Book Review

Essential Knowledge: The Debate Over What American Students Should Know

Reviewed by Joseph W. Rudnicki
Superintendent, Sunnyvale School District, Sunnyvale, Calif.


Essential Knowledge, by Robert J. Marzano and John S. Kendall, researchers at the Mid-Continent Regional Educational Laboratory, is a timely, comprehensive and thought-provoking exploration on what students should be learning.

Rather than providing the answer, the authors systematically frame data and questions that lead us to consider the extensive information that’s available. As schools resolve the content question, options of increasing student instructional time or decreasing the number of standards are inevitable.

The comprehensive yet succinct data summary shows wide variance of belief by each of the major proponents regarding the knowledge essentials to be taught. The education community and citizenry face difficult machinations inherent in a broad-based process to resolve and answer the question: What is essential knowledge for the American student?

This work is vital reading for those working to create a detailed picture of student curriculum. The authors offer critical questions to be asked as school districts proceed through the decision-making process.

(Essential Knowledge: The Debate Over What American Students Should Know, by Robert J. Marzano, and John S. Kendall with Barbara B. Gaddy, McREL Institute, Aurora, Colo., 1999, 450 pp. with index, $39.95 softcover)