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Michigan has been talking about comprehensive school reform for decades. Unfortunately, our words have not turned into results, and our students have paid the price. When comparing national test scores of basic skills, Michigan students are falling behind their peers, putting them at a distinct disadvantage in terms of their economic competitiveness and personal prosperity. Perhaps one of the biggest untold stories about these declines is that it is true for students across the socio-economic spectrum, from schools in upscale suburban bedroom communities to schools in our inner cities to our most remote rural zip codes. Yet, many parents believe our educational challenges aren’t about “their kids.” They’re mistaken.

Michigan’s education system was designed for an economy that existed 20 years ago. This makes our children vulnerable to the complex realities of a knowledge economy.

In response, Gov. Rick Snyder’s 21st Century Education Commission recommended significant shifts in governance, accountability and design.

The world of work our children will enter into is witnessing tremendous change, requiring a nearly constant upgrade in knowledge and skills and the ability to work differently. While our students need to be prepared for this new reality, they are often graduating without the requisite knowledge and skills (technical and soft skills) that prepare them to succeed, and little knowledge of the in-demand jobs and career paths they could choose. The talent needs of Michigan’s employers are significant. In September, the number of job postings on the state of Michigan’s Talent Connect job board was more than 96,000. Many of these jobs require some type of training or education beyond high school.

The technical knowledge or skill required to be a welder, computer programmer, engineer or nurse is only half of the equation. Employers are just as concerned by the lack of soft skills exhibited by high school graduates as they are with finding talent with the technical knowledge to help their business succeed and grow.

These soft skills are described by Kathy Hirsh-Pasek and Roberta Michnick Golinkoff, authors of “Becoming Brilliant” as the 6 Cs: communication, critical thinking, creativity, confidence, content mastery and collaboration. Our work at Talent 2025 finds students are not getting these skills at home or at school. They’re essential to success and their absence should trouble all parents, urban, suburban and rural alike.

Soft skills modeling the 6 Cs represent the character traits and attributes of good students and effective employees. Knowing these skills are valued in the workplace, students need exposure to the world of work with a curriculum that poses real-world problems engages students and creates relevance for learning.

Students need to be prepared for an economy where many of tomorrow’s jobs haven’t been created yet. Short-term employment success and long-term career readiness are not mutually exclusive and can be developed in our schools. There are some promising practices (GoPro, MICareerQuest, Ottawa Area ISD’s Skills4Success, Northview Public Schools Employability Skills program, Kent Innovation High) but these initiatives are not enough and will not reach all students.

Employers have raised the red flags, it is parents who will eventually need to demand the reforms that our students deserve and our state requires to remain an economic powerhouse. Parents from every socio-economic reality are victims of the system’s demise. They must ask questions. They must pursue change. They must do it for their children’s future.

Kevin Stotts is CEO of Talent 2025.

An ongoing series

This is part of a series of editorials, columns and commentaries that will appear throughout the school year exploring ideas for improving our state’s schools. Follow along at detroitnews.com/opinion.

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