America should begin now to equip students with a new set of “21st-century” skills, according to the latest report released June 25 by the CEO Forum on Education and Technology, a national partnership between business and education executives.

Because testing now drives so much of the K-12 curriculum, said forum co-chair Bill Rodrigues, vice president and general manager for education and healthcare at Dell Computer Corporation, education and political leaders soon should begin to incorporate those 21st century skills into tests of student achievement. But first, he added in an interview with eSchool News, educators and others need to identify what those skills are.

The nation’s investment in school technology will pay off, the new report said, only if student achievement is technology’s ultimate objective.

Titled “Key Building Blocks for Student Achievement in the 21st Century,” the new report, which concludes a five-year analysis, said technology is most effective when used to support such fundamentals as assessing progress toward educational goals, creating equitable access to learning opportunities for all students, and establishing accountability for student outcomes.

The report goes on to define the new set of skills students will need in the 21st-century work place, including digital literacy, inventive thinking, effective communication, and the ability to work as a team—skills, the report said, many students lack and few schools teach.

“It’s critical to prepare students for the digital economy of tomorrow, and the best way to do so is to begin incorporating 21st-century skills into their educational experience and closely measuring the results,” said Joan Kratz, vice president of large business services for BellSouth Corp. and a CEO Forum member.

“Technology is present in every aspect of business. The future of our nation’s work force hinges on our ability to provide the tools and the skill set needed to effectively manage and utilize eBusiness technologies,” she said.

“We need to have citizens who can help make policy decisions about things like biotechnology,” agreed Anne Bryant, executive director of the National School Boards Association and another CEO Forum co-chair. “It’s a different world we’re getting kids ready for.”

The forum’s annual snapshot shows that students in American schools are only slowly moving toward developing the new skills—despite the fact that these skills are increasingly required by employers.

To ensure that the nation’s investment in education technology improves student achievement, the CEO Forum offers these six recommendations for schools, government, and parents:

  • Focus education technology investments on specific educational objectives;

  • Make the development of 21st-century skills a key educational objective;

  • Align student assessment with educational objectives while including 21st-century skills;

  • Adopt continuous improvement strategies to measure student progress;

  • Increase investment in research and development and dissemination of best practices; and

  • Ensure equitable access to technology for all students.

“The real message is that we’ve got to tie the technology outcomes to education objectives and student achievement. That is what it’s all about,” said Bryant.

By encouraging the development of 21st-century skills within the school curriculum, the CEO Forum concludes that student achievement levels will expand from the traditional “three Rs” to a higher level of thought processing.

“Assessment, achievement, alignment, accountability, access, and analysis all need to revolve around the link between educational objectives and the use of technology,” Bryant said. “We believe this focus will produce exciting results.”

Educators mostly agree the recommendations are a good place for school leaders to start when planning for the future.

“I think the CEO Forum report is a frank admission that simply putting a computer on Johnny’s desktop is not going to make us a more competitive nation,” said Rick Bauer, chief information officer for the Hill School, in Pennsylvania. “Equally superficial is the idea that somehow we are going to see an improvement in [grade-point averages] with faster computers.”

Contrary to what some people believe, Bauer said, there is no correlation between a school district’s test scores and the speed and quality of its computers.

“I think some educators were sold that line,” he said. “With this report, there is a realization that technology has to be marbled throughout the school culture to be effective.”

Bruce Manning, technology coordinator for Plainfield Public Schools in Connecticut, generally agrees with the report’s recommendations but worries that concerns about infrastructure and connectivity are still roadblocks for some schools.

“Don’t underestimate the current condition of many schools that still require infrastructure and modern computers,” he said. “An infrastructure and hardware base should be required first. From that point on, specific educational objectives can be clarified.”

The big challenge now, said Bauer, is how to measure the “21st-century skills” advocated by the report. “The questions now is, how do we codify someone’s ability to collaborate?” he said.

Last in a series

“Key Building Blocks for Student Achievement in the 21st Century” is the fourth and last in a series of reports that has explored the impact of technology in the classroom.

The CEO Forum’s first report, released in October 1997 and titled “From Pillars to Progress,” examined the four pillars set out by President Clinton for using technology to improve education: hardware, connectivity, professional development, and content.

The report noted the gains schools had made installing hardware and connecting to the internet, but it challenged schools to move beyond infrastructure by implementing all four pillars, and it included a yardstick for measuring progress, an instrument called the School Technology and Readiness (STaR) Chart.

The group’s Year Two report, “Professional Development: A Link to Better Learning,” focused on staff development and technology training. Released in February 1999, it recommended several steps to ensure that teachers are well-equipped to prepare kids for a digital future.

Among these recommendations were that (1) schools of education should make sure tomorrow’s teachers know how to use technology in the classroom; (2) current teachers and administrators should be brought up to speed on how to integrate technology into the curriculum; (3) policy makers should create systems that reward educators for using technology in an effective manner; and (4) the business community should collaborate with educational institutions to make sure students are ready for the next century.

The Year Three report, released in June 2000, was titled “The Power of Digital Learning” and focused on integrating digital content. The report made two primary recommendations for success, once schools had committed to a vision of digital learning.

First, the forum urged administrators to conduct an inventory of their schools’ digital content to determine possible sources of and purposes for this content. Once a district had determined its needs, the group recommended that educators increase their investment in the right kinds of digital content.

“The Year Four report is the culmination of the other three reports,” said Bryant. “We first came together in response to the [Clinton] administration’s call to enact the four pillars of technology in education. And we’ve added a fifth pillar—that is student achievement.”

For more information about the CEO Forum on Education and Technology or to get a copy of any of these reports, you can visit the group’s web site or call (202) 585-0250.
—With additional reporting by Gregg W. Downey, editor of eSchool News.

Links:

CEO Forum on Education and Technology
http://www.ceoforum.org

CEO Forum Year Four Report
http://www.ceoforum.org/downloads/report4.pdf

BellSouth Corp.
http://www.bellsouth.com

Dell Computer Corporation
http://www.dell.com/us/en/gen/default.htm

National School Boards Association
http://www.nsba.org