Connecticut may have discovered the solution to California’s K-12 education crisis. New London’s board of education recently approved a measure stating that, starting with the 2011-2012 freshman class, students will have to prove they can effectively speak, read and write “American English” as a requirement for a diploma. At New London High School, only 16 percent of sophomores scored well in English on standardized tests while 55 percent graded “proficient.” New London has a total population of 22,000 with 37 percent of its residents either Hispanic or, to use the Census Bureau’s term, “some other race.” The New London student body is composed of immigrants from at least 28 countries; to accommodate them, the district’s website is translated into 52 languages. As a recently retired teacher from a diverse California school district, I heartily endorse New London’s aggressive stance. Reading proficiency in New London, and across America, is sorely lacking. One reason is that so much political correctness is embedded in school bureaucracy that real efforts at reform are often dead on arrival. Superintendent of Schools Nicholas A. Fischer called his revised standards an essential part of the mission assigned him when he was hired in 2009 to raise standards. Under the new system, students will have multiple opportunities up to age 21 to meet the proficiency requirement. Specifically, the policy states that if a student achieves “goal,” the highest possible level on the reading portion of the Connecticut Academic Performance Test (CAPT), he would satisfy the requirements. Students statewide take the test in the 10th grade and the first time CAPT would count toward the requirement would be in 2013. If, however, students fail to achieve the CAPT “goal” after a second try, they’re allowed additional chances. Other options include passing a reading test administered by the Northwest Education Association and a writing exam from Pearson, the international education company that specializes in examination evaluations. If a student repeatedly fails the tests, Fischer said that pupil would be permitted to submit standardized portfolios to demonstrate competency. For students with learning disabilities or limited English skills, different standards would apply that take into account the amount of time the foreign-born may have lived in the United States. Fischer’s approach seems to satisfy everyone. Elizabeth Garcia Gonzalez, a former school board president and Centro de la Comunidad executive director, thinks: “It’s good that we are raising standards, and I don’t see a problem with testing.” Gonzalez added that “students need to be immersed. When you graduate, you should know the language.” At stake is a high school diploma’s integrity. To colleges and employers, a diploma is meaningless if it doesn’t reflect at least a fundamental command of English. That’s the conflict in California. Hundreds of thousands of students graduate each June who may not have reading skills or understand common, job-related materials like manuals or instructional memos. The Nation’s Report Card, released last year, placed California tied for dead last in reading. Unfortunately, despite millions of meaningless pledges about improving standards that Sacramento officials spew out, political correctness has crippled the education system which emphasizes diversity, ethnic awareness and multiculturalism in favor giving students a real chance at success. While many can and do get by in California without English, few will prosper unless they have mastered it.