Business leaders stand up for Common Core education standards

jstancill@newsobserver.comSeptember 17, 2013 

— Citing a new report that forecasts a skills gap in the American workforce, business leaders came together Tuesday to support the Common Core standards for public schools in North Carolina.

They said the Common Core State Standards are key to reversing that gap by better preparing students for success in college and the workplace. The standards, recently adopted by North Carolina and most other states, are aimed at deeper learning and problem solving in language arts and math.

“By 2022, if we don’t find a way to gin up our commitment to education, we will be 46,000 people short of the kinds of workers that we need in the workforce,” said Harvey Schmitt, president and CEO of the Greater Raleigh Chamber of Commerce. “Today, even with the success our market has with the unemployment rate, there are still very significant skill gaps.”

Common Core has come under fire by some conservative critics across the country, including North Carolina Lt. Gov. Dan Forest, who has recorded several YouTube videos questioning the standards.

On Tuesday, Gov. Pat McCrory’s education adviser, Eric Guckian, joined the business group to praise Common Core, saying: “Higher standards in education are right for North Carolina.” He also asked the public to support teachers through the transition in the classroom.

The united front by the business community comes as North Carolina braces for the November release of the first batch of test results since the new standards were implemented. The scores are expected to be low.

“Imagine that: higher standards, more rigor, lower scores,” said Steve Parrott, president of the Wake Education Partnership. “But scores dropping do not indicate that our students in North Carolina are going backwards or not learning. They also do not mean that our public education system is broken. Quite the contrary. Rigorous standards and assessments will improve teaching. They will raise the bar for students so that they can help North Carolina businesses compete.”

Ann Goodnight, director of community relations for the SAS Institute, said that even though the Cary software giant receives 60,000 applications from job seekers annually, it can take two years to fill top jobs in statistics, operations research and econometrics.

The United States lags behind international competitors, she said.

“We have fallen from No. 1 in the world in the percentage of young adults with a college degree to No. 12 out of the 25 industrialized nations,” she said. “We have to raise the bar on our students.”

‘Soft skills’ deficiencies

Billie Redmond, CEO of TradeMark Properties, said U.S. employers also see deficiencies in so-called “soft skills” of communication, collaboration and critical thinking.

She said innovative high schools help by showing students a link between education and career choices. Students also benefit from internships, job shadowing and project-based learning.

The business leaders cited data in a new report from America’s Edge, a coalition of business leaders under the nonprofit Council for a Strong America.

Some areas of the state already show a deficit of highly educated and “middle skill” workers, the report states. Some 77,000 “middle skill” workers in the state face underemployment because they don’t have enough education to move into jobs that require a college degree.

The report states that jobs requiring education beyond high school will grow 65 percent faster than those available to high school dropouts. At the same time, only 38 percent of working-age adults in North Carolina have a two-year associate’s degree or higher.

Patience requested

Schmitt asked policymakers and the public to be patient as the Common Core is fully implemented.

“Anytime you go through a major shift in anything – whether it’s in the governor’s office, or whether it’s the state legislature or in education reform – there’s going to be some bumpiness,” he said. “We want to make certain that this conversation doesn’t get sidetracked as we go through the process of cementing these concepts into our school system.”

Stancill: 919-829-4559

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