Science: Learning through inquiry

Monday, October 14th, 2013

Ask most employers and they will tell you critical thinking is an important skill for job seekers to have.

While schools don’t have classes specifically called, “Critical Thinking,” there’s one topic that can open up student’s minds to thinking out of the box.

Science, in particular, challenges students to ask questions, gather information, deduce and explain a decision based on their experiments. Science encourages exploration, reflection and application of principles. Essentially, science is a machine requiring critical thinking to find new solutions.

A secure grasp of STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) education is important for students who want to succeed now and in the future. Many of the high-paying jobs of the 21st Century involve these subjects. Such positions help further the technology of the world, improving the quality of life for many, and lead those who do this kind of work into a prosperous future of their own.

That’s why Prosperity 2020 greatly encourages STEM education and shares a goal with the Utah Legislature to make Utah a top ten tech center. The key to a prosperous future for Utah and people in Utah starts with education.

The infographic, published by the Smithsonian Science Education Center, below goes into more detail about science education and what kind of a difference a STEM education can have.

Learning Science Through Inquiry

by TimothySanders.
Explore more infographics like this one on the web’s largest information design community – Visually.


STEM pilot program is underway

Wednesday, August 14th, 2013

Utah has one of the most diverse economies in the nation. More and more of the jobs we’re creating, and those we’ll create in the coming years, depend on a well-educated workforce, particularly in critical science, technology, engineering and math (or STEM) fields.

Earlier this month, 53 middle and high schools were selected to participate in the STEM technology pilot program this fall, as designated by HB 139 in the 2013 General Legislative session. Last week, 120 teachers from those schools were trained on the technologies approved for implementation this coming school year as part of the program.

The STEM Action Center, approved by the Utah Legislature this year, and the Salt Lake Center for Science Education gave the teachers a full day of training on eleven different technologies selected for the STEM pilot program. The technologies were selected by representatives and experts from the community, the Utah State Office of Education, the Utah System of Higher Education and private industry.

The STEM Action Center was established to help drive research and the implementation of the best STEM education practices across the state. The Utah State Legislature has invested $10 million into this initiative. To learn more, click here.

Business leaders supporting the Prosperity 2020 movement have set the goal to make Salt Lake a STEM Top Ten Center for technology jobs and businesses.

You can read more about this in an article on Utah Business week here.


An active role for business in education

Thursday, July 25th, 2013

Editor’s note: This post was authored by Tom Donohue, president and CEO of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and was originally published on the official blog of the U.S. Chamber, You can find the original post here. 

Cracks in the U.S. workforce suggest that our legacy of ever-expanding opportunity and advancement is under threat. Even as unemployment remains high, some 3 million U.S. jobs sit vacant because businesses can’t find qualified workers to fill them. And the current generation of students could be the first in our history to be less educated than their parents.

Fewer Americans are emerging from our public education system with sufficient skills in math, science, reading, communications, and critical thinking. Without that foundation, it’s harder for them to advance their education or careers in our modern economy. Consequently, the United States has fallen to 10th in the world in the percentage of young adults with a college degree—we used to be 1st.

Complicating matters, the jobs of the 21st century are becoming more specialized and technical, requiring more education, advanced training, and sophisticated skills. Approximately 90 percent of the jobs in the fastest-growing occupations require some postsecondary education and training. By 2020, there will be 120 million “high-skilled” and “high-wage” jobs.

To ensure a steady flow of American workers to fill those jobs, we must strengthen U.S. education and job training, aligning those systems with the needs of our economy.

U.S. businesses can and must play a role. The business community continues to advocate for policies that better prepare students to be college and career ready—such as Common Core State Standards—and supports an overhaul of current job training systems. Companies also invest heavily in education, contributing more than $4 billion a year. But we’ve largely left the job of educating our workforce to the educators. Business needs to take a more hands-on approach.

We’ve got to clearly articulate what we need: competitive workers who can write, reason, solve problems, and apply their learning and use their diplomas or degrees to contribute to our economy.

We must help students see a clear connection between their programs of study and tangible opportunities in the labor market. And we need to bring more American students into our businesses through internships and apprenticeships. “Work-linked” learning can enrich their education and help decide career paths.

The bottom line is that the education and competitiveness of our workers affect all of us. It determines the economic strength and global competitiveness of our country. So we’ve got to work together to make sure that we’re improving and investing in one of America’s greatest assets—the U.S. workforce. And if we do that, we’ll be able to protect the great American legacy of opportunity and advancement too.


Education impacts Utah’s business rankings

Wednesday, July 10th, 2013

A top five ranking among America’s best states for business is generally something to celebrate. Unless you’ve dropped from second place a year ago.

CNBC released its rankings today and Utah finds itself tied for fifth with Virginia; the commonwealth had claimed the top spot in the ranking three times since 2006. South Dakota claimed the top spot for 2013.

Business is tied to education
The Beehive State’s overall ranking was hurt by its 39th overall ranking in education. This is not a new issue to the business community; the warning signs are clear:

- We have a rapidly diversifying population that requires a new approach to education.
- We have lower test scores than states with similar ethnic/minority diversity, education levels of parents and student poverty levels.
- One out of every four high school freshman will not graduate.

All that comes as we rank 32nd  among states in public education spending per $1,000 of personal income.

We used to do more with less. Now we just do less.

On the same page
Utah’s secret sauce is our ability to work together to solve problems. Through the Prosperity 2020 movement, the business community, has called for greater innovation, investment, accountability and collaboration in education. Gov. Gary Herbert and the Utah Legislature have made education a priority by setting goals to have 66 percent of all Utah adults hold a college degree or skilled trade certificate, and for 90 percent of all elementary school students to be proficient in reading and mathematics by the end of the decade.

With the governor, the Legislature, educators and the business community driving toward the same, well-defined, challenging goals, we can make a significant improvement.

Silver lining
The good news is Utah still scored very high in business friendliness thanks to our regulatory environment and five percent corporate and individual tax rates.

We have rightfully touted ourselves as a great place to do business. We rank very high in many rankings like this. We’re still Forbes Magazine’s Best State for Business and Careers– a title we’ve held for three years in a row.

But just like the road to enduring prosperity, if we want to claim the title as the Top State for Business, it starts with education.

You can read the CNBC article here and find complete rankings here.


A business case for education reform

Friday, June 28th, 2013

The Salt Lake Chamber knows education is the key to enduring prosperity. We’ve joined nearly 20 other chambers of commerce and business associations as part of the Prosperity 2020 movement.

As the infographic below illustrates, the U.S. education system is failing to equip students with the skills required for the jobs of the 21st century. In some communities, however, local business leaders are leading the charge for outcomes-based reform.

66 by 2020: The Perfect Vision

Thursday, May 23rd, 2013

Joaquin Zihuatanejo from CoolSpeak recently presented at the First Annual Multicultural Affairs Youth Leadership Summit. This video was created by Zihuatanejo and Art Hooker. Zihuatanejo wrote this poem for the Governor’s 66 by 2020 initiative and goal shared by Prosperity 2020, the largest business-led movement to increase innovation, investment and accountability in education.


Miss America and the importance of STEM education

Friday, May 10th, 2013

As the Governor’s Office of Economic Development (GOED) announced the allocation of some STEM-related funds, Miss America joined business leaders and policy makers in championing the importance of STEM education in a press conference on Friday at the Salt Lake Chamber.

The Utah Legislature appropriated $10 million for a STEM Action Center during the 2013 session. Sophia DeCaro, deputy director of GOED, announced $1.5 million will go to establish a director, staff and board. $5 million will be dedicated to math skill building in sixth, seventh and eighth grades, while $3.5 million will go to juniors and seniors in high school for college math readiness.

“If we don’t give our children an education that provides them an edge, their future jobs will be taken from them by students in China, India or the rest of the world,” said Stan Lockhart of IM Flash and private sector chair for Utah’s STEM Education Initiative. “What can we do to give them an edge? What can we do to teach them the skills that allow them to compete in this digital world we live in? What it comes down to is this: science, technology, engineering and math.”

Mallory Hagan, the reigning Miss America, says she expressed great interest in math and science in middle school thanks to passionate teachers who cared about her success. “But [in high school] we had teachers who were making sure we made good grades on tests but not making sure we could comprehend any of the information. That’s a hard lesson to learn when you’re a freshman in bio-medical science.”

Hagan has since changed her educational path to marketing with a focus in cosmetics and fragrance, but wishes she had learned back in her formative years the “cool” jobs that she could have from pursuing more math and science, like making lipstick and mascara and not just wearing it.

Today, she encourages mentorship as part of an education to show students what kinds of opportunities are available to them, since dissecting frogs and learning about atoms doesn’t give them the whole scope what of what they are able do.

“There are so many kids across the nation who don’t have a favorite subject, who don’t enjoy school, and they are in the first, second and third grade. That’s really disheartening because we want kids to want to learn. We need to catch them early on otherwise there’s no hope for the rest of their education process.”

And a quality education can help make the difference, whether that’s in only in making good grades to get to college or making an actual difference in the world as many STEM-related jobs are able to do.

Want to Save American Jobs – Start in the Classroom

Wednesday, April 3rd, 2013

Ed Rust, Chairman and CEO of State Farm and Chairman of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

Editor’s note: This is cross-posted from CNBC and Free Enterprise

As our political leaders take stock of where we stand in 2013—both as individual states and as a nation—we are hearing a consistent message: jobs, our economy and education are inextricably linked.

We heard the President make this case in his State of the Union Address and we’ve heard it echoed by both Democratic and Republican governors. If we want to see some meaningful improvements in our education system, business leaders must step up and lead as well.

Education is akin to a computer’s operating system. It drives other crucial functions in a country: workforce preparedness, business growth and economic strength to name just a few. Unfortunately, our system of education and workforce training has become outdated. If we are going to prepare students as well as we should, we must upgrade.

Business leaders understand the urgency of this better than anyone, and we recognize the world is changing – fast. Low-skill jobs that pay well are disappearing and never coming back. What used to be elite knowledge is now entry-level knowledge.

Other countries are making the education of their workforces a priority. Yet, while the United States still has one of the best educated workforces, we are the only industrialized country where the generation just entering the labor market is less likely to have a college degree than the one about to leave the labor market.

The percentage of youth in America is declining, while the population is growing more diverse. And while the latter trend presents tremendous opportunities, the dropout rate for Latino and African American students in the U.S. remains 20 points higher – almost 50 percent — compared to the overall U.S. school population.

These students, who have been underserved by our education system will become a massive portion of our future workforce. So ensuring access to high-quality education for all students is not just the right thing to do. It’s also the smart thing.

Changing how we educate is as important for the individual worker as it is to the strength of the workforce as a whole.

More than ever, the success of American workers—their income, employment, financial and career stability—are all determined by one simple factor: how well their education matches up with the economic demands of the world. Nothing illustrates this better than the fact that there were 3.7 million unfilled jobs on the last business day of November 2012 despite an unemployment rate that has failed to return to prerecession levels.

Education has always been—and can still be—the key to fulfilling the American Dream. And business depends on education to produce the skilled, innovative, first-class individuals we need to keep America a global leader. But like any system, we should make improvements to optimize it to meet the challenges of today and those we will face tomorrow.

The good news is that there are thoughtful policy solutions that are already having a positive effect at the local, state and federal levels.

World class academic standards are helping ensure that every single student is held to the same high expectations—and given the solid educational foundation—they need to succeed in both school and career. We now look beyond just aggregate and average figures; we also look at subgroups of students, like English Language Learners, who may need more support to reach higher standards. We are accurately reporting graduation rates. And we are bringing renewed priority to improving our nation’s lowest performing schools.

In addition, some of the biggest names in business, from General Electric to ExxonMobil and Wells Fargo, are strengthening their commitment to improving education and ensuring all U.S. students succeed academically and professionally. Many of us are extending that commitment to helping improve America’s education system even further. This April, I will be joining a number of my fellow CEOs to discuss the ways in which we—as business leaders—can help ensure our country is not just aware of the urgency but is implementing the solutions.

Governor Terry Branstad remarked in Iowa’s State of the State address that college and career-readiness upon high school graduation is “an economic and moral imperative.” He’s right of course. America’s success has long been defined by its ability to innovate, adapt and excel. It’s time to apply that thinking to our education system.


Business leaders thank lawmakers for investing in education

Friday, March 29th, 2013

With just over a week remaining in the 2013 General Legislative Session, the business community supporting the Prosperity 2020 movement encouraged the Legislature to focus on three unifying elements of a bold, multi-year education agenda.

The Utah State Legislature delivered.

Earlier this week, Randy Shumway, president and CEO of the Cicero Group and vice chair of Prosperity 2020, was a guest on KSL News Radio’s Doug Wright Show to discuss the bills passed to invest in the next generation of Utahns.

“This is a good legislature, a fiscally prudent legislature that, because of their wisdom over the years, we had monies to invest in education this year,” says Shumway. “While other states are hemorrhaging, our state is investing–not just in the short term, but in the long-term for the betterment of our children.”

The original call to action from the business community came by way of a full-page advertisement that ran in both the Salt Lake Tribune and Deseret News. Shumway also did an interview with Wright the following day explaining why the business community supported education-strengthening legislation.

“The business community is the largest customer of education; we’re the ones hiring all of these graduates,” Shumway told Doug Wright. “So we have a vested interest in the quality of student learning. Education is the key to enduring prosperity. It’s critical to note that it’s not merely an economic motivation. This is a moral prerogative. We owe it to the next generation to give them the highest quality education possible.”

The Legislature did three things to invest in education this session:

-   Passed a joint resolution adopting the twin goals of 90 percent reading and math proficiency in elementary schools, and 66 percent of all Utah adults with a postsecondary degree or certificate by 2020

-   Made strategic investments toward measurable goals

-   Committed to develop a collaborative and united education plan

“We have to create a strategic plan. We spend billions of dollars on public education, K-12 as well as higher education,” says Shumway. “Yet the relevance and depth of what a student and a graduate needs to know and what they need to be able to do is constantly evolving. The state needs a unified plan specifying the objectives, the different audiences we need to serve and how we can best achieve those desired objectives for each demographic at the lowest cost and at the best return on investment. And the Legislature this year committed to focus on and invest in that area, and I believe there will be bills that come of that next year.”

Jobs that require STEM skills (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) will grow at 17 percent compared to 9.8 percent growth for non-STEM occupations over the next six to seven years. These are jobs that pay 50-75 percent more than other comparable jobs.

“These are creating family-sustaining careers for Utahns,” says Shumway. “We need to establish systemic change that will propel greater innovation, greater accountability and greater investment in the long-term and short-term education needs in our state.”


An economy-strengthening legislative session

Tuesday, March 26th, 2013

Editor’s note: this post was originally published as an op-ed in the Salt Lake Tribune. You can read the original post here

In early February, a high-level executive from General Electric met with Lt. Gov. Greg Bell and complimented him on Utah’s reputation as a well-managed state. Thinking the visiting executive had been given the information by his staff and was mentioning it to be polite, the Lt. Gov. thanked him and asked who had told him of our state’s reputation for prudent management. The GE executive assured Lt. Gov. Bell Utah’s solid management is widely acknowledged in the business world.

The 104 members of the Utah Legislature concluded a successful 45-day session last week and they deserve the thanks of all Utahns for their service. Utah’s business community also applauds them for the steps they took to strengthen our state economy and Utah’s reputation for being well managed.

The Legislature invested in Utah’s future workforce. Our elected officials heard the call for greater innovation, investment and accountability in education and took action. Their decision to adopt the dual goals of the Prosperity 2020 movement to have 90 percent of Utah’s elementary school children proficient in reading and mathematics, and 66 percent of all Utah adults earn a college degree or skilled trade certificate by the year 2020 is an important step in the right direction.

Goals alone will not improve educational performance in our state. The Legislature took practical, important steps toward achieving these goals. They fully funded growth in public and higher education. They ensured all high school students will be better prepared for and take the ACT exam. And they funded a Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) action center that will help implement the best practices for teaching students subjects that will drive our economy in the decades ahead.

The Legislature also strengthened Utah’s economy by making smart decisions to improve our health system. By 2020, the U.S. will need 91,500 more doctors than we are projected to have, and Utah is among the states with the lowest number of doctors per capita in the country. Our elected officials funded an additional 40 seats at the University of Utah medical school. All the additional seats are required to be filled by students with Utah ties who are more likely to practice in our state when their training is complete.

The business community also supports action taken to strengthen the commercial insurance market by making it easier for families to utilize government premium subsidies to purchase private insurance.

Moving goods and services through our state is also vital to our economy. The Legislature continued its commitment to transportation infrastructure by approving $336 million for over 20 projects.

Our ability as a state to enhance community prosperity through innovation has set us apart. Legislators adopted an innovative plan to enhance Utah’s air quality by converting buses and state fleet vehicles to clean-burning CNG and building natural gas fueling and maintenance infrastructure. A general session that took place during extended inversions and poor air quality produced a pragmatic approach to convert the worst polluting vehicles into some of the cleanest. Each bus converted to CNG is the equivalent of converting 36 cars to the cleaner-burning fuel.

Our state constitution requires a balanced budget, but just because something is required doesn’t make it any less of a challenge. Our Legislature balanced the budget without a general tax increase and added some $50 million to the rainy day fund.

Utah has been recognized nationally as the best-managed state and the Legislature strengthened that reputation during this session. The business community thanks these elected officials for their dedicated service and we will continue to work in partnership with them to strengthen the Utah economy.



Ray Pickup is the chair of the Salt Lake Chamber Board of Governors, and president and CEO of Workers Compensation Fund.