Should high school “graduation” imply enough skill to read a parts manual, make change for a $20 bill, and read an election ballot?  Since students have the right to move about the country claiming to be graduates, it is in their interest and our interest that graduation means being “able to function in society beyond their hometown.”

Which local potentate should have the power to set graduation standards low enough to allow for nearly illiterate graduates?  Job interviewers and college admission staff should not need sophisticated databases to discover what high school standards are in Toad Suck, AR as distinct from what the standards are in Detroit, MI.  Employers and colleges will need more from a candidate than the date and place of high school graduation, but if “graduation” has an unreliable meaning their task is more difficult and prone to error.

Recently there has been widespread criticism of the federal “common core” standards.  In today’s sour climate this is understandable.  Partisan agendas at the Department of Justice, EPA and IRS show federal agencies using regulations to achieve partisan goals.  Why not indoctrination of children?  Why should we assume the Department of Education resists the political agenda that controls the other agencies?  Indeed, the overt partisan bias of some classroom teachers already confirms that assumption for many parents.

Common Core is a set of knowledge and skill standards that a child in K-12 should attain in mathematics and English language.  Common Core specifies what, but not how a student should be taught. 

When you see homework assignments encouraging awkward or silly approaches for “doing math,” those bogus tactics are likely due to dumb locally-specified curriculum or inept teaching.  They are not evidence of the Common Core standards per se.   

Dumb approaches to K-6 math predate Common Core by decades.  I reviewed math homework for my children in the 80s.  Missing from their teacher’s approach was the joy of some math tricks, shortcuts, and patterns that simplified computation.  Although unstylish, mastery of ‘times tables’ pays off handsomely for a lifetime.  In contrast, rants about “drill and kill” waste time and leave the advocate without any useful skill.

Dumb and smart curriculum choices are made at the school board and local political level.  This level allows for graduates unready for community college.  This level also hijacks funds allotted to charter schools that produce far better results than do competing public schools.

Nowhere have I found a reason to prefer one state’s mathematics standards over another’s mathematics standards.  Likewise for reading and English.  National standards for math, English, reading and science should be an easy consensus for the states to reach.  Just don’t pretend that illiterate is acceptable.   

History is an exception to consensus standards.  We should automatically concede that each state has mastery over the meaning of its own history – history is like religion.  There is no way to convince most history buffs that another perspective is plausible, and the effort will be met with endless pontification that drains the listeners’ will to live.  Let states do history their own way, but please keep it short.

Common Core may have some flaws, but it’s not the source of dumb math tactics.  Educational standards have value to students and society.  Standards for STEM and language are probably best set nationally by a consensus of states.  Each graduate who cannot read is evidence of “dumb-as-a-brick” standard-setting by locals pursuing a destructive agenda.  Neither national, nor state, nor local is automatically the “best” at educational standards.

Alan Daley is a retired businessman who writes for The American Consumer Institute Center for Citizen Research