- Associated Press - Monday, April 14, 2014

WILMINGTON, Del. (AP) - Gov. Jack Markell urged business leaders Monday to join in a comprehensive effort to improve public education in Delaware and to spread the word about the importance of holding students to higher standards.

“We need businesses to help us provide opportunities for our students so they are successful,” Markell said. He joined former Maine Gov. John McKernan, who now leads the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation, for a conference on workforce training initiatives and how schools and businesses can work together to ensure students are ready for college and careers.

“Delaware is being looked at as a leader on how we improve education in this country,” McKernan said.

Officials said the engagement of parents and the business community is critical in ensuring students are both academically prepared and have the social and communication skills they’ll need in the workplace.

One way to do that, they said, is to build partnerships between schools and businesses, offering students internships and other learning opportunities.

“How do we create authentic learning experiences, where students learn by doing?” asked University of Delaware president Patrick Harker.

Conference participants said another key to improving Delaware’s schools is implementing Common Core academic standards that have been adopted by Delaware and most other states. The standards set out what math and English skills students should have as they progress through school and are designed to help them think critically.

While some members of Delaware’s teachers union have expressed concern about implementing Common Core standards too quickly, McKernan cited surveys suggesting that 75 percent of parents across the country support national academic standards. Polls also show that two-thirds of parents support using standardized tests to determine if students are meeting those standards, and using those test scores in evaluating how well teachers are doing their jobs.

“The public is behind improving the education of our young people,” he said.

Harker said students need to understand that colleges are holding applicants to higher standards.

“Average is over,” he said.

Teri Quinn Gray, president of Delaware’s state board of education, said the board acknowledges that implementing the Common Core standards will be challenging, but that delaying implementation isn’t going to help a student struggling to read at grade level.

“Do you want to give them more time not to read on grade level?” she asked. “How does that work?”

Markell agreed that delay is not the answer, saying the lack of a sense of urgency is “the biggest challenge we have toward ongoing improvement.”

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