"Make it a high-school graduation requirement," Emanuel said. "They need to know this stuff."
I recall a moment in college when I was standing in the ruins of classic Rome with a friend of mine, reading to him a sign in one of the structures indicating where Julius Caesar was stabbed, and having him ask me, "Who's Julius Caesar?" Smart guy, graduated from college in three years, and has been a middle school science teacher ever since.
A central problem with our K-12 educational system has been too many cooks, i.e. politicians, in the kitchen. The central message they have been preaching without ceasing has been "More, more, more," and schools continue to suffer. Schools have become bloated with educational mandates that keep adding to the curriculum, and expect it sooner. For example, 25 years ago, my kindergarten classroom met for a half-day three days a week, where we learned our ABC's, learned how to count from 1-10, and otherwise drew crude drawings with crayons and played on the playground. Now every kindergartner needs to know how to read. The Finns still enjoy play time, and who has the better test scores? And don't get me started on Algebra expectations...
If we really want students to succeed, we need to give them room to grow by relaxing curricula standards, not adding more to them. If a smart guy can get through college and succeed in life not knowing who Julius Caesar was, does he need to know how to program a computer?
In my personal opinion, beyond the 8th grade, I think the only class every student should be required to take by law nationally is Civics. The care and maintenance of our nation depends on it. Leave the rest up to the states, and let national benchmarks like the ACT and SAT serve as a common metric students can measure themselves by.