Core Knowledge Foundation

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For the Australian student collective, see Core Knowledge. For the educational press in the United Kingdom, see Core Knowledge UK.
Core Knowledge Foundation
Founded 1986 by E.D. Hirsch, Jr.
Headquarters Charlottesville, Virginia
President Linda Bevilacqua

The Core Knowledge Foundation is an independent, non-profit, non-partisan educational foundation founded in 1986 by E. D. Hirsch, Jr. The Foundation is dedicated to excellence and fairness in early education.

Ideals of Core Knowledge[edit]

Core Knowledge is an educational reform movement based on the premise that a grade-by-grade core of common learning is necessary to ensure a sound and fair elementary education. Based on a body of research in cognitive psychology and school systems operating worldwide, Core Knowledge posits that, in order to attain academic excellence, greater fairness, and higher literacy, early education curriculum should be solid, specific, shared, and sequenced. By teaching a body of specific, lasting knowledge in a way that allows children to succeed by gradually building on what they already know, the Core Knowledge mission is to provide all children, regardless of background, with the shared knowledge they need to be included in our national literate culture.[1]

Resource books—including "What Your Preschooler Needs to Know" and the series of books "What Your __ Grader Needs to Know" (grades K-8)—are based on the "Core Knowledge Preschool Sequence" and the "Core Knowledge Sequence, K-8," which serve as the backbone of the Core Knowledge curriculum and outline the specific topics and skills to be covered in each subject area from grades PreK through 8.

The Impetus behind Core Knowledge[edit]

E. D. Hirsch was motivated to create the Core Knowledge curriculum upon working in a community college class in 1978.

“Hirsch's awakening began one day in 1978 in a community college English class in Richmond, Virginia. He had conducted most of his research on reading comprehension and writing at the University of Virginia. On this day, however, Hirsch was testing reading assignments at the community college. The community college students, most of them black, read with roughly the same fluency and comprehension as their UVA peers. But to Hirsch's surprise, the students "became baffled when they had to read about Lee's surrender to Grant at Appomattox. That passage was as incomprehensible to them as a Hegel essay on philosophy was to the U-Va. students."

The students' puzzlement jolted Hirsch to an epiphany of sorts: Background knowledge, a common set of cultural facts and information mattered-not for the sake of knowing facts per se but because a shared intellectual landscape was all-important in empowering students to read and write richly.” [2]

The Role of the Core Knowledge Foundation[edit]

The Foundation staff serves as the support system for Core Knowledge schools, educators, and parents. The Foundation conducts research on curricula; develops books and other materials for students, parents, and teachers; and serves as a training and communications hub for schools using Core Knowledge.

The Foundation has developed a number of publications, including general information packets about Core Knowledge, the Sequences, textbooks, and other supplementary materials for use in conjunction with the Sequence.

The Core Knowledge Foundation also offers a variety of staff development workshops to facilitate the process of implementing the Core Knowledge program in schools and hosts an annual national conference, which focuses on the sharing of ideas between educators at every level and making connections across the Core Knowledge network.

Implementation of Core Knowledge in Schools[edit]

The Core Knowledge Curriculum begins in preschool and continues through eighth grade. A group that decides what is important for students to learn in able to consider them culturally literate and then forms the curriculum around those ideas.[3]

The three goals of implementation of the Core Knowledge Curriculum are to teach all of the topics included in the Core Knowledge Sequence, to teach the topics at the grade levels assigned by the Sequence, and to teach the topics to all students whenever possible.

Implementation of the Core Knowledge Curriculum and the process required necessitates cooperation between teachers, administrators, and parents. Implementation often occurs over a two- to three-year period, with schools phasing in topics subject-by-subject or adding additional grade levels each year.

There are three levels of Core Knowledge schools based on the level of implementation and excellence achieved by the school—Friends of Core Knowledge, Official Core Knowledge Schools, and Official Core Knowledge Visitation Sites. Friends of Core Knowledge are schools implementing Core Knowledge at any level, beginning on the first day of implementation. Official Core Knowledge Schools implement 80% or more of the Core Knowledge Sequence and have an eventual goal of 100% implementation. They submit curriculum plans, alignment with state standards, and sample lessons for review by the Foundation. Official Core Knowledge Visitation Sites are schools visited by representatives of the Foundation deemed to be model schools for Core Knowledge implementation.

As of April 2006, Core Knowledge schools were 44% public, 35% charter, 15% private, and 6% parochial. Additionally, they were 39% urban, 39% suburban, and 22% rural.

Core Knowledge in the UK[edit]

The Core Knowledge Foundation has partnered with the UK educational charity Civitas to offer Core Knowledge UK.[4] Civitas is in the process of adapting the Core Knowledge Sequence and the Core Knowledge curriculum for use by British schools and home educators.[5] They have also published the first Core Knowledge UK resource book, What Your Year 1 Child Needs to Know that provides teachers, parents, grandparents and home educators with the resources to help children succeed in school and beyond.

Just as in America, for decades there has been no consensus about how or what to teach children in Britain. There's been a focus on skill-based learning, in lieu of knowledge, which is often dismissed as 'rote learning' and irrelevant. E.D. Hirsch, who inspired the original Core Knowledge curriculum, was among the first to see that the retreat from knowledge was misguided. Above all, he showed that to compare 'knowledge' with 'thinking skills' was to make a false contrast. They are not mutually exclusive alternatives. Knowledge does not get in the way of reasoning: it's what we reason with. The British school system is at a new and defining point in its development: the overhaul of the National Curriculum and freedom from the auspices of local authorities for academies and free schools places a great emphasis on individual schools selecting successful curricula for their pupils. The Core Knowledge UK curriculum can be used alongside the National Curriculum. Alternatively, it can also form the backbone of a school's curriculum, providing direction and flexibility to respond to local interests and needs.

Civitas is working with a broad range of stakeholders to adapt the American Core Knowledge Sequence and resources for teachers and parents in Britain. Most of the content in the American Core Knowledge Sequence will remain the same—because knowledge is universal! The most significant change is the replacement of American history and geography with British history and geography. Civitas has also adapted the visual arts selection to reflect widely acknowledged masterpieces on display in galleries that are within reach of primary schools across the UK because it is important for children to be able to experience artwork in their living and breathing context.


Research has shown that the Core Knowledge Curriculum does not necessarily depress creativity, and may even have a positive impact in increasing students' creativity in some areas.[6] However, creativity can also be hindered by the type of information taught. The Core Knowledge model focuses on clear facts with right or wrong answers. This type of information is easy to teach and test, but does not prepare students to be able to think “outside the box” in the way of the real world, which is a messy place without concrete answers.[7] This method keeps the teacher in the active, “expert” role, and the student remains passive.[7] A passive role does not encourage creative thought.The curriculum has also received criticism because one group has decided what is “best” for all students which could end up leaving minorities at a disadvantage (Oliva, 2009). However, Core Knowledge resources and educational materials are particularly effective in reducing educational inequalities,[5][8][clarification needed] and research has shown that the fact that Core Knowledge "schools with higher percentages of non-Caucasian students consistently scored well above the national average (at or above the 60th percentile) sets these schools apart from their non-Core Knowledge counterparts".[9] There is also an argument that by using this method of teaching, the main focus of education becomes creating students that can simply reproduce the culture of the day; this method simply “preserves the status quo”.[10] Therefore, regardless of test scores, it is important to question what the goal of the education system should be. Do we want all children in a country memorizing the same facts? Is this the goal of education? Who can say what knowledge will best prepare today’s students for the future or what knowledge will be important in years to come?.[7] The Core Knowledge system of education does not encourage students to think deeply, compose meaningful questions, or develop reasoning skills.[10] An alternative choice is a model of education that produces “exhibitions” of learning instead of standardized tests. More in depth projects can show deep thinking, reflecting, and understanding of a topic. This type of teaching has been successfully implemented in some schools in the USA.[10]


  1. ^ Hirsch Jr., E.D. (May 1993). "The Core Knowledge Curriculum--What's Behind its Success?". Educational Leadership 50 (8): 23–30. 
  2. ^ "[1]." The Thomas B. Fordham Foundation Administration.
  3. ^ (Oliva, 2009)
  4. ^ Core Knowledge UK Press Release
  5. ^ a b Core Knowledge UK
  6. ^ Study Finds Core Knowledge and Creativity Not Mutually Exclusive (January, 2004)
  7. ^ a b c Scoffham, Stephen (2011). "Core Knowledge in the Revised Curriculum". Geography 96 (3): 124–130. 
  8. ^ Core Knowledge
  9. ^ Core Knowledge Curriculum and School Performance: A National Study (Sept., 2004)
  10. ^ a b c Kohn, Alfie. "What Does it Mean to be Well-Educated?". Retrieved Oct 13, 2012. 

Oliva, P.F. (2009). Developing the curriculum, (7th edition). New York: Pearson Allyn and Bacon.

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