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Learning Matters: Preparing students for the real world

March 21, 2014|By Joylene Wagner | By Joylene Wagner

Employers have been talking for years about their challenges finding young employees who are ready for the workplace. They complain of high school and college graduates who lack problem-solving skills, can't work independently or don't function well on a team. They report new hires lacking soft skills such as timeliness and respect for authority.

Educators have once again responded to the business world, much as they did in the mid-1990s when schools shifted the focus of their attention to student outcomes such as test scores tied to subject-matter standards.

Today, 46 of 50 states are making the transition to the new Common Core curriculum aimed at college and career readiness. Schools are expected to develop the kinds of skills employers say are lacking.

In the Department of Education's California Career Pathways Trust grant, established by Assembly Bill 86, applicants must describe how they will develop "personal dispositions" like time management, collaboration, leadership, analytical skills and communication.

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Schools are being encouraged to do away with subject-matter silos, where facts are stored and doled out through lessons and assignments divorced from the realities students face when they graduate. Teachers will be expected to integrate real-world problem-solving into classroom studies, so their students will better understand why their studies matter and how the absence of academic and workplace skills will hamper their own success as working adults.

So employers and educators are in philosophical agreement — but there's a hitch. For the most part, schools operate within school walls, and business and industry operate outside them.

Teachers and administrators don't have much time to knock on industry doors, and they often don't know what to do if "non-educators" come knocking on theirs. Bringing the real world into the education system will be a major undertaking, a seismic shift of cultural fault lines.

The challenge will be particularly tough in the core academic subjects more closely tied to textbooks and tests. Teachers in those subjects might do well to hear from students and teachers in the arts and science electives where real-world connections are already being made.

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