E.D. Hirsch Jr. – How to Stop the Drop in Verbal Scores!

Dear Commons Community,

E.D. Hirsch, Jr. has an op—ed piece in the NY Times today on the need to integrate more content into the language arts programs for early childhood students.     His piece is in response to the latest reporting that the reading and writing scores of American high-schoolers on the SAT have once again declined.   He rightfully comments that the language competence of our students fell steeply in the 1970s and has never recovered.

I don’t agree with everything he says .  For instance:

“This is very worrisome, because the best single measure of the overall quality of our primary and secondary schools is the average verbal score of 17-year-olds. This score correlates with the ability to learn new things readily, to communicate with others and to hold down a job. It also predicts future income.”

The SAT essentially is designed to predict success in the first year of undergraduate study.  Anything beyond this is speculation.  There have also been issues raised about minority bias on the wording of questions on the SATs.  However, I tend to agree with Hirsch’s basic premise that is to teach content and word meaning as early as possible and not just the mechanics of reading.   He comments:

“In the decades before the Great Verbal Decline, a content-rich elementary school experience evolved into a content-light, skills-based, test-centered approach.”  The currently popular “drill and kill” approaches in many of our urban schools that are designed strictly to pass standardized tests has failed to improve the reading and writing ability of children.

Hirsch is right to signal the alarm.




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