Meeting the challenge
Some lawmakers and educators worried last week, after the state Board of Education overwhelmingly approved new "common core" education standards, that the protocol would raise the graduation bar too high for some districts and students.
That's not a frivolous concern. Some of Pennsylvania's districts are deeply stressed and lack the resources they should have to help students. Many students lack the family, social and financial resources they need to achieve proficiency.
But education must be aspirational, especially in an age when education is more necessary than ever for individuals and the nation to succeed.
The common core standards, which will apply to the current freshman high school class in public schools if approved by the Legislature and Independent Regulatory Review Board, will define the basic value of the diplomas awarded to high school students.
To graduate, students will have to pass Keystone exams in Algebra I, Biology I, and language arts - in effect, certification of baseline knowledge from a high school education.
Pennsylvania is among 45 states that voluntarily have agreed to the common core standards, which were developed by governors and chief state education officers. The federal government was not involved.
Common core sets basic achievement standards but it does not dictate a specific curriculum to use to achieve those goals. In passing the standards at the state level, the state Board of Education did not set or recommend any particular curriculum, leaving that to local districts.
Common standards will assure accountability by districts and students, however, and they will make possible collaboration across district and state borders so that educators can share their experiences about what works best.
Lawmakers and members of the regulatory review board should approve the standards as passed by the Board of Education. Common core is a major step to ensure that students know what they need to know when they leave high school for college or the work force.