GUEST COLUMN: Leading the Way on Common Core Standards
As we look to the future and think about the economic recovery, we can see the widening of a skills gap where the education and skill levels of Kentuckians don’t meet the requirements and supply of jobs. The challenge of filling this gap will become even more acute as thousands of baby boomers retire, leaving well-paying positions unfilled.
This bottom-line reality is the key motivation behind our aggressive support for the Common Core State Standards, known in Kentucky as the Kentucky Core Academic Standards.
Kentucky, in early 2010, was the first state in the nation to adopt these rigorous new learning guidelines developed by a consortium of states under the auspices of the Council for Chief State School Officers and the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices. Our state’s position as the first adopter was spurred by bipartisan legislation from our General Assembly a year earlier that mandated new standards and assessments for Kentucky’s education system.
As the Kentucky Chamber became familiar with the standards – particularly their alignment with college and career expectations and their reflection of international benchmarks – we realized how critical they would be to the development of a world-class workforce. Reflecting our strong support, the Kentucky Chamber Foundation, in partnership with the state Department of Education, has spearheaded an initiative to help employers understand the standards and their impact.
To show a united front between education and business, and to reinforce the point about the important relationship between education and workforce quality, the state education commissioner and I conducted a series of nearly 20 joint appearances across the state.
Key to our messaging was the fact that Kentucky’s students are falling short of the mark in being adequately prepared for college or career. As we began our tour, data showed that only 38 percent of Kentucky students were college/career ready based on ACT scores, college placement tests and academic or technical benchmarks. (We have seen some recent improvement; the 2011-12 data showed a level of 47 percent – an uptick that followed the state’s emphasis on college and career preparation.)
In a video distributed statewide, we also emphasized the points of view of individual Kentucky employers who are grappling with the challenges of an under-skilled workforce. One of these was Rich Gimmel, president of Atlas Machine and Supply Inc., an industrial machinery company in Louisville.
“I can buy gas from a college graduate making $8 an hour, but I can’t find qualified machinists who could make an average salary of $70,000 a year,” he said. “Right now, if I had a truckload of journeymen machinists show up at our front door, we’d hire them on the spot.”
We reinforced the video with an employers’ communications tool kit that provided messaging templates for emails, letters, staff meetings and other ways to share information about the standards at the business and community level. Thousands of these kits were distributed to Chamber members across Kentucky to broaden the impact as much as possible.
To turn up the volume on the business voice, we worked with the Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence in creating the Business Leader Champions for Education. Dozens of executives from every part of the state have joined this group to deliver a consistent message of support for Kentucky schools and the tougher standards that are now in place in our classrooms.
We’ve been pleased with the results to date. When Kentucky’s first test scores were, as predicted, lower than in previous years, parents, employers, community leaders and advocates were ready for the news and showed little inclination to abandon the standards.
We do know, however, that now is not the time to rest. We are aware of misinformation being distributed about the standards across the country and want to be sure Kentucky stands firm in using this rigorous course of study to prepare our students for the challenges of the future. They deserve nothing less than the best education we can provide for them, and their success will help ensure economic and civic progress for all of us.