California is on its way to becoming the world’s seventh-largest economy. Driving this growth is our world leading high technology businesses alongside our longtime strong entertainment, agriculture and energy sectors. Sustaining California’s economic growth will require a skilled workforce to meet the demands of our evolving, expanding economy. Unfortunately, there is a significant skilled workforce shortage in our state. The disconnect between workers and job readiness has challenged employers in Kern County and all of California.
According to the Public Policy Institute of California, the state will need to fill a projected gap of more than 1.5 million skilled workers that have “some college” experience within the next decade. And while science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) jobs in the state are projected to grow 22 percent by 2020, the National Assessment of Educational Progress found that in 2011, 75 percent of California’s 8th graders were not proficient in national math standards.
As a business owner and longtime citizen of our community I, too, know that the lack of skilled qualified applicants can impact a business’s productivity and bottom-line. In fact, in my experience with former companies, a large portion of the technical talent we hired to fill STEM-based positions came from other countries. There were not enough applicants from California, or the nation, with the proper training, education and skills to fill these jobs.
K-12 education and student success is the foundation of a thriving economic future. Common Core is a set of standards that sets expectations for what students should know at each grade level, like being able to count to 100 in kindergarten. This is very similar to the focus of the Ready to Start Program (R2S) which is supervised by the Kern County Superintendent of Schools. This program has been in existence for over 10 years. R2S educates four year olds who have had no preschool and teaches them the basic English, math and social skills they need to be successful in kindergarten.
California has adopted (along with 42 other states, the District of Columbia and Department of Defense schools) and is implementing Common Core State Standards. The idea is to ensure that students have the skills needed to be college and career ready when the graduate from high school.
Under Common Core, rote learning and memorization for their own sake are gone. Instead, students learn to dissect and analyze information, think critically, and solve problems. To ensure all students are ready for opportunities and obstacles after high school, the Common Core State Standards establish a set of learning goals that work grade-by-grade, step-by-step; to prepare them to meet challenges they will certainly face in an increasingly global economy and competitive workplace.
The good news is that the methodology to implement Common Core is up to local teachers and school leaders to decide how to help their students reach those goals. We have competent teachers and administrators in Kern County and it is up to us to determine how to accomplish this.
Employers and higher education leaders have long called for a K-12 system that would advance the skills and abilities required for success after high school. They support Common Core because it will do exactly this. Common Core’s elevated standards and outcomes replace California’s outdated system that often yielded inconsistent and, in too many circumstances, subpar results. The Common Core standards were researched by educators and other leaders throughout the country, so that they are in line with the skills that all students need to become 21st century learners. Through successful implementation of Common, Core, California has an opportunity to transform public education for the better. California is making great progress with implementation; yet, there are still critics. The temporary difficulties that critics cite simply do not outweigh the long-lasting benefits of providing our students what they need to be ready for their future.
The can-do, will-do attitude of Californians is one of many qualities that set us apart. Tapping into this mindset to support Common Core implementation is essential to help our kids succeed. This is not about state education administrators. It is not about teachers. It is about our children and giving them access to a quality education and maximizing their capacity to learn. The goals of Common Core provide an opportunity to do this. When our children gain, our state gains: Our futures depend on how our children do.