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Core Knowledge®

    Rather than just complaining about what's wrong with existing public schools, we also need to have a vision, a goal, of what a great school looks like. Many people feel that that vision is met by Core Knowledge, the curriculum developed by the Core Knowledge Foundation. (Note that "Core Knowledge" is a registered trademark of the Foundation.)

Life in a CK School

    What is a CK school like?

  • Click here to start by reading this terrific article about one Core Knowledge public school in Colorado. It's a particularly compelling view of life in a Core Knowledge school, one that will have you deeply envious! Excerpts from the introduction:
    When you talk with parents at the Washington Core Knowledge School in Fort Collins, Colo., about the typical public school curriculum, the discussion is often filled with images of erosion. Many describe how the curriculum they knew as children, the one rooted in the granite truths of Western civilization, has disappeared from most schools, or as they like to put it, "washed away."

    Listening to them, it's as if whole strata of history, science, and literature have been eroded into a pile of unidentifiable fragments by a series of destructive shifts in the educational climate. Once students as young as 12 could intelligently discuss the causes of the Civil War; now there is talk of learning to appreciate other cultures. Once students mused over the meanings of Aesop's fables and Greek myths; now there is a heap of basals and pop-culture novels. Once students understood how time formed rivers and mountains; now there are peppy speeches about saving the rain forests.

    That is why, in the spring of 1992, a group of these Fort Collins parents decided to petition the local school district for a different kind of public elementary school. The school they envisioned would emphasize character education and parental involvement. But most of all, it would emphasize a content-rich curriculum that would leave nothing to chance. The curriculum would be teacher-directed from beginning to end. Students would acquire specific knowledge and skill at specific times in their schooling, the idea being that they would build on this knowledge and skill from one year to the next in an orderly and productive fashion. There would be, as the parents like to say, "no gaps" in their children's education.

    Is your children's school this good? Why not? It could be!

  • Core Knowledge makes a huge difference in suburbs that already have supposedly "good" schools. Read about this school in the sprawling suburbs near Wilmington, Delaware. Newark Charter School, Newark, Delaware. Excerpt: "Description: Grades 5-8, Enrollment of 648, 5% Low-Income, 15% Non-White. ... the Newark Charter School strives to help its approximately 650 students achieve 'Excellence in Academics and Decorum.' The school was founded in 2001 by a group of local parents frustrated by a perceived lack of rigor and challenging content in Newark [Delaware]-area middle schools. Core Knowledge came highly recommended by a parent who volunteered to research curriculum options for the group's charter school application. ... Newark's staff members have learned a powerful lesson: If you teach it, students will learn it. ... The attention to challenging content shows up in student assessment results. In 2003-4, 95 percent of Newark's students met or exceeded Delaware standards in reading and 93 percent met or exceeded standards in math, well above the goals the state set for schools in those subjects (57 percent and 33 percent respectively). Of course, having a logically sequenced and very specific curriculum has given Newark's extended family another benefit -- clarity. 'Teachers know what it is they are supposed to teach, administrators know what they are supposed to see teachers teaching, the teachers talk to each other about what's being taught, the parents easily see what's being taught and where it's going next year.'"

  • Next read about the rich excitement of learning going on even in a rural Appalachian school thanks to Core Knowledge: Core Comes to Crooksville by Kathleen Vail, American School Board Journal (National School Boards Association), March 1997.
         Do this: Compare what the second graders at this Appalachian school do compared to what your second grader does. Continue on in this article for an understanding of what makes Core Knowledge work so well, and why it has been so successful and so well received. ...

  • Here's a report by Diane Ravitch on PS 20 in Brooklyn, also a Core Knowledge school. "The sixth-grade chorus [sings] Beethoven's "Ode to Joy," followed by Duke Ellington's classic "Take the A Train." The first-grade children -- the boys wearing tricornered hats and the girls wearing white caps tied under their chins -- recited a section of "Paul Revere's Ride." ... Two radiant sixth-grade children declaimed Maya Angelou's poem "On the Pulse of Morning." ... A first-grade group of twenty played violins, bowing out "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star" by Mozart. Fifth graders reenacted the writing of the Declaration of Independence and hailed its significance in today's world ... Third graders dramatized the tragedy of Julius Caesar, betrayed by his friends and the Roman mob. For a moment, I had to pinch myself. This was neither a dream nor a wishful fantasy of my imagination. This was a regular elementary school in the heart of downtown Brooklyn..."

  • Just a few other Core Knowledge schools of note:

People Talk About CK

  • Here is a very brief outline (PDF) of the Core Knowledge curriculum, as prepared by Appleton Classical Charter in Wisconsin.

  • A principal of a Maryland school testifies before Congress on how Core Knowledge contributed to improvements in academic instruction, teacher enthusiasm, student achievement, and parental and community involvement at his school.

  • A Pennsylvania mother testifies before Congress on what Core Knowledge has meant to her son, her family, and her community.

  • Teachers answer "What makes TCA special" (The Classical Academy, Colorado Springs, CO). Here are some of these teacher comments:

    • "The things the kids learn are so interesting, and they love knowing stuff their parents don't know!"
    • "The curriculum is so exciting to teach."
    • "I have a growing appreciation for incorporating more classical methods."
    • "We know the essentials will be covered and a firm foundation built for our students. I'm glad to be a part of that process."
    • "I feel smarter! The content here is so rich and fun. I have learned a lot. Also, there is such a joy knowing that I am really teaching and not just taking up time."
    • "The curriculum is challenging, exciting, and applicable to daily life."
    • "I enjoy that we can teach the curriculum in a creative way."

  • A collection of comments from CK teachers (New Spirit School, Saint Paul, MN)

  • Same Planet, Different Worlds by Kevin Killion, October 1, 2000. What's the difference between a classroom led by a teacher enamored of brain-based learning and a classroom that uses Core Knowledge? Read this, then either laugh or cry.

The Core Knowledge Foundation

Articles About Core Knowledge

  • A great story about E. D. Hirsch and Core Knowledge: "Against The Establishment: How a U-Va. professor, denounced as elitist and ethnocentric, became a prophet of the school standards movement", Washington Post, November 11, 2001

  • High Standards, High Scores by Nancy Mitchell, Rocky Mountain News, December 10, 2003. This article talks about some of the top-ranked schools and their use of Core Knowledge and Direct Instruction.

  • Common Misconceptions About Core Knowledge

    Core Knowledge: Debunking the Mysteries and Myths by Barbara Garvin-Kester, President of the Core Knowledge Foundation

    E. D. Hirsch, Jr.

  • Breadth Versus Depth -- A Premature Polarity by E. D. Hirsch, Jr. "I would define 'premature polarities' in education as the habitual, almost automatic taking of sides on educational issues based on whether one considers oneself to be a liberal or a conservative in politics. Unfortunately, such ideological stand-taking not only brings investigation to an end, it tends to replace thought."

  • Romancing the Child by E. D. Hirsch, Jr., Education Matters, Spring 2001

  • "Roots of the Education Wars": a speech given by Prof. E. D. Hirsch, Jr., related to his article (above), "Romancing the Child".

  • Challenging the Intellectual Monopoly by E.D. Hirsch Jr., Education Week, November 6, 1996

  • The Schools We Need And How We Can Get Them, E.D. Hirsch, Jr. President, The Core Knowledge Foundation, presentation to Conference on Standards-Based K-12 Education, California State University, Northridge, 1999

  • Uncommon Sense: Core Knowledge in the Classroom by Timm A. Mackley, a school superintendent in Ohio. Several chapters from this book are available at the link. The book was published by the ASCD, the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

  • " The curriculum crusades : Progressive teaching practices don't work as well as a traditional focus on basic skills and a rigorous curriculum. So why do we still use them?" by James Traub, Salon, May 31, 2000. Opening line: "I spent several months last year visiting public schools all over the United States in order to compile a guide to what is known as 'schoolwide' reform -- ambitious models for change that re-create schools from the bottom up. My favorite was the Morse School in Cambridge, Mass., which used what is known as the Core Knowledge curriculum."

  • Core Knowledge: One Innovation that Would Flourish with School Choice (PDF document) by Robert Holland, Friedman Report, Issue 8, 2000.

  • Public Charter Schools and the Core Knowledge Movement (Word doc) by Robert Holland, Lexington Institute, September 2000

  • Fairness and Core Knowledge

  • Why Core Knowledge Promotes Social Justice

  • Why General Knowledge Should Be a Goal of Education in a Democracy

  • Toward a Centrist Curriculum: Two Kinds of Multiculturalism in Elementary School

  • Positive Equity Effects of Core Knowledge

  • "What Works": Study from the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) gives high marks to Direct Instruction and Core Knowledge!

  • Is the 4th-Grade Reading Gap Actually a Vocabulary Gap? by E. D. Hirsch, Jr. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.

  • Why Content Matters by Dr. Diane Ravitch, speech to Reading Reform Foundation, Nov 7, 2004. "Once children are ready to read words and sentences, content matters. Most of the reading books that children are likely to use once they can read are filled with trivia. They have forgettable stories about everyday life, about children, the supermarket, community helpers, pets, toys, games, and families. The stories have no significance, and the vocabulary they use is extremely limited. And this is where we continue to fail our children by failing to understand that content matters.
          "How do children gain knowledge and vocabulary? The answer is: slowly and cumulatively. ... whether they start school with a big vocabulary or a small one, all children need a coherent curriculum that builds their vocabulary and their knowledge incrementally and thoughtfully from day to day, from week to week, from month to month, and from year to year. Unfortunately in our country, we don't believe much in the idea of a coherent curriculum. ... The same educational philosophy that produced whole language has prevented cities, states, even our nation, from describing with any clarity what children at different grades should know and be able to do. In schools of education, future teachers and administrators learn little or nothing about the importance of content in the curriculum."

  • Sandra Feldman, president of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) gave the keynote address at the 1999 national conference of the Core Knowledge Foundation, of which she is a board member. These remarks were reprinted in the Summer 1999 issue of Common Knowledge, published by the Foundation. Ms. Feldman provided a wonderful view of what Core Knowledge means to the students -- and to the faculty -- in Core Knowledge schools. She said, "we recognize Core Knowledge as an articulation of the reforms we've been fighting for." Here are more excerpts from her speech.

  • "A Way To Achieve Equity in Education" by the late Albert Shanker, who was president of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT). Mr. Shanker also served on the board of the Core Knowledge Foundation. (The link here is to a PDF document with a collection of essays by Shanker, including this one.) Excerpts from this essay:
    "[E. D.] Hirsch says that a multicultural society is no bar to achieving educational equity. Good results have more to do with whether or not [there is] a curriculum that specifies a certain body of core knowledge that teachers are responsible for teaching and kids for learning. ... Why should teaching core knowledge make such a difference? ... Standards like these, Hirsch says, 'enable tutors to focus on the specific knowledge that students need in order to attain grade level.' They set up clear expectations for the kids and their teachers, and they give kids a foundation on which to build in succeeding grades. ..."

  • In 1996, over 100 leading educators, mathematicians, scientists and reformers signed a letter to President Clinton, saying, in part,
    Dear Mr. President:

    There is no greater threat to the future of America than the failure to educate our children. Yet, the output of our educational system continues to deteriorate. ...

    The current national outcry for standards of learning reflects the need for our educational system to focus on content and academics. Unfortunately, these simple ideas are not compatible with the reform efforts of the last fifty years, and there is every reason to believe that standards based on content and academics will be subverted before they ever reach the classrooms of America.

    This letter is not a plea to eliminate the Department of Education nor a request for the removal or restructuring of the Goals 2000 program. We ask but one simple thing. Think of it as a favor from the President of the United States to the children of America. All we ask is that you, personally, read The Schools We Need and Why We Don't Have Them by E. D. Hirsch, Jr.

    It is our belief that in reading this book you will gain important insight into the gravity of the problem and realize why we are pessimistic about the current prospects for revitalizing education in America. We believe that you will see the need to make the repair of American education a top priority for your second term. We even believe that you will come to feel, as we do, that it is imperative that you bring E. D. Hirsch into your service to advise you directly on these matters.

  • "The Schools We Need" (click for the full article) reviewed by Albert Shanker, president, American Federation of Teachers, October 27, 1996. Because of the importance of this article, and the reputation and credentials of its author, we'll quote this at length, below.
    Here's a Christmas gift suggestion for everybody on your list who is concerned about the state of public education: E.D. Hirsch, Jr.'s latest book, The Schools We Need: And Why We Don't Have Them. ... For years we have been hearing that progressive ideas will save our schools. ... The problem, [Hirsch] says, does not lie in the way progressive ideas have been implemented but in the ideas themselves. Giving schools an even stronger dose would not reverse the damage. It would be like giving a diabetic who is in insulin shock another shot of insulin.

    Albert Shanker
    1928-1997
    A basic assumption of progressives is that subject matter is not really important. Schools are teaching the "whole child," so it's up to them to choose the subject matter they consider appropriate. Indeed, progressives dismiss specific content as "mere facts" and say that teachers who concern themselves with it are condemning students to a painful process called "rote learning." The result is kids who are crammed with facts but who can't think for themselves and don't take any joy in learning.

    Instead of worrying about content, progressives say, schools should teach children "problem solving," "higher-order thinking skills," and "critical thinking"--in other words, how to think. After all, the kids can always look up the information they need or find it on the Internet. And changes in the nature of work mean that thinking skills will be much more important than specific information.

    All of this sounds plausible, but Hirsch says there is nothing to it. The picture of traditional educational practices is a caricature designed to shut off discussion; and there is no battle between learning and learning how to learn. Our schools have been disregarding content in favor of process for years. Furthermore, Hirsch says, there is no basis for accepting progressive ideas about how you teach children to think. The dismal record of student achievement points to the opposite conclusion. So does all the important research about how kids learn. ...

    Progressives in education would tell you that one of John Dewey's central ideas is experimentation--try new ideas to see if you can do better. They seem to have forgotten that if you do worse, you should try something else. E.D. Hirsch's penetrating discussion of why the progressive experiment has failed won't win any applause from those who want more of the same, but the rest of us should be grateful for The Schools We Need.
    We encourage you to read the full review by Mr. Shanker.

  • The emptiness of the typical curriculum in primary grades has been blasted by a most reputable source -- the American Federation of Teachers. The AFT took a look at what second graders usually "study" in most schools, and compared it to the rich vitality of the Core Knowledge curriculum for second grade. See "Standard Curriculum Underestimates Students" from the Winter 1996-1997 issue of the AFT's magazine, American Educator.

  • Kudos For Core Knowledge, Education Week, March 17, 1999. Excerpt: "The first national evaluation of the [Core Knowledge] program suggests it might be on the right track. The three-year study by researchers at Johns Hopkins University and the University of Memphis examined the program's effects on 12 schools. It found that in schools with 'moderate or high' levels of implementation ... Core Knowledge contributed to more content-rich instruction, more time spent on academics, a more coherent curriculum, and greater collaboration among teachers."

CK Schools

  • Core Knowledge schools in Illinois

    • City:
      Educational choice is thriving within the city limits of Chicago, the only school district that welcomes charter schools (albeit on a limited basis). Click here for more on the Core Knowledge charter schools in Chicago.

    • Suburbs:
      There are no Core Knowledge schools anywhere in the Chicago suburbs. This is not for lack of trying: there have been numerous attempts by various grassroots groups to organize charter schools using Core Knowledge. For more on the obstacles placed in the way of educational diversity in Illinois, see our page on charter schools.

      So, if you want Core Knowledge for your children and you live in the suburbs, our state officials permit you only two options:

      1. homeschool, or
      2. move.

    • Downstate:
      In Mt.Vernon in far southern Illinois, J. L. Buford Elementary is a full Core Knowledge school, and many of the schools in that district have adopted large portions of the CK curriculum. In Rockford, one district school is in the process of adopting Core Knowledge. In East Moline, St. Mary's Catholic School adopted Core Knowledge and enjoyed big enrollment gains as a result.

  • Core Knowledge schools nationally
    The website of the Core Knowledge Foundation provides a list of CK schools nationally. The list includes schools offering a full CK implementation, schools welcoming visitors who want to learn more about CK, and "friends" (schools with partial implementation).

  • Catholic schools: Most CK schools are public schools. But, there are some terrificCatholic Core Knowledge schools as well! For more info on each of them, go to the section on CK in our page on Catholic schools.

    Also, one of our local members has written a presentation promoting the use of Core Knowledge in Catholic schools. Please write to us if you would like a copy or further information.

  • Core Knowledge Homeschoolers

CK Lesson Plans

    Convince yourself that a Core Knowledge classroom is not only a place of learning, but a place of vigorous, active, engaged, and lively learning. Here are websites with a variety of Core Knowledge lesson plans submitted by individual teachers:

    Note that these lesson plans are only suggestions, and are submitted by individual teachers. Core Knowledge makes no demands at all upon teachers on how they should teach -- that is up to their own professional assessment of how children best learn, how they best teach, and how a topic is best communicated. These lesson plans give a flavor of the imaginative and engaging class sessions that teachers are creating based on the Core Knowledge Sequence.

Alternatives to Core Knowledge

    Core Knowledge is a great specification for content learning. However, there exist other good programs as well, and some of these other programs go even further by also specifing effective methods and practices.

    For more on other programs and curricula that emphasize substantive learning, see our page on Finding "Good" Schools.




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