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Grass Roots Standards Initiative: Even the Big Start Small

I'm on my high horse about soft skills standards lately. Actually, I've been up there for about 2 years now and have yet to get down. Talk about being saddle-sore.

But seriously, you (we) need soft skills standards. And what better way to accomplish this than through a Grass Roost Standards Initiative?

WIOA's Recommendation 7 from “Time for the US to Reskill?” (p.52) specifically addresses the fact that educators and stakeholders must “support action with evidence” by gathering data and utilizing evidence-based initiatives. What better way to accomplish this than by creating standards, teaching their discrete skills, and assessing how well students meet the standards?

The very term itself—“standard”—indicates criteria that are taught, practiced, and assessed. Benchmarks of performance must guide any educational process.

Consider the term in relation to a poultry processing facilities. If there are two different facilities who are comfortable with different levels of cleanliness, we would have a public health crisis. Would you be likely to buy your meat from Plant A if they don’t even have a standards policy in place for refrigerator temperature, processing equipment sanitation, or employee hand-washing procedures? Or would you rather have the Thanksgiving turkey from Plant B who adopts and adheres to strict standards by which these areas are addressed in a regular, ongoing basis with procedures in place to ensure regular assessment and quality control? I’m going with Tom Turkey from Plant B.

Standards make life easier. They give direction for success. They are concise. They are concrete. They are measurable. They are practiced. They are assessed. They are necessary.

Now that we've established the case for standards, why should we write our own?

There are definite advantages to “Standards” with a capital “S.” Everyone is held to the same standard—pun intended!—when it comes to what is done by whom. How is always up for local interpretation…but that’s another story. The Common Core State Standards, and their close cousin the College and Career Readiness Standards for Adult Education, are (despite media hype) an overwhelming success. Instruction has changed, teachers have direction, and students are being held accountable. These are national standards. While some states and institutions have balked at the idea, forty-two of the fifty states have adopted the CCSS, in addition to four territories ( A whole crew of #CoreAdvocates spread the standards gospel through practicing, teaching, and supporting the standards. In short, standards work. Period.

National employability standards sort of seem like a pipe dream at present simply because there is still such an amorphous cloud surrounding the term “soft skills,” but that does not mean that agencies and stakeholders should hold out for national standards. Write your own for your area.

In their book Raising the Standard, Denis P. Doyle and Susan Pimentel (that's right...the rockstar Susan Pimentel--author of the CCSS) say that the standards-writing process “must be homegrown to work” (p. 20). Even though the CCSS are a national effort, they still began as a somewhat Grass Roots Standards Initiative, or GRoSI. As says, “States relied on workgroups of educators, representatives of higher education and other experts to write the standards with significant input from the public in 2009 and 2010. States then appointed a validation committee to review the final standards.” Rather than a top-down effort through the federal government, this classroom-up approach has led to an ownership by most of our country.

Agencies, partners, and communities are more likely to have buy-in and support of the work if they own it. One consistent voice across stakeholders ensures the success of the project long-term.

Then, even as the standards are adopted over a region or larger territory, the local flavor is added at the curricular level in contextualized local classrooms.

So do you think it's too daunting to write your own soft skills standards? Think again! Coming soon: Seamless: Soft Skills in the Classroom and Beyond

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