Thomas Friedman, the best-selling author and columnist for the New York Times, recently recalled the advice his parents gave him around the dinner table. “Eat your vegetables,” they told him, “because there are starving kids in India and China.”
Friedman says he has a new take on that advice for his own daughters: “Finish your homework because there are people in India and China starving to steal your jobs.”
That sums up pretty well why we need the Idaho Core Standards. They are essential if we are to keep other countries from eating our jobs and our children’s future.
The Core Standards will help students compete academically and later on when they join the workforce. That alone should be reason enough for all Idahoans to support the successful implementation of the Standards.
But there is another over-arching reason: The Standards will help Idaho’s economy compete and thrive in the 21st Century. And that will improve the quality of life for all Idahoans, especially our children and grandchildren whose future depends on a good education and healthy economy.
Studies show that more than 60 percent of the jobs in Idaho will require workers to hold some kind of post-secondary credential by the year 2018. That credential can be a workforce-ready certificate, an associate degree or a bachelor’s degree or higher.
Yet right now only 39 percent of Idaho’s 25-34 year olds hold a post-secondary credential. That creates a 21 percent gap between the number of educated workers we will need in five years and the current education level in the workforce.
Without having a highly educated and skilled workforce Idaho won’t be able to attract new companies that can pay livable wages and we will likely lose many of our existing companies to other states.
That has already happened. A few years ago Boise businessman Bob Lokken sold his company, Proclarity, to Microsoft with the understanding it would keep the jobs in Idaho. Microsoft tried to keep the agreement. But when it could not find the educated workers it needed, it was forced to move the company to Seattle.
We cannot afford to lose such high-paying and forward-leaning jobs. That’s why achieving our 60 percent goal is so essential.
But hitting the goal won’t be easy and it will be nearly impossible without the Idaho Core Standards.
That’s because Idaho currently has one of the worse “go-on” rates in the country. Only four out of 10 high school graduates go on to college. And most of those drop out before obtaining a post-secondary credential.
There are many complicated reasons our go-on rate is so low and why so few students drop out without receiving a degree. But one of the main reasons is our students are not prepared for the rigors of a post-secondary education.
A large percentage of students who go on – 25 percent who attend a four-year college and 75 percent who attend a two-year college – must receive remedial math and English. Many students who require mediation end up dropping out because they can’t keep up with their studies or they get frustrated.
The Idaho Core Standards will help reverse this troubling trend and better prepare students for post-secondary course work. They can also reduce the need for remediation, thus saving students a lot of frustration and taxpayers a lot of money.
The Standards can also give parents the peace of mind that comes with knowing that their children are being measured by the same standards as students in other states. They can have confidence in assessment tests that show whether their children are meeting the Standards or need more work in a particular subject.
The Standards not only help the students, parents and businesses. They can also enrich the professional experience for teachers and school administrators.
Teachers no longer have to focus on rote memorization or bombarding students with facts so they do well on bubble tests. They can focus on giving students the skills they need to be successful in school, work and life. Skills like critical thinking, the ability to absorb and analyze content and communicate orally and in writing.
Administrators will find greater satisfaction seeing their students flourish academically and going on to be successful in post-secondary education and the workforce. There is also a benefit to administrators by having teachers who are happier and more engaged.
Idahoans for Excellence in Education – a coalition of 30 Idaho-based organizations – formed last July to help parents, students, educators and the general public navigate these changes and see that the Standards are successfully implemented.
I’m proud to say that every major education group has joined our coalition. So have influential business groups like Idaho Business for Education, the Idaho Association of Commerce and Industry and the Boise and Meridian Chambers of Commerce. So have nearly every child advocacy group in the state. The State Board of Education and all the Presidents of Idaho’s public universities and colleges are also members.
We are all committed to the Idaho Core Standards because they will build a solid foundation under our students. They will help them succeed academically, professionally and in life. And, most importantly, they will help Idaho and the United States compete so countries like India and China don’t eat our jobs and our children’s future.
Rod Gramer is President and CEO of Idaho Business for Education, a non-profit group of 70 Idaho businesses dedicated to improving education in our state. IBE is one of the original members of Idahoans for Excellence in Education coalition.