Employers: We Need to Upgrade Our Education System

The business community has a lot of interest in how the nation’s education system is performing. After all, companies are the eventual consumer of the education system. So, does business believe our education system is living up to its potential? No.

To be successful, businesses need to constantly adapt to change. However, our education system remains stuck in the 1950s. Like the operating system of a computer, our education system needs an upgrade. This was the theme of yesterday’s event titled Upgrade America at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

Led by Ed Rust, U.S. Chamber Chairman and CEO of State Farm, the gathering brought together business leaders, state education chiefs, the Secretary of Education, and education experts to discuss why, like business, education needs to adapt and modernize.

“There are many who don’t understand the connection between education, jobs, and the economy,” said Rust. “Better schools means better jobs … although we have seen pockets of improvement in education, it is not yet a fully woven suit.”

Much of yesterday’s discussion focused around the participant’s unanimous support for Common Core State Standards. The Chancellor of the University System of Maryland, Dr. Kirwan stated, “The common core is the last, best hope in improving K–12 education in the United States.” Everyone agreed that common core will provide students with a deeper learning and a skill set to compete in a global marketplace.

Business participants echoed the sentiment that there is a ‘skills gap’ in America because the workplace has changed, while the education system has remained the same. Additionally, some sort of postsecondary education is becoming necessary for the jobs that, in the past, only required a high school diploma. Former West Virginia Governor and President of the Alliance for Excellent Education, Bob Wise stated, “in an information age economy, the best economic stimulus is a diploma, and increasingly, it’s a series of diplomas.”

Businesses are now looking for those who can think critically and communicate effectively. Charlene Lake of AT&T said, “Technology is changing the demands of the workforce … we are not looking for employees who KNOW information, we need people who can APPLY information.”

U.S. Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan provided remarks and joined a conversation with Ed Rust, Craig Barrett, and William Green- all co-chairs of the Business Coalition for Student Achievement. Duncan expressed his frustration with the level of involvement by the business community in education, asking them to do more in education reform, and to get involved in policy at the state level. “Businesses should also measure their return on investment in philanthropic efforts like they do their business ventures.”

We agree with Secretary Duncan. The business community needs to do more and demand more from our education system. An upgrade is long overdue.

Mark D'Alessio is Manager of Communications at ICW.