Business input critical for workforce education

was fortunate to be a delegate for the Colorado Succeeds BizCares Summit in September to Washington, D.C.  The goal of the summit was to create a platform for business organizations from across the state to network, learn and to translate our knowledge, passion and relationships into impact in our community.

The broad summit agenda included discussions on improving Colorado’s talent pipeline and national and international leaders in education sharing strategies for getting there.

The kickoff session was the presentation from the Swiss ambassador Martin Dahinden and Simon Marti, Ph.D., office of Science, Technology and Higher Education on Swiss Vocational Education and Training.  Nearly two-thirds of all students in Switzerland opt into the program.  A real program motivator is the ability to earn an income while learning, and the ability to select from more than 250 different apprenticeship programs.

The Swiss model creates a real sense of relevancy, and engages the students through a three- or four-day work week based at a company, and one to two days in classroom instruction.  Given the roughly 90 percent graduation rate, that is impressive.  I know that our Greeley-Evans School District 6/Mayor’s Workforce initiative puts us well on our way to seeing more and more internships developed.  Imagine what we’ll look like when we have more than 30 percent of businesses participating!

We had in-depth discussions surrounding the implementation of the new federal law, Every Students Succeeds Act (ESSA), that pushes the key decisions about the future of Colorado’s education system to the state level.

ESSA was signed into law with bipartisan support in December 2015, replacing much of No Child Left Behind, that set important expectations around schools making progress with all groups of students, not just some.  Over time, parts of NCLB became outdated and unworkable.  This new law returns a great deal of decision-making to individual states. This means Colorado has the opportunity to make smart decisions related to funding, innovation and accountability.

Some of the important decisions to be made include:

• Deciding how federal funds are distributed to Colorado schools.

• Deciding which factors the state should use to evaluate school performance.

  Developing a plan to deal with perpetually under-performing schools.

• Determining the level of transparency for school and district performance.

• Setting the standards students are expected to reach at the end of each grade level.

The new federal ESSA allows states to add a non-academic factor to the states’ accountability, allowing the states to better reflect the full picture of school performance in their rating system.  The new factor will be in addition to the current accountability factors relating to Reading, Math, Science, Social Studies SAT/ACT, and two and four-year college enrollment.  Additional measures in the accountability system include academic achievement, high-school graduation rates, English-language proficiency and other indicators of school quality.

The business community has been asked to weigh in on some of the options for non-academic indicators, such as surveys on parent/teacher satisfaction, student growth indicators, and growth of high- and low-performing students.  Students in post-secondary might consider apprenticeships/internship completion, foreign-language certification or completion of advanced coursework (AP/IB).

Under the new regulations, a 20-member committee will be appointed and submitted to the State Board of Education by March 6, 2017.  This committee will determine how Colorado should run its schools under the new regulations. The business community is at the table and has supplied suggestions for improvements in many areas, including standards, assessments, accountability, data transparency and public reporting, and funding. 

The Greeley Chamber of Commerce sees its partnership with Greeley-Evans School District 6 as critical to our economic success. We will continue to work through the Community Council on Education to educate our business community on the important role they have in supporting career ready students and being at the table with a voice in what the future of education looks like for our students.

Sarah MacQuiddy is president of the Greeley Chamber of Commerce. She can be reached at sarah@greeleychamber.com.

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