Voters Reject Referendum Urging District To Adopt Core Knowledge

By David J. Hoff — March 27, 2002 2 min read
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Voters in an Illinois town last week defeated a referendum that would have encouraged their K-8 school district to adopt a specific curriculum.

In a rare and possibly unprecedented ballot initiative on educational content, a group of parents from Grayslake, Ill., tried to win the community’s support for the Core Knowledge curriculum—a detailed outline of what and how to teach elementary and secondary students. The referendum garnered 40 percent of the vote, falling short of the majority it needed.

Though the initiative would not have been binding, it would have undermined the thorough process that administrators, teachers, and parents undergo when they decide the content of courses in the 3,700-student district, according to its superintendent.

“The community reinforced its faith in the professional integrity of our staff,” said Kurtis G. Anderson, the superintendent of Community Consolidated School District No. 46, which is about 45 miles north of Chicago and is a bedroom community for the Windy City. “To vote for this is to bypass the staff completely.”

Mr. Anderson said that the topics the district now teaches have “some overlap” with what is in the Core Knowledge program, but the content taught in the district’s three K-8 schools reflects the desires of the community and the research showing what the district’s students need to know.

The vote was conducted in conjunction with the Illinois primary, in which voters selected candidates for governor and U.S. Senate. (“Blagojevich Defeats Vallas in Tight Illinois Primary Win,” March 27, 2002.)

Novel Approach

Core Knowledge is a K-8 curriculum offered in its entirety in 150 schools around the country. Another 350 schools use part of the program, according to Gerald L. Terrell, the vice president for personnel and development of the Core Knowledge Foundation, based in Charlottesville, Va.

The project is the brainchild of E.D. Hirsch Jr., a professor emeritus at the University of Virginia and the author of Cultural Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know and other books critical of American education.

Core Knowledge emphasizes phonics-based reading instruction at the K-2 levels, a “Great Books” approach to literature, and a general commitment to understanding Western culture and history.

The ballot initiative to gather voter support for Core Knowledge was the first in the 16-year history of the program, according to Mr. Terrell.

“If other localities want to put it on a referendum, we would not be opposed to it,” he said. “The curriculum sequence that we propose would do nothing but improve student performance and improve schools.”

Organizers of the referendum did not respond to phone calls last week.

A version of this article appeared in the March 27, 2002 edition of Education Week as Voters Reject Referendum Urging District To Adopt Core Knowledge


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