Here’s a short op-ed in the Washington Post by E. D. Hirsch. It reiterates a point Hirsch has made about the the K-8 curriculum, emphasizing a concept he calls Core Knowledge. Reading comprehension, he says, isn’t just a matter of decoding words into meanings. It requires a background knowledge, some acquaintance with the content of the text being read: “Knowing something of the topic you’re reading about is the most important variable in comprehension.”
And so, pedagogies that focus solely on abstract mental skills such as critical thinking and, by choice or by practicality, downplay content knowledge, disable students from improving their scores. We need all students to acquire a core knowledge, and if the curriclum continues to fracture into bits and pieces of history, literature, civics, etc., don’t expect much improvement.