Imagine for a moment today is Jan. 1, 2019, and your business is thriving. So much so that you need to fill 60 key positions in the coming year, all of which require technical skills and/or education beyond high school. What happens to your business when you are unable to hire 50 percent of those key people?
Now imagine that businesses across the entire state of Idaho are facing the same problem. Imagine that shortage goes on for years. How would that affect the state? What would the business environment look like?
This grim reality, and our current trajectory, is one that we hope to avoid by adopting the Idaho Core Standards for our schools. We need to aggressively implement the Idaho Core Standards or face an economic death spiral.
Let me explain my logic.
Today’s high school freshmen will be entering the workforce in about a decade. So today’s schools must be aware of the needs of this future workforce. Fortunately, significant research has been done to help us foresee these needs in Idaho. The surveys vary slightly, but all share the same conclusion: Between 60 percent and 67 percent of the future jobs created in Idaho will require some form of post-secondary education – one, two, four or more years of education beyond high school. That explains why nearly every statewide organization involved in renewing our public education system has adopted or strongly supports the goal of greater than 60 percent post-secondary completion.
So if the goal is greater than 60 percent, where are we today? Today, it is estimated only 34 percent of Idahoans ages 25-34 have that level of education. In round numbers, we have only slightly more than half the number needed of young adults completing some form of post-secondary education.
The reasons for this gap are complex. They are grounded in cultural, motivational, financial and preparedness issues. Today I will focus on preparedness, as there is ample evidence that this is something over which we have direct control and that, when addressed, will help mitigate other issues, such as motivation.
Today, far too few Idaho students go on from high school to post-secondary education – we are in the bottom five states in the country on that metric. For those students who do go on, we have very high remediation rates. And, as you might expect would follow, we have one of the highest college dropout rates in the country. Clearly we have a serious problem with preparing our students for success at the post-secondary level; hence, we are not preparing them for success in the workforce.
The Idaho Core Standards were specifically designed to align our K-12 education system to the demands and requirements of post-secondary education. These standards address two core subjects: math and English. If you doubt that these standards are a good idea, then I encourage you to visit the IdahoCoreStandards.org web site, where you will see that every public university president in the state of Idaho and nearly every statewide business/education organization has endorsed these standards.
The Idaho Core Standards are only standards, meaning they define what students should know. They are not curricula, which are the specific course materials used in our schools. Curricula are developed locally by each school district. The move to the Idaho Core Standards gives us the best of both worlds: standards in the core subjects of math and English critical to our students’ success in post-secondary education and in the workforce while maintaining local school and community control over the curricula taught in the schools. Adopting the Idaho Core Standards does not mean giving up control of our schools.
We are rapidly approaching a 50 percent percent shortage of educated workers for the very jobs that are mission-critical to the future growth and survival of our businesses and to the health of our state’s economy. Closing that gap starts now with adopting the Idaho Core Standards.
Bob Lokken is vice chairman of Idaho Business for Education and CEO of WhiteCloud Analytics Inc.