WV Notification of Intent (NOI)

Print or hand write a Notification of Intent (NOI). Mail it certified, return receipt, to your local Board of Education, addressed to the county superintendent of education. In rare circumstances, you might choose to hand deliver it and asking for a copy stamped “Received” with a date–this is not recommended. Make sure it includes:

Date County Name and age of school-aged children being homeschooled

“The child(ren) listed above will receive instruction in reading, language, mathematics, science and social studies. Further, the child(ren) will be annually assessed in accordance with WV Code 18-8-1(c)(2).”

I shall notify the county superintendent upon termination of home instruction for a child who is of compulsory attendance age or upon moving to a new county. Evidence of a high school diploma or equivalent, or a post-secondary degree or certificate, for the person(s) providing the instruction is either attached or on file in your office.”

NOTE: Upon establishing residence in a new county, the person providing home instruction shall notify the previous county superintendent and submit a new notice of intent to the superintendent of the new county of residence.

WV Portfolio Reviews

Most public school teachers are unfamiliar with homeschooling requirements for portfolio reviews. Use a home school-friendly teacher instead. The West Virginia Homeschool Haven and the Unsocialized Homeschoolers of West Virginia Facebook groups provide easy access to experienced portfolio reviewers.

Do not send in the entire portfolio, just the written narrative.

WV Code §18-8-1 provides in part that:

(2) The child meets the requirements set forth in this subdivision:

(C)  Annually, the person or persons providing home instruction shall obtain an academic assessment of the child for the previous school year in one of the following ways:

(iii)  A portfolio of samples of the child’s work is reviewed by a certified teacher who determines whether the child’s academic progress for the year is in accordance with the child’s abilities. The teacher shall provide a written narrative about the child’s progress in the areas of reading, language, mathematics, science and social studies and shall note any areas which, in the professional opinion of the reviewer, show need for improvement or remediation. If the narrative indicates that the child’s academic progress for the year is in accordance with the child’s abilities, the child is considered to have made acceptable progress;

D) A parent or legal guardian shall maintain copies of each student’s Academic Assessment for three years. When the annual assessment fails to show acceptable progress, the person or persons providing home instruction shall initiate a remedial program to foster acceptable progress. ….

(E) The parent or legal guardian shall submit to the county superintendent the results of the academic assessment of the child at grade levels three, five, eight and eleven, as applicable, by June 30 of the year in which the assessment was administered.

Assessing Your Children

How do you know what your child knows? Are you worried about them being behind in math or reading? What grade are they really capable of doing? Did your child actually learn all the key concepts last year? If you’re concerned about your child being behind, or ahead, one way to figure it out is to test them.

WVHEA’s annual spring testing meets state requirements. The TerraNova is a “norm-referenced” test. Norm-referenced is a percentage ranking compared to an average population. For example, Johnny is at 45th percentile. This means if you took 100 students and ranked them from top to bottom, Johnny would be 45 from the bottom. The TerraNova is a good annual test, but your score report usually doesn’t offer the detailed information you might want as your child’s teacher–is Tommy just being difficult, or can he really not divide two-digit decimals?

One product to test your child’s math and reading levels is Let’s Go Learn’s ADAM and DORA tests–available for homeschoolers. They are “criterion-referenced” because they report in grade level equivalent scores.  For example, Jane’s phonics skills are low 4th grade level. They are also:

  • online (computer, iPad, or tablet), meaning your child can do them in their pajamas
  • untimed (as many sessions as you like, take as long as your child needs, when your child is ready to work), and
  • individualized, adaptive tests (questions change depending on whether they got it right or wrong, so you know what grade level your child is actually capable of).

The best part is that they give you many pages of detailed results (Johnny can add like fractions, but not unlike fractions, for example). Sample report.

These are not the only tests, or even the best tests (an educational psychologist can administer much more detailed, much more thorough assessments, including screening for learning disabilities), but these tests can be a useful part of your homeschool planning.

Annual Assessments in WV

Chapter 18, Article 8, Section 1 lays out the compulsory school attendance requirement in West Virginia, and the exemptions–including homeschooling. In order to qualify for exemption c, subdivision 2, you must begin homeschooling with an NOI (parts A and B), and “obtain an academic assessment of the child for the previous school year“.

There are four ways to do this, two of which are not usually recommended.

Recommended:

  • WVHEA offers the first option every spring: “a nationally normed standardized achievement test published or normed not more than ten years from the date of administration and administered under the conditions as set forth by the published instructions of the selected test and by a person qualified in accordance with the test’s published guidelines in the subjects of reading, language, mathematics, science and social studies”
  • The third option is a portfolio review by a certified teacher. This is a recommended method, although WVHEA does not typically recommend working with public school teachers because they are rarely aware of the legal requirements of homeschooling. WVHEA maintains a list of portfolio reviewers, although WVHEA does not endorse any particular reviewer. The homeschooling parent is responsible for locating a portfolio reviewer with whom they feel comfortable, and paying for the portfolio review.

Not Recommended:

  • The second option (the testing program currently in use in the state’s public schools) is not usually recommended, because homeschoolers are legally required to obtain the results by June 30, while the public school testing program results are often not yet back by then. Every year, WVHEA takes calls from homeschoolers who have been contacted by their local BOEs because they have not yet turned in their annual assessments, because the results aren’t yet available to them. Therefore, this option is not usually recommended.
  • The final option is “an alternative academic assessment of proficiency that is mutually agreed upon by the parent or legal guardian and the county superintendent.” This is not typically recommended because of the imbalance of power between the homeschooling parent and the county superintendent. Every year, WVHEA takes calls from homeschoolers who chose this option, and find that they’re having difficulty working with the superintendent’s designee, usually because they’re not aware of the law. Therefore, this option is not usually recommended.

Once the option is selected, you are required to keep copies of each child’s academic assessment for 3 years. These assessments assist parents in combating charges of educational neglect.

“The parent or legal guardian shall submit to the county superintendent the results of the academic assessment of the child at grade levels three, five, eight and eleven, as applicable, by June 30 of the year in which the assessment was administered.”

Holding a child back or double-promoting a child does not exempt them from the requirement for an assessment for a given grade level.

Homeschooling Kindergarten in WV

WV Code §18-8-1a covers when students are required to start school and how you get in. Beginning in the school year 2019-2020, parents don’t have to file a Notification of Intent (NOI) until the child is six by July 1, or if they’ve enrolled in a publicly supported kindergarten program. Easy, right? Then why do school systems call Child Protective Services?

Most parents want to start their child in kindergarten at age 5.

WV Code says: “beginning in the school year 2019-2020, compulsory school attendance begins with the school year in which the sixth birthday is reached prior to July 1 of such year or upon enrolling in a publicly supported kindergarten program.”

The child isn’t legally required to attend school yet, and so no NOI is legally required. However, the law continues on to say:

(b) Attendance at a state-approved or Montessori kindergarten, as provided in section eighteen, article five of this chapter, is deemed school attendance for purposes of this section. Prior to entrance into the first grade in accordance with section five, article two of this chapter, each child must have either:

     (1) Successfully completed such publicly or privately supported, state-approved kindergarten program or Montessori kindergarten program; or

     (2) Successfully completed an entrance test of basic readiness skills approved by the county in which the school is located. The test may be administered in lieu of kindergarten attendance only under extraordinary circumstances to be determined by the county board.

If parents have done kindergarten at home and haven’t filed an NOI, from the BOE’s point of view the child hasn’t yet been in school and the kindergarten law would apply. Therefore, if parents try to enroll their child in first grade in a public school, they will either deny entrance to first grade, or test the child into first grade.

As a result, if parents are homeschooling kindergarten and there is a possibility that their child may attend first grade in the public school system, parents should try to make sure the child is prepared to pass a first grade level reading and math test.

This is good advice even though the law does not require that homeschoolers use the public school standards for reading, language, mathematics, science and social studies.

If the parent doesn’t mind a younger child doing kindergarten twice, once at home and once at school, this is not an issue.

Because the law doesn’t explicitly mention homeschooling as an acceptable substitute for kindergarten, filing an NOI and obtaining an end-of-year assessment is not a guarantee that homeschooling will be accepted for entrance into first grade, but it certainly increases the odds.

Note that the law only applies to children entering the first grade – a second grader would probably not be sent back to kindergarten.

However, if

  • parents try to enroll their child in first grade without an NOI or an end-of-year assessment, and
  • the school system tests the child and believes that the child should be placed in kindergarten on the results of the test, but
  • parents file an NOI for homeschooling first grade instead of taking the kindergarten placement,
  • then a school system may file charges of educational neglect with the Department of Health and Human Resources.

At this point, parents should hire an attorney, assuming they’re not already a member of a homeschool legal defense association.

–Courtney Ostaff (2018)

Common Concerns

Academics – Homeschoolers generally do well academically. In fact, children who received structured homeschooling had superior test results compared to their peers, anywhere from a half-grade advantage in math to 2.2 grade levels in reading.

Socialization – Homeschoolers tend to walk their own path. Otherwise, they wouldn’t be homeschooling! But, homeschoolers have many opportunities to be social—in fact, many experienced homeschoolers are so busy with activities outside the home that they work to find time to do academics! More research is available here and here.

Special Education – One of the strengths of homeschooling is the ability to tailor the education to meet the needs of the individual student. One size does not fit all—especially for children with special needs. Homeschooling parents have access to a wide range of resources to help their children.

Sports – Homeschoolers in WV cannot play WVSSAC sports. But, depending on your area, your student can participate in local, private leagues and teams.

College – Some of the best colleges in the world love homeschoolers, and accept them at higher rates than the most applicants. WV parents issue their child’s diplomas and transcripts, legally equivalent to public school diplomas.

–by Courtney Ostaff

I’m not going to be guilt-tripped about homeschooling

It’s not about charter schools. While I used to be firmly anti-charter schools, I have come to change my mind over the years. Vesia Hawkins, in particular, has persuaded me that for students who are frequently marginalized and under served by traditional public schools, charters are an important choice. For example, “only 17.5% of Black/Hispanic/Native American students read at grade level,” but minority students who attend charter schools focused on their success do better on test scores.

And though I used to be firmly anti-test, I have become persuaded that we cannot ignore them. Even though researchers can predict test scores solely on parental socio-economic status, regardless of educational quality, with the exception being the very worst schools, we cannot pretend these tests don’t matter. To quote Jasmine Lane, “Only those that have never had to worry about passing standardized exams have the privilege to say that tests don’t matter.”  So yes, I test my children.

I happen to think that our local public schools get quite a bit right, and are actually doing a very good job in many senses that the general public tended to ignore pre-COVID. For example, they provide medical and dental care, vision checkups, two hot meals a day, clothing for children in need, weekend food for parents who can’t afford to feed their children, referrals to social service agencies for the homeless, etc. These are all real, tangible benefits that our public schools provide and I think they’re critical family supports.

My choices are not because of ethnicity or race. Charter schools aren’t available in West Virginia, and neither is school choice—you get what you get, and you don’t throw a fit. My local public school is 92% white. West Virginia as a whole is 93% white. It’s not like my children’s diversity exposure would increase by attending my local public school. But, through their many extracurricular activities pre-COVID, they met children from all income tax brackets, from those whose parents can’t afford to buy their children lunch every day to those who hire full time, live-in language tutors. Because I have more flexible time as a homeschooling parent, I have led clubs and other extracurricular activities for all children.

My choice doesn’t impact what’s going on in the local public school. I still pay taxes (60% of my local property tax are levies for the district), and the fact that my children don’t attend means that more levy money is available for the local children because it’s not spent on my children. Furthermore, 25% of the local district’s funding comes through excess levies. That’s $135 per student, or $3200 per class that isn’t spent on homeschooled children in my district and stays in the district even though my children don’t attend.

Yes, the local district loses state aid on a per-child basis, but the statewide pot is enlarged for others because my children (and 20,000+ other children in West Virginia) aren’t getting a share. Only 12% percent of WV school funding is from federal public education funds. That means that West Virginia saves $247,456,000 a year by not educating homeschooled children, or almost a thousand dollars per student—nearly 8.5% of the total per student funding.  I don’t think many parents would appreciate their district’s budget being cut by 8.5% if homeschooled students moved back into public schools wholesale.

Parents of gifted children, especially gifted children with other exceptionalities to compound the issue, seek out private schools and many, many of them home school because public schools are not cutting it, after years of begging and pleading and IEP meetings. Often these children have significant mental health issues because of years of their needs not being met. I’m not willing to let that happen to my children.

I’m morally obligated to do my best by my children because they are my children. They are totally dependent on me for their food, shelter, clothing, and every other support in their life—and I made them that way by choosing to have them. I have to see my commitment through. If providing them with adequate support means providing them with more than my local public schools can provide, then that’s what I’ll do. Making sure our children have a better life than ours is part of what the US is all about.

Yes, my children would probably slide on through in public school, because as a middle class parent in the modern USA, I practice High Intensity Parenting. We make sure our children do the schoolwork that is assigned, and then we go beyond by doing after schooling with our children, signing them up for academic camps, theater classes, sports clinics and enriching their education in the ways that public schools are not. Nearly 70% of West Virginia fourth graders are not proficient readers. I want my children to be proficient readers and I will teach them myself if that’s what I have to do.

I would argue that parents of color who can afford it do the same thing—time spent on parenting has increased across all social classes in the United States, but middle and upper middle class parents spend 7 times as much on their children’s extracurricular activities as lower SES parents. If I’m going to spend money on a field trip, I don’t feel guilty about making sure it’s a field trip that my children actually have a real interest in—and those public school field trips are among the endangered classroom “extras”( like end-of-year performances) that we have deemed unnecessary.

It’s not that parents are adjusting the expectations of the local public schools—those are set in stone at the state and federal level. At least in West Virginia, school administrators, teachers, and parents don’t have much say in how schools are set up, no matter their SES. What about the general expectations of society for the local public medical system? We’ve had so much success changing that at the local level, haven’t we? Oh, wait, that’s not true. Why would it be true for schools? These are systematic issues, bigger than any one parent, teacher, or principal.

I was wildly underprepared for college level courses by my local public high school, but it wasn’t a bad school. They did the best they could with what they had for the largest number of children. My teachers were genuinely caring human beings, for the most part. But sometimes, the best that you can do just isn’t good enough. My choices were limited by my preparation, and I want my children to be able to make whatever choice they want.

Moreover, my children’s attendance at their local public school wouldn’t make it better for the children suffering in the bad public schools—and yes, they do exist, albeit not in my local district. My local district is one of the best in the state. Refusing to eat my dinner does not make anything better for a child hungry elsewhere in the world.

That said, my children may not deserve better than another child, but since I made the choice to bring them into this world, they deserves the very best that I can offer them. It’s my moral duty as a parent to do my best for them, and that means giving them every advantage I can provide—which does include a sense of humility about their privilege. I’m not ashamed of doing my best for my children, and I don’t think any other parent with a functioning moral compass would be either. In the end, my children are not sacrifices to an ineffable public good.

a planning overview, from high level to daily detail

The first thing that I do is decide what topics I want my children to study. I made a decision a long time ago to do Well-Trained Mind style homeschooling, and I haven’t regretted it.

Since my youngest is 5, this is more or less her kindergarten year. I have less stress about kindergarten years, keeping in mind that the most important thing is to teach her to read. This led me to think about reading curricula, and in August, I decided to use Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons. I decided to use RightStart Level A for math, and the Core Knowledge Kindergarten History and Geography Unit 1: Let’s Explore Our World as a quick pass at social studies. State law requires that I teach science, too, and I’m fond of Building Foundations of Scientific Understanding. I also wanted to use parts of the Memoria Press (MP) Kindergarten program with the Kindergarten Supplemental Science & Enrichment Set.

Generally, I keep to my work schedule at the Well-Trained Mind Academy, which is five days a week, Monday through Friday. I don’t ask my youngest to do academics on Thursdays because they go to co-op, but my older child does math and some others things on Thursday (that’s a different blog post). My girls take my vacation days, too, which means an extra long mid-winter break that I’ve input into Scholaric as well. That gives me approximately 34 weeks of dedicated academics, or 170 possible days.

Now, this all sounds like a lot, but I use Scholaric to make a daily checklist, which is much less intimidating.

This is where Scholaric shines. 100 EZ Lessons is obviously, 100 lessons. Scholaric is lovely because I can input our vacation days, and then have it automatically lay out the lessons day by day. This way, even though  I know that we’ll finish up in March. (I’ve an idea that I’ll pick up with Ordinary Parents Guide to Teaching Reading and Phonics Pathways then.)  Similarly, RightStart has a set number of lessons. I spread the BFSU lessons out over three weeks or so, and I can tell Scholaric to do that for me. The CK social studies is designed to take six weeks, but I’ll let it go longer, too.

Once I’ve input what I want to do in Scholaric, I can then print out daily checklists. This helps me not have to remember what I had planned, because my life is busy and I’m absentminded.  If we don’t get to something, for whatever reason, it’s a simple click to bump that item to the next day and have it ripple down to the planned days in Scholaric. If we do more, then I can bump back too. I can also easily do loop planning this way, even if I take random days off. The printed checklists double as items I can add to a portfolio, especially when the bulk of the work is out loud.

Now, as happened with reading and my youngest this autumn, when the program I’d picked out doesn’t work, then it’s a simple matter to “hide” the row in Scholaric and replace it with something else. When I’ve settled on a curriculum, I rarely spend more than 20 minutes in a given week tweaking and printing.

We’re now using All About Reading, which is also clearly delineated as lesson-based, and therefore easy to input into Scholaric. I dropped the MP Kindergarten program because it’s been a difficult autumn, but I want to try and pick it back up again–I love having the books all prepared and the Q & As ready for me. I want to add in the Saxon K morning meeting work, too.

It’s perfectly normal for children to be on different grade levels in different subjects, especially when children have special education needs, and so this ongoing tweaking that I do in Scholaric helps me customize the education to the child. The daily checklists help me get it done on a daily basis, while the ability schedule lessons out to the future helps me do a bit of long-term planning.

5 Good Books on the “Why?” of Classical Education

Climbing Parnassus by Simmons

This was one of the first books I read about classical education, and I will confess that at first I didn’t quite “get” it. It seemed elitist, and a little oddball and frankly boring. Then, after doing some other reading, I read it again, and then I read it a third time, and only then did I “see.” Like so much of “classic literature,” you really need to have some background knowledge in order to get the full meat of the argument. I’ve chosen some of my favorite, more accessible quotes that I think make some good points about classical education.

“…the kind of citizens we wish to create and the kind of polity we wish to engender. For education is never neutral. Embedded within any course of study lie assumptions about what people ought to know, and about human nature itself: Are we Man or Machine? Education is, in the end, an auxiliary of philosophy — an embodiment of aims and ideals.

Humanism is “the belief that man is more important than his environment or his possessions; and that his fundamental business is not to understand [physical] nature, though that is one of his problems, nor to earn a livelihood, though that is one of his duties, but so to lead his life as to make the best of human nature and above all of what is characteristic of, peculiar to, and highest in human nature; or, as the Greeks put it, to achieve the arête [or ‘excellence’] of man.”

Matters of ethics, morality, and politics jostle as the vita beata, the good or happy life, is delineated, as it so supremely was during the fifth and fourth centuries B.C. in Greece, an age that, according to Livingstone, “had to face the questions which — now veiled now visible, now remote now insistent — constitute the eternal human problem: what should men believe about life, how should they live it, in what state of society can the good life be best lived, [and] how can we create such a state?”

Closing of the American Mind by Bloom

This is another book that I stumbled through the first time I read it, and came back to again and again. While I’m not alone in having serious problems with his conclusions, the general line of his argument is difficult to ignore and worth considering. If you think of education as shaping future citizens, then thinking about how society should be is key to determining what education should be.

Allan Bloom died young, of AIDS, and had he lived, would no doubt have been an irascible curmudgeon, but his book made me think, and eventually I concluded that I believe in moral objectivism a la Kant: there is a limit to human behavior, that some actions are simply intolerable, no matter when, where, or how they take place.

There is one thing a professor can be absolutely certain of: almost every student entering the university believes, or says he believes, that truth is relative.

The danger they have been taught to fear from absolutism is not error but intolerance.

Relativism is necessary to openness

The study of history and of culture teaches that all the world was mad in the past; men always thought they were right, and that led to wars, persecutions, slavery, xenophobia, racism, and chauvinism. The point is not to correct the mistakes and really be right; rather it is not to think you are right at all.

There is no enemy other than the man who is not open to everything.

…when there are no shared goals or vision of the public good, is the social contract any longer possible?

Men must love and be loyal to their families and their peoples in order to preserve them. Only if they think their own things are good can they rest content with them. A father must prefer his child to other children, a citizen his country to others. That is why there are myths—to justify these attachments. And a man needs a place and opinions by which to orient himself.

Consider This by Karen Glass

To be honest, I’ve never been particularly attracted to Charlotte Mason style classical education. It seemed awfully soft around the edges, a sort of slacker-style education. My first encounters with it didn’t do much to change my mind. Sit around and read good books? That’s all?!

As I’ve become a more experienced homeschooler, and stepped a little away from my innate dislike of formal literature and literature analysis, I’ve become more aware of how our perception of current society is shaped by the books we read, even those set in the past. With great power comes great responsibility, and so I’ve become even more selective about choosing books in our homeschool.

Thinking about how literature shapes us, I picked up Consider This at exactly the right time to be receptive to ideas like:

answers to such questions as “what shall we teach and how shall we teach it?” begin with a much more fundamental question: “what is a person?” or perhaps the wider, “what is man?”

Her first two principles assert that “children are born persons” and “they are not born either good or bad, but with possibilities for good and for evil.”

… education should create a metanarrative (or worldview) for children which will make sense of the world and create a standard of conduct by which they will desire to live.

A Defence of Classical Education by Livingstone

This was one of the first books about classical education that made innate sense to me. I later realized that most later arguments for classical education (including those in Climbing Parnassus) echoed this book, albeit from points of view that I didn’t necessarily understand at the time I read them.

Livingstone was writing at the height of the switch from classical education to “modern” Romantic education in the US & UK. All the current arguments about conceptual understanding versus procedural knowledge and utility versus background knowledge were derived from these first shots over the bow–only nowadays there’s no one left to coherently argue for the classical side. We must go back to the original debate to find our arguments.

It’s relatively short, and free of charge, and well worth flipping through. If my daughters reaped the benefit of classical education as per my favorite quote, I would be a happy woman:

Lord Morley says somewhere: “An educated man is one who knows when a thing is proved and when it is not. An uneducated man does not know.”

pg. 22

Norms and Nobility by Hicks

While I have serious qualms with many parts of this book, I think that there are some worthy arguments in this densely written book about the purpose and content of classical education. Hicks is a professional educator at private school, and his experience weighs in on his arguments. I am less impressed by the second half of the book wherein he actualizes his ideas. Generally, I finished this book unsatisfied with his supports and conclusions, but intrigued by the thread of the arguments.

The sublime premise of a classical education asserts that right thinking will lead to right, if not righteous, acting. … modern books on education which lay off this difficult premise by treating the mastery of thinking skills and the understanding of basic ideas in our Western (or any other) intellectual tradition as if they were sufficient ends of education. I cannot accept this. Nor am I convinced that an education aimed exclusively at the formation of a rational man will automatically assure mankind’s happiness or goodness.

pg vi

5 Good Books on Knowing Things

Why Don’t Students Like School? by Daniel Willingham

Knowing things brings pleasure. You cannot have the distinct enjoyment of listening to a book that riffs on the Odyssey and appreciating the way the author plays on the similarities and differences if you don’t know the Odyssey. Jazz without knowledge is merely random noise. Forcing students to wallow in their ignorance definitely brings confusion at best and hatred at worst because it will inevitably lead to failure.

There is no doubt that having students memorize lists of dry facts is not enriching. It is also true (though less often appreciated) that trying to teach students skills such as analysis or synthesis in the absence of factual knowledge is impossible.

Willingham

Making Kids Cleverer by Didau

I have deep reservations about Didau’s book, especially as it regards gifted children (who come from all social classes, albeit less identified in lower-SES groups). However, his central thesis is undeniable, especially if you have reviewed the questions on an intelligence test, as I have. We can make all our children “cleverer” and thus more successful as adults by systematically and purposefully placing factual knowledge in their essentially infinite, long-term, semantic memory to assist in overcoming limited working memory.

Fluid intelligence is our raw reasoning power, and is, as far as we can tell, fixed. Nothing we’ve tried as yet is able to increase it. Crystallised intelligence is the ability to apply what we know to new problems and can certainly be increased by adding to our store of knowledge. This is the central thesis of the book: more knowledge equals more intelligence.

When we compare the IQ of children of similar socio-economic status, most of the variance is explained by genes; but when the IQ scores of children of lower socio-economic status are compared, most of the variation is explained by environmental differences.

Didau

The Knowledge Deficit by E. D. Hirsch

In the US, I hear things like, “there will always be gaps” and “the important thing is to learn how to learn” and “children will teach themselves what they need to know.” But the truth is, that kind of laissez-faire attitude only benefits those children whose families can provide a home environment that greatly enriches their background knowledge, and thus their future success. All children can be made more academically successful by systematically and purposefully enriching their knowledge base.

Breadth of knowledge is the single factor within human control that contributes most to academic achievement and general cognitive competence. In contradiction to the theory of social determinism, breadth of knowledge is a far greater factor in achievement than socioeconomic status. The positive correlation between achieved ability and socioeconomic status is only half the correlation between achieved ability and the possession of general information. That is to say, being “smart” is more dependent on possessing general knowledge than on family background per se.

–pg. 106; E.D. Hirsch

How We Learn by Benedict Carey

The overlap on how we learn might not intuitively overlap with the importance of knowing things, but in fact, learning is all about adding to our our storehouse of knowledge. Without a clear knowledge base, all is “as one great blooming, buzzing confusion.” Even children who are “athletic,” “mathy,” or “precocious readers” need to have a knowledge base, often carefully tended by loving adults within a supportive home environment. Those children simply have more knowledge to understand (to discriminate) what is important to their area of expertise and so perform faster, quicker, better.

They’re “naturals.” We make a clear distinction between this kind of ability and expertise of the academic kind. Expertise is a matter of learning–of accumulating knowledge, of studying and careful thinking, of creating. It’s built, not born. The culture itself makes the same distinction between gifted athletes and productive scholars. Yet this distinction is also flawed in a fundamental way.

… the brain … perceives to learn. It takes the differences it has detected between similar-looking notes or letters or figures, and uses those to help decipher new, previously unseen material. … This “discrimination learning” builds on itself, the brain hoarding the benchmarks and signatures it eventually uses to read larger and larger chunks of information.

–pg 183; Carey

The Testing Charade by Koretz

Koretz is an expert on testing. There are some valid criticisms of his book, but he makes some excellent points about knowledge and testing and the results thereof–essentially, despite all we know about the importance of a well-rounded curriculum that supplies a wide knowledge base, our current US and UK education system, with its focus on high-stakes testing, is counterproductive to creating the kind of intellectual environment our students need.

Even in the area of intellectual development, what we really care about most is what he called “criterion behaviors”: the knowledge and skills that students are able to apply once they leave school. We can’t wait until students enter college or the workplace to do that—and wouldn’t be able to do it well even if we did wait—so instead we measure mastery of the school curriculum while kids are still in school. Moreover, even within that far narrower range, there is a great deal of student learning that we simply can’t measure well with standardized instruments.

high-stakes testing creates strong incentives to focus on the tested sample rather than the domain it is intended to represent. If you teach a domain better—say, geometry—scores on a good test of that area will go up. However, if you directly teach the small sample measured by a particular test—for example, memorization of the fact that vertical angles are equal—scores will increase, often dramatically, but mastery of geometry as a whole will not improve much, if at all. It is much as though a campaign tried to win an election by convincing the eight hundred polled people—and only those eight hundred people—to vote for their candidate.

–Koretz