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New Indiana law emphasizes importance of building ‘soft skills’ among K-12 students

by Tim Anderson ~ April 2018 ~ Stateline Midwest »
One year ago at this time, in a discussion started by a member of the Indiana State Board of Education, Sen. Jeff Raatz began thinking about a policy response to one of the biggest concerns raised about students graduating from the state’s K-12 school system.
“How do we help them get the employability skills they need?” Raatz asked.
One of the answers was this year’s passage of SB 297, a measure that will have every public school in the state incorporate those types of skills (also sometimes referred to as “soft skills”) into their K-12 curriculum.
At the elementary level, for example, it might mean students are expected to greet their teacher with a firm handshake and appropriate eye contact. In other classrooms, a greater emphasis could be placed on problem-solving and adaptability, teamwork and social skills, or punctuality and self-management.
“The legislation doesn’t spell out how this should be done; that’s going to be left to the schools and their teachers,” Raatz explains.
However, the Indiana Department of Education will provide guidance to schools by developing new interdisciplinary standards for employability skills — proficiencies that don’t relate to a single subject matter and are needed for success in a wide range of occupations.
SB 297 was passed with near-unanimous support in the Indiana House and Senate, but it did raise some questions of its own. For example, shouldn’t these “soft” skills be learned at home, not school? And is it appropriate for the state to be adding more rules on classroom instruction?
Though he is sensitive to these points, Raatz says nurturing employability skills has become critical — not only for the long-term success of individuals, but for the state’s overall workforce readiness and economic prosperity.
SB 297 also codifies a Work Ethics Certificate Program that has been implemented in some Indiana school districts with state guidance and funding assistance. Students can graduate with this certificate if they have an attendance rate of 98 percent or higher, maintain a GPA of at least 2.0, complete at least six hours of community service, and don’t have disciplinary problems.
In addition, three teachers must sign the certificate vouching for the student’s employability skills in five areas: 1) perseverance and problem solving, 2) positive attitude and acceptance of others, 3) self-starter and critical thinker, 4) responsibility and teamwork, and 5) punctual and organized.

 

Article written by Tim Anderson, CSG Midwest staff liaison for the Midwestern Legislative Conference Education Committee.