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.
The world is changing — fast. Just like the software on our computers, we need to be constantly upgrading our education system as the economy demands more of our workforce, or we won’t meet that demand. In Colorado, by 2020, 74 percent of all jobs will require some postsecondary education. Currently, only 22 out of every 100 high school graduates receive that kind of credential. So, with increased global competition, shifting demands, and a widening gap between how we’re educating our students and what we look for in our workers, how can we ensure that everyone succeeds? Enter a great plan known as the Colorado Academic Standards.
These carefully designed academic goals are being implemented in schools right now to help ensure that students — irrespective of their zip code or background — graduate from high school prepared for college and career. They raise the level of instruction and provide clarity and consistency to education, putting teachers, parents, business, and other community members on the same page. These are Colorado-developed standards for Colorado’s kids. The new academic expectations recognize that today’s students are tomorrow’s college applicants, professionals, and well-informed citizens. They also recognize that students need to be on par with their U.S. peers and global counterparts. For business, this means that we can hire in Colorado expecting a depth of knowledge that includes skills like critical thinking, adaptability, and teamwork.
For individuals, it means a clear understanding of how they’re progressing. It means that we have another measure in place to ensure that minority communities, traditionally under served by the education system, are getting the same high-quality education. It means that students will be prepared for postsecondary education, which is quickly becoming a non-negotiable job requirement, and for careers they pursue upon graduating. And it means a life of higher salaries, employment, and financial stability.
Greeley schools are implementing the new standards right now and this year will use a new generation of digital tests, helping teachers understand how to best meet kids’ needs and giving parents peace of mind that their children are headed toward college and career readiness.
The standards have opponents, though, who challenge whether Colorado’s — and Greeley’s — students can take on the task of meeting higher expectations. Our kids are up to the challenge. Making these standards work requires commitment and leadership, and this is why Phelps-Tointon and countless other companies are committed as a business coalition under the name Future Forward Colorado explaining why the Colorado Academic Standards are critical.
Education is still the key to the American dream. That’s true here in School District 6, where work to improve the system is headed in the right direction. We can provide the talented, well-educated workforce that will lead Colorado’s businesses. We already have a plan to upgrade our education system — embodied in world-class, clear and consistent academic standards. If we remain committed to seeing that plan through, we will succeed.
Bob Tointon is a Greeley businessman with Phelps-Tointon Inc. and a member of the board of the Greeley Downtown Development Association.