By Debbie Jenkins

Debbie Jenkins is the elementary curriculum and instruction supervisor of Bogalusa City Schools in Louisiana. This post originally appeared on Amplify’s Viewpoints

Learn more about Bogalusa City Schools’ use of Core Knowledge in this video.

There’s an old Barbara Mandrell song that goes, “I was country when country wasn’t cool.” Similarly, I like to say, “E. D. Hirsch was Common Core before Common Core was cool.”

For those who don’t know who E. D. Hirsch is, he is the chief architect of Core Knowledge Language Arts, the reading and language arts program for K-3 that we are using in our two elementary schools. The gains our students have made in just one year with CKLA are just beyond belief. It gives me goosebumps thinking about it.

At our two rural elementary schools, 93 percent of our students qualify for free and reduced lunch. Many of our kids don’t have much of a chance to leave our city of Bogalusa. Their parents would love to give them the opportunity to see more of the world, but it’s just not possible.

As a result, our students have had issues with comprehension because they don’t have a lot of background knowledge or world knowledge to help them. So as they get to the upper grades, they know how to read the words but they don’t understand their meaning.

I’ve been following the work of Hirsch for many, many years, and as he says, a comprehension problem is a knowledge problem. We needed a program to help build knowledge around topics, and so I took a leap of faith by bringing in CKLA. Other than a few charter schools, we were the only public school district in the state of Louisiana to use CKLA, so it was a risk. But it totally paid off.


95% of Bogalusa’s students now meet reading benchmarks.

With CKLA, our students are learning to decode words through the curriculum’s Skills strand, but they’re also learning about topics like the human digestive system and ancient civilizations, as early as kindergarten, through the Listening and Learning strand. Each year, the curriculum builds on what they learned the previous year. So we’re building a foundation of knowledge at the youngest age. You’d think kindergartners wouldn’t be interested in Mesopotamia, but they love it, all of it. They’re just like sponges, taking all of this information and absorbing it.

The progress our students have made in language arts is unbelievable. The year before we had CKLA, 88 to 89 percent of our students hit the reading benchmark. After CKLA, that number jumped to 95 percent. Our teachers had said our kids would never be able to read the readers that come with CKLA. But you see, it’s the Common Core State Standards and you need to raise the bar, and we did, and our kids rose to the occasion. They did read those readers by the end of the year.

Now the state of Louisiana has put CKLA on its “Tier 1” list of curricular resources for ELA and literacy. So we know we took the right leap of faith, and now other schools in our state will benefit from CKLA, too.

My hunch was right: You can’t go wrong with a curriculum that has E. D. Hirsch and his Core Knowledge Foundation behind it. I continue to be one of his biggest fans.

3 comments on “Exceeding Expectations in Louisiana”

  1. 1
    Rachel S. on November 12, 2014

    While reading this blog, I realized how one persons vision for curriculum can impact so many students’ futures. When realizing there was a trend of students who did not have the background knowledge to comprehend information, change needed to happen quickly. I admire you for taking the leadership role to make change for these students. i believe without taking risks, we cannot always succeed. I think it amazing the results this program has shown with the students. It is amazing that when we challenge our students, they can rise to the challenge! I was curious what struggles you approached when implementing this new curriculum. Did you see results fairly quickly or did it take you the whole year to finally believe in the curriculum? Thank you for sharing this information as it is very inspirational for change for our students!

  2. 2
    Vanessa E. on November 19, 2014

    It is important that we always set high expectations for our students. Unfortunately, many students come from low income and disadvantage homes. Because of the poverty that they live in they are not exposed to enough real world knowledge. They are deprived from having meaningful real-world experiences as oppose to their peers who come from a better income. The limited learning experiences from the outside world impede them from developing sufficient background knowledge of text to world.

    Reason we have to use text to text knowledge to activate prior knowledge and enhance their knowledge. In fact, many times our disadvantage students are the ones that struggle the most in school and need the most support. Lack of knowledge is not an excuse for not giving struggling students a high-quality education. Every child deserves to have an equal learning opportunity. For this reason, since not all students learn the same, we should differentiate instruction to suit their needs.

    Every child has different learning modalities, but can exceed any expectation if we provide and supplement them with the necessary curriculum resources that will impact their learning. We can build upon previous knowledge, if we expose students to expository texts to help them with vocabulary, reading fluency, and comprehension; it will enhance their knowledge. Expository is an important tool to use during instruction because it focuses only on one topic. We can increase students’ level of comprehension, but it is only a matter of finding the proper and suitable curriculum that will adapt to their needs. In order to build upon students’ knowledge, we need to dissect state standards and aligned them to curriculum.

    If we invest the time in looking for curriculum that centers on topics, teachers will attain positive academic results just like you did. It is our responsibility to supply our students with the essential tools that they need in order to improve their metacognitive skills. I will be more proactive like you and take the proper measurements that will provide my students with the essential tools to become successful learners. It is a struggle to implement new curriculum, but we need to take on risks and believe in our students as capable ndividuals of becoming successful life-long learners.

  3. 3
    Linda H.M. on January 25, 2015

    I was so excited after reading this article on CKLA, because it gave so many students the opportunity to learn those skills needed to participate in our learning society. I can only imagine how those hard working teachers felt after receiving the results. Reaching 93 percent of the students should make them more determined to reach the other 7 percent. I would teach those students without asking for extra pay. The results is all that matters for us to feel proud of ourselves.

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