Business leaders rally around Common Core

Earlier this week I attended the GE Foundation's Summer Business and Education Summit in Orlando. Most of the two-day conversation among the 150 or so participants revolved around Common Core implementation. Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush captured the scale of the challenge when he told the gathering on the first morning that states are heading for a “train wreck.” He noted that when the new standards and assessments come fully online in 2015 that many communities, schools, and families are in for a rude awakening.

Running away from the Common Core would be a huge mistake for the country, its children, and its future.

Governor Bush said that the more rigorous Common Core standards, if backed by equally rigorous assessments, will show that only one in three children in America qualify as college or career ready. Bush warned that such bluntness about the poor health of American education and student achievement will trigger serious political backtracking. He said, “My guess is there’s going to be a lot of people running for cover and their going to be running fast.”

But, as Governor Bush and other speakers during the two-day conference argued, running away from the Common Core would be a huge mistake and a serious step back for the country, its children, and its future. This, in fact, was the overwhelming feeling of the group of business leaders gathered in Orlando. A recurring message throughout the event was that states must move forward with the Common Core, and that business must be a key champion for the effort, especially when the going gets tough.

Several speakers warned that if the Common Core effort fails it will result in the further erosion of America's international competitiveness. During breakout sessions business leaders from some of the largest, most innovative and successful companies in the world—General Electric, IBM, Boeing, Disney, Apple, and Intel—lamented that they had good jobs in American factories and offices they couldn’t fill because they couldn’t find candidates with the required math and science skills to do the work.

In fact, it was reported, "during the last recession there were three million jobs that went unfilled because there were not enough prepared workers to do the work." This was backed up by findings in the President’s Council on Jobs and Competitiveness report Road Map to Renewal that read, “When asked about skilled production jobs, 74% of businesses said that workforce shortages or skills deficiencies were having a negative impact on their ability to expand operations or improve productivity. In the US Manufacturing sector, a recent survey of 94 CEOs estimated the total impact of the skilled labor shortage at $4.7 billion, an average loss of $50 million per manufacturing firm." (N.B.: Not all analysts agree with this assessment.)

Business is coming around to the importance of the Common Core and the fact that it's offering its voice in support of the new standards is crucial. Business leadership can help ensure that state lawmakers and educational leaders keep a stiff spine when the going gets tough and test scores across the country tank. The fact is that the Common Core will expose further just how misaligned education is to the needs of our children, our economy, and our society. It is going to take strong voices across the spectrum to stay the course, and kudos to the business community for joining the fray.

A version of this editorial was published on the Ohio Gadfly Daily blog.

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