete with their peers from other countries in reading, math and science.

Hirsch explains that many children have poor reading comprehension skills because they do not learn the words and ideas they will need to process information as adults. Educators who neglect to teach them are putting children at a big disadvantage. Children from lower-income families do not have the opportunity to learn this knowledge at home, and thus are less likely to successfully read or professionally interact with others as adults. Equal opportunity means teaching children to read and providing them with vocabulary and grammar skills in their early years.

Studies have shown that standardized test scores in early grades can predict not only test scores later in school, but also future job performance and salary. Hirsch insists that children in all schools should learn key information in the early grades to ensure good test scores for and literacy in all children, regardless of their background. Hirsch's research into what information is necessary led him to spell out what he calls a Core Knowledge Sequence.

Hirsch maintains that all children should learn the standard language, which is more formal than what many children may pick up at home. Teachers should be sensitive to linguistic diversity, but should teach children that different languages are suitable for different occasions. Children should make formal prepared and spontaneous presentations in class. They should learn how much information should be explained and how much can be taken for granted, depending on whom they are addressing.

The author wants states to agree with each other on a core of specific topics that are taught at each grade level. About 1/3 of students in a typical school district switch schools in the middle of the year, and that fraction increases to half in inner city schools. If all schools have a specific, documented curriculum, these children will not be subjected to repetitious learning or severe gaps, and parents and concerned citizens will be able to monitor the curriculum to make sure it is complete and unbiased. Hirsch's book makes a compelling case for education reform.
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