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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. GlobalReportCard.org 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.

This widening knowledge gap is also creating a “talent gap” in the available workers from Colorado that can fill jobs that require a post-secondary degree. A study from the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce predicts that 74 percent of the jobs in Colorado will require a post-secondary degree by 2020. Nationally, there are already over 7 million jobs unfilled and that number will climb to 14 million over the next six years, with Colorado identified among the leaders for these jobs. With over 70 million highly skilled baby boomers expected to retire by the end of this decade, employers face an unprecedented talent shortage with no alternative but to secure talent outside of Colorado.

Colorado citizens have grown increasingly frustrated and cynical about what they perceive as simply throwing money at the education problem. Previous mill levies and other tax initiatives to support education haven’t produced the significant improvements voters were promised. Other initiatives have been handily defeated on election day. Resisting calls for more money does not suggest citizens do not agree that education is the single most important investment in Colorado’s future. It is more of a lack of confidence that current methods of ensuring Colorado students are college and career ready at graduation are inadequate.

As an entrepreneur and business owner since 1998, I have experienced the challenge of hiring workforce-ready project managers, programmers, designers and new media specialists. I believe part of the problem lies in Colorado’s current education-to-employment system that is unable to prepare enough students with the necessary skills to succeed in today’s advanced education and labor market.

Physicist Albert Einstein is credited with saying, “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”  To borrow a line from Apple, we have to “think different.” The unprecedented challenges that lie before us require revolutionary thinking and a level of engagement from nontraditional sources. The solution has to come from the local community that will benefit most from it, including business leaders. It’s time for Colorado companies to step up and get involved in restructuring the talent development system in our state. But how can we connect businesses to the process so that our students are relevant and competitive?

Future Forward Colorado (FFC) was launched to support Colorado’s talent development strategy that equips our children to take on the academic challenge posed at a global level. FFC believes that business leaders offer new perspectives and innovative approaches working together with educators to put the needs of our students first, and deliver a higher quality education to all Colorado students regardless of their gender, race, grade, district or economic status.

Future Forward’s single vision is to foster and support higher standards regarding what children should know and the skills required by each grade level to stay on course toward college or career readiness. These standards are focused on rigorous content requiring students to think critically, reason, make informed decisions, and effectively communicate in both verbal and written forms. As a result, Colorado students are well-prepared, educated students who become high-performing adults, fueling the success of our state for years to come.

Future Forward invites Colorado business owners, managers, executives and employees to take action by visiting FutureForwardColorado.org to pledge your support today. Join the growing list of Colorado business leaders from IBM, State Farm, TIAA-CREF, DaVita, Delta Dental and other emerging businesses who support consistent, world-class K-12 reading and math standards to make sure our children are globally competitive.