NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Students Thriving On "Core Knowledge" Diet

July 16, 1999

When the University of Virginia's E.D. Hirsch proposed in 1987 that there is a common body of knowledge that all American children should be taught, the education establishment howled that minorities would be deprived of learning about their culture. There were also the usual objections to any educational system which promoted the learning of facts.

But some 900 elementary and middle schools across the nation have adopted Hirsch's Core Knowledge educational agenda and the results are impressive.

Hirsch's one-volume Core Knowledge outline details 5,000 facts and concepts that children should know, organized by grade level. Kindergartners, for example, should know the story of King Midas; fourth-graders should understand mass and volume; and sixth graders should know about the industrial revolution.

  • Johns Hopkins University researcher Samuel Stringfield determined -- after a three-year study of 12 Core Knowledge schools across the country -- that the more the technique is used, the more test scores improve.
  • Students at schools with more than 50 percent of their curriculum devoted to Core teaching did 12 percent better on the Comprehensive Test of Basic Skills than comparable non-Core students in the same district.
  • Even though one-third of the students at San Antonio's Hawthorne Elementary School speak English as a second language, fifth-grade Core students now pass Texas' reading test at a rate of 67 percent, versus 56 percent in the district's other schools.

Hirsch now believes that the more one knows, the more he can learn -- explaining that existing knowledge becomes "mental Velcro" onto which additional knowledge can be attached.

Source: Mary Summers, "Defining Literacy Upward," Forbes, July 26, 1999.


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