Education Nation – Colorado’s view

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On Sunday April 16, NBC News was in Denver for the beginning of a week-long focus on education and readying our nation’s students for a 21st century workforce.

The network will be here through April 20, beginning its 2012 Education Nation tour and hosting a series of panels and town hall meetings with educators, business leaders and the public to continue robust dialogue started in 2010 about critical issues facing our nation’s school systems.

This is a topic near and dear to us at the Chamber, as we know we must change the current educational outcomes, if we hope to achieve the economic future we all envision. It appears ours efforts in Colorado are being noticed by the nation.

In 2010, the Chamber hosted an education event featuring reform expert Geoffrey Canada, who is nationally recognized for his pioneering work helping children and families in Harlem and as a passionate advocate for education reform. Featured in the documentary Waiting for “Superman,” Canada and the work of the Harlem Children’s Zone Inc. is a national model in education.

A year later, we hosted Michelle Rhee, the former chancellor of the Washington, D.C., public school system and founder and CEO of StudentsFirst, a non-profit organization dedicated to education reform. She also appeared in Waiting for “Superman.”

Rhee, along with Margaret Spellings, senior advisor to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and president of its forum for policy innovation, answered questions addressing what the business community can and must do to help improve our schools.

As I mentioned, Denver is the first stop on the Education Nation tour this year, and we think it is good to continue to highlight our successes and our weaknesses to ensure we continue to improve our education system. We are always energized by the ideas generated by these types of discussions as they help us hone in what more we can do to further our efforts.

On Sunday, Rehema Ellis, NBC News’ chief education correspondent moderated a discussion on grade-level reading and our state’s future before a town hall discussion with Colorado educators.

Literacy has been a major focus of the Chamber this legislative session with HB-1238, which focuses on creating a value and standard for reading success for students in Colorado in a manner we have never committed to in our history. It recognizes that, if we fail to teach a child to read by third grade, we are likely creating a future of little hope for that child. It says to every adult in the state that we will no longer accept such a future for our children or our state.

It provides for the first literacy expert at the Colorado Department of Education and will source materials to supports teachers and principals to teach the science of reading. We are still working to get this bill passed through the state Senate. If you haven’t yet, you can take action and contact your legislator and encourage him or her to support this important bill.

We must increase the number of students in college by 20 percent in six short years if we are to meet our economy’s educational needs. Our future truly does depend upon our ability to graduate Colorado’s students from high school and prepare them for careers or college.

Monday, Chief Foreign Affairs Correspondent Andrea Mitchell moderated a panel discussion with area business leaders about the role that education plays in job creation and job readiness. Presenters Linda Alvarado of Alvarado Construction; Bruce Benson, president of the University of Colorado; Dick Monfort, chairman/owner and CEO of the Colorado Rockies; and Kent Thiry, chairman and CEO of DaVita all spoke about how critical it is to show the value education to today’s students and to have a well-educated workforce in many industries.

It is easy to think this is a challenge for parents, teachers or even for the student him or herself. The reality is this challenge belongs to all of us. Preparing our children for the future to meet business needs, and to provide them with the quality of life they envision, is our challenge. There is work for everyone as we first work to set standards (such as ensuring that all Colorado students can read) and then to ensure we meet that challenge. Please consider helping us now. Express your support for such a standard and contact us anytime to find out how you can help many of the organizations in the state to achieve these higher standards.


Lessons from home

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Henry David Thoreau once said, “Only the traveling is good, which reveals to me the value of home and enables me to enjoy it better.”

No organization enables the spirit of that statement better than the Denver Metro Chamber Leadership Foundation, with its year-old Colorado Experience program. Later this month, 150 emerging and established leaders from across the metro Denver region will travel to Fort Collins, led by co-chairs Greg Bante of Jones Lang LaSalle and Landri Taylor of Urban League of Metro Denver, to explore Colorado’s regional issues and to strengthen collective vision and collaboration in our communities.

While in the hometown of Colorado State University, the group will study higher education and its impact on the economy, as well as entrepreneurship, sustainability, technology, renewable and clean energy and agriculture – all important issues affecting not only this part of Colorado, but the state as a whole.

Colorado is a hotspot for innovation in energy and many other industries. The metro area ranks sixth for both fossil energy and cleantech employment concentration out of the 50 largest metros in the country. Meanwhile, the livestock, milk, grain, fruits and vegetables produced on agricultural lands across our state contribute $20 billion to our economy annually and support nearly 110,000 jobs.

The travelers are scheduled to visit labs and schools at the university as well as the New Belgium Brewery – which earlier this month launched its new canning line, capable of filling 360 cans of beer every minute – and OtterBox, a manufacturer of protective cases for handheld electronics. The delegation will also take a walking tour of a number of landmarks in the heart of Fort Collins.

Bringing together the business community, our higher education institutions, civic leaders and others will facilitate the kind of intrastate dialogue that is incredibly important as we work together toward a better future for Colorado.

Last year’s trip to Colorado Springs proved to be a wonderful prototype, with 96 percent of the returning delegates reporting that Colorado Experience inspired them to engage more actively in statewide issues. This feedback makes evident how a trip down the road can be just as valuable as crossing state lines.

If you haven’t yet applied to participate in Colorado Experience, I encourage you to do so. Apply here.