Integrating Common Core Standards with Life Skills

We hear much debate these days about Common Core educational standards: how should they be adopted, should they be used at all, are they right for all students, how do we test for them, what are the right remedial programs at all grade levels, and who at the local level is ultimately responsible and accountable?

To all those issues, I’d like to add another, possibly more important than most of those I listed: The current set of Common Core standards (see include only mathematics and English language arts and do not address basic skills to function in life.

(Visit this page for a complete listing of essential life skills, and you can also check out a comprehensive collection of online, interactive life skills programs on the same site.)

While it seems unlikely that we’ll ever get there with Common Core standards – a few states and U.S. territories haven’t even adopted the existing math and English standards – what if the standards included life skills? Or what if there was a different standard for basic life functioning, in addition to the academic Common Core, or what if we added a non-academic dimension to the exiting Common Core?

I would argue that basic life skills – keeping track of expenses, learning to live within your means, simple nutrition, essential domestic skills, fundamentals of communication, job readiness, managing your education, and many more – are more important than most of mathematics and some of the English skills described in Common Core standards. And more young people and adults will need and use those skills everyday than most of the existing academic standards.

In fact, in this country, over the last 10 years, we’ve actually moved in a negative direction with regard to life skills, due to two major factors:

The emphasis on standardized testing has eliminated many non-core subjects, and along with life skills, that includes art, athletics, music, and the humanities.

The dramatic economic meltdown, which start in 2006 and 2007 in the education sector, and got much worse along with the rest of the economy in 2008 and 2009, eliminated funding for all but the most essential academic programs – and even those got slashed as the funding shrank dramatically.

I’m not suggesting any kind of either / or approach: we absolutely must adopt, teach, test for, and expand Common Core standards. At the global level, it’s critical for our ability to compete with other countries for talent, jobs, and economic health. At the local level, any individual young woman or man must master and demonstrate those skills to get employed and create the lives they want for themselves and their families.

But let’s add to that conversation – let’s decide how to provide well-rounded skills to all people heading into the world. How many of us know someone – or were once that someone ourselves – with rich, deep, and relevant academic skills and knowledge, but without a clue how to balance a bank account or carry on a conversation or set simple goals?