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The Knowledge Gap: transforming teaching and learning for disadvantaged pupils, with Natalie Wexler

In this episode Natalie Wexler shares a wealth of insight into her book 'The Knowledge Gap: the hidden cause of America's broken education system - and how to fix it.'  In doing so we learn about the distinct parallels between the US and UK education systems when it comes to overcoming the 'achievement gap' that exists between disadvantaged pupils and their more affluent peers.  We also discuss 'The Reading Wars', Knowledge vs. Skills and the important features of a knowledge building curriculum.

Covering Dewey, Piaget, teacher training and more, we look at the impact of this approach for schools in the USA and UK and find out how pupils and teachers are re-discovering a love of education and the profession. 

Education journalist Natalie Wexler focuses on two ideas that have solid evidence behind them, but have been mostly overlooked by schools and reformers, immersing children from less educated families in knowledge about the world and linking that knowledge to writing instruction in the knowledge gap, the hidden cause of America's broken education system and how to fix it. Natalie focuses on the relationship between the currently largely content free elementary curriculum and the so-called achievement gap. The book will take readers inside schools and classrooms showing them what the skills focused approach to literacy instruction looks like, explaining how and why it has become so entrenched and charting possible routes to the knowledge focused instruction that is our best hope of achieving educational and social equity. Hello and welcome to the more teacher talk podcast. Today I'll be speaking to Natalie Wexler. She's the author of The Knowledge Gap: the hidden cause of America's broken education system and how to fix it. She's also the co author with Judith C Hochman of 'The Writing Revolution'. Her articles and essays have appeared in the New York times, the Washington post and other publications. I wonder if you could introduce yourself and tell our listeners a little bit about the work that you do? Sure. Well, I've done a number of things over the course of my life, but for the past eight years or 10 years, I've been primarily an education journalist, first focusing on what was going on in Washington DC where I live in terms of education reform and particularly focusing on what's usually called the achievement gap, the gap in test scores between the 'haves' and 'have nots' essentially. And then about five years ago I started realizing there was a huge problem that transcended Washington DC and decided to write a book about it. So that's taken up a lot of my time. What inspired you to become a, an education journalist? Well, it was sort of backwards in a way. I got fascinated by what was going on in education reform here in DC and I was just going to a lot of panel discussions and reading everything I could get my hands on and visiting schools and I came to realize that there was so much going on that it really wasn't being covered very well by media outlets here. I have a journalism background so I decided to start writing about it, partly to provide more coverage just so that people would know more about what was going on and partly because I felt I would understand things better if I wrote about them, which is really for me the best way to figure things out. The big thing I wanted to figure out was why was it so hard to make progress in narrowing this so-called achievement gap, especially, it seemed, at the high school level. So that's sort of what impelled me to start writing about education. Were there any people that inspired you along the way? Well. I have to say that my co the co-author of the Writing Revolution book, Judith Hochman who was a veteran educator, was the one who I got to know and I really admired and still do admire the method of writing instruction that she developed. I don't know that I would ever have figured out the problem I came to address in The Knowledge Gap if she hadn't basically explained it to me and explained that a lot of what I saw as a problem in high school had its roots in elementary school so I owe her a tremendous debt. What about the passion, the mission to make a difference? This idea about haven and have knots? Where does that come from?

I've always felt that the most important thing I could possibly do with my life is to lessen inequality in society

I've always felt that the most important thing I could possibly do with my life is to lessen inequality in societ. I'd have to say I tried other ways to address that and it was kind of discouraging. You know, we still have a lot of inequality in this society. I think I started from an orientation of let's try to make society a more fairer and a more just place. I also, like many people, assumed that education was the main engine of social mobility. That's sort of been the promise of education that it shouldn't trap you in the circumstances in which you were born, but we haven't made good on that promise. It just seemed incredibly important to me to figure out why that was the case and if there was something we could do to make good on that promise. So if we could just explore that in a little bit more detail: what is the gap and why does it matter so much for children when they start school or through their education journey? Well, I have sort of rephrased the achievement gap as a knowledge gap. What it really is and it's sometimes referred to as an opportunity gap, it primarily refers to a gap in standardized test scores. Of course, there were also gaps in other education outcomes like college attendance and graduation. But the theory I came up with (and I want to make it clear that I was not the first one to come up with this, so I shouldn't say I came up with it) I stumbled upon it and elaborated on it to some extent, but to look at just the gap in test scores and specifically I would say in reading test scores, although this also affects math test scores. We have been looking at that as a gap in skills and have been focusing our instruction even before standardized tests became so important. It's been exacerbated by focusing our instruction on the skills that we think those tests are assessing. It's with reading, to some extent that is the skill of decoding words, sounding out words. Although our standardized tests really don't look specifically at that, they're really reading comprehension tests. So really what it looks like is that we are testing reading comprehension skills, like for example, finding the main idea, so there are these comprehension skills and strategies they're referred to such as finding the main idea or making inferences or comparing and contrasting or things like determining the author's purpose and we spend a lot of time, especially in elementary schools and especially in schools where test scores are low, which tend to be high poverty schools basically drilling kids on these skills.

The problem with that is as cognitive scientists have known for a long time that's really not how reading comprehension works. What's really more important than abstract, generally typical ability to find the main idea is how much you know about the topic

And the theory is it doesn't really matter what they're reading or whether they're acquiring knowledge as long as they're getting really good at these skills, that they'll be able to apply those skills to pretty much any text that's put in front of them. The problem with that is as cognitive scientists have known for a long time that's really not how reading comprehension works. What's really more important than sort of abstract, generally typical ability to find the main idea is how much you know about the topic. So if you know a lot about say baseball, you're going to have an easier time understanding a text about baseball or even retaining new information about it. What that means is instead of drilling kids in these skills and thinking, well, we can wait until middle school or maybe high school to start actually building their knowledge, we need to start building kids' knowledge in kindergarten, if not before.

And that's especially true for the kids who are not as apt to pick up academic or sophisticated knowledge and vocabulary at home outside of school. It explains, to a large extent, this gap in test scores. The kids who, it's not about poverty or race it's really about kids who have more highly educated parents. You know, nobody's learning much actual knowledge information in school at the elementary grades but the kids who have educated parents are picking up a lot of that knowledge at home. The kids who don't have highly educated parents are relying on school for that and they're actually, because there's so much focus on test prep and these supposed skills, they're actually less likely to acquire that knowledge in school. By the time they get, this is why I started out thinking not just me, others, the problem really was with high school, the problem really becomes apparent in high school because when kids get to high school, it's assumed that they know all this stuff, that they know what the differences between a country and a continent or they know something about history and in fact many of them don't because no one has taught the content, not because they can't understand those things or can't learn those things, but because no one has taught it to them and it's just unrealistic to expect that they'll pick it up when starting it all at high school. That resonates a lot and it's something that isn't unique to America. It's something that I can see and relate to from, from here too. It makes me think of something we studied at a college and, and something that, people can still feel quite passionate about even even now: 'the Reading Wars', for example, this idea of top down, bottom up and so on: it's still a very emotive subject - how does that relate to this idea? Well, that phrase, 'the Reading Wars' generally is used to refer to the battle over phonics instruction, which raged here primarily in the 1990s. The combatants as it were, were those who advocated, giving kids systematic instruction in phonics and on the other side those who felt that kids really didn't need that, they would pick it up. You just surround them with books and good children's literature and read to them and let them read and that they would just pick up that skill of decoding. There's a massive amount of scientific evidence showing that while some kids will not need systematic instruction in phonics, most actually will need that to become good fluent readers. And in fact kids who are at the lower end of the socioeconomic spectrum are disproportionately likely to need that kind of instruction. So what has happened now in the last few years, at least in this country, is there's been some people who put in a case for the revival of 'the Reading Wars.' Again, focusing mostly on phonics and there's a radio journalist here named Emily Hanford, who has done a lot to bring this to light and revealing that this sort of truce that was declared in about 2000, which led to something called 'Balanced Literacy', which is an extremely vague phrase that's used to describe all sorts of different things. But the idea was that Balanced Literacy would combine the best of systematic phonics instruction and whole language. This ideology that was sort of an opposition to systematic phonics but what really happened was that the leaders of that balanced literacy movement came out on the whole language side. They kind of incorporated phonics but not in a way that was going to really work. It was sort of mixed in with other things and there was still a lot of emphasis on having kids guess at words using pictures and context. My main issue, which is the building knowledge, really did not get addressed in the Reading Wars as we have known them. There are still even those who are now advocating phonics but often not paying as much attention to the knowledge and comprehension side of things as I think is warranted. There's a science of reading referred to, which I won't go into too many details about, but it's sort of thought to incorporate five pillars of early literacy and most of them have to do with the skills of decoding and phonemic awareness. Then the fifth pillar is comprehension and that has been reduced to - you just have to teach comprehension skills and strategies - which of course is the very thing that I am arguing against. There are some people in that movement arguing for the science of reading who do understand the need to build knowledge, but there were a lot of other people who are really not getting the message about knowledge and think that the science of reading means phonics plus comprehension skills and strategies. There's a lot of science out there supporting the idea of building knowledge that is not getting incorporated into the science of reading terminology. It's fascinating to hear you articulate it in this way. I mean, to give an example, I work at a school where for the past three years a significant number of disadvantaged children outperform the national non-disadvantaged children. We were passionate to try and break the cycle and close the achievement gap, in fact, in a way reverse it, so we feel really proud of that. The strategy that we've used, includes such things as building a really knowledge rich curriculum. Systematic phonics is part of the curriculum offer but really as a junior school, that journey starts much earlier. But interestingly the angle of comprehension - when we start to talk about comprehension, there are still colleagues and there are still people in the sector who, even when faced with these outcomes for disadvantaged pupils, will still say, but you know, look, it's, but it's about the skills and you're taking the skills away. It's almost like a view that's flying in the face of the evidence that's there. There's still strong resistance to that. That there is an effective way to do it. Why might that be? So you're saying there's resistance to the idea of building kids' knowledge? Yes. We wanted to talk about knowledge versus skills and I think that debate has softened now, but I still feel that there are teachers who can be almost quite resistant to the idea that that it is the way to overcome the disadvantage gap.

We've kind of been skipping the ''providing information'' step because it's been undervalued and thought to be largely unnecessary, even harmful

That's certainly true here too. And I would say on this knowledge versus skills idea that, that their intention - you can either go do one or the other when it comes to building knowledge and comprehension - it's not, there's not a choice because you're not going to be able to build those comprehension ''skills'', like the ability to find the main idea unless you build knowledge. The only way to build those skills is really through building knowledge and they're not really skills like decoding or like riding a bike as a skill because the ability to apply them is very dependent on the context. It depends on the topic and how much knowledge you have about the topic. I think to answer your broader question, I think in both from what I know of the UK and England in particular, there is a real antipathy in the education world historically to the whole idea of building knowledge or transmitting information. It used to be called progressive education, now constructivist, an ideology that really favors allowing kids or encouraging kids to just discover things for themselves to construct their own knowledge. And you probably have heard this phrase, you know, you don't want to be the 'sage on the stage'. You want to be the 'guide on the side'. So I think there's this idea that if a teacher stands in front of a class and actually teaches and explains things that that is somehow a reversion to the 19th century schoolmaster droning on, forcing kids to engage in rote memorization and perhaps whipping or caning them if they don't - which of course nobody's advocating that, but there is some truth to the idea that people need to participate in constructing their own knowledge. Absolutely. But there's a difference between saying that and saying that children need to discover information for themselves, especially when it makes no sense. It's tremendously inefficient, especially if pupils are starting out with very little information about the world. Yes, at some point they are going to be participating, but teachers, people with more expertise, need to provide them with information and guide them to think about it. We've kind of been skipping the ''providing information'' step because it's been undervalued and thought to be largely unnecessary, even harmful because of this ideology that prevails.

Why did schools so wholesale move away from the idea of teaching content? Well, I think originally it did have something to do with a reaction against this kind of 19th century school that I described. If we go back to the early century, the roots with John Dewey and his disciples, they were maybe of the view that it was necessary and corrective at the time. A lot of things could be interpreted in different ways. I'm not sure that he would approve of where education is now. I think that it, over the years, over the decades, it's been transformed into this very content averse, skills focused approach. I think that the connection between that content diversion and the focus on comprehension skills and strategies over content is that teachers can feel, ''Well, I'm not droning on about history or boring dates, I am giving these children the tools that they can then use later on to construct their own knowledge from their reading.'' Of course, it doesn't work. I would say the other thing that has been going on certainly in this country in the United States is there has been a real divergence between teacher training programs and schools of education that train perspective teachers on the one hand and the rest of academia on the other. In this country that has its roots in the way teachers, colleges and schools of education came into being, which was they originally were what were called ''normal schools''. They would take often young girls, really even not even young women yet after eighth grade and give them a very basic education so that they could go back to these common schools that only went through eighth grade and teach just the basics of reading and writing and arithmetic. And those ''normal schools'' did become eventually become state colleges of education teacher training, parts of the universities but with historically lower admission standards. They've been viewed as sort of the weak link in academia and as a result, faculty at those teachers' colleges have had kind of a chip on their shoulder. And it's led to a very different kind of culture in education - schools of education - than in the rest of academia. Less of an interest in sort of the scientific method and a kind of suspicion that people doing research in laboratories don't really know what it's like to teach. They don't know what it's like to be in the trenches and sort of have a disregard for the scientific findings about the learning process that they've come up with as well as just a lack of knowledge about those findings. It's challenging. It can be incredibly challenging if, particularly if you've passed through teacher training, and if you've gone through your initial years of teaching and, in particular if the children or if the environment perhaps doesn't have a high level of disadvantage. Perhaps you can quite justifiably, I suppose, come to the conclusion that, ''I don't need to adjust that view.'' You could say that ''this is information which I don't want to listen to because in my, as far as my educational world has been so far, things have been okay.''. Of course, for those who are committed to trying to make a difference for disadvantage pupils, we know that there's is an imperative to find what works to make the difference to close that gap. Simply to repeat a cycle of inequality each year, it doesn't do any justice. It really doesn't take education further. I think that that teachers have a tremendous variety of experiences depending on what kind of schools they end up being placed in or going to. I think that the methods that teachers are taught in their training will work fine for kids who will already have a fairly good base of knowledge to work with who are self-motivated and self-disciplined. But those kids would probably learn, no matter what we did. Exactly. They're not the majority, especially in schools serving the lower end of the socioeconomic spectrum. I think a lot of teachers, they graduate eager and bright eyed and they find that these methods they've been taught do not work in the environment they're in. And can report that it is incredibly stressful and it's difficult. I'm trying something, I've been told it works, but it's not seeming to make a difference.

So what would you say are the important features of a knowledge building curriculum? We have the prevailing literacy elementary literacy curricula in this country that have been focused on these largely illusory comprehension skills and strategies. And instead of doing that they need to focus on actual topics especially, I would argue, topics in history. We have just had in this country the release of national tests showing that, American students - this is eighth graders, so like 13 year olds - that their performance on tests in history, geography and civics has actually declined in the last five years from previous already abysmal levels. And so we're at the point now where only 15% of American eighth graders scored proficient or above on our national history tests and about a quarter scored proficient or above in geography and civics. Something like history, something like geography and I think civics really should be taught within the context of those other things. It's not that you can just wait until kids are teenagers to start introducing them to those topics. It's very possible to get them to actually understand those topics well at that point but it's very hard and it's much easier if they have already some familiarity with the concept of history and the concept of what a country is, what a continent is, all of those things.

We have, especially in the last 20 years in this country, just put those things completely on the back burner, eliminated them completely from a lot of elementary school curriculum. So you need, and I don't think that this should be the responsibility of the individual teacher just as this system we've got now is not the fault of individual teachers. Building knowledge is a gradual, cumulative process, best done through a coherent curriculum. So the first step that schools need to take if they really want to build knowledge effectively, is to adopt a curriculum that introduces kids to these topics that spans at least a couple of weeks on a topic like, well in this country, let's say the American revolution or the human digestive system or whatever. Actually it turns out kids really like learning this stuff. They, they really enjoy it more than they like practicing finding the main idea over and over again. Spending at least a couple of weeks reading aloud and leading discussions about those topics gives kids a chance to absorb that information, store it in their long-term memories and acquire this vocabulary that will stand them in very good stead in years to come. One of the things I did for the book was to follow two early elementary classrooms, six year olds and seven year olds, one classroom using one of the standard skills for comprehension focused curriculum and the other using one of the newer curriculum offers that focus on building kids' knowledge in the way I've described. Both of these classrooms, they weren't identical, but they both had children exclusively from low income families. All of them were children of color and the difference was like night and day. The kids in the content focused classroom, they were learning about, you know, all sorts of things. The war of 1812, (which most American adults know nothing about). Their vocabularies were incredible. They were using words and they learned about Greek myths. They were using words like labyrinth and revenge and opponent in their conversation. And most these kids came from non-English speaking families. So to me that really showed the power of the knowledge building approach. That's a really good example, it just resonates so much. The school here, Frogmore where I am at was one of the lowest performing schools in the country. Here, three years ago, I would describe it as a broken school and lots of what I would describe as skills based approaches had been tried and hammered for years and years with the children. I deliberately and intentionally wanted to prove that nobody loses by adopting this knowledge uilding approach. Nobody loses. But actually the biggest gains are made in those who perhaps need it the most. So it's been a transformational experience that staff feel passionate about and it's been transformational for the children. The by-product of this is that it is transformational for the staff team here who are fantastic and they now love teaching, they love what they are doing. I have talked to many teachers, some who were resistant to this new approach initially, but who have said it transformed their teaching. They would never go back to what they were doing before. They're seeing that the kids, the light bulbs are going off and kids are actually doing things they never imagined that they were capable of. I mean we have so underestimated what kids, especially younger kids, are capable of and what teachers are capable of if you give them the materials that can actually make their jobs so much easier. That's a good point, isn't it? Because at first glance, some of the materials can look quite daunting. And one of the criticisms that I hear, or if I present this to teachers who aren't familiar with these materials, they say that it looks like it's age inappropriate. They'll say that it looks too tough. It looks too tricky. What do you say to those teachers, the ones that you've come across?

On the other side of campus, in the department of Psychology in an undergraduate or graduate psychology course you might find Piaget being taught as intellectual history but not as gospel because his work has been substantially modified by later research

That is something that I've heard a lot and I've talked to those, working with teachers who hear that a lot. And I think it's maybe one of the most frequently heard sort of kinds of pushback. I mean I think first of all, as I think I've mentioned that when teachers start using these materials, they often find that kids are capable of much more than they had thought that they were capable of, of understanding and reacting to. But I think this whole idea of age appropriateness or developmental inappropriateness stems in large part from a misunderstanding of, the work of Piaget, which is taught still in schools of education here as though it were gospel and Piaget, his theory of developmental stages has been interpreted to mean that below a certain age or stage there are certain topics that the kids cannot handle and that they won't be interested in because they're too abstract and too remote from their own experience. And one of those is history. On the other side of campus, in the department of Psychology in an undergraduate or graduate psychology course, you might find Piaget being taught as intellectual history but not as gospel because his work has been substantially modified by later research. And this whole theory of these kind of fixed developmental stages has really been undermined to a large extent. But even if you take Piaget at his word, I don't think he meant to put an entire domain of knowledge like history or science out of reach of children below a certain age. There's really no scientific evidence to support that. In fact, kids can, I have seen, get very interested in topics that have nothing to do with their own lives that are abstract in the sense that they are about different time periods. What is and what does need to be age appropriate is the way those topics are presented. And a great way to present topics in history and science and all sorts of things is through narrative. Not just fiction, but non-fiction narrative. It can be a wonderful way of engaging young children in almost anything. It can be in the form of a story that has characters in conflict. History lends itself beautifully to that presentation because history really is a series of stories and can be presented that way. And I've seen kids, you know, these, these seven-year-olds, where I was following their class through a school year. They'd be on the edges of their seats waiting to find out who won the war of 1812, the Americans or the British, and I have to tell you, they were really rooting for the Americans! It is really a pernicious myth that for kids below a certain age there are certain school topics that they cannot handle. Not only can they handle them, they often love them if they're presented in an engaging way and it's actually very, very good for them. It gives them knowledge and vocabulary that will help them in years to come. That certainly resonates. That is definitely my experience too: not only do the children love them and enjoy this approach to the curriculum, but in my view, nobody loses and everybody actually gains. I've seen examples where the children are desperate to continue their learning, desperate to carry this on beyond the classroom at home, in school, and at school break times. It seems to spark a love of learning. I've also seen teachers who really love teaching! Oh yes, absolutely. They love it. I've had the same experience and even teachers who were initially skeptical or resistant, once they see the effect it has on their children and how much more interesting it is not just for the kids but for them as well, they say, you know, I can't go back to what I was doing before and this has transformed my teaching. You mentioned kids carrying this out of the classroom - I mean, certainly I've heard stories of kids wanting to read more about a topic and going home and telling their parents all about what they've learned in school. I also heard a story when I was researching the book when I was out in Reno, Nevada at a school that served very low income, Spanish speaking children. They had been learning, the school had adopted one of these newer content focused curricula, which happened to be Core Knowledge, language arts and that curriculum covers Greek myths, which I have found all kinds of kids are just fascinated by these Greek myths. And at this school, the teacher I was talking to said, you know, our kids on the playground at recess, they never really play, it's just a free for all. They never play anything that has rules. But when they were doing the Greek myths unit and afterwards the teachers noticed that the kids, the seven-year-olds, were organizing themselves on the playground into groups of Greek gods. And so a little girl might come up to one group and they would say, Oh no, you want to be Athena, we already have an Athena, we could use an Artemis, but if you want to be Athena they're looking for one at that group over there. And this really convinced the teachers at that school of the value of this curriculum and how it was engaging the kids because they had never seen anything that happened in the classroom carried over into play in this way. The argument of: ''Well who decides what the content is?'' You know, this challenge sometimes surfaces and it can be incredibly challenging because it feels like there's a real block at the first stages of engaging with what's such a potentially fantastic resource. Yes. I know in England there is a national curriculum, which, may not be as detailed as some would like, but at least you have that. And to some extent I would think, you know, that debate has been maybe resolved. We have a very decentralized, localized system here. There's no possibility of a national curriculum and we often don't even have a local curriculum and teachers are kind of left to just decide for themselves at the elementary level and sometimes at the middle school level. But you know one of the arguments I say in response - that I put forward - is we do have and are trying to teach content at the high school level. We are able to make those decisions there. The problem is the content we're trying to teach is out of reach of many students because they don't have the background knowledge to understand and absorb it.

We just can't let that be the reason that we deny access to knowledge for the kids who need it the most.

So if we can make those decisions at the high school level where they're largely fruitless, why can't we make those decisions for younger children and give them a fighting chance of actually mastering the content that we expect them to master at the high school level? That one thing. I mean, I don't think that this argument, these ideological arguments over what to include, who decides and what kind of knowledge are as daunting as people would sometimes portray them. I mean, a lot of the knowledge I'm talking about, nobody owns this knowledge. It's very basic knowledge. It's like what is the difference between a city and a state or a city and a country? I mean, I don't think anybody would argue that that kind of knowledge should not be transmitted. So there's that. But to the extent that there are disputes about who decides what knowledge. I mean, first of all, there is no list. I mean there are different bodies of knowledge. These curriculum offers that I have mentioned, they all focus on somewhat different bodies of knowledge and teachers convey them in somewhat different ways. So there are different ways of doing this. There's probably some knowledge we can all agree on, you know, that's really important for kids to have. But even if we do disagree and if there are some difficult decisions that have to be made, we just can't let that be the reason that we deny access to knowledge for the kids who need it the most. I mean, we as adults just have to get past that and make those decisions because kids will be suffering if we don't. Absolutely. So, what about right now - what might the impact of the pandemic be on this? Well it's very troubling. What I've described as the root of the knowledge gap is that the kids who have highly educated parents are able to pick up a lot of knowledge and vocabulary, sort of sophisticated and academic knowledge and vocabulary at home and others are not. And now that kids are home 24-7, of course that situation has been magnified and exacerbated. And a lot of the kids who were getting at least something in terms of knowledge and information from school, some of them don't have access to the internet or they don't have a quiet place to work and a lot of them are, unfortunately, from what I've seen, getting the same kinds of meaningless, let's find the main idea exercises as they used to. In fact, there was a tweet that I saw a few weeks ago now from a parent in New York City of a kindergarten pupil and he said, ''I'm a Pulitzer prize winning journalist and I cannot do my kindergartener's reading assignment.'' He showed a picture of it and it was to find the main idea of a paragraph that actually did not have a main idea. It was really just a list of various sea creatures, you know. I think that for parents like that maybe the silver lining of this situation is they have the wherewithal and the resources to say, wait a minute, this homework assignment doesn't make sense or this remote learning assignment doesn't make sense and maybe what my kid is doing in school all day long doesn't make sense. And maybe ultimately those parents who have a lot more clout than parents with fewer resources will, you know, get on board with this movement to move away from that kind of thing.

In the short term those parents can say, well, I'm not going to waste my kid's time with this absurd assignment and they will provide something a lot more meaningful. And so ultimately when schools do return to session, I think there are probably going to be pretty significant, even more significant gaps in not just skills - we're going to be testing kids for their skills and their grade level and all of that and we're going to then double down on let's, well, just practice finding the main idea more. Actually it will become more urgent than ever for more schools to focus on building kids' knowledge because otherwise we're not going to narrow these gaps that are going to yawn even wider at that point. That's a really powerful argument. A really strong point. It's been great to speak to you and I really appreciate the time that you've taken to share your story and tell us a bit more about, about the book. I do encourage anybody with a remote interest to pick up a copy to explore more and find out more about this topic. Professor Yeap Ban Har said that the problem with a 'pick and mix' approach is that it leaves too much to chance. If there's anything that I can contribute, it's that when we're talking about children from disadvantaged backgrounds who have maybe got the odds stacked against them, then it is too much just to leave their education to chance. Absolutely. I could not agree more. And I think that, you know, teachers go into the teaching profession largely because they want to help kids. I think if we can get the message across that there's a better way to help kids that I think teachers will get on board .

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