If we want children to learn to read, teach them stuff! Natalie Wexler writes in the Atlantic about the progress children make when they have knowledge about topics and they want to learn more about them. In other words, teach social studies and science, not skill sets to identify the main idea or to make inferences based on sterile paragraphs written for tests.
Children have to know something in order to think about what they know and what it means. It is the classic educational debate i.e. learning to read vs. reading to learn.
Children from low-income families tend to have less exposure to the world around them. Their vocabulary and knowledge base is lower than for other children. Wexler cites studies that demonstrate how the achievement gap narrows when both groups are given unfamiliar content to decipher. She cites the dramatic progress poor readers make when they are excited about what they are reading.
The test-driven curriculum has made a bad problem worse. The solution is to give children time and incentives to actually read, not just to take tests.