Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

America’s Businesses Need the Common Core

November 26, 2013

Last week in New York City, a group of business leaders who have long been involved in education took the important step of making a real commitment to ensure this country benefits from the promise of the Common Core State Standards, currently being implemented in 45 states and the District of Columbia.

At the Committee for Economic Development’s conference last week, just before a panel discussion I led on the subject, CEO Steve Odland committed his organization to a two year effort to build awareness and understanding of the standards in states and districts around the country and to ensure business leaders have the information they need to support effective implementation of the standards.

Now, why would a group of business leaders concern itself with the nitty gritty of standards implementation?  Because there is no more urgent work than ensuring that all students graduate high school prepared to succeed in college and career and that’s what the Common Core State Standards are all about.

We live in time of political polarization so I suppose it’s no surprise that the conversation about the standards has recently been pulled into the hurly-burly of politics. But the truth is the development and voluntary adoption of the common core was a remarkable exercise in bipartisan cooperation led by states. The National Governor’s Association worked with a wide range of experts, educators and other stakeholders to develop a set of rigorous standards in English and math, modeled after our highest performing states.  The standards set out what students need to know, but preserves the autonomy of local districts and teachers on how to teach it.  

Steve Odland urged his colleagues in the business community to inject some common sense into the debate, saying “we have to be the adults in the room. It’s not about politics. It’s about great policy.”

Having inconsistent standards from state to state penalizes students and businesses. As State Farm’s  Kathi Havens Payne said, the standards “level the playing field for all children.” She went on to say that businesses relocate and recruit employees from other states frequently and the first question is “how are the schools?” In most cases when a family relocates their children to a new school in a new state, they are either a year ahead or a year behind.

I am pleased to see the excitement in the business community for the common core.  Businesses are the primary consumers of the output of our schools, so it’s a natural alliance. But they aren’t alone. Teachers are enthusiastic about these changes – in several polls more than 75 percent of teachers support the common core.

What we must do now is support teachers and make good on the promise that they have the tools they need to teach the new standards so that the nation can get the full benefit of this important shift in our education system – a shift that will ensure our nation’s children ready for college and career and a better future.

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