GUEST COMMENTARY: Indiana needs Common Core to compete for future jobs

2013-07-18T00:00:00Z GUEST COMMENTARY: Indiana needs Common Core to compete for future jobsBy Jo Blacketor nwitimes.com
July 18, 2013 12:00 am  • 

In the next five years, nearly a quarter million U.S. jobs that require science, math, and engineering are likely to go unfilled because employers can't find candidates with the right skills. That's a huge opportunity for Hoosiers. Too bad Indiana legislators don't see any urgency about equipping students to meet the need.

Our state faces an unemployment rate of nearly 9 percent. Yet the Indiana General Assembly recently voted to pause the implementation of Common Core State Standards, a series of national educational reforms that emphasize math and language arts.

Indiana ranks 40th in the education level of its workforce. Beyond that, the United States ranks 14th globally in percentage of 25- to 34-year-olds with a college education, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

And according to National Assessment of Educational Progress scores, less than 40 percent of 8th grade math students in Indiana are "proficient" or "advanced." In 8th grade reading, a little more than 30 percent of students are "proficient" or "advanced."

Indiana's scores mirror dismal reading achievement rates for American students across the board. According to NAEP, less than 50 percent of students are proficient or beyond in reading -- in all 50 states.

In short, the United States is drastically behind in educating its future workers.

Common Core standards were created through the efforts of the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers. They lay out the math and English skills students should learn at every grade level.

For example, math studies would focus on explaining concepts such as simple fractions in third grade. By middle school, students would be required to explain mathematical theorems with real-world applications.

The standards have already been adopted by 45 states and the District of Columbia. States such as Colorado are already planning implementation in the 2013-14 school year. So why is Indiana dragging its feet?

Opponents of the standards say they give the federal government too much control over the state's educational decisions. But Common Core has no set curriculum, giving Indiana and other states the flexibility to implement it in the manner they choose.

And while it's true some Common Core funding is tied to the federal Race to the Top program, more than 90 percent of education funding still comes from state and local sources.

General Electric committed $18 million to supporting Common Core. ExxonMobil is backing the new standards because it hopes they will improve America's dismal educational track record in subjects crucial to 21st century success.

The future of the workforce is in advanced technological and scientific jobs. Indiana's students need education that prepares them for this undeniable fact.

Jo Blacketor, a former South Bend and Indiana State Board of Education member, is director of Indiana Parents for Education (www.inparents.org). The opinions are the writer's.

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