While activists may tug educators in other directions, the central goal for high school graduates is to be educated as thoughtful citizens and as employable entry-level workers, or as students who can thrive in college or university. Obtaining an entry-level job shortly after graduating is an important step for many along the path to becoming self-sufficient.

For entry level jobs, skills of reading and simple math are needed. A graduate should be able to run a cash register, calculator or job-related app on a tablet.  When nearby electronics are unavailable, the student should be able to calculate what change to you give when $20 is paid and $16.51 is owed. The graduate must understand search results related to a job that the graduate is applying for. Most jobs now require analytic thinking that is deeper than superficial. For example, if 52% of China’s population is male and 50% of the US population is male, which country has more females? China, of course.

As a citizen, graduates will soon be called on to vote on key social and economic issues.  At minimum the graduate will need the same knowledge and skills that are required to pass the naturalized immigrant tests, and some familiarity with the key social and economic issues of the day.

High school graduates can quickly become parents. While they will have access to care and advice from physicians and thoughtful family members, they are responsible for establishing a safe and nurturing environment for their child. The child’s health and ability to learn will depend on how well they meet the child’s physical and social needs. Public schools are in an ideal position to coach high school students on parenting skills.

At today’s costs, each K-12 student graduating from the public system will cost taxpayers more than $130,000 over a 13 year period, or $3,250,000 for a graduating class of 25 students. We might receive reports from the teachers, the administration and the local school that the teaching was effective and student performance meets the standards set by the local school board and state.

Such reports sound optimistic, but since most of the $3.25 million goes to pay classroom teachers and school administrators, we taxpayers, students, and parents must be excused for asking for an independent assessment of how efficiently that money is being spent and how close to employment, citizenship and parenting competence the students actually are.  And we will want to know that before 13 years have gone by.  For some school systems, the spending is efficient; for other systems it’s grossly misspent.

The issue of teacher efficacy being measured in part by student test scores has led to scuffles at both the state and the federal levels. The No Child Left Behind program was designed to fund annual student testing and a bonus for highly effective teachers. Race to the Top includes merit pay and bonuses for classroom programs that include student test scores in teacher assessments. The latest federal program seeks to measure efficacy of the newest teachers in the field. Teacher unions are hostile toward this and anything that measures teacher performance when it includes any student test results.

The current bete noir is Common Core, an inventory of what students should know for reading and mathematics subjects at key stages in K-12. The range of subjects needs to be expanded to cover more of what is essential for K-12 graduates. At its current evolution, there should be no controversy, except perhaps, that it’s too easy or it’s too hard.  But objections are both plentiful and creative. Some object to the way Common Core subjects are taught, especially to the examples of weird homework. Common Core explicitly left how to teach students up to local teachers and the state and local administrators. Homework weirdness is a local, not a Common Core attribute.

Beyond control of teaching style, Common Core opponents want to infuse their peculiar state or local flavor into the subjects. No matter what educators or politicians think, mathematics does not vary by political jurisdiction. Perhaps they have misgivings about amusing pronunciation of reading materials.

Through No Child Left Behind, Race to the Top, Common Core and other financial temptations, the feds try to tie teacher pay to student performance. The locals want the cash, but not the advice.

What graduates deserve and need from local K-12 schools is rather straightforward. What they receive often falls short, although notice does not come until they cannot land a job or cannot handle college. Taxpayers are forced to pay for students’ school results whether they are good or not. Unfortunately, teachers and administrators refuse to clearly document teachers’ role in student performance. An improvement in transparency would help all involved.

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