Educational excellence and equity require a coherent, cumulative, knowledge-based curriculum. This basic principle inspired the Core Knowledge Foundation to undertake the long process of research and consensus-building that led to the development of the Core Knowledge Sequence, the blueprint for knowledge-based schooling.
The Core Knowledge Sequence represents a specific core of shared knowledge that all children should learn in U.S. schools. The Sequence is intended to help children establish strong foundations of knowledge grade by grade from preschool through grade eight.
Core Knowledge Sequence Versus Other Curriculums
What distinguishes the Core Knowledge Sequence from other curriculum guidelines? Compared to most curriculum standards, the Core Knowledge Sequence embodies three essential but often overlooked qualities. The sequence is:
A typical state or district curriculum standard might say, “Students will demonstrate knowledge of people, events, ideas, and movements that contributed to the development of the United States.” But which people and events? Which ideas and movements? Another standard says, “Determine the main idea of a text and explain how it is supported by key details; summarize the text.” But what text in particular? The Core Knowledge Sequence is distinguished by its specificity. By clearly specifying important knowledge in language arts, history, geography, math, science, and the fine arts, the Sequence presents a practical answer to the question, “What do our children need to know?” The Sequence is not a list of facts, events, and dates to be memorized. It is a guide to content from grade to grade, designed to encourage steady academic growth and progress as children build knowledge and develop skills year after year.
The Core Knowledge Sequence provides a clear outline of content to be learned from preschool through grade eight. Knowledge, language, and skills build cumulatively from grade to grade. This cumulative building of knowledge helps ensure that children enter each new grade ready to learn. Teachers using a cumulative curriculum can confidently predict the knowledge and skills children have been taught in prior grades, build on that learning, and prepare them for what comes next. The cumulative quality of the Core Knowledge Sequence will help children proceed from one grade to the next, and they will emerge well prepared with a shared body of important knowledge and skills.
In the United States, especially in language arts instruction, curriculum tends to be fragmentary and disconnected. Such incoherence can hinder learning and vocabulary acquisition. It also leads to the repetitions and gaps that too many children experience in their early education. In contrast, the Core Knowledge Sequence provides a coherent approach to building knowledge within a grade level and across grade levels. In schools following the Sequence, there are no repeated units in multiple grades on, say, the rain forest or pioneer days, with little or no attention to the Bill of Rights, world geography, or exposure to other cultures.
The Sequence is organized to support coherent instruction that allows students to build and deepen their knowledge grade by grade, and to make cross-curricular connections across subjects. For example, in a school following the Core Knowledge Sequence, students in fifth grade study the Renaissance. The word “renaissance” means “rebirth”—specifically, in Europe in the 1500s, a rebirth of interest in ancient Greece and Rome. Teachers in a Core Knowledge school can confidently build on students’ prior learning about ancient Greece and Rome (grades 2 and 3) and the Middle Ages (grade 4). They can connect their historical studies to topics in Visual Arts (in which the Sequence specifies masterworks by Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, and others) and in Language Arts (in which the Sequence specifies episodes from Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Cervantes’s Don Quixote).
Connecting across subjects and building on previous knowledge—these qualities make the Sequence coherent and effective.