The Knowledge Gap: What It Is and How to Narrow It with Natalie Wexler '76, Education Writer

Natalier Wexler is the author of The Knowledge Gap: The Hidden Cause of America's Broken Education System--and How to Fix It (Avery 2019) and co author of The Writing Revolution:A Guide to Enhancing Thinking Through Writing in All Sugjects and Grades.



Despite massive efforts, the test-score gap between students from the wealthiest and poorest families hasn’t narrowed in 50 years. There’s a fundamental explanation that few have mentioned: the standard approach to reading comprehension. Elementary schools spend hours every week on decontextualized skills and strategies like “finding the main idea,” leaving little or no time for social studies and science—especially where test scores are low.

But studies show that comprehension depends far more on how much knowledge the reader has about the topic than on supposed skills. The more academic knowledge and vocabulary you have, the better you do on reading tests—and in life. Hence the phenomenon we call the achievement gap: students who can acquire more knowledge about the world—usually outside school, from their better-educated and higher-income families—have an advantage on tests. To narrow the gap, we need to immerse all children, and especially those from low-income families, in content-rich subjects, building their knowledge beginning in kindergarten if not before—the opposite of what schools have been doing. The good news is that an increasing number of schools are adopting new elementary literacy curricula that focus on knowledge rather than skills, with promising results.


Natalie Wexler is an education writer and the author of The Knowledge Gap: The Hidden Cause of America’s Broken Education System—and How to Fix It (Avery 2019). She is also the co-author, with Judith C. Hochman, of The Writing Revolution: A Guide to Advancing Thinking Through Writing in All Subjects and Grades (Jossey-Bass, 2017), and a senior contributor at Her articles and essays on education and other topics have appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Atlantic, and other publications. She has spoken on education before a wide variety of groups and appeared on a number of TV and radio shows, including Morning Joe and NPR’s On Point and 1A. She lives in Washington, D.C., with her husband and has two adult children.


To purchase the book and read reviews click below:

Knowledge Gap


Date: Thursday, April 8
         6:00 p.m. - 7:00 p.m.

Members of the Harvard Club - FREE

Nonmembers: $15