MAKING THE GRADE: How do we prepare students for a world that is still evolving?

By Daily News • Last Updated 12:15 pm on Wednesday, October 09, 2013

Making the Grade | Janet Ralph

This will be the final column in this series on virtual schools, but I can assure you not the last time that we will discuss the issues of school choice, charters, virtual schools and the future of the public schools. These are very important topics. I firmly believe that the future of our democracy depends on a strong system of locally controlled public schools. I also believe that our public school system is at risk.

Parents want the best experience for their children. But so much has changed in the world and with it the mission of the schools. In the 19th century students were sorted into workers and college-bound.  And in those days even students who dropped out could find decent paying jobs.

As former Education Secretary Richard Riley points out, “We are currently preparing students for jobs that don’t yet exist…using technologies that haven’t been invented…in order to solve problems we don’t even know are problems yet.”

And a special supplement publication to Phi Delta Kappan points out that, “Students must be able to participate beyond simply evolving with the world; they must be architects of the revolution.”

All of this can make deciding what is best for your child confusing.

Some information I received from Central Area Michigan Works Consortium raises questions about preparing students for the work force.

The following list of Necessary Attributes/Skills for Today’s Workforce provides helpful information I believe all parents should take into account as they make choices for their students. Will the program in which your child participates help develop the following skills?

Willingness to learn: Understanding the importance of learning new information for both current and future problem solving and decision making. Jobs today may or may not require a four-year college degree, but they will require lifelong learning!

Displays responsible behaviors at work such as showing up on time, maintaining appropriate grooming and hygiene, not attending to personal business on the job and is able to manage stressful situations effectively.

Uses good manners, can maintain confidentiality about matters encountered in the workplace, treats supervisors and co-workers with respect, performs quality work, practices honesty with regard to company time and property.

Takes responsibility for completing one’s own work assignment, shows initiative in carrying out work assignments, takes initiative in seeking opportunities to learn new skills and tasks,  is able to work in teams, and is able to problem solve.

My reading strongly suggests that these skills are as important as academic skills. Moreover, the graduates of today will compete for jobs in a global marketplace. I suggest that when parents are choosing a school for their students they ask what programs the school offers that will develop the skills and attributes listed above and how the institution will demonstrate that graduates will have these and other skills.

Janet Ralph is president of the Greenville Public Schools Board of Education.

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