Point of View

Common core is 'mission critical'

August 30, 2013 

When business leaders around the country say that they need a workforce that can meet today’s workplace demands, we should all be listening and taking action.

States continue to face a time of great economic challenge, and our young people are confronted with an increasingly global and competitive job market. Key to their success – and the growth of our state economies – is ensuring that all students graduate from high school ready to succeed in college and demanding careers.

The importance of preparing students for postsecondary education as an economic development and job creation strategy is clearer than ever. Employers across the U.S. need a workforce that can tackle complex and advanced tasks. Business leaders are looking for candidates who possess credentials that certify knowledge and skills that fit specific roles and responsibilities. In many cases, they are not finding graduates who meet their needs.

Despite the recent recession, and a persistent unemployment rate, there were 3.5 million unfilled jobs nationwide as of January, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The Institute for Competitive Workforce tells us that in high-tech industries, the skills needed by employers are expected to outpace the supply of qualified workers in coming years.

Just as businesses reassess their strategic plans and adapt or adjust to remain competitive, we must do the same when it comes to education. As we have moved toward an economy that’s more technological and service-oriented, workforce skills have changed. What prepared students in 1993 no longer prepares our students for new, real-world demands in 2013 and beyond. Technology has changed jobs everywhere – from the way we go about repairing cars to how we do our banking. This is the reality of an evolving world.

The good news is that states across the country are working to ensure that every student is prepared to succeed – whether pursuing a college degree, industry-based certification, associates’ degree or going straight into the world of work. Whether you call them Common Core Standards or college- and career-ready standards, the standards being implemented by 49 states and territories, the District of Columbia and by the U.S. Department of Defense are aligned with college and career readiness.

Never before have we made a commitment in our country to educate all children for college and career, and I applaud my state and Gov. Pat McCrory for their commitment to these standards and their sound implementation.

For the first time, states now have a shared set of rigorous, consistent expectations that provide students with the real-world skills, knowledge and understanding needed to be successful – no matter their ZIP code. These standards establish a foundation for consistent teaching and learning in mathematics and English language arts that can provide an equitable education for every U.S. student and will prepare them to be competitive in the careers they choose. Our North Carolina teachers have been hard at work preparing to teach these new standards.

There will now be a clear emphasis to ensure that every student has the ability to be more analytical, to think strategically, solve problems and is equipped with strong communication skills. These traits are critical to success in every workplace.

Just last month, the GE Foundation surveyed 52 executives about the new standards that aim to close the skills gap. Eighty-seven percent said that these standards are “mission critical” to American business. Sixty-four percent responded that they have undertaken some efforts to support standards implementation. Now that’s putting your money where your mouth is.

Education is economic development. We must be responsive to fast-paced change, and we must not be complacent or fearful to try something new. To sit by listless in the movement for higher standards – and as business leaders are strikingly clear that they need a well-prepared workforce – is to turn a blind eye to our nation’s economic comeback and sustainability. Education is everybody’s business!

If we are to regain our economic strength and help our businesses thrive, then the new college- and career-ready standards are essential.

Jim Hunt, a Democrat, is a former

four-term governor of North Carolina.

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