Don Fry commentary: What do employers seek from educators?

As lawmakers in Annapolis and educators debate a number of bills aimed at either delaying or prohibiting the implementation of the Common Core standards, it’s important for debaters to keep in mind the ultimate desired outcome – superior student preparedness.

Maryland’s education system must strengthen the quality of knowledge and capabilities of Maryland students who will emerge from our school systems and enter tomorrow’s workforce.

This begs an obvious question: what do Maryland’s employers want?

Without focusing on the merits or objections to Common Core, employers quite simply say they want outcome-oriented accountability in Maryland’s K-12 education system.

The establishment and deployment of a statewide standard for core competencies to be taught in schools is critical and should be strongly supported by the business community, agreed business leaders who attended the Greater Baltimore Committee’s Chesapeake Conference of CEOs last June to discuss Maryland’s competitiveness for economic growth and job creation.

They cited the importance of two overarching strategic focuses. First, deploy a focused, coordinated STEM strategy in K-12 and higher education and, second, incorporate practical, constructive accountability processes and measures into public education.

Following are five top priorities for education?related outcomes voiced by conference participants:

  • Improve the basic skills of high school graduates, too many of whom currently emerge from high schools with diplomas but still need remedial math or English.
  • Produce graduates with strong “thinking skills” and “soft” skills, such as promptness, treating colleagues with respect and working as part of a team.
  • Improve the process for businesses to better communicate to educators their real?world workforce needs. “There is a big gap between education and workforce demands,” said one leading business executive.
  • Promote tech literacy early in the education process.
  • Train teachers to use technology more efficiently and effectively.

Business leaders are also calling for adjusting education models to better foster learning outside the classroom. Focus more on developing substantive internships in high school as well as college. Coordinate data collection for better use in promoting internships and consider creating tax breaks for employers who offer internships, they suggest.

It’s critically important that business leaders and educators engage in constructive communication and collaboration to generate education outcomes that are needed to strengthen Maryland’s competitiveness for business growth and to address eroding performance of our nation’s students compared to students overseas.

A recent study of 15-year-olds conducted in 34 major countries by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development confirmed that reality. American students ranked 29th in student performance in mathematics, 19th in science and 15th in reading. In all three categories, the United States fell behind Germany, the United Kingdom, Canada, Poland and France.

There is nothing more important to an individual than a quality education and there is nothing more important to an employer than a motivated, highly skilled and knowledgeable employee.

Few issues are more critical to the Maryland’s economic future than workforce quality, which ultimately is nurtured in the classroom.

Donald C. Fry is president and CEO of the Greater Baltimore Committee. He is a regular contributor to Center Maryland and chairs the private-sector Leadership Team for the Hire One Youth Initiative.

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