In an earlier post, retired high school English teacher Randall Hendee expressed his opposition to the Core Knowledge curriculum, which contains specific knowledge that students are expected to learn.

Here, E.D. Hirsch, Jr., the founder of the Core Knowledge curriculum, responds to Hendee.

Full disclosure : I was a board member of Hirsch’s Core Knowledge Foundation for several years. He has been a friend since 1983, when I met him at a conference in California and we discussed our mutual concern about curriculum content. When we were both part of the Koret Task Force at the conservative Hoover Foundation, Don and I were partners in a debate with Caroline Hoxby and Paul Peterson. We argued that curriculum and instruction were more important than markets and choice. They argued that markets and choice were more important.

Hirsch writes:

“This discussion started when Diane cited Mr. Hendee’s criticism of my Huffington Blog, and this comment is addressed mainly to Mr. Hendee.

“Your account of what I said in the blog was selective to the point of distortion. My blog had a double theme, stated in its title: “Teacher Bashing and Common Core Bashing are both Uncalled For.” (I’ve always admired Diane’s courageous defense of teachers and of the public schools – as I stated in my NYRB review of her prior book.)

“In defense of the Common Core, I pointed out that its call for a coherent and cumulative plan of content across grade levels was far from an untried scheme, but is characteristic of all best and fairest school systems.

“But I spent much more space on the benefits to teachers of content coherence: I said, “This fall, my granddaughter Cleo, will be teaching in a school in the Bronx, assigned to teach the American Revolution to seventh grade public school students. Though hugely competent, she panicked and called me: “Oh my gosh. Granddad, are there any teaching guides for this?” Her school could offer no real support. I sent her one of the thick, grade-by-grade teacher handbooks produced by the Core Knowledge Foundation. In them each topic is explained and instructional suggestions are provided. … Cleo was greatly relieved. But what about all the other Cleo’s out there who are being thrown into these sink-or-swim situations in our public schools, sent into classrooms where it’s impossible to know what their students already know, and where teachers are given scant guidance about what they should be teaching — or worse — are asked to teach literacy classes based on the trivial and fragmented fictions found in the standard literacy textbooks? That’s why I have become so impatient with the teacher bashing that has overtaken the education reform movement. The favored structural reforms haven’t worked very well. The new emphasis on “teacher quality” implies that the reforms haven’t worked because the teachers (rather than the reform principles themselves) are ineffective. A more reasonable interpretation is that reforms haven’t worked because on average they have done little to develop rich content knowledge within and across grades.”

“On the other points in the discussion: No, I’ve never drawn a salary from Core Knowledge, and won’t make a cent from the literacy program,which in any case can be downloaded in full for free from the Core Knowledge web site. Finally I have no idea who controls the comments on Huffington.”