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This piece is fair and balanced. You do a great job contextualizing concerns expressed. You mention this study:

"Researchers at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute discovered that children who got 30 more minutes a day of social studies than average had higher reading scores by fifth grade. The benefit was greatest for those from low-income families and negligible for those from the highest-income families. At the same time, an extra 30 minutes a day on reading was not correlated with higher reading scores. One likely reason is that social studies was providing students with the knowledge and vocabulary they needed to understand the passages on reading tests—especially if they were unlikely to pick up that knowledge at home."

I definitely think we can do a better job with knowledge-building during the literacy block. But I wonder if we are neglecting the broader question of what science and social study look like in the elementary classroom and how we can do a better job integrating the so-called 'content areas' with reading instruction. Core Knowledge is an ELA program. What connection, if any, is there between the knowledge-building in that program and the science and social studies sequence in the same K-6 classrooms that use it? Given the time constraints teachers face, I think we need to do a much better job providing our teachers with an integrated curriculum to make lessons simpler for the teacher and deeper for the students.

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Yes, CKLA is an ELA program--and it should ideally be supplemented with social studies or history curricula, as well as science curricula, that relate to its topics. But the curriculum involved in this study wasn't CKLA (see the comment from Linda Diamond and my response). It actually covered all subjects in the curriculum in a pretty coherent way.

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Thank you for the clarification. When I did my teacher-training program decades ago to become a high-school English teacher, all trainees were required to take a course called 'reading in the content areas'. When I became an overworked, overwhelmed English teacher, I could see how desperately I needed reading support from my content area colleagues. This is why I know that knowledge-building is necessary but not sufficientd to develop reading comprehension skills. And also why an ELA program focused on knowledge-building should complement--not compete with--the existing science and social studies programs. I keep thinking about that wonderful Sesame Street story, Grover and the Everything in the Whole Wide World Museum. We simply don't have time to teach everything in the whole wide world.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U15HH9EknOY&t=8s

Although I work primarily with small groups of struggling first and second graders, I've been working with a third grade class once a week to help them with 'paragraph shrinking' in the service of summary writing. As you know, Steve Graham's Carnege Report, Writing to Read: Evidence for How Writing Can Improve Reading, emphasizes the importance of summary writing, which is not by any means an intuitive process for elementary students. If I add 30 more minutes of read-aloud time, I have to subtract those 30 minutes from something else. The needs are many and the oportunity costs are real.

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I recently listened to the podcast and have been following your sub for a few months now. I have a query that I've tried to investigate a bit and haven't gotten very far, and I wonder if, in your experience, you've run into anything that might help answer the query.

It was prompted by a statistic in this study: https://education.virginia.edu/news-stories/study-knowledge-rich-curriculum-significantly-boosts-reading-scores that reads "To put the 16-point gain into perspective: U.S. students placed 15th among 50 countries taking the 2016 PIRLS 4th grade Reading/English test. But, if national student gains were similar to the gains realized in this intervention, the U.S. would place among the top five countries."

That made me wonder what kind of curricula other countries (Finland!) use and if that has any bearing on how well they consistently perform on measures of education around the world. Caveat being, of course, that the US has a diverse population that many other countries do not have to factor in when considering curriculum choices.

Do you have any thoughts or resources that might address this wondering?

Full disclosure: I am an editor at a curriculum publisher who works on a popular intervention product and wants to do the best possible thing for the students who use the program I work on.

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Generally, international comparisons on education can be risky, partly because underlying conditions can be very different and partly because if you're looking at something like the PISA--which tests 15-year-olds--you need to look not just at what a country is doing NOW but what they were doing 9 or 10 years before, when kids were starting school. There was a lot of interest in Finland, for example, when it came out on top of PISA around 2000, and people went to look at what the system was like in 2000. It seemed pretty loose, and teachers had a lot of autonomy. But they SHOULD have looked at what it HAD been like when those students were younger. They would have discovered it was highly centralized. In fact, Finland's PISA ranking has slipped pretty dramatically since it loosened its education system.

Based on what I've read and heard, the countries that do the best on international tests have pretty specific national curricula that focus on content, plus assessments that are aligned to that content--and that include written responses. Lately Estonia has been doing quite well, and I believe it conforms to that model.

You might want to check out this book, freely available online, that compares different education systems and their PISA scores: https://link.springer.com/book/10.1007/978-3-030-59031-4. Several years ago I moderated on online panel discussion with some of the authors, but I can't find the video of that, unfortunately.

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Fine writer and reader of Substack—we are starting a movement to get a poetry section added to the platform. Can I ask, are you with us?

https://substack.com/profile/10309929-david/note/c-15579327

If so, please consider clicking the above link and liking the Notes post—leave a comment or even share within your own community. Poetry lives on in the minds of hearts of writers, it breathes on the page.

Your voice can be heard among the starry illuminations, howling at the moon.

Thank you for your time and support.

Love and appreciation,

David

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Excellent summary of the state of the field.

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Why can’t we test what we teach through reading and writing in all areas and call it a day? For ELA courses, as one example, test reading using the texts students are assigned in those courses. Once students are “into them,” test the next chapter not-yet read. I do not see the need for reading tests that are based on the faulty notion that reading is a general skill. Let’s test reading fairly.

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I am very glad you wrote this well balanced article about the study concerns. I am raising one other: the fact that the schools were Core Knowledge Foundation charters and started some time ago suggests that equating the findings to the Amplify CKLA curriculum is not straightforward. The Amplify CKLA curriculum is not the same but is more explicit and more comprehensive than was the original Core Knowledge foundation program. Comparing different versions of curriculum is fraught with challenges because many changes often have occurred. In order to say the results of A mean that B also has those results, one would have to first do a complete analysis to determine the identical content, approach, amount of practice, etc.

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Right, CKLA and the Core Knowledge Sequence are different. The Sequence is more like a "scope and sequence," with lists of topics, and schools need to basically figure out exactly how they'll teach the topics. So there's probably more variation between schools with the Sequence.

At the same time, I'd say the Sequence is more "comprehensive," because it covers all subjects, including math, history and geography, and science, rather than just "language arts." That having been said, there is substantial overlap in the topics covered in CKLA and the Sequence.

But I see this study more as relating to the concept of a knowledge-building curriculum rather than any one curriculum. It would be nice to have detailed studies comparing, e.g., different knowledge-building curricula. But we're a long way from that, if we ever get there.

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