Archive for May 2nd, 2003

2nd May
2003

First Published in The New York Sun, May 2, 2003

By Andrew Wolf

Why do poor children have so much trouble learning to read? One of our nation’s great educational theorists, E.D. Hirsch Jr., and a number of other researchers, writing in the current edition of American Educator, the magazine of the American Federation of Teachers, have an answer. They present a compelling argument that the primary reason these children fall behind is a huge vocabulary deficit. This deficit puts them at an increasing disadvantage as they get older and the material they must read becomes more complex. Mr. Hirsch is the author of “The Schools We Need and Why We Don’t Have Them,” the book I generously purchased for the schools chancellor, Joel Klein, when he assumed his job last summer. Unfortunately, Mr. Klein seems to have lost his copy. None of the educational decisions he has made so far reflect an understanding of Mr. Hirsch’s sound ideas.

According to Mr. Hirsch, “A 12 thgrade student who scores well enough on the verbal portion of the SAT to get into a selective college knows between 60,000 and 100,000 words.” If we average this out to 80,000 words, and assume that the period of vocabulary acquisition of our high school senior is the 15 years between age 2 and 17, our student needs to learn an average of fifteen words a day. This is not going to happen in school alone. “Most vocabulary words,” Mr. Hirsch argues, result “incidentally, from massive immersion in the world of language and knowledge.” (more…)