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Sandra Feldman on Core Knowledge

Sandra Feldman
American Federation of Teachers (AFT)

Excerpts from
Keynote Address
Core Knowledge Foundation
1999 National Conference

Besides being president of the AFT, Ms. Feldman also serves on the board of the Core Knowledge Foundationof which she is a board member. Her remarks were reprinted in full in the Summer 1999 issue of Common Knowledge, published by the Foundation.

Here are some excerpts from her speech.

"The AFT has long been a key leader in the push for high academic standards and for systematic standards-based reform. As such, we recognize Core Knowledge as an articulation of the reforms we've been fighting for. ... All across the country, the AFT represents dedicated educators, working tirelessly to help students reach their full academic potential. Often, they get little support and much criticism. Sometimes, they have been in schools or systems that consider high standards a threat. ... often, teachers throughout the last decade or more were subject to a constant and corrosive pressure to dumb down the curriculum. ...

"Thankfully, this is changing. Standards are being raised ... It can't happen too soon. ... It is just plain common sense that to make effective use of limited instruction time, every teacher needs to know -- up front -- what their students were tauught last year, and at what level. ...

"Core Knowledge has provided a model of what a standards-based school system might look like -- with a clear, shared, grade-by-grade curriculum. And every year, rather than reinvent the wheel, more and more schools and school districts are deciding to adopt this model. Recent studies show that it's a reform model that works. Your work has had a demonstrable, beneficial effect on student achievement. You can be very proud of that. ...

"Let me ... tell a story. I used to meet regularly with the union leaders in [New York district 2]. ... One afternoon, they were telling me how exhausted the teachers were, working on developing the new rigorous curriculum they needed ... I asked if they'd considered Core Knowledge. 'E. D. Hirsch's Core Knowledge?' they said. 'Absolutely not. He's a terrible conservative.' Had they seen the curriculum? No. But they'd read articles about Professor Hirsch. So, I went to my office and brought them my set of the Core Knowledge grade-by-grade curricula. Guess what? They loved it. And many of them started using it, or their version of it. ...

"...As Core Knowledge teachers, you report that your professional life has been greatly enhanced. Just as the program provides structure and coherence to a course of study for students, it also acts as an organizing framework for helping to improve staff development.

"I know that Don [Hirsch] is thinking more about that. ... Certainly, the majority of teacher training institutions don't offer the kind of rigorous, liberal arts education that you need to teach an ambitious knowledge-based curriculum. In fact, many pre-service programs argue that the academic disciplines should never be emphasized -- the 'teachers teach children, not content' philosophy. ... In most school systems, this is compunded by an approach to professional development that can be compared to a drive-by shooting: it's rare that the right target gets hit, and who knows when they'll be coming back.

"The opportunity to learn from each other -- and to improve your practice and your schools even further -- is what drew most of you here today. But, I'd also ask you to consider the ways that expanded partnerships might make your work easier, as well as helping to improve more schools and reach more students. You have found and developed exemplary lesson plans, and have shared them in your schools and through the Core Knowledge web page. How far could they be developed and disseminated if your district's professional development program made them available? Imagine what could happen if teachers across the district were able to benefit from a coherent, content-rich inservice program!...

"Individually and collectively, there's a great deal that we can do to strengthen and sustain our common schools. That's what Don [Hirsch] did in 1985, when he decided to step into the middle of the education fray. ...

"As citizens, it means speaking on behalf of an education system built on accountability and high, clear standards ogf achievement. ...

"I thank you very much for all you're doing to get us there, and I look forward to staying the course with you on that journey."

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