More than 3 million jobs are open in America today at a time of persistent unemployment because applicants lack necessary skill sets. Last Thursday, a panel of leaders convened at the Center for American Progress in Washington, DC to discuss the role of partnerships between private enterprise and public sector institutions in support of educational improvement. Ultimately, improved educational outcomes for graduates will mean they are better equipped to pursue successful careers in college and the workforce. This discussion echoed many of the perspectives shared in a recent panel hosted by SCORE focused on the adoption of Common Core State Standards. Panelists for the event included:

  • John M. Bridgeland, President and CEO, Civic Enterprises
  • Anthony Wilder Miller, Deputy Secretary, U.S. Department of Education
  • Bill Raabe, Director of the Center for Great Public Schools, National Education Association
  • Beth Shiroishi, AT&T Vice President of Sustainability and Philanthropy

Beth Shiroishi made a clear, compelling case for why businesses like AT&T not only have an ethical responsibility to support public education, but a deep business interest in doing so, as well. Without a reliable pool of job-ready potential employees from which to draw, companies like AT&T will wither in the years ahead. As a reflection of AT&T’s recognition of the need for a well-educated workforce, the company has pledged $250 million over the next five years to fund programs using technology to promote high school graduation and career readiness.

Picking up this point, Deputy Secretary Miller reminded the audience that companies are struggling to find applicants with the qualifications and skills needed to fill roles across many technical sectors. On May 29, the Washington Post reported the unemployment rate for Americans between the ages of 25 and 54 is at its highest point since 23 years before the recent recession. Nearly one in four people in their prime working years are not able to find work, even as millions of positions remain unfilled.

To address the gap between jobs available at American companies and jobs secured by American workers, Bill Raabe encouraged policy, business, philanthropic, and education leaders to develop a more focused collective conversation about goals for education at the local, state, and national levels. Action plans that included strategies to achieve goals for public education at each of these levels could then galvanize the efforts of both the public and private sectors to meet them.

As a lead author of the recent report, Building a Grad Nation, John Bridgeland spoke of the need for a “Civic Marshall Plan” to stem the dropout drain from America’s high schools and meet the goal of a national high school graduation rate of 90 percent by 2020. The Grad Nation report highlights Tennessee’s progress over the last decade. Since 2002, the state’s high school graduation rate has risen by 18 percent—more than any other state. But to compete in a global economy, Tennesseans—and graduates in all states—will need critical thinking and analytical skills; Common Core standards represent a recognition by state leaders of this need.

Whether in Washington, DC or Washington County, Tennessee, leadership from both the public and private sector is not only desirable, but essential for improving educational outcomes for students who graduate and go on to succeed in college and careers. The moral obligation to provide a more rigorous educational experience for students is just as clear as the economic imperative. Leadership at the state, local, school, and classroom levels will remain essential to meeting both.

Click here to view video of the entire Center for American Progress event.