America should begin to equip students with a set of 21st-century skills, according to a 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 health care at Dell Computer Corp., 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 those skills.

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

The new report, “Key Building Blocks for Student Achievement in the 21st Century,” concludes a five-year analysis. It 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 defines the new skills students need as digital literacy, inventive thinking, effective communication, and the ability to work as a team–skills, the report said, that 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 workforce 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 cochair. “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 employers increasingly require these skills of their employees.

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

  • Focus ed-tech 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.

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

“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 that the recommendations are a good place for school leaders to start planning.

“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, also agrees with the report’s recommendations but worries that infrastructure and connectivity are still roadblocks for many 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 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 from the CEO Forum exploring the impact of technology in the classroom.

The group’s first report, “From Pillars to Progress,” noted the gains schools had made installing hardware and connecting to the internet, but also challenged schools to move beyond infrastructure and 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,” recommended steps to ensure that teachers are well-equipped to prepare kids for the future. The Year Three report, titled “The Power of Digital Learning,” focused on integrating 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 [hardware, connectivity, training, and content]. And we’ve added a fifth pillar–that is student achievement.”–With additional reporting by Gregg W. Downey, editor of eSchool News.

Links:

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