Learn to teach knowledge

Julius who?

Julius who?

For decades — long before No Child Left Behind and high-stakes testing — elementary teachers have focused on reading and math, spending little time science and social studies, writes Natalie Wexler in a New York Times commentary.

That’s because teachers believe their students need reading skills and strategies, such as “finding the main idea,” she writes. They don’t realize that reading comprehension requires a broad base of knowledge about the world.

Many elementary students spend hours practicing skills-based strategies, reading a book about zebras one day and a story about wizards the next, flitting among subjects.

. . . For students to understand what they’re reading, they need relevant background knowledge and vocabulary.

Common Core calls for “building knowledge systematically,” writes Wexler. But the standards “don’t specify what knowledge students should learn in each grade, because they’re designed to be used across the country.” So most educators are still focusing on skills.

In a comment, Emile, a professor at a “mid-tier university” for more than 25 years, calls for K-12 schools to forget “about instilling love of learning.” Instead, schools should “provide the basic scaffolding for knowledge, and let students take it from there.” Professors won’t have to teach about Enlightenment ideals to students who’ve never heard of the Roman empire.

Reading, math crowd out untested subjects

Language arts and math are crowding out untested subjects, such as art, music, foreign language and sometimes science, say 3rd-to-12th grade public school teachers surveyed by Common Core. The problem is greatest in elementary school.

  • Among those who say crowding out is taking place in their schools, virtually all (93%) believe that this is largely driven by state tests
  • 60% say in recent years there’s been more class time devoted to test-taking skills
  • Almost two out of three teachers (65%) say they’ve “had to skip important topics in [my] subject in order to cover the required curriculum”
  • 80% report that “more and more” of the time they should be spending on teaching students is spent on “paperwork and reporting requirements to meet state standards”

Most teachers say their school is offering more help to students struggling in math and language arts.  However, the strong focus on reading and math affects all students, not just those who need extra help, according to 77% of teachers.