Hirsch: If kids learn content, they’ll ace tests

Students will ace Common Core language arts tests if they’ve learned history, civics, literature, science and the fine arts, write E.D. Hirsch on the Core Knowledge Blog. But it’s a big if, concedes Hirsch, who backed the new standards.

He quotes a comment from an “able and experienced teacher” on the blog: “A giant risk, as I see it, in the implementation of Common Core is that it will spawn skills-centric curricula. Indeed, every Common Core ‘expert’ we hear from seems to be advocating this approach.”

The best-selling books about teaching the Common Core advocate techniques for “close reading” and for mastering “text complexity,” independent of content.

. . . students’ ability to engage in “close reading” and to manage “text complexity” is highly dependent on their degree of familiarity with the topic of the text. And the average likelihood of their possessing the requisite degree of familiarity with the various topics they encounter in life or on tests will depend upon the breadth of their knowledge. No amount of practice exercises (which takes time away from knowledge-gaining) will foster wide knowledge. If students know a lot they’ll easily learn to be skilled in reading and writing. But if they know little they will perform poorly on language tests—and in life.

The new Common Core standards call for “a well-developed, content-rich curriculum” that is “coherently structured,” writes Hirsch. But will schools switch their focus from teaching skills to teaching the knowledge children need to understand what they read?

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  1. I agree, for the most part, but have encountered one concern, which has apparently been validated on some of the existing state testing. Questions can be written asking for “explanations” of math work, as opposed to “show your work”, and grading can be set to give less weight to correct answer and more to explanation. There is also the politicallly-slanted question, in which ideology trumps everything.

  2. Everything I’m encountering in my home state (Montana) is recycling old skills approach materials with a slight sprinkling of CCSS jargon.

    The state department of education even wrote a grant to merge CCSS with the special ed approach–RTI, And mentioning Hirsch is sure to get comments recycled from the 80s about privilege and a need for multicultural experiences.

    • I have never understood the privilege/
      multicultural criticism of Hirsch. His point is that kids aren’t equipped for participation in democratic society and the ability to pursue their happiness if they don’t learn

  3. The idea that content is king suggests that some content is more valuable than other content, which suggests either that truth exists or that one group is exercising hegemony over another group. It doesn’t fit the ideology that individuals are free to choose what they want of knowledge and to construct their own value system based on being true to their own selves.