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Has Reading Instruction Lost the 'Gist'?

In the New York Times, literary critic and Core Knowledge Foundation founder E.D. Hirsch reasserts his case that the recent drop in SAT reading scores derives not from student demographic changes but from a long-term de-intellectualization of elementary school curricula:

The most credible analyses have shown that the chief causes [of the verbal scores decline] were not demographics or TV watching, but vast curricular changes, especially in the critical early grades. In the decades before the Great Verbal Decline, a content-rich elementary school experience evolved into a content-light, skills-based, test-centered approach.

For Hirsch, strong reading skills are dependent on the development of in-depth content or background knowledge—or, as he explains it here, the ability to understand "the gist of what we are hearing or reading" and intuitively grasp the meanings of unfamiliar words. For teachers, developing this facility in students would mean, in part, staying with topics for longer periods time.

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