I’ve been teaching long enough to have seen a variety of education reform efforts come and go. One factor, however, seems to tie them all together. When establishing the need for each particular change, the people pushing the reforms always point to the business community. We must alter the way we educate our children because the businesses are demanding graduates who have <fill in the blank with some a quality or skill>.
So, if we are truly educating students to satisfy the demands of American business, what do those employers want? If you ask a dozen corporate executives you’ll get a dozen different answers, which will also differ from the responses you’d get from small business owners. But New York state seems to think they know and plans to add a voluntary test for "work readiness" to the battery that their high school students must now take.
The test would cover so-called soft skills in 10 broad areas, including the ability to communicate, follow directions, negotiate and make basic decisions. It will be tried out in pilot programs this spring and could be ready as early as the fall, officials said. The test, given by computer, would include one section on speaking skills, with oral answers to be recorded and then analyzed by examiners.
While I have no idea how they can possibly test "soft skills" (making basic decisions?), these are exactly the abilities that we should want our students to have when they enter the real world. Knowing how to read, write and do math without knowing how to apply such skills is less than half a good education. Unfortunately, most of these abilities are taught by example as much, if not more, by parents, coaches, peers, and others outside of the classroom. Some of us don’t learn them (follow directions? :-) until much later in life.