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Education Achievement

A trophy in a classroom at Achievement First Bridgeport Academy Elementary School, on July 23, 2012 in Bridgeport, Connecticut. (Photo by Ann Hermes/The Christian Science Monitor via Getty Images)

Previously, this column examined how the equitable implementation of Common Core Math standards contributes to our children’s readiness for college and their success in the 21st century job market. Today, we’ll focus on the English Language Arts (ELA) standards.

According to the Nation’s Report Card, published by the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), only 38% of America’s high school seniors are language arts proficient. That figure falls to a dismal 16% and 23% for African-American and Latino students, respectively. These numbers aren’t just proxies for bad report cards, they also have bearing on the next phase of a student’s life – college. For those who do go on to matriculate, too many are then placed in remedial courses because of this lack of preparation.

While conclusive stats are in dispute (hovering somewhere between 20% and 40%), even more disheartening is that for those who do receive academic remediation, only a small percentage go on to graduate from college within 8 years. Because many young adults find themselves behind from the minute they arrive on campus, they spend not only valuable study hours diverted away from their majors and core requirements, but they also spend a vast majority of their financial aid on these non-credit bearing courses, at a personal – and taxpayer – cost of close to $3B annually.

One of Common Core’s main objectives is to raise the level of proficiency so that students are truly college-ready. What the standards are doing is reintroducing context and critical thinking into the classroom. Rather than rote memorization, students are encouraged to interact with materials in a wide range of ways. Studies show that the more students discuss interpretations of what they read, the higher they score; of those who never discussed passages, only 13% score proficient or higher. That figure is 2.5 higher for those who debate materials in the classroom at least once or twice a week (as high as 35% are judged proficient).

Because there has been some confusion about implementation of the standards, we see an opportunity for school administrations to facilitate cooperation between teachers of English and other subjects. This cooperation is necessary to the development of curricula that meet the standards and do what teachers most want to do – excite, engage, and challenge their students.

Esther Wojkiki, a teacher at Palo Alto High School, is the founder of the country’s largest high school journalism program. She is a fervent believer that the craft of journalism is a perfect complement for the skill building that Common Core mandates, not only preparing students for higher education, but for the workplace.

Wojkiki’s experience shows that all teachers need the latitude to assess what is most effective for their students. As the ELA standards undergo revisions over the years, teachers should use the CCSS as a guide for shaping their ELA curriculum to instill curiosity, excitement, and critical understanding of the written word.

For more information on the campaign and Common Core, visit or check out NewsOne’s section on education and the Common Core.

Watch PSAs about the Common Core here.