Glenn Hamer

On Wednesday I joined Gov. Jan Brewer, State Superintendent of Public Instruction John Huppenthal and education leaders from across the state at an event at Franklin Police and Fire High School to roll out Arizona’s new Common Core Standards. The adoption of these rigorous academic standards is the right move to set Arizona’s students on the path to career-readiness in Arizona’s second century.

As Craig Barrett, former chairman and CEO of Intel and now chairman of the Governor’s Arizona Ready Education Council has said, “Looking ahead, the business community knows we can’t flourish without a trained and prepared workforce. Our students will be competing in a global economy, so it’s critical that our schools use high standards for assessing progress.” The Council on Foreign Relations recently concluded, “Educational failure puts the United States’ future economic prosperity, global position, and physical safety at risk.”

Perhaps the leading hand outside of government pressing for the adoption of the Common Core in Arizona is Pearl Chang Esau, the president and CEO of Expect More Arizona and the chair of the Arizona Public Engagement Task Force, who spoke at Wednesday’s event. Pearl is the former head of Teach for America in our state and is one of the brightest rising stars in education policy circles.

Pearl and her colleagues in the education reform movement have made clear that moving to the Common Core Standards is not just a tiny tweak to what our kids will be learning. Common Core is a rigorous, internationally-benchmarked curriculum that will give our kids the tools they will need in order to be successful in an increasingly demanding, competitive global economy. As the nation’s leading Republican education reformer, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush said, “[In] all but a few states, academic standards of educational performance are too low, leaving many graduating students unprepared for the rigors of the 21st century economy.” When you are trailing countries that are obviously not the economic and political leaders like the U.S., you better look to raise your education standards.

At the Arizona Department of Education’s new Common Core website, parents and educators can get an in-depth look at what’s in the Common Core, and learn more about how teachers will be bringing the new curriculum into the classroom.

As The Arizona Republic recently reported, the move to Common Core will be a subtle shift in some school districts, while for others it will be a more dramatic change. But it’s by raising the expectation of our students that we can also increase their achievement.

When Arizona instituted the Arizona Instrument to Measure Standards – the AIMS test – it was a good first step. After all, we should want to ensure that our kids are advancing through their academic career having mastered essential knowledge.

But Common Core puts our students on the same page, not just with their contemporaries in the next district, but in the next state. Common Core will now allow Arizona parents to compare their students’ performance with the performance of students around the country and see how we’re stacking up. It is important to note that these standards have been developed by the states; this is not some sort of federal initiative.

Gov. Bush, in a letter last year in support of the Common Core Standards, makes the case that these standards are not developed by the feds but rather by local officials. “I believe that educational standards belong to our states. They must take the lead to repair our schools. And states are stepping up to meet this need,” he said. “The Common Core State Standards were voluntarily developed in collaboration with teachers, school administrators and experts to provide a framework of clear and consistent standards to challenge nearly every state’s current required math and English language skills.”

Arizona is involved in an intense effort to train teachers in the new system, and other states are looking to Arizona for help in implementing the Common Core Standards. As Superintendent Huppenthal reported this week, states like California and New York are seeking to replicate the Arizona Common Core training model. We have the potential to be the standard-bearer for education across the country.

Which brings me to Texas.

While 46 states and the District of Columbia have moved to the Common Core, Texas and three other states have passed on the chance to implement the new standards in their states. I believe they’ve done so at their own peril.

I’ve written in the past about all the tools Texas has in its economic development toolbox. But I believe the Lone Star State going Lone Ranger on education harms its ability to be the big dog on the job creation block that it has been over the last several years.

I talk with business leaders every day who, despite our limping out of the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression, lament their ability to hire qualified workers. If your state’s education system isn’t striving to produce the most talented workforce, then your ability to attract new jobs is hamstrung. Raising our standards by moving to Common Core should improve student achievement and improve our state’s attractiveness in terms of job creation and innovation.

Texas missed an opportunity to solidify its position as the nation’s most sophisticated job creator. By moving to the Common Core, Arizona is better positioned to capitalize on Texas’ misstep.

Glenn Hamer is the president and CEO of the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry