Category: Op-Eds from Business Leaders


Source: U.S. Chamber of Commerce

Cheryl Oldham is the Vice President of the Center for Education and Workforce at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation

Another summer has come and gone and students across the country are getting acclimated to new teachers, new classrooms, new books, and new friends. The beginning of this school year provides us with an opportunity to look back over the past 12 months at the successes and the challenges as high education standards were implemented across the country. Despite what you may have heard, the 2014–2015 school year was an overwhelming success for high standards and, more importantly, for students being taught necessary skills to thrive beyond high school.

Much of the media coverage about the Common Core State Standards would make you believe that states are running away from the standards left and right. This couldn’t be further from the truth. In fact, no states repealed the standards during their 2015 legislative sessions. That’s right. None. In fact, teachers are using the Common Core State Standards (or their equivalent in some states) in classrooms from coast to coast, and students are beginning to reap the benefits. (Read The 74 Flashcards: 20 Basic Things to Know About the Common Core)


ImprimirCheryl Oldham is the Vice President for Education and Workforce at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation

The higher education community came together this week to show its continued support of high academic standards and aligned assessments in K-12 education. A joint statement from Higher Ed for Higher Standards, the National Association of System Heads, and the State Higher Education Executive Officers Association urges states to continue moving forward with college and career ready standards and aligned assessments.

Why is this important?

This is important because low standards in K-12 education have led to a generation of young people who believe they were prepared for life after high school when often they were not.

Let’s take a look at the data.


Pamela Nortonby Pamela Norton

Denver resident Pamela Norton is the founder and president of Activate.

Leading up to the controversial Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) testing in Colorado last month, several friends said they planned to pull their kids from the test.

Other friends said their kids were pressuring them to do so. My child did try that tactic, but he knew I wouldn’t agree.

I told my friends to stay strong so they could learn from the data the test would provide. I asked, “How can you help ensure your children are getting the best education if you don’t know how they are doing compared to children in the rest of the world?”

For years, we have been living on “feel-good” subjective standards that gave some of us a false sense that our school is “blue-ribbon,” with the smartest and brightest students. We’ve had only subjective standards for K-12 ever since the testing conversation began in 1959. Since then, we’ve seen many failed government initiatives and programs, until we finally obtained a bipartisan solution six years ago.

Finally, after all this work and investment, the state has implemented the Colorado Measures Academic Success (CMAS) PARCC tests so we can provide parents, teachers and schools with a benchmark and real insights to ensure our children are competitive.


Pamela Nortonby Pamela Norton

Denver resident Pamela Norton is the founder and president of Activate, mother of two, and has many friends with children across the Colorado school system.

Parents, teachers, and the larger community in Colorado are frustrated with the amount of testing in our schools. Unfortunately, to demonstrate this concern, some parents are threatening to pull students out of the statewide PARCC test. This dissenting voice should be heard, but the tactic of opting-out doesn’t solve the problem of over-testing. Instead, it reduces transparency.

I am a parent of two children, who were students at what I thought were high performing public schools. However, after my oldest graduated, I was shocked to learn that she didn’t have many of the skills needed to succeed in college. Since then, I also realized my son is behind in high school. How could a school be labeled as an A+ school yet still have 40 percent of its students needing some sort of remedial education? That doesn’t sound like an A+ to me. (more…)

Jandel Allen-Davis

Jandel Allen-Davis

By Jandel Allen-Davis and David Beal

In the health-care and insurance industries, we depend on evaluation and feedback from our customers and patients to help us provide better products and services. Similarly, our employees use input from supervisors to mark and monitor progress, celebrate wins and identify areas for improvement.

In much the same way, parents and educators need accurate feedback about the critical knowledge and skills Colorado’s students are acquiring throughout their education. Now more than ever, we need to know that our students are prepared for college and career.

Unfortunately, we’re not sure at the moment. By 2020 in Colorado, 74 percent of all jobs will require some post-secondary education. Right now, only 22 percent of Colorado’s students will complete a two or four-year degree program. Simply put, if we stay on this track, Colorado’s kids will not be ready for Colorado’s jobs. This is why we are a part of Future Forward Colorado, along with a coalition of business organizations statewide, to show support for higher expectations known as the Colorado Academic Standards, which include the Common Core in English and math, and aligned assessments. (more…)

Bob Tointonby Bob Tointon

Ask any of Colorado’s business leaders and they’ll tell you — the success of their company or organization depends on the knowledge and skills of their employees. Whether we’re in manufacturing and distribution, like Phelps-Tointon, or any other industry thriving in Greeley’s booming economy, we rely on a workforce that is up to the challenges of the job today and can adapt to the challenges that will come tomorrow.

It is no wonder, therefore, that the business community has a vested interest in education. That’s why I work closely with Greeley-Evans School District 6, and there is a lot of good work happening there. Despite these successes, our education system as a whole is in need of an upgrade. (more…)


By Kelly Brough, President & CEO of the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce

In just six short years, 74% of jobs in Colorado will require some sort of post-secondary education. It’s a daunting stat even for a highly educated region like ours in which roughly 47% of adults have a two- or four-year college degree (which ranks us second only to Massachusetts in terms of degrees per capita).

Just think about that for a minute – we rank second in the nation for the number of adults per capita with a college degree, yet we are still positioned to fall far short of our estimated workforce needs.

In Colorado, we’re known for our smart and healthy workforce, but we have been delivering that top-quality workforce by importing talent to our region. With a thriving economy like ours, an appealing and collaborative business community, and year-round recreation, it hasn’t been tough for us to draw people here. (more…)

ImprimirWhile many states struggle with high unemployment and too few jobs, Colorado has a unique problem — plenty of available and high-quality jobs but too few qualified workers to fill them.

Historically, importing talent has been a reliable solution, given Colorado’s natural appeal — great weather, recreation, and an affordable cost of living. From an economic perspective, Colorado welcomes the inevitable influx of talented individuals and growing companies. However, we also must ensure the state’s education system is preparing our kids to succeed in this increasingly competitive environment.

A healthy state economy relies on Colorado schools putting students on a trajectory to fill Colorado jobs, and more than ever, those jobs require education beyond high school. (more…)

Al Timothyby Al Timothy

Al Timothy is the retired Vice President of Community Affairs at MillerCoors Brewing Company and co-chair of the board for Future Forward partner Colorado Succeeds. 

From corner to corner of the state, Colorado’s business community understands that the relationship between our public education system and our state’s economy is a symbiotic one—each one depends on the other for survival.

And I can tell you that the business community as a whole embraces both the moral and economic urgency behind improving our state’s public education system, which is the feeder system for our future workers and customers.

But there is one particular aspect of this relationship that demands more attention. The citizens of Colorado, and our high school students in particular, must acknowledge that the pipeline between our schools and our workplaces is changing rapidly. (more…)

Pamela NortonSome of our country’s leading companies such as Dell, IBM, Microsoft, Verizon and Boeing support states who have adopted rigorous K-12 math and reading standards. 

I believe companies will invest in these states and opportunities will flourish in the years ahead because education, business and community groups are collaborating to support higher education standards that will produce students who are workforce and college ready upon graduation. Traditional benefits such as tax breaks and low overheads will continue to be part of the decision, but states that are willing to invest in knowledge capital will now have a major influence where companies locate, expand, recruit and invest in the future.

Unfortunately, Colorado as a state is falling further and further behind in the knowledge gap race. shows the average Denver public school math score was only 46 percent compared to 25 of the world’s top industrialized countries. For reading, Denver’s public school scored only 74 percent compared to the same countries. And while a few local exceptions exist, Colorado public school municipalities, in general, find themselves well behind the mean of the 25 industrial countries included in this report. This is likely a big part of the reason that only 22 out of every 100 students entering high school in our state will earn a post-secondary degree(more…)

GlobeIt seems the Common Core State Standards detractors follow Lenin’s maxim that, “A lie told often enough becomes the truth.” Their most recent foray into trying to take down the effort spearheaded by the nation’s governors and chief state school officers to outline what all students should know and be able to do in reading and math leaves us with no choice but to roll up our sleeves and yet again set the record straight.

Sandra Stotsky, holding herself out as a mathematics expert, has been traveling from state to state alleging that the Common Core math standards hold students back from pursuing advanced post-secondary studies in science, math, engineering and technology (STEM) fields. She made this point to Wisconsin legislators in October last year. Stotsky, a former high school French and German teacher, goes so far as to question how leaders of major STEM companies could support the standards. Well, she should just ask.

As a former engineering professor, the former chairman and chief executive of Intel and current CEO of one of the highest-performing charter school systems in the country (BASIS Schools) I can speak directly to why businesses, and, indeed, higher education, benefits from the Common Core, and why concerns about the math standards’ rigor are misplaced. (more…)

Miriam Rollin is VP/COO for the Council for a Strong America

IPaintbrushest may sound like the opening line of a joke – but it’s no joke. It’s a powerful reality to make the case for the continued implementation of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) and aligned assessments.

For instance, last summer, 23 police chiefs from across Tennessee released a Fight Crime: Invest in Kids report demonstrating the connection between educational deficits, unemployment, and crime in their communities. Research shows that long-term changes in wages and employment opportunities among non-college educated men may explain as much as half of property and violent crime rates. The report also focused on the importance of continued implementation of the CCSS to address those educational deficits. The media coverage included stories on four local TV networks, as well as in The Tennessean and another local paper. (more…)

Zachary Neumeyer, Sage Hospitality

Zack Neumeyer, Founder, Sage Hospitality

Colorado is fighting harder than ever for convention business — and we are winning. The Denver Business Journal reported last week that the Denver metro area massively increased its convention space and appeal, qualifying us for major events similar to the Democratic National Convention, professional sporting events, and other major attractions. This boom in convention traffic has more than doubled the industry’s economic footprint between 2004 and 2012. This is great news for Colorado economy, job creation and the hospitality industry as a whole.


Cheryl Oldham is the Vice President for Education and Workforce at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation

ODYSSEY_170Should states only set educational standards that are easily attainable? Apparently, that’s what many critics of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) believe. This notion should drive every parent insane. Personally, as a mother of two young boys–one in preschool, the other about to begin 5th grade in public school–I shudder to think that the expectations placed on my kids are only just enough to be attainable. Because, goodness, (begin sarcasm font) we wouldn’t want them to be challenged to achieve great things!

For decades, we have been dishonest with parents and students, and told them they were on track even though the data tells a different story. Fifty percent of undergraduates and 70% of community college students must take at least one remedial course because they are underprepared. Proficiency rates on state assessments look great, but when compared to the Nation’s Report Card, the numbers drop dramatically, particularly for low-income and minority students. States have set mediocre, dare I say “attainable,” standards so that passage rates on assessments are acceptable to adults, and so states/districts/schools can escape accountability. (more…)

Thomas J. Donohue is president and CEO of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and John Engler is president of the Business Roundtable.

Rocky Mountain Prep 6America’s public K-12 education system isn’t making the grade.

It’s not adequately preparing our students to succeed in college or the modern workforce. It’s not delivering the skilled workers that businesses need to drive stronger economic growth. It’s not helping advance America’s ability to compete and lead in the global economy. In short, it’s setting our nation up to fail.

Although there are exceptions, American public schools are generally producing fewer students with the skills they need for long-term success. Proficiency in fundamental disciplines is slipping.

Among the 34 leading industrialized countries, the United States ranks 14th in reading literacy, 17th in science and a dismal 25th in math. It should surprise no one that we’ve fallen from No. 1 in the world in the percentage of young adults with college degrees to No. 10. (more…)

Keith Swerdfeger is a former member of the Colorado House of Representatives and co-founder and owner of K.R. Swerdfeger Construction.

HallwayJust south of Denver, the STEM School and Academy in Highlands Ranch recently announced a major expansion. Just north of Denver, government officials in Westminster approved construction of the Colorado STEM Academy.

These twin developments are a great reminder that our state continues to be a national leader in education in the “STEM” subjects – science, technology, engineering, and math. Our state is replete with specialty academies focused on cultivating young people’s STEM passions and aptitudes.

We should be proud of Colorado’s serious commitment to STEM education.

However, we can’t afford to rest on our laurels.

The competition for STEM jobs has never been fiercer. And if businesses can’t find enough qualified workers in Colorado, they’ll happily turn to other states – and other countries – to find them. Colorado needs to continue to press forward and find ways of equipping even more local young people with the cognitive tools they’ll need to thrive in the modern economy.

Fortunately, our state is about to take a major step forward in that direction. Colorado school administrators have joined 44 other states in adopting the “Common Core,” a robust set of achievement standards designed to improve K-12 students’ reasoning skills by beefing up math and English competencies.

The Common Core still needs to be fully implemented. By doing so, this state would build on our STEM successes and secure an even brighter future for our young people. (more…)

Donna Lynne Photo

Donna Lynne, Executive President, Kaiser Foundation Hospitals

Today’s workplace demands highly educated employees who can succeed in an increasingly complex and global economy. As a business leader and parent, I am impressed with the hard work and innovative strategies educators engage in daily to meet the needs of students.

Yet, despite these efforts, I also see that far too many students are not getting the education and skills they need. These skills include problem- solving, critical thinking, navigating ambiguity, collaborating, and communicating with clarity. This is what I look for in new employees. And these are the competencies and skills that Colorado is on the path to helping students attain through the use of the Common Core State Standards. (more…)