Session Name: Implementing a Statewide 21st-Century Schools Initiative
Presenters: Ken Kay, Partnership for 21st Century Skills, Kathy Hurley, Pearson, Doug Levin, Cable in the Classroom, Paige Kuni, Intel, Lillian Kellogg, Education Networks of America (ENA)
Date: 6/25/2007
Time: 12:30 PM

It is 2007, with 2008 coming up ever so rapidly, and one of the buzzphrases here at NECC is 21st Century “fill in the blank”. That is, 21stcentury schools, 21st century student, 21st century teaching, and 21stcentury learning, to name a few. After having attended four sessions so far, the best one featured information on a relatively new initiative focused on defining and helping to implement transformation to a new model: focus on the skills students need rather than just the content.This initiative offered by the non-profit Partnership for 21st CenturySkills (web site http://www.21stcenturyskills.org/).

My initial fears that this session would be another attempt at “workforce development” were immediately allayed when the speakers, all members of the Board of this initiative, spoke of the needs for a new skill base that our schools need to help students develop and assess. These skills include critical thinking, creativity, innovation, communication and collaboration. In addition, fundamentally important will be information, media, and technology skills, as well as life and career skills (such as personal and financial responsibility).

The thesis presented at the session was that while curriculum content has been important (the “20th century model”), going forward it is the learning, life, and technology skills that students accrue that will enable them to compete and prosper in the new flat world where information is reportedly doubling every 24 months now and will double every 72 days by 2020. The approach that the new initiative is taking is distinctively top down – starting with getting buy-in from state leaders and working on down. The initiative offers a state application which was described as an assessment asking for plans on how to implement and measure progress in the key skills areas. The initiative then works with an applicant state. It was a bit unclear exactly how the work proceeds, as it was stated that there had not yet been any capturing of best practices to work from. A launch of a new capability tagged as Route 21, is scheduled for November 7, promising to offer resources via the web site to answer key questions such as what does 21st century formative assessment, curriculum, and professional development really look like?

While many of the sponsors of the 21st century schools initiative are technology companies, such as Apple, Intel, and Cisco, the use of technology to address how these new educational objectives are to be met was not discussed in the session. In that sense (and perhaps explaining my personal affinity for this session) this initiative is aligned well and complementary to the focus of my own organization, the IMS Global Learning Consortium (IMS GLC), which is an advocacy andstandards group focused on the use of technology for enabling andmeasuring “learning impact” (web site: http://www.imsglobal.org/learningimpact/index.html). In fact, the goals of the 21st century skills initiative align perfectly with the focus of IMS GLC on new approaches to developing metacognitive skills in theemerging knowledge age.

When one functions in a global sphere on these issues as I do, one senses that the U.S. is in the strange position where its culture andeconomy created the “rules of the game” but that other countries aresurpassing it in the vision for education for the 21st century. The U.S. still seems to be focused on correcting obvious deficiencies instead of looking ahead to set the “new rules for the game”, perhaps based on a completely new paradigm than that being considered. Some ofthe founding fathers and subsequent leaders in the history of the U.S.were extraordinarily prescient in their vision with respect to both theimportance of education for all and world-leading research, and makingsome key investments to enable those goals. Is U.S. leadership now visionary enough to set new goals for education in the knowledge age and creative and decisive enough to make the investments to achieve them? The Partnership for 21st Century Skills is to be applauded forattempting to set a higher bar, but is it high enough? Whereas the educational approaches and technologies to teach content are well known, those required for the future are not as obvious.

Rob Abel, Chief Executive Officer, IMS Global Learning Consortium