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Core Knowledge schools

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By Linda Jacobson

Core Knowledge schools today

Today, the Foundation supports a network of 770 schools in 45 states and the District of Columbia with instructional materials and professional development workshops. There are also more than 400 preschools using the Core Knowledge Preschool Sequence. The Core Knowledge materials are also used by homeschoolers, and the Foundation publishes a series of What Your___Grader Needs to Know books to familiarize parents with the Sequence.

Schools using the Core Knowledge Sequence are as diverse as schools in general. They are in urban, suburban, and rural areas. There are Core Knowledge traditional public schools, charter public schools, private, and private parochial. They range from those with high proportions of students on free and reduced-price lunch to those that resemble elite, private schools.

The Foundation has identified three levels of implementation for schools using the Core Knowledge curriculum. Friends of Core Knowledge are schools that are just beginning the process. Official Schools are those reporting that they are using at least 80 percent of the Sequence and working toward 100 percent. Core Knowledge Demonstration Sites, such as Peach Hill, are implementing 100 percent of the Sequence and are considered exemplary by the Foundation.

Is a Core Knowledge education right for my child?

According to the Core Knowledge Foundation, Core Knowledge provides "a clear outline of what children are expected to learn in school." Their "sequenced set of skills and content" means that parents will know precisely what their children are going to learn. A Core Knowledge school might be just right for kids, and parents, who do well with a clearly defined curriculum and structure. Some children with special needs or learning differences may have difficulty thriving in Core Knowledge schools, although the Core Knowledge Foundation contends that the curriculum is adaptable for special needs students.

What do supporters say?

Supporters say that Core Knowledge provides students with specific, organized information and that it keeps students from having to repeat material or miss out on essential information.

That Core Knowledge students excel academically. In this 2004 study (admittedly, done at the request of the Core Knowledge Foundation), students performed above the national standard. (Read more about how well Core Knowledge students perform in standardized tests compared with peers in other schools.)

As a teacher, Madsen feels the program inspires students to seek out more information outside of class. “I like that the children want to continue learning,” she says. “I hear, ‘we planned out family vacation so we could go see ‘Starry Night.’"

What do critics say?

Some critics of Core Knowledge say that with such a rigid curriculum in place, it lacks an individualized approach to teaching children and doesn’t take children’s unique learning styles into consideration. Further, parents looking for a project-based program for their child won't find one in a Core Knowledge school, which favors more traditional schooling over exploratory project learning.

Some have said the curriculum falls short in giving students the 21st-century skills they need to compete in a global economy, and teachers might complain that there is not enough time to cover all the material that is required. Some criticize the program saying it promotes rote learning and squelches creativity — although others counter it doesn't at all.

Finally, there is concern that the Core Knowledge curriculum may not blend or is in conflict with a district's curriculum mandates or required state tests.

Linda Jacobson is a freelance education writer who lives in Southern California.