Common Core: A critical tool to meet workforce challenges

Youngsters in a California classroom. (Photo: Monkey Business Images, via Shutterstock)

The health of California’s evolving and global 21st century economy depends on a skilled workforce. Yet, there are too few qualified applicants to create talent pools for jobs that fuel our economic growth.

A widely-cited report by Public Policy Institute of California found that California 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 STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) 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.

An essential benefit of Common Core is that all kids now have access to a quality education that will prepare them for workforce challenges and opportunities that lie ahead.

Historically, workforce development has focused on better preparing adults for new opportunities by providing training, sometimes in college, on the job or during times of unemployment. Thankfully, California’s K-12 schools are coming into the picture in a big way, thanks to California’s implementation of the Common Core State Standards, along with the new Local Control Funding Formula and increasing attention to career pathways education, modeled by Linked Learning, which links education to student interests and career preparation.

The Common Core State Standards were developed by the National Association of Governors and the Council of Chief State School Officers, working with teachers, and have been adopted voluntarily by California and 42 other states. Common Core works to develop critical thinking, problem solving, the ability to dissect and analyze information and collaboration. These are the same skills that create effective learners and workers. By aiming to equip students to think and solve problems for themselves, in addition to learning a body of knowledge, Common Core is designed to prepare students for life-long learning.

An essential benefit of Common Core is that all kids now have access to a quality education that will prepare them for workforce challenges and opportunities that lie ahead. Common Core stresses educational concepts that have been the focus of gifted students’ education for many years. These concepts stress rigor, depth, complexity, relevance, and deeper understanding that will continue challenging and benefiting high-performing kids and help close the gap in student achievement. This will increase their likelihood of success as college students, employees, parents and community members.

Simply put, Common Core standards help ensure students of all backgrounds will have the skills to succeed in an increasingly competitive marketplace – and that businesses will have a competent workforce to draw upon.

Further connecting Common Core to local workforce development priorities can translate into greater impact and meaningful change for students. Schools and businesses can work together to help prepare students for the future, by integrating the benefits of Common Core into activities extending beyond the traditional school day. Partnerships with local businesses can help schools bolster students’ learning experience and enhance their understanding of how to translate their education into real world skills.

United Ways across California, particularly in the Bay Area, have already started the work to increase opportunity in health, education and financial stability for low-income families and individuals. We recognize that health and income factors greatly affect students’ abilities to succeed in school and that children need the right support and resources at every stage from cradle to career. That is why United Ways invest in early childhood education, such as United Way Silicon Valley’s Bridge to Kindergarten program; early grade reading like United Way of the Wine Country’s Schools of Hope program; and workforce development and financial management, such as United Way of the Bay Area’s SparkPoint financial coaching centers and Matchbridge youth employment program for work-based learning. Common Core expands the possibility for other business leaders and schools to help grow these programs and establish others as well as create new partnerships that benefit students.

California is transforming its public education system. It will not be an overnight fix but we must keep our eye on the endgame: ensuring our kids succeed.  Successful implementation of Common Core must be considered central to the workforce development equation so that our kids are successful, along with public-private efforts like Linked Learning. Now is the time to connect the classroom and the workplace to develop a strong and thriving workforce that can build a more prosperous future for all of us.

Ed’s Note: Pete Manzo is the president and CEO of United Ways of California.


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