It wasn’t tech or computer skills that united this morning’s conversations about education between business leaders and Chancellor of New York City Schools Carmen Fariña. The leaders convened at Crain’s Future of New York City Conference Thursday. Instead their common thread was much more old fashioned: writing and so-called “soft skills”.
“One of the weakest skills that I’m seeing across the board is writing,” Fariña said. “We’re going to be looking at very specific writing strategies for high school kids. We already have my professional development team looking at this.”
While Fariña pledged to rework how the city teaches critical writing skills, the employers who spoke at the morning’s second panel reinforced that even in today’s high tech world, social and writing skills remain some of the most important ones they consider when hiring new employees.
“Critical thinking ties into critical writing and the ability to express oneself in words,” Jeffrey Barker NYC Market President of the Bank of America said. “Will you be able to explain intangible products to a customer and engage customers in what is the most emotional product, what’s in their wallet?”
Michael Dowling the President and CEO of North Shore – LIJ Health System, a network of health care facilities, reiterated Barker’s focus on writing and social skills.
“If you can relate in a comprehensive way with people, than obviously you have an issue. And if you cant work with peers you have an issue,” he said. “Call me a dinosaur if you want, but I think it’s important to be able to put language together in a way that makes sense.”
Though Dowling calls himself a “dinosaur,” bringing critical thinking and collaboration into classrooms is actually relatively new to city public schools. These ideas are emphasized under the Common Core Standards, that doesn’t provide a curriculum but rather a set of expectations that schools have for students with hopes of better preparing them for college and careers. Instead of being passive receptors of information, Common Core Standards encourage classroom interactivity and student discussion.
Fariña, who whole-heartedly endorsed the Common Core Standards, worried about one school where where the principal boasted to her you could hear a pin drop it was so silent.
“I said, ‘Look, maybe I shouldn’t come cause if I can hear a pin drop and kids aren’t talking I’m not going to be happy,’” she said.
While two panelists and Fariña agreed on the importance of writing and communication skills as the focus for what the public school system should do to better prepare students for careers, one panelist Jon Brod, the President and co-founder of Confide, brought the conversation back to tech.
“I think we need to inject programming and computer science into the curriculum at the earliest age possible,” he said.