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What Your Sixth Grader Needs to Know (Revised) (Core Knowledge Series) Paperback – June 26, 2007

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Product Details

  • Series: Core Knowledge Series
  • Paperback: 391 pages
  • Publisher: Delta; Revised edition (June 26, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0385337329
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385337328
  • Product Dimensions: 9.2 x 7.4 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (38 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #21,684 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

About the Author

E. D. Hirsch, Jr., is a professor of English at the University of Virginia and the author of The Schools We Need, The Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, and the bestselling Cultural Literacy. He lives in Charlottesville, Virginia.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

General Introduction to the Core Knowledge Series


A parent of identical twins sent me a letter in which she expressed concern that her children, who are in the same grade in the same school, are being taught completely different things. How can this be? Because they are in different classrooms; because the teachers in these classrooms have only the vaguest guidelines to follow; in short, because the school, like many in the United States, lacks a definite, specific curriculum.

Many parents would be surprised if they were to examine the curriculum of their child’s elementary school. Ask to see your school’s curriculum. Does it spell out, in clear and concrete terms, a core of specific content and skills all children at a particular grade level are expected to learn by the end of the school year?

Many curricula speak in general terms of vaguely defined skills, processes, and attitudes, often in an abstract, pseudo-technical language that calls, for example, for children to “analyze patterns and data,” or “investigate the structure and dynamics of living systems,” or “work cooperatively in a group.” Such vagueness evades the central question: what is your child learning in school? It places unreasonable demands upon teachers and often results in years of schooling marred by repetitions and gaps. Yet another unit on dinosaurs or “pioneer days.” Charlotte’s Web for the third time. “You’ve never heard of the Bill of Rights?” “You’ve never been taught how to add two fractions with unlike denominators?”

When identical twins in two classrooms of the same school have few academic experiences in common, that is cause for concern. When teachers in that school do not know what children in other classrooms are learning on the same grade level, much less in earlier and later grades, they cannot reliably predict that children will come prepared with a shared core of knowledge and skills. For an elementary school to be successful, teachers need a common vision of what they want their students to know and be able to do. They need to have clear, specific learning goals, as well as the sense of mutual accountability that comes from shared commitment to helping all children achieve those goals. Lacking both specific goals and mutual accountability, too many schools exist in a state of curricular incoherence, one result of which is that they fall far short of developing the full potential of our children.

To address this problem, I started the nonprofit Core Knowledge Foundation in 1986. This book and its companion volumes in the Core Knowledge Series are designed to give parents, teachers—and through them, children—clearly defined learning goals in the form of a carefully sequenced body of knowledge, based upon the specific content guidelines developed by the Core Knowledge Foundation.

Core Knowledge is an attempt to define, in a coherent and sequential way, a body of knowledge taken for granted by competent writers and speakers in the United States. Because this knowledge is taken for granted rather than explained when used, it forms a necessary foundation for the higher-order reading, writing, and thinking skills that children need for academic and vocational success. The universal attainment of such knowledge should be a central aim of curricula in our elementary schools, just as it is currently the aim in all world-class educational systems. For reasons explained in the next section, making sure that all young children in the United States possess a core of shared knowledge is a necessary step in developing a first-rate educational system.


Learning builds on learning: children (and adults) gain new knowledge only by building on what they already know. It is essential to begin building solid foundations of knowledge in the early grades when children are most receptive because, for the vast majority of children, academic deficiencies from the first six grades can permanently impair the success of later learning. Poor performance of American students in middle and high school can be traced to shortcomings inherited from elementary schools that have not imparted to children the knowledge and skills they need for further learning.

All of the highest-achieving and most egalitarian elementary school systems in the world (such as those in Sweden, France, and Japan) teach their children a specific core of knowledge in each of the grades, thus enabling all children to enter each new grade with a secure foundation for further learning. It is time American schools did so as well, for the following reasons:

(1) Commonly shared knowledge makes schooling more effective. We know that the one-on-one tutorial is the most effective form of schooling, in part because a parent or teacher can provide tailor-made instruction for the individual child. But in a non-tutorial situation—in, for example, a typical classroom with twenty-five or more students—the instructor cannot effectively impart new knowledge to all the students unless each one shares the background knowledge that the lesson is being built upon.

Consider this scenario: in third grade, Ms. Franklin is about to begin a unit on early explorers: Columbus, Magellan, and others. In her class, she has some students who were in Mr. Washington’s second-grade class last year and some students who were in Ms. Johnson’s class. She also has a few students who moved in from other towns. As Ms. Franklin begins the unit, she asks the children to look at a globe and use their fingers to trace a route across the Atlantic Ocean from Europe to North America. The students who had Mr. Washington look blankly at her: they didn’t learn that last year. The students who had Ms. Johnson, however, eagerly point to the proper places on the globe, while two of the students who came from other towns pipe up and say, “Columbus and Magellan
again? We did that last year.” When all the students in a class do share the relevant background knowledge, a classroom can begin to approach the effectiveness of a tutorial. Even when some children in a class do not have elements of the knowledge they were supposed to acquire in previous grades, the existence of a specifically defined core makes it possible for the teacher or parent to identify and fill in the gaps, thus giving all students a chance to fulfill their potential in later grades.

(2) Commonly shared knowledge makes schooling more fair and democratic. When all the children who enter a grade can be assumed to share some of the same building blocks of knowledge, and when the teacher knows exactly what those building blocks are, then all the students are empowered to learn. In our current system, children from disadvantaged backgrounds too often suffer from unmerited low expectations that translate into watered-down curricula. But if we specify the core of knowledge that all children should share, then we can guarantee equal access to that knowledge and compensate for the academic advantages some students are offered at home. In a Core Knowledge school, all children enjoy the benefits of important, challenging knowledge that will provide the foundation for successful later learning.

(3) Commonly shared knowledge helps create cooperation and solidarity in our schools and nation. Diversity is a hallmark and strength of our nation. American classrooms are often, and increasingly, made up of students from a variety of cultural backgrounds, and those different cultures should be honored by all students. At the same time, education should create a school-based culture that is common and welcoming to all because it includes knowledge of many cultures and gives all students, no matter what their background, a common foundation for understanding our cultural diversity.


The content in this and other volumes in the Core Knowledge Series is based on a document called the Core Knowledge Sequence, a grade-by-grade sequence of specific content guidelines in English, history, geography, mathematics, science, art, and music. The Sequence is not meant to outline the whole of the school curriculum; rather, it offers specific guidelines to knowledge that can reasonably be expected to make up about half of any school’s curriculum, or perhaps a little more, thus leaving ample room for local requirements and emphases. Teaching a common core of knowledge, such as that articulated in the Core Knowledge Sequence, is compatible with a variety of instructional
methods and additional subject matters.

The Core Knowledge Sequence is the result of a long process of research and consensus building undertaken by the Core Knowledge Foundation. Here is how we achieved the consensus behind the Core Knowledge Sequence. First we analyzed the many reports issued by state departments of education and by professional organizations—such as the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics and the American Association for the Advancement of Science—that recommend general outcomes for elementary and secondary education. We also tabulated the knowledge and skills through grade six specified in the successful educational systems of several other countries, including France, Japan, Sweden, and West Germany. In addition, we formed an advisory board on multiculturalism that proposed specific knowledge of diverse cultural traditions that American children should all share as part of their school-based common culture. We sent the resulting materials to three independent groups of teachers, scholars, and scientists around the country, asking them to
create a master list of the knowledge children should have by the end of grade six. About 150 teachers (including coll...

More About the Author

E. D. Hirsch, Jr. is the founder of the Core Knowledge Foundation and professor emeritus of education and humanities at the University of Virginia. He is the author of several acclaimed books on education issues including the best-seller Cultural Literacy. With his subsequent books The Schools We Need and Why We Don't Have Them, The Knowledge Deficit, and The Making of Americans, Dr. Hirsch solidified his reputation as one of the most influential education reformers of our time.

Customer Reviews

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I love this series of books and recommend them to all parents.
This series is a great guide to a year's worth of education for 6th graders.
This is a very helpful book, well written, and full of information.
S. Roberts

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

28 of 28 people found the following review helpful By B. Bintrim on April 28, 2009
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
My oldest daughter is finishing fifth grade, and we have used The Core Knowledge books for every year up to this point. Because we are homeschooling, we feel that reading through these books gives us confidence that we are keeping up with what might be expected of a student of a particular grade.

Wanting to get a jump on the next level, my daughter read through What Your Sixth Grader Needs to Know over the past two weeks. You might want to be aware of some errors. In the math section on page 269, an addition problem is written with a minus sign, and the wrong answer is given in Step 2. At the top of page 271, we read, "In the following diagram line ZC is parallel to line TS, or line ZC is parallel to line TS." There is also an error in an illustration in the science section on page 328. Two cans of soda are pictured on scales with an earthly landscape behind each with a caption indicating that the can of soda would weigh less on the moon than it does on earth. We are missing a picture of a lighter can of soda with a moonscape behind it.

I don't think the editing of this book is any worse than what we find typically in educational material, and the series is useful; but perhaps they ought to hire kids to proofread.:)
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18 of 19 people found the following review helpful By Megan R on March 22, 2008
Format: Paperback
I bought this book to prepare my child for Beestar online tests for sixth graders. Due to the vast differences among schools and teachers in teaching science and social studies, students often receive a rather unbalanced treatment of the subjects in their classroom. This book comes as a rescue of the situation. It tells you clearly what your child needs to know as a sixth grader. My child studied several important chapters from this book that somehow were never taught by his teachers. And yes the knowledge is essential and is needed in state standardized tests.

I highly recommend this book for aiding in the preparation for any general knowledge test. It takes you all the way through iambic pentameter to Benito Juarez. The math and science sections are wonderful as well. It provides very complex information in a very user-friendly manner. I'm very glad that we had this book.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on July 24, 2009
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I have been homeschooling my youngest since he was in 3rd grade. Every year I use this series as part of our weekly curriculum. We take all school year to read through the book as we are in no rush. I don't depend on this book solely of course, but it is a great base to work from. I'm only sorry it doesn't extend through 8th grade.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Quality review on December 27, 2008
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I've purchased our very first "What your Kindergartner needs to know" before our firstborn was five. Ever since then we had a copy for each grade of our three children. Nowadays, with limited communications, international schools not using enough books, I would feel very much left out if I didn't have my trusted copy. Parents, please be aware that you may have to supplement at home. Don't entrust your children completely to the school but be involved. It's easy enough to read the pages to the children or have the older ones read it for themselves (with guidance and feedback). A must have for every child's home!
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By S. Roberts on June 22, 2009
Format: Paperback
I am a fourth-grade teacher and bought this book to have an idea of what students do in sixth grade. This is a very helpful book, well written, and full of information. It is divided into sections for subject areas. As I read I thought that it would be a very good book for homeschooled children, too. I will keep it as a resource in my classroom.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Susan K. Schoonover VINE VOICE on April 16, 2008
Format: Paperback
This is an essential reference book if your child is a sixth grader in a school using Hirsch's "Core Knowledge" curriculum. An amazing amount of information is packed in to this book and is presented in an understandable and interesting way with helpful pictures (mostly in color in the visual art section) and maps and graphs as needed. All major sixth grade subjects are covered (with the exception of PE and foreign language). If your child's school doesn't follow core knowledge don't expect this to be a guide to what he is learning in sixth grade as it may be quite different. However it could still be an interesting supplemental book for your child since it is filled with information a well educated adult should know.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Rebecca Summerhays on June 9, 2008
Format: Paperback
I got this book to help prepare for the PRAXIS test for Elementary Education Teachers. I have found the book to be very informative. I have heard it is very helpful for a study aid for the PRAXIS so hopefully it pays off for me!
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Ashley on September 23, 2013
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This book is an excellent resource for someone who is studying for the General Curriculum MTEL. I used this as one of my study tools before I took the test and passed first try. It covers important topics and is easy to understand. I'm happy to keep it for my future students as well, I can see myself using it to guide my lesson planning!
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