Heavy emphasis on “hard skills” leaves children unprepared for the real “tests” in life.

Soft Skills Academy

Mr. Gates,

Working with grade 7-12 students for more than two decades, and as a summer youth employment counselor for 10 years, it has been my experience that a lack of soft skills and virtues (perseverance, ambition, responsibility, self-confidence, self-discipline, patience, initiative, integrity, empathy, leadership, maturity…) has directly contributed to declining student achievement and performance in the classroom and on the job. While mastery of content and literacy skills are important for career and college readiness, these performance standards are too often trumped or canceled out when a student or employee lacks a work ethic, emotional intelligence, and has not developed a personal code of conduct. One of the underlying premises of CCSS appears to be that students who cannot read and write on an advanced college level are destined to be unsuccessful in life. Not everyone can be an advanced reader, no matter how hard they try. Do proponents of CCSS really believe that the 15 to 20% (NICHD) of our population with language-based disabilities are doomed to failure in life?

The “power” and critical importance of soft skills is evidenced by the highly successful careers of Richard Branson, Steve Jobs, Henry Ford, Tom Cruise, Erin Brockovich, Magic Johnson, Anderson Cooper, Winston Churchill and other dyslexics.

These individuals and many others like them did not allow limited reading and literacy skills or a low score on a standardized test to define them and curtail their goals and achievements in life. Instead, they relied upon their own unique gifts, talents, personality, and learning strategies to overcome obstacles and compensate for any academic deficiencies.

As Dale Carnegie said, “The man who is enthusiastic will find the scales tipped in his favor. And a man of second-rate ability, with enthusiasm, will outstrip a man of first-rate ability without enthusiasm.

Hard Skills Soft Skills

While CCSS evangelists continue to extol the importance of hard skills to properly prepare students for college and careers. Business leaders and employers continue to lament the subpar soft skills of their new hires.

“A survey by the Workforce Solutions Group at St. Louis Community College finds that more than 60% of employers say applicants lack “communication and interpersonal skills” — a jump of about 10 percentage points in just two years. A wide margin of managers also say today’s applicants can’t think critically and creatively, solve problems or write well.

Another employer survey, this one by staffing company Adecco, turns up similar results. The company says in a statement, “44% of respondents cited soft skills, such as communication, critical thinking, creativity and collaboration, as the area with the biggest gap.” Only half as many say a lack of technical skills is the pain point.

Measuring Soft Skills

As much as academics go on about the lack of math and science skills, bosses are more concerned with organizational and interpersonal proficiency. The National Association of Colleges and Employers surveyed more than 200 employers about their top 10 priorities in new hires. Overwhelmingly, they want candidates who are team players, problem solvers and can plan, organize and prioritize their work. Technical and computer-related know-how placed much further down the list.”

Source: The Real Reason New College Grads Can’t Get Hired 11/10/13

The fact that a person does not apply critical thinking skills is not proof or evidence that he or she does not possess them. People often confuse critical thinking skills with decision making skills. Just because a person can think critically does not mean they will always make good decisions.

This helps to explain why people who can think critically may still decide to….text and drive, steal from an employer, send inappropriate emails and texts, participate in scandalous behavior as part of the US President’s Secret Service detail, proceed with a hasty roll out of Common Core assessments despite concerns and protests from students, parents, teachers, administrators and elected officials or even decide to close 50 schools so, “children have a better future.”

In school and the workplace, it is very often poor decision making skills as well as critical thinking skills that will determine success.

There are learning disabled, at-risk, and disadvantaged students in our schools today who genuinely struggle with school work. There are also students who understand a particular reading or homework assignment, but they choose not to take the textbook home, complete the assignment, or study for a test.

Good decision making depends on an essential set of soft skills, abilities, and values that are not easily tested and measured. They include; maturity, integrity, empathy, selflessness, honesty, persistence, responsibility, justice, equality, ethics, etc.

Unfortunately the reliability and “strength” of these abilities is not always constant as they can be affected and impaired by emotions, drugs, lack of sleep, stress, a chemical imbalance, and other neurological and psychological disorders.

Critical reading and thinking skills are very important, but they do not trump or supersede the equally if not more important soft skills.

Mastery of content may help a person get hired, or accepted to college, but it is content of character that ultimately determines who keeps their job and who will graduate from college.

While it certainly is important that a recently hired worker can read and understand the employee manual and company handbook, that will be of little consequence if the person doesn’t possess the self-discipline and decision making skills to abide by the company’s email, texting, and computer use policies.

Focusing education programs on a narrow set of measurable hard skills at the expense of student-centered classroom activities and community building experiences that promote social/emotional learning and ethical behavior will leave our students ill equipped and unprepared for the real “tests” in life.

John Chase ~ The Art of Learning

The appropriate and skillful application of hard skills is soft skills dependent.

~ Corporate Learning World Blog

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About Highlighting Members' Needs

We are running for the following Renton Education Association positions because we believe in the following planks: Becca Ritchie, Candidate for REA President, Nelsen Middle School, Computer Tech Susan DuFresne, Candidate for Primary Executive Board, Maplewood Heights Elementary, Integrated Kindergarten ✅  Demanding a healthy work-load/life balance. ✅  Bargaining competitive professional compensation. ✅  Challenging the status quo test culture with: Less is more! ✅  Emphasizing our professional expertise. ✅  Prioritizing equity and access for all. ✅  Utilizing 2-way 21st century communication tools. ✅  Acting in solidarity with all unions. ✅  Supporting ALL members. ✅   Implementing developmentally appropriate K-3 curriculum/assessment.
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3 Responses to Heavy emphasis on “hard skills” leaves children unprepared for the real “tests” in life.

  1. RealTeacher says:

    He will say that CCSS address these soft skills. What he will not admit is that it is impossible to measure these skills on any standardized test in existence. He will say the the new smarter balanced assessments are being developed to measure these things. He will not admit that the smarter balanced assessments are just bubble tests on a computer.

    • John Chase says:

      Saying and demonstrating are two different things…

      First he will need to provide text-based answers and evidence directly from the standards that shows these and other soft skills are specifically addressed in the standards.

      Then he would have to explain how an adaptive/interactive assessment can quantify a student’s ability to share, collaborate, take initiative, be responsible, kind, generous, self-less, lead, follow, honest, responsible, supportive, empathetic, inventive etc….

      I believe these virtues are not specifically taught, but rather they are learned and acquired through practice and daily interactions with other human beings not a PC.

      Teachers design and facilitate numerous learning activities, experiences, and opportunities in their classrooms and the community at large where students can practice and sharpen these skills.

  2. Ro says:

    Thank you for putting into written words what I’ve been frustrated with since this fiasco called CCS first saw the light of day. As a 27-year veteran, I never thought that I’d see education traveling down its current path.

    I want all “reformers” to think of the top five attributes they want to see in their child’s teacher. Then, in all honesty, ask – which one of those can you create a test that shows a DIRECT correlation? Maybe one. You can’t accurately measure teacher effectiveness, at least not with filled in bubbles.

    I saw a great quote recently: “just because ‘x’ is the only thing you can measure, doesn’t mean that ‘x’ is the most important thing. Of course, none of this matters because none of the “reforms” we’ve seen recently in education have the least bit to do with improving education or helping children, does it? Just follow the money…

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