PublicSquare Seminars

This seminar examines a largely overlooked reason for our failure to narrow the substantial gap in test scores between students at the top and bottom of the socioeconomic spectrum—and to raise overall achievement—over the past 50 years. Policymakers and reformers have viewed the problem as one of skills, leading educators to focus intensively on supposed reading comprehension skills like “finding the main idea” and marginalize social studies and science. Cognitive science, however, indicates the problem is fundamentally a lack of academic knowledge and vocabulary, especially among students from less educated families. As some schools are now discovering, the solution is to immerse all students in a rich, content-focused curriculum, beginning in the early elementary grades.

Leading education journalist, Natalie Wexler, is a senior contributor Forbes.com and the author of The Knowledge Gap: The Hidden Cause of America’s Broken Education System—and How to Fix It (2019) which was deemed “essential reading for teachers, education administrators, and policymakers alike” by Library Journal. She is the coauthor, with Judith C. Hochman, of The Writing Revolution: A Guide to Advancing Thinking Through Writing in All Subjects and Grades (2017). Wexler has written articles and op-eds on education for The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Atlantic, and other publications. Wexler blogs about education for Greater Greater Washington and on her own blog, DC Eduphile. She is a graduate Radcliffe College (A.B. 1976, magna cum laude), where she wrote for The Harvard Crimson. She also has degrees from the University of Sussex (M.A. 1977), and the University of Pennsylvania Law School (J.D. 1983), where she served as editor-in-chief of the University of Pennsylvania Law Review. After graduating law school, she worked as a law clerk for Judge Alvin Benjamin Rubin of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, and then for Associate Justice Byron R. White of the United States Supreme Court. Following her clerkships, she practiced law with Bredhoff & Kaiser in Washington, D.C.

This event has been made possible through the generosity of Mitchell Kauffman and Joanne Moran.

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Seminar Readings

Natalie Wexler, “The Achievement Gap Hasn’t Budged in 50 Years. Now What?” Forbes.com (Mar 17, 2019)
Daniel T. Willingham, “How to Get Your Mind to Read,” The New York Times (November 11, 2015)
Natalie Wexler, “Elementary Education Has Gone Terribly Wrong,” The Atlantic (August 2019)
Rory Dollard, “England vs West Indies Result: Chris Jordan Skittles Caribbean Rivals for 45 to Claim Biggest T20 win,” Independent (March 9, 2019)

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