Supply and demand in the new education economy

While 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.

The Colorado Department of Higher Education projects that 74 percent of the state’s jobs will require some kind of post-secondary training by 2020. Currently, only 22 percent of high school students go on to earn a post-secondary degree.

The state’s business leaders are working with education leaders on an initiative to align K-12 standards and expectations with the rigor and requirements needed for students to succeed in college and careers. The initiative, Future Forward Colorado, is a joint effort of several business organizations. It was created to support high standards — particularly the Colorado Academic Standards, which include Common Core in English and math — as well as quality assessments and accountability in the public school system.

The goal is to make sure all students receive an excellent education, ensuring that Colorado’s kids can compete for the thousands of high-quality jobs being created in our state.

For example, mathematics is an area in which Colorado’s job market calls for better preparation at the K-12 level. The aerospace sector in Colorado is the third-largest in the nation, including eight major space contractors and military commands with significant research and development operations. These interesting and complex STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) jobs require a strong base of math skills — algebra, probability and statistics — that are embedded in the Colorado Academic Standards and aligned to workforce realities.

Students also must learn and develop strong communication skills before leaving high school. Strong reading and writing fluency is essential to success in college and in the workforce. Fortunately, the Colorado Academic Standards provide heightened rigor in English as well.

In addition to math, reading, and writing, the Colorado Academic Standards also embed real-world skills like critical thinking, problem solving, and adaptive learning. These are essential qualities for success in our increasingly technology-driven workforce.

The Future Forward coalition encourages parents, policymakers and the public to better understand the value of these more rigorous and relevant standards and assessments. We demand an education system that truly prepares students for success in college and the jobs of tomorrow.

The Colorado Academic Standards and their aligned assessments set consistent, focused, rigorous expectations for all students — a necessary foundation for improving student achievement and ensuring our state and our country’s educational and economic pre-eminence.

Kent Thiry