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Study: Students Benefit From Reading Program Emphasizing Content Knowledge

The Core Knowledge Foundation and New York City have a study out today showing that city students in a new language arts program designed by the foundation performed better on reading, social studies, and science tests than did peers in schools that were using one of the city's "balanced literacy" programs.

The New York City school district study was done on a small scale: It examined 20 city schools. For three years starting in 2008, it tracked a group of kindergarten pupils in 10 schools that used the Core Knowledge program and demographically similar peers in 10 schools that used other city programs.

The Core Knowledge study is interesting, in part, because it touches on one of the central shifts of the new common standards: the emphasis on informational text. The Core Knowledge program includes both explicit instruction of literacy skills such as decoding, but also aims to build vocabulary and content knowledge, an approach that has been central to its philosophy since the foundation began 25 years ago.

In a story in yesterday's New York Times, New York City's deputy chief academic officer says the study shows a "promising option" for principals to consider. But advocates of the city's balanced-literacy approach raised questions about the study, saying it focused on two few schools to produce reliable results.

The Core Knowledge program that was the subject of the study only spans K-2 now, but the foundation is seeking funding to expand it into 3rd grade, the organization said in a background paper released with the study. It is promoting the program as "ideally—and immediately—suited to fulfill the promise" of the common standards.

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