Almost a decade ago, governors from across the country got together to have a long-overdue discussion about why so many students were graduating from high school ill-prepared for college. At the same time, the business community was sounding the alarm about good-paying jobs going unfilled because high school graduates lacked basic math and reading skills, as well as good work habits.
The consensus among the governors -- Republicans and Democrats, conservatives and liberals -- was that our students could do better, but we had to set higher expectations to get better academic results.
So with the input of educators, parents and experts in English and math, along with governors and other state-level leaders, the Common Core State Standards were developed for English and math.
Eventually, 46 states voluntarily adopted these standards, including Pennsylvania in 2010.
Lately, there's been a lot of negative chatter about the Common Core, much of it based on ill-informed speculation that it is a federal government plot to "take over" our local schools, dictate classroom curriculum or compile databases on our kids for some sinister, unstated purpose.
In reality, the Common Core is a state-led initiative that involves no new student data collection and in no way usurps Pennsylvania's long history of local control.
In simple terms, the Pennsylvania Common Core Standards will help give our students, parents and all taxpayers assurance that the resources we put into education are truly preparing our graduates for the challenges they will face beyond high school -- whether that means joining the workforce, enlisting in the military or pursuing a postsecondary degree.
To understand why the Pennsylvania Common Core Standards are necessary, consider the issues our schools and employers have been trying to address.
In 2012 alone, 34 percent of high school graduates in York County schools received diplomas despite failing to show proficiency in math and reading. If these underprepared graduates went on to postsecondary education, there's a good chance they'd have to take time-consuming and costly remedial courses to learn what they should have learned in high school.
The lack of preparedness isn't helping the local workforce, either. According to the state Department of Labor and Industry, 1,043 job openings in the York/Hanover region went unfilled for 90 days or more this year, in large part because employers couldn't find adequately skilled workers to fill those jobs.
The fact is, giving a diploma to a student who is not proficient cheats the student and the taxpayers. Using the Pennsylvania Common Core Standards in conjunction with quality instruction and aligned assessments can help remedy this problem.
The standards don't tell teachers how to structure their lesson plans, they don't dictate which textbooks your kids have to use, and they don't undermine local control by school districts. Instead, the standards set the bar for what our students should know at each grade level. They serve as a floor of basic academic expectations, not a ceiling that limits a student's learning. If a school or district wants to set a higher academic bar than what is dictated by the Pennsylvania Common Core Standards, they are free to do so.
To ensure the academic standards are being met, our public schools use the Pennsylvania System of School Assessments (PSSAs) and the Keystone Exams, which are aligned to standards. The Keystone Exams are used at the high school level to ensure graduate preparedness, and if a student fails a Keystone Exam, they can get additional instruction and re-take the exam. The goal is to make sure we aren't failing those students by letting them graduate unprepared.
Those who say we should abandon state standards don't have a workable alternative. Abandoning the Common Core really means stranding the commonwealth's students on an island of academic mediocrity and lost opportunities. Our students, parents, employers and taxpayers deserve better.
-- Joan Benso is president and CEO of Pennsylvania Partnerships for Children and David Patti is president and CEO of the Pennsylvania Business Council.