This Is What Equal Opportunity Looks Like

by Guest Blogger
May 21st, 2013

A few days ago, Marc Tucker of the National Center on Education and the Economy wrote about supporting the Common Core State Standards—and doing whatever it takes to implement them well—simply because they reflect real-world standards. Institutions of higher education and employers have high standards. For many children from disadvantaged homes, rigorous schooling offers the only hope for being well prepared. Tucker recalled:

Years ago, I was running a focus group in Rochester, New York. I was asking parents how they felt about standards. An African-American single mother living on welfare said, “My boy is in middle school in the city. He is getting A’s just for filling in the colors in a coloring book. The kids in the suburbs have to work really hard for their A’s. When my child graduates, all he will be good for is working the checkout counter at the grocery store. I want my child to have the same opportunities they have. I want him to have to do as well in school as they have to do to earn an A.”

Tucker points out that instead of shying away from the Common Core, we ought to accept it as one necessary step in a total overhaul of our educational approach. “We will have to do what the top-performers everywhere have done: radically change our school finance systems, academic standards, curriculum, instructional practices and tests and exams. Not least important, we will have to make big changes in teacher compensation, the way we structure teachers’ careers, the standards for getting into teachers colleges, the curriculum in our teachers colleges, our teacher licensure standards and the way we support new teachers.”

All true. I argue that the place to start is standards and curriculum. The standards provide the goals and the curriculum provides the specific content. With those as the foundation, we can rebuild the rest of our educational infrastructure—especially teacher preparation.

Core Knowledge Language Arts (CKLA) is a comprehensive reading, writing, speaking, listening, and knowledge-building curriculum for preschool through third grade that could be used to strengthen the elementary grades.

Teachers are excited about it because it develops decoding and encoding skills while also engaging students in listening to and discussing rich teacher read-alouds. Fiction and nonfiction, the read-alouds have a mix of fables, science, and history, including tales from around the world, ancient civilizations, the human body, and astronomy.

To really understand it, you have to see it. Take a look at this video featuring two schools that participated in the pilot of CKLA in New York City: P.S. 96Q and P.S. 104Q.

In the video, Alice Wiggins, Core Knowledge’s executive vice president, explains that one great benefit of CKLA is the carefully organized content: Children “are pulling knowledge from what they learned earlier in the school year and even in prior years because of the way the program spirals.”

Hope Wygand, a teacher, has seen this in action. In her hands, CKLA builds knowledge and excitement:

In second grade, I know I have to teach ancient Greek myths because in third grade, they are going to do ancient Roman myths. So it all builds….

When you can start a lesson and the children already know what you are talking about, they are so much more interested because they already have an investment in it—and they want to show you what they know.

But don’t just take it from me. See for yourself.



  1. CKLA…..EXACTLY what is needed in Milwaukee Public Schools!

    Comment by Chuck Granger — May 21, 2013 @ 7:15 pm

  2. Next year my school will start implementing common core full swing. Since our principal has provided Professional Development (PD) time every week to give us an opportunity to start shaping the curriculum, we began to implement reading, writing, science/social studies, and technology into almost all of our lessons! It is wonderful to see students collaborating with one another and developing their own reasoning instead of just being “told” the answers. Also since we continue to build on what students already know, students have said learning is so much more fun and easier for them.
    After reading your blog and watching the video, I now have a better understanding of how Core Knowledge Language Arts provides students with a better understanding of content knowledge while also giving resources to help them achieve academic success. I want to share this video with my colleagues at our next PD time. How do you feel Core Knowledge Language Arts has been beneficial for English Language Learners?

    Comment by Darshell — May 21, 2013 @ 11:05 pm

  3. The 6 transdisciplinary themes in an international school such Who We Are, Where We Are in Place and Time help teachers to develop a programme of inquiries–investigations into important ideas, identified by the schools, and requiring a high level of involvement on the part of the students. These inquiries are substantial, in-depth and usually last for several weeks.
    Since these ideas relate to the world beyond the school, students see their relevance and connect with it in an engaging and challenging way. Students who learn in this way begin to reflect on their roles and responsibilities as learners and become actively involved with their education. All students will come to realize that that a unit of inquiry involves them in in-depth exploration of an important idea, and that the teacher will collect evidence of how well they understand that idea. They will expect to be able to work in a variety of ways, on their own and in groups, to allow them to learn to their best advantage.

    Comment by Nara — May 22, 2013 @ 1:26 am

  4. Hi Darshell,

    I’ll offer some basic information on how CKLA supports English learners here. For more, please see our FAQ at

    CKLA’s heavy emphasis on listening and speaking, as well as building knowledge and vocabulary, should be especially helpful to ELs.

    Researchers like Diane August and Claude Goldenberg have found that strong instructional programs work well for all types of students. ELs may need more time and supports, but they do not appear to need anything fundamentally different from what other students need. Here’s a look at the research that you might find helpful:

    The sound-first approach in CKLA is particularly supportive of ELs, as it lets them focus first on the sounds in words and then make the translation to how that sound is represented in the English alphabet. Explicit grammar lessons are also a feature of the Skills strand, which is consistent with the best thinking about how to build the foundational language skills needed to learn a second language. Anecdotal evidence from teachers using the Skills materials with diverse students indicates that the Skills materials are accessible for all learners, including ELs.

    In addition, a Supplemental Guide is currently being developed that will provide further support to educators seeking to meet the specific needs of ELs (as well as children with weak or lagging language skills).

    Comment by Lisa Hansel — May 22, 2013 @ 10:55 am

  5. Teaching from the core curriculum is the way to go if you want to build life long learners. The standards are a framework for the knowledge the students should possess. However, many times that is not what is happening in the classrooms. Many teachers are teaching to their state mandated test but if they would only realize that if you teach the standards you have taught the test. Yes, you have to rebuild in order to make sure all students are accounted for. They should all have the same opportunties. We can know longer make excuses about the student’s socioeconomic backgrounds. We have to make a difference the best way we know with the resources we have. CKLA looks like the route to take elementary where we need to go.

    Comment by Denise — May 22, 2013 @ 11:51 am

  6. Lisa,
    The building knowledge and vocabulary would be extremely beneficial to my Kindergarten students. I was recently reading a book with my lower ELL group and I had a young girl have difficulty with the words “giraffe” and “elephant.” While those may look like difficult words, they were accompanied by a clear picture of them as well. When students are not familiar with vocabulary that may seem easy to those that speak English, a simple “I like the elephant” sentence may feel like jumping over a mountain. I would love my students to experience CKLA.
    I am glad to see they are developing a supplement guide for students that speak other languages. Thank you for all the helpful resources!!

    Comment by Darshell — May 23, 2013 @ 12:01 am

  7. This is all very fine and well. For middle and upper class children. Wake me up when you get around to addressing what goes on in the life of a child beyond school

    Comment by Jeffrey Miller — May 23, 2013 @ 1:40 am

  8. While pursuing my Master’s degree and few months back, I observed a mathematics classroom. I noticed the teacher was not infusing any real-world connections to the subject matter being taught. When I inquired about connecting real-world connections to subject matter, the teacher stated with all the common core standards required there is no time to teaach practical application. This mindset is tainting the integration of common core standards. Teachers were teaching to the test; as a result, districts adoopted the common core standards. This has not addressed the problem. Students are bored and failing to see the connections and purposes to learning what is being taught. If real change is going to take place, teachers need to make learning purposeful, rigorous and engaging. Students need to alos be allowed to take more responsibility for their own education instead of being spoon fed common core standards and information so they can regurgitate it on a teast or quiz and then forget about it.

    Comment by Bryan Lawson — May 23, 2013 @ 12:57 pm

  9. @Jeffrey and Bryan, yes poor children have been given a raw deal, their lives are often circumscribed by a number of forces, but I think it is a fine line to focus on local or real world applications and expanding kids horizons. The challenge that the CK system and frankly the intellectual body of work by Hirsche is to say that there is a substantive body of history, literature, science and yes math that create a common heritage both as Americans and as literate human beings. Personally having attended an inner-city school and having dealt with one in DC for several years, kids know when you are pandering and most of them feel acutely the loss they experience not being part of that common culture. The connections may need to be made more explicitly by teachers, but you can tell when children have been empowered by this message.

    Comment by DC Parent — May 23, 2013 @ 2:01 pm

  10. I read an article a few months ago about an inner city school creating real-world connections for students by empowering them to create their own curriculum. Textbooks were used merely as tools for answering their questions instead of being used as the foundation for their learning. As a result, students were excelling in all aspects of their education because they were empowered to take responsibility for their education. It is easy for us to focus on the problems and not the solutions. I realize common core standards create a clear blue print, but more needs to be done to address how we connect subject matter such as roman myths to real-world life. I knew a 3rd grade teacher who taught about Japan in her classroom for years. Students were looking forward to having her as a teacher because they had a chance to eat sushi for the first time. The issue was none of what she was doing was relatable to any educational standards whatsoever nor was their any conncetion to the real-world. This needs to chnage.

    Comment by Bryan Lawson — May 24, 2013 @ 11:46 am

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