**Common core makes common sense**

We’ve been struggling as a state and nation for years to fix our education system. We constantly rank toward the bottom of the developed world in student knowledge and testing. Colleges complain that many incoming students are ill-prepared for college-level work.

Communities, states and the federal government have been trying for more than a generation to change that. The most recent attempt is the Common Core initiative, a set of educational standards that kids need to meet before they can move on to the next level or graduate.

Call it Common Core, call it common sense, but we need to keep innovating in how we teach our kids, and this seems like a good step forward.

Concrete examples of what kids need to know are included in the standards. For instance, under the core standards, eighth-grade math students should be able to “Apply the Pythagorean Theorem to determine unknown side lengths in right triangles in real-world and mathematical problems in two and three dimensions.” That’s pretty specific, and it’s a skill all our kids should have. But how many kids leaving eighth grade can do this?

What about calculating the volume of a cone or sphere? That’s something that all eighth graders should know — it’s another one of the standards in the Common Core.

As a parent, when I look at a report card and see grades, I have no idea if my child has mastered any of these skills. What does a B mean? I would much prefer a check list of each of these standards, with a pass or fail. And in the case of fail, we go back and work at it until it becomes a pass. There is no job that would allow you to fail at part of that job, but schools let us do that all the time.

Most schools are structured so that students get equal time for every subject — an hour for math, an hour for English and so on. But what if I’m already way ahead in English and way behind in math? Why would I still get an hour of math and an hour of English? In no job training would someone focus on the areas of the job you have already mastered. They’d focus on the areas that you didn’t know.

The Common Core initiative changes the focus to what kids don’t know. Take a look at the standards at corestandards.org and push your local school to make sure your kids are ready for whatever comes next.

As seen in the July 17, 2014 issue of the Hippo.