What do the Common Core and Core Knowledge have in common?

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With the Common Core standards now being implemented in most states, and the Common Core assessments not far behind, states and districts should be very interested in some new findings from New York City.  In a nutshell, second graders who were taught using the Core Knowledge Language Arts (CKLA) curriculum significantly outperformed demographically similar students in other schools on not just a battery of reading tests, but also on science and social studies tests.

Core Knowledge founder and guru E.D. Hirsch (a member of NCTQ's advisory board) has maintained for years that reading more non-fiction is essential to student success. The CKLA provides explicit instruction in decoding (key to the elementary reading standard in our national review of teacher preparation programs) but also leverages oral comprehension skills through non-fiction read alouds, to build the background knowledge and vocabulary essential for later reading comprehension.

Interestingly, while gains were made across all starting ability levels, the most significant gains (compared to peers in other schools) were made by students who were most recently enrolled—and consequently the furthest behind. Further, those who had been in the program for all three years had the highest levels of performance across the students receiving the curriculum. And not surprisingly, gains were strongly related to fidelity of implementation.

The evaluation will continue next year, the first time these students will encounter a state test: the third grade New York State English Language Arts assessment.

Several supporters of the the city's balanced literacy program are quite dismissive, but considering that nearly every curriculum out there has an "Aligned with the Common Core" sticker slapped on it, these findings demand attention.

—Rob Rickenbrode