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Posted at 07:39 AM ET, 04/25/2012

Starr advocates for renewed focus on ‘soft skills’ during third book club

Before retiring, former Montgomery superintendent Jerry Weast mapped out seven steps,or “keys,” to college readiness meant to be a road map to higher education for families.

The milestones include

1. Advanced reading in grades k-2

2. Advanced reading MSA in grades 3-8

3. Advanced math in grade 5

4. Algebra I by Grade 8, C or higher

5. Algebra 2 by Grade 11, C or higher

6. Score of 3 on AP exam or 4 on IB exam

7. Score of 1650 on SAT or 24 on the ACT.)
Student Miles Spencer, 17, receives feedback on his resume during an interview as part of work readiness training at the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce (PATRICK FALLON - REUTERS)

During his third and final book club on Tuesday night, current superintendent Joshua Starr said he’s “become convinced” that it’s important to go beyond these (important) basic competencies to be successful in the world today.

To illustrate his point, he selected Tony Wagner’s “The Global Achievement Gap: Why Even Our Best Schools Don’t Teach the New Survival Skills Our Children Need” for discussion.

Wagner argues that schools today, with their focus on memorization and testing, are becoming obsolete, because they are not teaching the critical thinking and communication skills needed in today’s economy.

The Harvard scholar lists his own “seven survival skills” for future graduates:

1. Critical Thinking and Problem-Solving

2. Collaboration Across Networks and Leading by Influence

3. Agility and Adaptability

4. Initiative and Entrepreneurialism

5. Effective Oral and Written Communication

6. Accessing and Analyzing Information

7. Curiosity and Imagination

Despite all the hype over 21st-century skills, few of today’s standardized tests are designed to capture these skills and they are often downplayed in the classroom, Wagner argues.

Starr said they are often thought of as “soft skills,” but they remain fundamentally important. He and a panel of educators and business and community leaders discussed the book and a range of issues, including how to train teachers who have been expected for the past decade to teach to the test, what rigor should look like, how much homework kids should have, and whether Advanced Placement classes do a good job of challenging students to think differently versus simply challenging them to learn more stuff.

It was the last book club in a series designed to share Starr’s educational philosophy.

The first book, “Mindset” by Carol Dweck, introduced the idea that intelligence is malleable, and students can become smarter through hard work.

“Drive,” by Daniel Pink, is about motivation and emphasizes, among other things, that people find motivation by working together on teams.

The third book then looks at how public schools are preparing students for the 21st century.

While he brought the series to a close, Starr offered some summer reading assignments.

“Managing Transitions: Making the Most of Change”

Author: William Bridges Publisher: De Capo, 2009

“Education and the Cult of Efficiency”

Author: Raymond Callahan Publisher: University of Chicago Press, 2009

“Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap—and Others Don’t”

Author: James C. Collins Publisher: Random House Business, 2001

“The Flat World and Education—How America’s Commitment to Equity Will Determine Our Future”

Author: Linda Darling-Hammond Publisher: Teachers College Press, 2010

“Mindset: The New Psychology of Success”

Author: Carol S. Dweck Publisher: Ballantine, 2008

“Death by Meeting: A Leadership Fable ... About Solving the Most Painful Problem in Business”

Author: Patrick Lencioni Publisher: Jossey-Bass, 2004

“Drive: The Surprising Truth about What Motivates Us”

Author: Daniel H. Pink Publisher: Riverhead, 2009

“The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education”

Author: Diane Ravitch Publisher: Basic, 2010

“Change Leadership: A Practical Guide to Transforming Our Schools”

Author: Tony Wagner Publisher: Jossey-Bass, 2006

“The Global Achievement Gap: Why Even Our Best Schools Don’t Teach the New Survival Skills Our Children Need—and What We Can Do About It”

Author: Tony Wagner Publisher: Perseus, 2008

By  |  07:39 AM ET, 04/25/2012

 
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