Knowledge-Rich Curricula Advance in a Remarkable Adoption Season

February 18, 2024 — Barbara Davidson

The latest curriculum short lists emerging from states suggest that 2023 was, indeed, a tipping point for knowledge. Knowledge-building curricula are increasingly prominent, which is cause for great celebration. In fact, two states, Wisconsin and Minnesota, stand out for having ONLY knowledge-rich curricula on recent lists! 

Last week, Wisconsin’s Early Literacy Curriculum Council (ELCC) finalized its recommendations, listing Bookworms, Core Knowledge/Amplify, EL Education, and Wit & Wisdom—all of them recognized by the Knowledge Matters Campaign as being content-rich.

Minnesota has a similar story: its new curriculum list features only two core programs, Wit & Wisdom and EL Education, alongside a list of quality foundational skills supplements. 

Forgive me if I am especially proud of Wisconsin, since our Knowledge Matters Review Tool played a key role in the ELCC’s efforts. Good legislation created fertile ground: Wisconsin is one of the rare states whose reading law gets into the weeds on reading comprehension. It states that “science-based early reading instruction” must systematically include background knowledge, oral language development, vocabulary building, and instruction in writing.

The ELCC team, appointed by Wisconsin state leaders, used a rubric whose reading comprehension criteria were closely derived from the Knowledge Matters Review Tool. For foundational skills, the rubric was influenced by the Reading League’s evaluation tool. 

The resulting instrument meant reviewers had to really get into the nuances of quality and explore what was going on across the curriculum, rather than simply hunting and pecking for whether or not a particular criterion existed. This is precisely what the Knowledge Matters Review Tool was designed to support.  

Given increasing worry about “basal bloat,” and the recognition that reviews should be as concerned about too many bells and whistles that can distract from evidence-based practices as they are ensuring the right things are present, it seems the Knowledge Matters Review Tool was instrumental in helping reviewers prioritize what was most important.

The Knowledge Matters Review Tool is unique in focusing a whole section on “ease of enacting the curriculum,” an oft-ignored consideration in curriculum adoption decisions and one that was important to Wisconsin reviewers as well.

While the recommendations of the Wisconsin ELCC still need to be approved by the legislature, and districts still need to make their decisions about which curriculum they’ll go with, this could be great news for Wisconsin families—and put the state in a “must watch” category for the impact of content-rich instruction in the primary years!

Beyond the Midwest, there is more good news. The latest lists in Georgia, Ohio, and Connecticut include multiple knowledge-building options. South Carolina is an outlier, with a list dominated by basal programs, yet it still has one that is content-rich.

Looking nationally, I see record representation for the eight knowledge-building programs, even as I hope more states will follow Wisconsin’s lead.

The important work of selecting a core reading program now shifts to districts, especially in states with a mixed bag of options. We think our Review Tool can help! If you’ve had a beneficial experience using the Knowledge Matters Review Tool (and/or the accompanying Research Compendium), we’d  like to hear from you so that we can share those stories with others. How is the Tool informing your reviews? How are you using it in your professional learning? Is there anything we can do to make it more useful?  

The Knowledge Matters Campaign is all about “finding the good and praising it.” Congrats to Wisconsin and Minnesota—and here’s hoping we can add more states to that scoreboard soon!

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