In December of last year, the State Board of Education adopted a proposal calling for mandatory, statewide high school graduation requirements. It is a lofty goal, to be sure, with a large and diverse smattering of courses for students to sample. In fact, it is essentially a start-to-finish format for four years of high school instruction. It is visionary and packaged to send a strong message regarding the improvement of our children’s education.

That being said, it doesn’t answer several fundamental questions. What basic building blocks will every child, regardless of their life’s ambition, need to succeed? How do we measure success? And where is the all-important parental involvement?

If you were to travel around the state and ask the proverbial "man on the street" what should kids be taught in school today, I have a hunch that the answer you would get would be a mixed bag, varying greatly based upon the region, gender and age of the respondent. However, I would be willing to bet that when you boiled it all down, everyone could agree that students should be learning math, science, reading and writing, sort of a modified version of the "3-Rs" (reading, ‘riting and ‘rithmetic) of education.

These are the basic, most fundamental units of learning. Once you successfully master these skill sets, a whole new world of learning opens up, not just in the traditional classroom setting, but in any setting a person may find themselves.

21st Century Schools, 21st Century Skills ... is focused, responsible and enforceable, while keeping a majority of the decisions for how a child is educated with those closest to the child — the local district and the parents.

We have areas of our state with rates of functional illiteracy that exceed 60 percent. We have students entering college who need years of remedial math to catch up to where they should have been coming out of high school.

We cannot attract the types of businesses to this state, the high-tech businesses that we desire, with a workforce that is this dramatically under-prepared. We as a state need to stand up and declare that our children must meet a standard of education whether they are schooled in Ishpeming or Inkster.

21st Century Schools, 21st Century Skills is a curriculum we have developed to encourage parental involvement and individual attention in selecting a curriculum path for students, a curriculum that has set standards and requires reaching measurable goals to complete. Our plan is focused on what is essential to success, not scattered to include a wide variety of elective options. These options, while important, should best be left to the local districts to implement or require, not be a part of "a one-size-fits-all" directive from Lansing.

The key is in having a common set of course-level content expectations in the curriculum for all schools to meet. The State Board of Education has some of these already completed. All of them, however, need to be completed before we can hold our schools and our children to any kind of new standard. It simply isn’t reasonable to expect all districts to agree on what English I should be if they are left to their own devices. This would invite a scenario where one district could offer an English I class with readings from "War and Peace," while another may offer something called English I with a "Dick and Jane" story. The two would not be equitable, and would defeat the purpose for having a common curriculum.

21st Century Schools, 21st Century Skills calls for a standard, core curriculum to be in place for most students. However, at the start of a high school career, a student and his or her parents would have the option to sit down with a school counselor to plan a unique curriculum path for the child. The path would include as much of the core offerings as possible, while allowing for the interests of the student to be met. The parents would commit to quarterly interactions with the faculty to monitor progress and the path could be revisited on a yearly basis.

This is the level of flexibility that must be in the system in recognition of the fact that not all children are the same. For example, not every child is going to go to college. Some will go on to a trade school, some will serve our country in the military, some will set out on their own and become part of our next generation of entrepreneurs. But whatever they do, they need a foundation in the basic skills that one needs to have to survive in the modern world. Gone forever are the days of leaving high school to go directly into the factory. To that end, alternative means of delivery have to be available. For example, geometry and algebra can be learned in construction trades. We should be encouraging more vocational-technical training, dual enrollment, and articulation agreements between community colleges and other higher education providers.

Some may say that not all students can achieve the level of rigor spelled out in both proposals, that it will be "too hard." I reject that argument as the soft bigotry of low expectations. Students can and will learn what they are taught. The key needs to be the "new" three R’s of education: relevance, rigor, and more relevance. We need to re-evaluate the way lessons are taught to ensure that our teachers reach all students. With the amount of money we commit to education and the level of compensation that educators receive – compensation that is among the tops in the nation – we simply must get a return on our investment.

Any statewide curriculum has to address the fundamental questions of basic skills, measurable standards and goals, and parental involvement. 21st Century Schools, 21st Century Skills answers all of these questions. It is focused, responsible and enforceable, while keeping a majority of the decisions for how a child is educated with those closest to the child — the local district and the parents. Michigan cannot afford to let another generation of students slip through the cracks; our future depends too much on them to stand idly by and watch our jobs and our economy head further south. Our children are depending on us.

Rep. Brian Palmer, R-Romeo, is chairman of the House Education Committee.