“Planting healthy content seeds will lead to a bumper crop of good readers,” noted Fordham’s Peter Meyer eight moons ago in reference to second-year results from New York City’s Core Knowledge Language Arts (CKLA) pilot reading program. Year three results, released this week, are equally compelling. Some background: CKLA is meant, through early reading instruction and content-rich “read-alouds,” to introduce all students—low-income students specifically—to the “core” common knowledge needed to navigate society. The pilot reading program tracks 1,000 students in twenty low-income schools in the Big Apple. Ten of these are implementing E.D. Hirsch’s “core knowledge” pedagogy (which stresses nonfiction reading, content knowledge, and decoding skills) while the other ten (with like demographics) employ reading strategies of the “balanced literacy” sort. Besides tracking scores on pre- and post-tests, this study gathered teacher and administrator survey data and conducted site visits at four CKLA schools, confirming teachers’ fidelity to the Core Knowledge program. CKLA students across all studied grades (Kindergarten through second) boasted larger gains than their comparison-group peers, and students with lower base achievement saw larger gains. Core Knowledge had the greatest impact on Kindergarteners; fidelity to the program resulted in reading gains fivetimes greater than those experienced by students taught via other reading strategies. (Likewise, Core Knowledge students scored higher on science and social studies content-based tests than those using other reading strategies.) After three years of positive results—and New York State’s imminent implementation of the Common Core, which also favors Core Knowledge-like reading instruction—it might be time for the district to jettison its other strategies and programs for early reading instruction, at least in the schools that poor kids attend.

Research and Policy Support Group, Evaluating the NYC Core Knowledge Early Literacy Pilot: Year 3 Report (New York, NY: New York Department of Education, March 2012).

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