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Core Knowledge At a Glance


Located in Charlottesville, Virginia, the nonprofit Core Knowledge Foundation was founded in 1986 by E. D. Hirsch, Jr., professor emeritus of education and humanities at the University of Virginia. Dr. Hirsch is the author of Cultural Literacy, The Schools We Need and Why We Don’t Have Them, The Knowledge Deficit, and other books. Dr. Hirsch’s research and insights into the connection between background knowledge and reading comprehension form the basis of the Core Knowledge movement.


The Foundation is dedicated to the mission expressed in our motto, “Educational excellence and equity for all children.” Even a diverse democratic society has a common knowledge base that draws together its people while recognizing their differing contributions. The Foundation believes that access to this common knowledge base is a fundamental purpose of a sound education.

Core Knowledge Sequence:

The Core Knowledge Sequence is a detailed outline of specific curricular content to be taught in language arts, history, geography, mathematics, science, music, and the visual arts in grades K–8. Intended to form the core of a school’s curriculum, provides a solid, coherent foundation of content knowledge, while allowing flexibility to meet local curriculum needs. The Foundation also publishes the Core Knowledge Preschool Sequence, which like the K–8 curriculum, explicitly specifies the competencies and knowledge in which all children should share.

Core Knowledge Schools:

There were 768 K-8 schools in 47 states and the District of Columbia utilizing the Core Knowledge curriculum as of the 2008-2009 school year. This includes all types of schools in all types of communities:

42% public schools
37.3% charters
14.3% private
6.4% parochial

49% urban
34% suburban
17% rural

During the 2012–2013 school year there were 1,230 schools (ranging from preschool through eighth grade) in 45 states and the District of Columbia using all or part of the Core Knowledge Sequence. Thousands more schools use Core Knowledge materials, but the community includes only those schools that send their profile form to the Foundation annually. All schools that understand the power of building students' knowledge and skills with Core Knowledge's coherent, grade-by-grade Sequence are welcome to join our community.

Core Knowledge Language Arts Program:

The Core Knowledge Language Arts (CKLA) program is based on decades of cognitive science research revealing that reading is a two-lock box, a box that requires two keys to open. The first key is decoding skills, which are addressed in the Skills strand of the CKLA program. The second key is oral language, vocabulary, and background knowledge sufficient to understand what is decoded. These are covered in the Listening & Learning strand. Together, these two strands unlock a lifetime of reading for all children. Using this approach, the CKLA program not only meets the Common Core State Standards, it exceeds them. The Core Knowledge Language Arts program was piloted in 10 public schools in New York City and an additional 7 schools throughout the country, including rural and suburban schools. Results from the three-year pilot of CKLA in kindergarten through second grade in 10 New York City public schools show that students in the schools using CKLA out-performed their peers in 10 comparison schools on measures of reading, science, and social studies. The Core Knowledge Language Arts program is available for free download for preschool–grade 3. Kindergarten–grade 3 kits may also be purchased through Amplify Education, Inc.

Professional Development:

The Foundation maintains an active schedule of training for teachers and administrators. Professional development workshops offered by Foundation staff and consultants include a Core Knowledge Overview, Teaching Core Knowledge, and Implementation Analysis. In addition, there are more than 10 specific professional development workshops that address the needs of preschool educators. The Foundation has conducted an average of 230 such workshops annually for the past four years.


The Core Knowledge Foundation is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit educational organization. Operating revenues are derived from the publication of educational materials, including the Core Knowledge Sequence, professional development and training workshops, and conferences. Sales of books, CDs, teacher support materials, and other products generate approximately 45 percent of the Foundation’s annual operating budget. For more information, refer to the Foundation’s annual report.


Oklahoma City Study: In 2000, a controlled study of schools in Oklahoma City, where about half the schools in the district were using Core Knowledge, showed that students exposed to Core Knowledge did significantly better than other students on both the norm-based Iowa Test of Basic Skills, and the Oklahoma Criterion Referenced tests. This study also surveyed teacher satisfaction with the curriculum and concluded that satisfaction with Core Knowledge increased the longer teachers were involved with it. 

North Carolina Study: A 2004 study of North Carolina schools compared six Core Knowledge schools with more than 1300 other schools in the state. The researcher, Herbert Wahlberg of the University of Illinois at Chicago, found that Core Knowledge schools outperformed other schools in the state achievement tests in both reading and math for four of the five grades studied. “This evaluation suggests an affirmative answer to the chief question: Do Core Knowledge Schools generally excel the academic progress of other schools adjusted for individual students’ previous achievement scores and poverty and minority status,” the report concluded. “Unlike most previous curriculum evaluations, the comparison involves a huge sample, indeed, the entire population of eligible students in a state rather than a few hand-picked Core Knowledge and comparison schools,” Wahlberg noted.

Johns Hopkins Study: A five-year analysis of implementation and effects in five Maryland schools showed many positive results—especially in schools where Core Knowledge was implemented fully. The study documented how high-stakes testing influences implementation of the Core Knowledge program and showed that it is possible, “to both fully implement Core Knowledge and produce student achievement results that satisfy and even exceed state expectations.”