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Business leaders: Common Core Standards will improve workforce

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PHOENIX – Business leaders told state lawmakers Wednesday the recently adopted Common Core Standards for education will produce a workforce better versed in the math and critical reasoning skills they need.

“If you don’t have a good set of requirements, you don’t have a good system,” said Ron Carsten, former chief engineer at Raytheon Missile Systems in Tucson.

However, Carsten told a joint session of House committees on education, higher education and commerce, the key is whether and how schools implement the standards. He encouraged lawmakers to provide funding to train teachers.

“You can’t just mandate it,” he told representatives.

Cathleen Barton, southwest regional education manager for Intel Corp., said the rigorous expectations set forth in the Common Core curriculum will allow Arizona’s business community to compete on a global level.

“This is about an economic development problem and an opportunity in which case education is part of the solution, as opposed to this being an education problem that Common Core is going to solve,” Barton said.

Intel, a microchip maker based in Santa Clara, Calif., that employs more than 11,000 in the East Valley, has been on the lookout for master’s and Ph.D. students, Barton said.

“We don’t hire high school graduates anymore – not our admin pool, not our technicians,” she said. “We just don’t.”

Some lawmakers said they’re concerned that if the Common Core system runs into problems, the business community will no longer stand behind it, financially or politically.

State Rep. Eric Meyer, D-Paradise Valley, said he is concerned that the high student-teacher ratio brought on by staffing cuts, coupled with a decline in education funding, will make it difficult for schools to implement the Common Core Standards.

“What are we going to get from the business community?” he asked. “We can’t buy computers, we can’t hire teachers, we can’t raise the technology for Wi-Fi in the classrooms, we can’t have the data systems without funding.”

In response, Glenn Hamer, president and CEO of the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said, “We will be there as a business community to advocate on behalf of funding for the Common Core Standards.”

Rep. John Allen, R-Phoenix, said while the current outlook may be positive, the system won’t be perfect once it’s implemented.

“I’m concerned that this is a great effort to start, but if we don’t continue when it gets rough, as partners, you’re going to leave us hanging,” he told the business leaders. “I’d rather hang together than hang separately.”

Carsten, the former Raytheon engineer, said if the Common Core system were to come under attack, “my camp would stand up and make noise.”

In an interview, Carsten said Raytheon and other Arizona companies have a strong investment in STEM subjects – science, technology, engineering and math – which he said extend beyond education to inspiration.

“Our children have to care about it before they can go off and do it,” he said.