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The Knowledge Deficit: Closing the Shocking Education Gap for American Children
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The Knowledge Deficit: Closing the Shocking Education Gap for American Children

3.92  ·  Rating details ·  345 ratings  ·  52 reviews
The Knowledge Deficit illuminates the real issue in education today -- without an effective curriculum, American students are losing the global education race. In this persuasive book, the esteemed education critic, activist, and best-selling author E.D. Hirsch, Jr., shows that although schools are teaching the mechanics of reading, they fail to convey the knowledge needed ...more
Paperback, 192 pages
Published April 1st 2007 by Mariner Books (first published January 1st 2006)
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Susan Bazzett-Griffith
Having spent many years in the classroom as a very successful Language Arts teacher despite not having a degree in education, but one in English Literature, I agree with this author's thesis that reading cannot be taught in a vacuum, so much so that I want to hand out copies of the book to every teacher at my son's elementary school. Hirsch's book explains why it is, that despite tons of monies and decades of educational "research", that American students literacy and reading scores, no matter s ...more
Oct 26, 2012 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
This book was plagued by Henny-Penny-ism. Despite all the multiple proclamations that the sky is falling, I remain unconvinced. Hirsch is quick to dismiss any theories about poverty, racism and class being strong determinants of a child's performance in traditional school systems. However, one doesn't hear of an illiteracy epidemic in private schools. In the end, Hirsch's blind-spot for social injustice only belies his advocacy of middle-class norms as the be-all and end-all of any educational p ...more
Feb 17, 2010 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: anyone in education
I just finished reading The Schools We Need and Why We Don't Have Them last week, and then started The Knowledge Deficit right after that. I think that reading the two, one right after the other, is part of why I am only giving this book four stars. Much of what he said in The Schools We Need was repeated in Knowledge Deficit. When I say repeated, I mean word-for-word repeated - there were two whole pages that were a cut and paste without even a word different between the two books. That got to ...more
Sep 04, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: education
This was more of an essay than a book. Two main arguments.

1. Modern American education is paralysingly dominated by one ideology with roots in the Romantic movement - that learning should be natural (a la Emile). There's also what he calls the formalist ideology, that children should learn skills, not facts. I already knew from teaching GP that the latter was nonsense, but I hadn't realised how much I took the naturalist ideology for granted.

2. Reading proficiency requires not only decoding ski
Erik Akre
Mar 27, 2016 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: educators of all kinds; especially curriculum people
Shelves: education, america
What an interesting book! I must honor E.D. Hirsch for his passionate and convincing argument. I must say that I'm both with him and against him.

His point is that when American children learn, they don't really learn facts about the world, or at least not very many. He says that there are certain things that people must simply know, in order to be functioning members of society, both nationally and globally. He argues that without knowledge of these facts, students in our education system will f
William Schram
Dec 28, 2018 rated it really liked it
The Knowledge Deficit by E. D. Hirsch Jr. has an interesting title and tagline. If you feel that American Children need to buckle down and learn more things then this book might be for you.

While it seems as though the book will focus on schools in general, it seems as though it mainly concentrates on reading comprehension. This book does not merely decry the problems inherent in our public school system, it also discusses ways to correct these issues. The problem might be that there are far too
Jun 13, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
An important book

Hirsch here goes into so much about what is wrong in American education. But perhaps more importantly his ideas give insight into our current political climate and the increasingly divisive culture wars in our country.
Jun 20, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: edu
Reading is not just a skill; it depends on core knowledge. Definitely a revolutionary text since most policies focus on teaching reading skills believing knowledge develops naturally. This country could stand a bit of commonality among states’ curricula.
Jenny Olechowski
Oct 05, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: education
A book with incredibly relevant, useful and reassuring studies...thank you!
Audrey Smith
Oct 06, 2020 rated it really liked it
Intriguing. His ideas make a lot of sense, but I wish he had addressed second language education.
Chase Parsley
Mar 08, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This is an extremely important book that all educators should read. It makes the case that American students are knowledge-poor, knowledge in our schools is under attack (in the guise of "skills"), and that background knowledge turns out to be extremely important in life. Reading, writing, and listening are all cognitively related, and they require the individual to have an extensive foundation of basic knowledge. This is why a hearty, well-rounded education of literature, social studies, scienc ...more
Mar 04, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Although there is some repetition from previous books, as other reviewers have pointed out, sometimes repetition is necessary to get the point across. I believe he did this purposely. His argument remains the same across his books- that the American school system needs to establish some common curriculum content and sequencing in order to allow students to gradually acquire knowledge. That said, the main points of the book are different than his others. In this book, Hirsch explains how our curr ...more
Selim Tlili
Nov 26, 2016 rated it liked it
A few years ago I was in a professional development course and I was given this beauty of drivel from the Assistant Principal:
"The time of teachers being the 'sage on stage' is over. We need teachers to be the 'guide on the side' with the understanding that if we give students the proper ingredients they will be able to bake their own wonderful 'knowledge bread'"
While I wouldn't have said anything out loud about that pile of nonsense I do wish I had read this book back then. ED Hirsch managed t
John King
Feb 23, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
My son is in fourth grade. This analysis really hit home.

The only thing I dispute is at 45% of public school children change their residences it every year. That seems too high, but maybe it's not too high in some places.
James Carter
Jul 14, 2016 rated it really liked it
I am a big fan of E.D. Hirsch, Jr.'s books, and I have read many of them.

He makes a lot of good points in The Knowledge Deficit and backs them up with evidence. There are few that I didn't know before or didn't think about, so E.D. makes me aware of them.

However, there are still lingering questions such as:

1. What can you do with the students who come from another country like Mexico, El Salvador, etc., especially at a late period? I mean, they have no background knowledge about the culture of t
I had some difficulty determining the method by which to rate this particular book, as three stars seemed too mild and four stars too dramatic for the personal reaction it elicited. Before beginning the first chapter, I ventured to its Goodreads page and spent a few moments perusing reviewers' comments on the contents. One review described the presentation of his theory to be too pompous, masking what he had to say with the big words employed to say it, and I did not find this to be the case; ne ...more
Brian Ayres
Mar 22, 2008 rated it really liked it
As an educator and someone who has spent 22 of the last 26 years in some form of public education, I was always reluctant to submit to a national curriculum, believing in "local control" of schools. But after reading E.D. Hirsch's latest critique of our knowledge gap in public schools, consider me a convert. Hirsch makes the case for core knowledge in the early grades to establish an even base for an ever-mobile student population to have stability in their schooling.

Basing his ideas on modern c
Jan 25, 2009 rated it it was ok
E. D. Hirsch, Jr., author of the best-selling Cultural Literacy and founder of the Core Knowledge Foundation, takes a steely look at the failure of the American education system to teach a generation of children to read at a proficient level. His culprits are not the beleaguered teachers or the underfunded schools, but the educational philosophy that separates reading comprehension from content. He insists that in order to read with understanding, one must have a basic understanding of the body ...more
May 07, 2013 rated it it was ok
Shelves: unfinished
This book was hard work, so much so that I just couldn't bring myself to keep going. The author is trying too hard to make himself sound authoritative and intelligent and in the end it just comes off sounding pompous and preachy. I want to see the facts and be told how I can fix things, not have to wade through all your big words to get there.

On the other hand, I don't disagree with his premise. There is good info to be had here if you want to wade through to find it.

I think Why Don't Students
Sep 04, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: education
This was more of an essay than a book. Two main arguments.

1. Modern American education is paralysingly dominated by one ideology with roots in the Romantic movement - that learning should be natural (a la Emile). There's also what he calls the formalist ideology, that children should learn skills, not facts. I already knew from teaching GP that the latter was nonsense, but I hadn't realised how much I took the naturalist ideology for granted.

2. Reading proficiency requires not only decoding ski
Lisa Griffin
Nov 27, 2011 rated it liked it
Why are so many well-intentioned educational reforms failing to achieve the desired results? In this book, E.D. Hirsch argues that we're spending too much time teaching kids to "decode" combinations of letters when what we really want is to teach them to read and comprehend, something that requires basic background knowledge. He challenges the idea that learning is "natural" and that students can pick up reading as instinctively as they pick up the spoken world. He argues that test scores will g ...more
First of all, it's important for you to know that I had to read this for a class. That being said...

The first chapter was great! It really grabbed my attention and I thought "Wow, for an educational book, this one is going to be pretty amazing!". That was short lived unfortunately. The beginning of each subsequent chapter grabbed me but after the first paragraph, the information became repetitive. Towards the end, the last few chapters were repetitive on the previous ones.

There were others in m
Matt Fitz
Feb 02, 2016 rated it really liked it
Assigned reading from my son's school, a classical academy built around a core knowledge/cultural literacy framework. Hope the other parents read it as well. Having read Cultural Literacy in the 90s as part of my own education as a teacher, Hirsch still espouses that the downfall of the American education system is the use of "process-learning" versus "content learning." In essence, we are teaching reading as a skill transferable to any subject needed to be learned as opposed to ensuring childre ...more
Cindy Raquepau
Sep 28, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Be ready to have the current education pedagogy discredited by statistics and scholars. Advocatesreturning to the education model that has been used for centuries, and throwing away all education theories
that do not have several years worth of quantifiable studies proving that theory is valid it shouldn't be used by the majority of the schools. This book if for the parent who wonders if some of the learning activitiestheir kids do is worthwhile and helps them understand what they might be missi
Jun 04, 2014 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
I'd give it no stars if I could. It's one big rant about how the author pretty much thinks all teachers are bad teachers; but not because they're bad teacher, because they had bad teachers. He also gives no specific recommendations for what this specific knowledge we all need to teach our children (you'd probably have to buy and implement his curriculum for that) and he uses facts out of context for his own benefit. While the idea is a good one (teaching children knowledge to help them better un ...more
Mar 30, 2009 rated it liked it
Not very long, but a fairly dense read, heavy on the theory. Convincing arguments regarding the need for specific "core knowledge" to increase reading comprehension competence. The last chapter addressed the lack of continuity in education, across states, communities and even within the same school, which leads to more wasted time in the classroom since more review is required to ensure that all of the students are starting from the same point. Not bad, but I've liked some of his other, more pra ...more
Jonathan Harmon
Mar 04, 2015 rated it really liked it
Hirsch succeeds at arguing that a common base of knowledge, if it is begun to be taught to students at a very early age, will have huge long-term effects not only on their individual reading comprehension, but on closing the inequality gap, since this is where disadvantaged students need help the most. But while he successfully demonstrates that this element is lacking in today's American schools, he is not successful at demonstrating that it should replace or upend the current theories of teach ...more
Annie Kate
This is an excellent book for anyone involved in education, whether at home or in a traditional school. I plan to write at least one blog post based on this book, but for now I'll just point out Hirsch's main point:

Good reading comprehension is based on learning an enormous amount of content.

As a homeschooler, I believe that Charlotte Mason's methods are the best way to teach this content, but classical education, active unschooling, or even lots of reading aloud are also wonderful ways to do
Jun 02, 2008 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
Interesting book. Author is major force behind the "core knowledge" curriculum. His argument in this book is that students have to have a certain amount of basic, cultural knowledge for reading comprehension to grow. (A theory for the 4th grade slump where students should move from decoding to comprehension.) He mentions that a reader must be familiar with 90% of a text's subject for it to make sense. It made sense to me; I'm curious if his thoughts are mainstream in the education community. I g ...more
Jul 22, 2009 rated it it was amazing
did I read this? I have no idea. and it's not age--it's throughput. So many books end up on my radar that I lose track of things I do a quick reading of and then return to the library so someone else can read it.

My own belief is that E.D. Hirsch and Mark Bauerlein are on the right track in their approach to education. you have to learn words and match them to things, and it builds up background knowledge. Without the background knowledge to understand what you read, you will hit a wall and not
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E. D. Hirsch, Jr. is the founder and chairman of the Core Knowledge Foundation and professor emeritus of education and humanities at the University of Virginia. He is the author of several acclaimed books on education in which he has persisted as a voice of reason making the case for equality of educational opportunity.

A highly regarded literary critic and professor of English earlier in his caree

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