The nature of education, work, life, and civic engagement is changing in our increasingly competitive and globally interconnected world. Unfortunately, most high schools in the United States have not kept pace with these changes. Studies such as the Trends in International Mathematics and Science and the Programme for International Student Assessment demonstrate the United States does not fare as well as some other developed countries in preparing students with skills critical to success in this century.
Creating high schools that truly will improve learning demands a clear understanding of the knowledge, skills, and attributes that are increasingly important for every high school graduate. Today’s graduates need to be critical thinkers, problem solvers, and effective communicators who are proficient in both core subjects and new, 21st-century content and skills. Every school in America must prepare its graduates to thrive in the 21st century, whether they go on to college, career preparation, or the workplace.
This is an ambitious goal. Yet America must focus on achieving the results that matter–21st-century skills integrated with core academic subjects–to meet the significant educational and economic challenges we face in this century. The good news is that a growing movement is infusing 21st-century skills into education. The Partnership for 21st-Century Skills, a leading nonprofit advocacy organization consisting of 26 organizations and corporations, has developed a unified framework for 21st-century learning to strengthen America’s schools.
Besides the standard core subjects such as English, math, science, history, government, economics, art, and foreign languages, this framework also includes:
The Partnership’s members enthusiastically endorse this report and are committed to working with state and local leaders as they seek educational solutions relevant to their students, schools, and communities in the 21st century. We are pleased to share examples of how two states are implementing this vision.
In April 2005, North Carolina became our first state partner when Gov. Mike Easley created the nation’s first Center for 21st-Century Skills. Today, the Center is working with business leaders, educators, and policy makers statewide to ensure that high school students graduate with this new 21st-century skill set. Gov. Easley’s effort is focused on infusing the state’s curriculum, standards, assessment, and professional development with 21st-century skills.
West Virginia became our second state partner when Gov. Joe Manchin launched the West Virginia 21st-Century Skills Initiative in November. Under the leadership of State Superintendent Steve Paine, the West Virginia Department of Education is addressing the need for 21st-century skills by infusing them into the state’s standards, curriculum, and assessments as well as targeting funding for coaching and professional development to foster the change.
We encourage other states to join North Carolina and West Virginia in the critical mission of infusing 21st-century skills into every K-12 system. Local school leaders can also become involved:
We know 21st-century skills can be successfully infused into every classroom as we work with key state and local leaders to build consensus on what will best improve students’ success in work and life. We must leverage the learnings and framework of the Partnership and the member companies and organizations to work hand in hand in ensuring that every child in America is successful in the 21st century. We should expect no less.
John Wilson is executive director of the National Education Association, Karen Cator is director of education leadership and advocacy for Apple Computer, and Helen Soulé is executive director of Cable in the Classroom.