Teaching What Children Need

High school geometry students ought to be able to determine the area of a triangle. Those in U.S. history should know liberties safeguarded in the Bill of Rights. And Shakespeare should not be absent from English literature class.

No reasonable person would argue against those and other obvious requirements for public school curriculum. For that reason, West Virginia Board of Education members are right to be using the so-called “Common Core” standards as a foundation for what should be taught in our state’s classrooms.

But swallowing Common Core hook, line and sinker does not make sense.

West Virginia is one of 45 states that have agreed to adopt the Common Core standards. Here, the goal is to phase them in by the 2014-15 school year.

The very detailed curriculum set out in the Common Core is, to our knowledge, the first time a single set of public school learning standards has been implemented in the United States. That has led to concerns about the federal government dictating curriculum to states.

Some West Virginians don’t like the idea. They fear centralized control over what young people are taught – and not without reason. Anything as detailed as the Common Core is bound to include a few activities some parents find objectionable, while excluding some they believe are essential. It is impossible to please all of the people all of the time when it comes to educating their children. Long before Common Core ever was discussed, some parents objected to curriculum set at the school or county levels.

State Board of Education members have heard the complaints and, for the next few weeks, are seeking public comments on use of the Common Core standards.

Here, the plan is to refer to the strategy as Next Generation Content Standards and Objectives. But to some people, Common Core by any other name still will smack of a federal government takeover of education.

Again, however, most of what is contained in Common Core standards is simple common sense. Teaching English students to read critically, for example, is a good idea. Teaching math students basics contained in most textbooks for decades is smart, regardless of whether the conclusion is reached in Washington or Charleston.

State officials are right to use the Common Core strategy here in West Virginia. At the same time, however, they should be ready to adapt it, where necessary, to ensure it is appropriate for Mountain State students.