Readiness as a Right Part 2: Readiness is Real

March 26, 2015

My colleague John Gomperts, CEO of America’s Promise, sums up the country’s heightened focus on improving high school completion well: “A high school diploma doesn’t guarantee that young people are ready for college or work, but the lack of one is the strongest predictor we have that they aren’t.”  He’s absolutely right. And his statement is being further reinforced on multiple fronts by those concerned about the competence (despite valid credentials) of those who show up for college or work.

This increasing focus on readiness – on defining the broader range of skillsets and mindsets youth need to be confident players in school, work and life – is both heartening and overdue. But it is dampened by two things:  an intimidating cacophony of discrete terms (e.g., grit or empathy or self-regulation) and an annoying tendency for people to refer to the aggregate set of abilities by referencing what they are not – non-academic outcomes, non-cognitive skills, soft (versus hard) skills – rather than defining what they are. 

It doesn’t do much good to declare readiness a right if we can’t define it in clear, compelling, consistent language that centers on young people, not on systems. Readiness is “the state of being fully prepared for something.”  The definition of the “something” varies across systems (that is, being ready for kindergarten, college, work, probation, independent living, parenthood and civic life).  Each system has backed into an eclectic list of the “soft” skills needed to achieve the specific end goals for which it is held accountable.  And each, to their credit, is developing innovative solutions to help image001.png@01D06659practitioners achieve these goals. 

The challenge, of course, is the amount of system noise these inspired but fragmented innovations create.  I enjoyed vigorous applause from a ballroom full of California’s most motivated instructional administrators when I flashed this image on the screen.  And this is just some of the language clogging the education airwaves.

The problem isn’t that frontline practitioners and those who support them can’t grasp the nuances of these innovations.  The problem is that they won’t unless we take serious steps to reduce the redundancy, increase the relevance, and acknowledge the reality that many of them are working towards these goals in their own way. 

This is why the Forum decided to take on the task of developing a manageable list of universal readiness abilities that are broad (useful within and across systems), practical (concrete and understandable by all), transparent (easily linked to the research and practice literature) and youth-centered (seen by young people as relevant and aspirational).

The decision to look across systems made our work easier, not harder. One of the main tenets of youth development is that there is a common set of skillsets and mindsets that increase the likelihood of success in all of those “somethings” that can be honed, if they are named and practiced.  Our task: map them, organize them and test their utility for aligning and amplifying efforts.

We’ll be sharing this list broadly for the first time at our Ready by 21 National Meeting next week.  Those who won’t be there, however, can download them now, by visiting

This work is part of The Readiness Project, the Forum’s commitment to dedicate focused time and talent to do two things: one, shine a spotlight on the common traps in youth systems and settings that contribute to growing gaps in young people’s readiness for college, work and life, disproportionately affecting those who are low-income and minority; and two, advance cross-system and cross-sector commitments to name and nurture the common abilities and practices that get young people ready to meet life's demands and responsibilities.

Karen Pittman, a sociologist and recognized leader in youth development, is the cofounder, president and CEO of the Forum for Youth Investment.

readiness is a right


This article is part of the Readiness is a Right blog series, posted under The Readiness Project, a joint effort of The Forum for Youth Investment and SparkAction. Find more blogs and expert views in The Readiness Project Insights section. 


Karen Pittman