Natalie Wexler

Writer, Self-employed


The Knowledge Gap: Why We Teach Reading Comprehension In a Way That Doesn’t Work

Cognitive scientists have understood for decades that the most important factor in reading comprehension is how much knowledge and vocabulary a reader has relating to the topic. But because of deficiencies in their training and instructional materials, few teachers are aware of those findings. With the best of intentions, the vast majority waste precious hours trying to teach reading comprehension as though it were a set of generally applicable skills, while omitting or giving short shrift to the kind of content that could actually boost understanding—history, science, literature, and the arts. The students who suffer the most are those from less educated families, who are unlikely to pick up this kind of knowledge at home. When they arrive at high school or take standardized tests, they’re often unable to demonstrate their potential because of crippling gaps in their knowledge. Drawing on research for her new book The Knowledge Gap, Natalie Wexler will untangle the complex and generally untold story of how this situation came to be—and how we can find out way out of it.


Natalie Wexler is the author of The Knowledge Gap: The Hidden Cause of America’s Broken Education System—and How to Fix It (Avery 2019). She is a senior contributor on education at and is 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). Her articles and essays have appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Atlantic, and other publications. She lives in Washington, D.C., where she has been a volunteer reading and writing tutor in high-poverty schools.