Texas grapples with evolution in new science standards

The latest chapter in a long-running debate over how evolution should be taught in public schools opened Jan. 21 as the Texas State Board of Education ramped up its review of the state’s science standards. Experts say the state’s actions could have significant implications for schools nationwide, because Texas is one of the country’s largest purchasers of textbooks–and publishers are reluctant to produce different versions of the same material.

Experts and activists concerned about the way evolution will be taught in Texas schools made their case before the state’s education board Jan. 21.

Dozens of people, including a six-member expert review panel, lined up to testify as the board considers new science curriculum standards that will be in place for the next decade. The standards also will dictate how publishers handle the topic in textbooks.

The crowd–as well as the review panel–was sharply split on the proposal to drop language in the current curriculum that requires teachers to address "strengths and weaknesses" of scientific theory.

Instead, a panel of science experts recommended that students use critical thinking, scientific reasoning, and problem solving to analyze and evaluate scientific explanations.

Critics say the use of the word "weaknesses" has been used to undermine Darwin’s theory of evolution and instead promote the Biblical version of creationism, or intelligent design.

"In science education, ‘weaknesses’ has become a code word in the culture wars to attack evolution and promote creationism," said Kathy Miller, president of the watchdog group Texas Freedom Network. "If it weren’t, we wouldn’t see this crusade by some of the board members and outside pressure groups to keep this single word in the science standards."

"These weaknesses that they bring forward are decades old, and they have been refuted many, many times over," Kevin Fisher, a past president of the Science Teachers Association of Texas, told the New York Times after testifying. "It’s an attempt to bring false weaknesses into the classroom in an attempt to get students to reject evolution."

Critics of dropping the "weaknesses" mandate blame "left-wing ideology" for trying to stifle free speech. The review panel, which was appointed by the education board, has suggested putting similar language back in.

"The board is being asked to choose between free and open scientific inquiry and censorship," said Jonathan Saenz, a lobbyist for the Free Market Foundation. "That’s an easy choice."

Last year, legislation permitting criticism of Darwinism in schools was introduced in Florida, Missouri, South Carolina, Alabama, Michigan, and Louisiana, according to the Discovery Institute, a Seattle-based think tank that supports teaching students about the criticism of evolution.

A tentative vote in Texas is expected later this week, but the board is not expected to make a final decision on the curriculum proposal until March.

Much of the Jan. 21 testimony focused on the scientific evidence of evolution.

"I hope you understand now that there are good reasons to think that, yes, evolution has weaknesses that reasonable people can see, that, yes, those weaknesses do really influence the theory," said Ralph Seelke, a biology professor at the University of Wisconsin-Superior, who served on the review panel.

Eugenie Scott, executive director of the California-based National Center for Science Education, said the proposal to drop the inclusion of the term "weaknesses" is a "superior critical thinking standard."

"Abandoning the inaccurate ‘strengths and weaknesses’ language does not encourage the singling out of evolution for special treatment," Scott said.

In the past, conservatives on the education board have lacked the votes they need to change the standards. This year, both sides say, the final vote is likely to be close.

Even as federal courts have banned the teaching of creationism and intelligent design in biology courses, social conservatives have gained 7 of 15 seats on the Texas board in recent years, and they enjoy the strong support of Republican Gov. Rick Perry.

Links:

Texas State Board of Education

Texas Freedom Network

Science Teachers Association of Texas

Free Market Foundation

Discovery Institute

National Center for Science Education

Note to readers:

Don’t forget to visit the Math Intervention resource center. U.S. students are lagging behind their peers in other countries in math achievement, fortunately education companies are responding with solutions. Go to: Math Intervention

tags

Judge delays hearing in file-sharing case

A federal judge has postponed a hearing in a high-profile music file-sharing case that would have been the first in federal court in Massachusetts to be streamed online.

Judge Nancy Gertner postponed oral arguments set for Jan. 22 in the copyright infringement lawsuit that pits a Boston University graduate student against the music recording industry. Proceedings will resume Feb. 24.

Gertner said the delay would give the First Circuit Court of Appeals time to resolve an extraordinary petition by the recording industry challenging how the court recording will be made and distributed.

The lawsuit is one of a series filed by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) since 2003 against about 35,000 people who allegedly swapped songs online. Most of those sued are college students, and many have defaulted or settled for amounts between $3,000 and $10,000, often without legal counsel.

Charles Nesson, a Harvard professor representing BU student Joel Tenenbaum, is challenging the constitutionality of the lawsuits, which–based on the Digital Theft Deterrence and Copyright Damages Improvement Act of 1999–can impose damages of $150,000 per willful act of infringement.

Nesson had asked Gertner to authorize video cameras already installed in courtrooms to be used to capture the proceedings and transmit the material to Harvard’s Berkman Center for the Internet and Society, which would then stream it on its web site for free.

Gertner approved the request last week and authorized New York-based Courtroom View Network, which has webcast state court trials, to "narrowcast" proceedings to the Berkman Center.

But the RIAA objected, contending that a webcast could be prejudicial and misleading because "the broadcast will be readily subject to editing and manipulation by any reasonable tech-savvy individual." The group said statements from the hearing might be taken out context.

Nesson took Tenenbaum’s case after a federal judge in Boston asked his office to represent the 24-year-old student, who was among dozens of people who appeared in court in recording industry trade group cases without legal help.

Tenenbaum is accused of downloading at least seven songs and making 816 music files available for distribution on the Kazaa file-sharing network in 2004. He offered to settle the case for $500, but music companies rejected that, ultimately demanding $12,000. He could be forced to pay $1 million if it is determined that his alleged actions were willful.

The RIAA has said in court documents that its efforts to enforce the copyright law are protected under the First Amendment.

In December, the group said it has abandoned its policy of suing people for sharing songs protected by copyright and instead will work with schools and internet service providers to cut abusers’ access if they ignore repeated warnings. (See "RIAA drops effort to sue song swappers.") The RIAA said it would still continue to litigate outstanding cases, however.

Links:

Recording Industry Association of America

Berkman Center for the Internet and Society

tags

Canadian school division fined for software piracy

When hearing about organizations involved in software piracy, schools probably wouldn’t be the first culprits to come to mind. But for the Chinook school division in southwest Saskatchewan, the issue of software piracy very quickly became front and center, reports the Regina Leader-Post. It all started when the school division received a letter last June from the Business Software Alliance (BSA), an organization that operates on behalf of the software industry to promote safety and legality in the digital marketplace. "We received a letter … indicating we had some unlicensed programming in one of our schools, and they gave us details on it," said Liam Choo-Foo, director of education for the Chinook school division. He said the division looked into the matter and was able to verify the details from BSA, including the number of machines and the type of software in question. The software was a program used to teach students about drafting. While the school, which Choo-Foo cannot identify, had one license purchased for the software, the program ended up being installed on 30 computers in a practical/applied arts lab at the school. BSA originally requested the school division pay 2.5 times the manufacturer’s suggested retail price in damages, equaling between $600,000 and $650,000. However, Choo-Foo said through negotiations between the lawyers for BSA and the school division, the matter was settled out of court for $195,000 last fall…

Click here for the full story

tags

Mother, son indicted in online tutoring scheme

A Minneapolis mother and son who ran an online tutoring program face federal fraud and conspiracy charges after they allegedly collected more than $2 million in state tax refunds meant for low-income families, reports the Minneapolis Star Tribune. Carolyn Louper-Morris, 62, and William John Morris Jr., 41, who run CyberStudy 101, were both charged in U.S. District Court with one count of mail/wire fraud conspiracy, seven counts of wire fraud, four counts of mail fraud, one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering, and four counts of promotion money laundering. William Morris also was charged with one count of making and subscribing a false return. Their scheme revolved around the Minnesota Education Tax Credit, which gives low-income residents a tax credit for enrolling their K-12 children in supplemental educational programs, often resulting in tax refunds for the families. Louper-Morris and Morris told families that they wouldn’t have to pay for the program up front if they would agree to allow CyberStudy to file a tax return and claim the education tax credit. The clients who agreed also would receive a free computer and internet access for life, according to the indictment. In 2001 and 2002, CyberStudy filed tax returns on behalf of more than 1,800 people and received more than $2 million in tax credit payments from the Minnesota Department of Revenue. The computers that Louper-Morris and Morris gave to their clients mostly came from Kmart, which sold CyberStudy the computers for $529. CyberStudy gave out more than 2,000 computers worth more than $1 million, but never paid Kmart, according to the indictment…

Click here for the full story

tags

New web site connects K-12, higher-education communities

Achieve, an organization created by the nation’s governors and business leaders to ensure that students graduate from high school prepared for college and careers, has launched “Postsecondary Connection,” a new online toolkit to help higher-education leaders effectively engage with the K-12 community to ensure that high school graduates enter college ready for success. “The only way to ensure that high school graduates are prepared to succeed in college is if the K-12 and higher-education communities work together,” said Nevin Brown, director of Achieve’s Postsecondary Initiative. “With Postsecondary Connection, we have developed an online resource to give higher-education leaders the tools and support they need to connect with their K-12 counterparts and get the job done.” The site features tools, data, and strategies that postsecondary leaders can use to sell the link between high school and postsecondary achievement, as well as information on policy efforts that can help smooth students’ transition from high school to college. “Our ultimate goal is to be sure all students have the college-ready knowledge and skills they need to be successful in a changing economy,” added Brown. “Postsecondary Connection offers higher education leaders one more resource to make that goal a reality.”

http://www.postsecconnect.org

tags

Crowds flood National Mall to witness history

As more than a million people flooded the National Mall in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 20 to watch Barack Obama become the first black president of the United States, many had high hopes for what he can do for education while in office–including the new president himself.

"Our schools fail too many," Obama said during his inauguration speech to a huge crowd that nodded in agreement. "Today I say to you that the challenges we face are real. They are serious, and they are many. They will not be met easily or in a short span of time. But know this, America: They will be met."

Those challenges include making sure all students in America have equal access to a high-quality education, said Juan Ulloa, who traveled to the inauguration from El Centro, Calif., with his grandson to witness Obama’s inauguration.

"There is a big divide between the educated and the uneducated. And the number of uneducated is growing," he said. "We need to inspire our young people and reaffirm the importance of education. And we need to inspire our legislators to reaffirm the importance of education–education for everyone."

Marzi Branyan, 12, said the main thing she hopes Obama can do for education is to make sure all children are educated the same way. She and her mother, Roya Bauman, traveled from Greenbelt, Md., for the ceremony.

George White, who watched the swearing-in ceremony with his 12-year-old son on his shoulders, said he just hopes Obama focuses on education in general.

"We’ve all been talking a lot about the economy, but we need to focus on education in a big way, especially in Georgia," he said. White lives in Marietta, Ga. "If we want to stimulate this economy, we have to educate from kindergarten through college … and make college more accessible."

At the Bytes and Books Inaugural Ball later that night, advocates of educational technology spoke of their hopes for the Obama administration, including expanding broadband internet access for schools and homes and making lawmakers understand that education is important to economic stimulation. The ball was thrown by the National Coalition for Technology in Education and Training (NCTET).

"We need to have free internet access to all students, homes, and parents," said George Lucas, filmmaker and NCTET community builder award recipient. "We need to push to advocate for free internet for schools–[including] parents, teachers, and everyone connected to schools."

Barbara Stein, senior policy analyst with the National Education Association, said there is no issue more important to the economy than education. "Education is key to economic recovery," she said.

Linda Darling-Hammond, who was Obama’s education advisor during his transition to the presidency and a recipient of NCTET’s education leadership award, said it is because education is so important to stimulating the economy that Obama spoke so urgently about it during his campaign–and the inauguration itself.

"In reaffirming the greatness of our nation, we understand that greatness is never a given. It must be earned," Obama said. "Starting today, we must pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and begin again the work of remaking America. For everywhere we look, there is work to be done. The state of the economy calls for action, bold and swift, and we will act–not only to create new jobs, but to lay a new foundation for growth. We will build the roads and bridges, the electric grids, and digital lines that feed our commerce and bind us together. We will restore science to its rightful place … and we will transform our schools and colleges and universities to meet the demands of a new age. All this we can do. And all this we will do."

Obama said that while the country’s challenges might be new, the values of America have remained the same since the country began.

"Our challenges may be new. The instruments with which we meet them may be new. But those values upon which our success depends–hard work and honesty, courage and fair play, tolerance and curiosity, loyalty and patriotism–these things are old. These things are true," he said.

On the National Mall, the crowd stretched nearly two miles–from the Capitol to the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, where Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his "I Have a Dream" speech.

The bulk of the crowd was jammed into the area between the west front of the Capitol and the Washington Monument, where people stood shoulder-to-shoulder as Obama was sworn in.

Slightly after noon on Jan. 20, Obama stood on the Capitol steps, placed his left hand on the Bible used by Abraham Lincoln, and repeated the inaugural oath "to preserve, protect, and defend" a Constitution that originally defined blacks as three-fifths of a person. A deafening cheer went up.

"This is the meaning of our liberty and our creed–why men and women and children of every race and every faith can join in celebration across this magnificent Mall, and why a man whose father less than 60 years ago might not have been served at a local restaurant can now stand before you to take a most sacred oath," Obama said, drawing cheers from the crowd. "So let us mark this day with remembrance, of who we are and how far we have traveled."

Many in the crowd hugged each other, slapped high-fives, chanted "yes we can"–Obama’s campaign slogan–and some even cried as Obama took his oath of office. Many more were simply in awe of what they were witnessing.

"This is some wonderful history, and I’m actually here to see it," said one member of the crowd.

Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.

tags

File-sharing hearing to be shown online

With oral arguments set to begin this week in a copyright-infringement lawsuit that pits a Boston University graduate student against the music recording industry, the federal judge overseeing the case has authorized the use of live video streaming to make the proceedings public.

U.S. District Court Judge Nancy Gertner restricted the live online streaming to a Jan. 22 hearing, saying she will decide later whether to make other proceedings in the case, set for March 30 trial, available online.

The lawsuit is one of a series filed by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) since 2003 against about 35,000 people who allegedly swapped songs online. Most of those sued are college students, and many have defaulted or settled for amounts between $3,000 and $10,000, often without legal counsel.

Charles Nesson, a Harvard University professor representing BU student Joel Tenenbaum, of Providence, R.I., is challenging the constitutionality of the lawsuits, which–based on the Digital Theft Deterrence and Copyright Damages Improvement Act of 1999–can impose damages of $150,000 per willful act of infringement.

Nesson had asked Gertner to authorize video cameras already installed in courtrooms to be used to capture the proceedings and transmit the material to Harvard’s Berkman Center for the Internet and Society, which will then stream it on its web site for free. Gertner approved the request and authorized New York-based Courtroom View Network, which has webcast state court trials, to "narrowcast" proceedings to the Berkman Center.

Gertner said local district judges have the discretion under the guidelines of the policy-setting federal Judicial Conference to allow recording and broadcasting when it serves the public interest, particularly of legal arguments without the presence of witnesses and jurors in a case.

"The public benefit of offering a more complete view of these proceedings is plain, especially via a medium so carefully attuned to the Internet Generation captivated by these file-sharing lawsuits," Gertner said.

"The defendants are primarily members of a generation that has grown up with the internet, who get their news from it, rather than from the traditional forms of public communication, such as newspapers or television," she said.

She dismissed as "specious" the recording industry’s objections that publicity will influence potential jurors and said she has received assurances that the video stream will be unedited and available to all non-commercial users.

Gertner also said streaming court proceedings online will serve the recording industry’s stated objective of discouraging people from illegally sharing music online.

Nesson took Tenenbaum’s case after a federal judge in Boston asked his office to represent the 24-year-old student, who was among dozens of people who appeared in court in recording industry trade group cases without legal help.

Tenenbaum is accused of downloading at least seven songs and making 816 music files available for distribution on the Kazaa file-sharing network in 2004. He offered to settle the case for $500, but music companies rejected that, ultimately demanding $12,000. He could be forced to pay $1 million if it is determined that his alleged actions were willful.

The RIAA has said in court documents that its efforts to enforce the copyright law are protected under the First Amendment.

In December, the group said it has abandoned its policy of suing people for sharing songs protected by copyright and instead will work with schools and internet service providers to cut abusers’ access if they ignore repeated warnings. (See "RIAA drops effort to sue song swappers.") The RIAA said it would still continue to litigate outstanding cases, however.

Links:

Recording Industry Association of America

Berkman Center for the Internet and Society

Note to readers:

Don’t forget to visit the Video Security in Schools resource center. Technology can play an important part in keeping students, schools, and educators safe, both inside school buildings and outside on campus. Go to: Video Security in Schools

tags

Schools make inauguration a teachable moment

Schools across the country used the Jan. 20 inauguration of President Barack Obama as a teaching opportunity, broadcasting the historic event live in their classrooms and using web sites and other technologies to help provide historical context.

"It’s a terrific opportunity for schools to share in the excitement that the rest of the country is feeling," said Nina Senatore, assistant professor of education at Simmons College in Boston.

At CIVA Charter School in Colorado Springs, Colo., educators used the inauguration to highlight the history of race relations. Students, mostly in 11th and 12th grades, made presentations about the 1954 Brown vs. Board of Education case, Rosa Parks, and the Little Rock 9 in a Jan. 20 program. The school also broadcast the inauguration live on a big screen.

"I really hope the students understand how far we have come and feel wonderful optimism regarding the future of more equality," said principal Randy Zimmerman.

Tidewater Community College in Norfolk, Va., showed a live webcast of the inauguration in its downtown theater, the TCC Roper Performing Arts Center, said spokeswoman Laurie White. The Roper is a restored 1926 Loew’s Theatre that seats up to 800 people. Political science and history professors led an informal discussion after the swearing-in.

Hathaway Brown School, an all-girls K-12 school in Shaker Heights, Ohio, offered continuous viewing of the inauguration throughout the entire school, including the dining hall, classrooms, and the auditorium. Students and teachers could write their thoughts in a scrapbook about what the day meant to them.

Online, educators had plenty of resources from which to draw as they put together lesson plans in honor of the event.

Pearson Social Studies, a division of educational publisher Pearson Education, offered a guide to past inaugurations at www.pearsonschool.com/socialstudies/inauguration. The site gives an in-depth look at the people, places, and events that make up the nation’s presidential history.

"Close to two million people [were] expected to attend the Obama inauguration, but most of us won’t be able to get there, so we thought we’d invite educators to let us help them commemorate the day," said Michael Gee, Pearson Social Studies vice president. "Our site presents an enormous amount of visually stimulating, interactive information that will stay relevant to classrooms long after Mr. Obama is sworn into office."

The site’s "Inaugural Factfile" focuses on media coverage, famous addresses, inaugural trivia, and life after the presidency, and it includes the collected inaugural addresses of every U.S. president. "The Presidency: Old and New" includes biographies of presidents, vice presidents, cabinet members, First Families, and more. An "Elections" section spotlights campaigns, voter participation facts from 1930 to the present, and residency requirements for voting.

The National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers, the nation’s largest teachers unions, teamed up to offer a set of online instructional guides developed jointly by a team of curriculum experts (www.pic2009.org).

The guides include information about the 2009 inaugural and past ceremonies, as well as suggestions for supplementing these lessons with discussion topics, films, books, and other educational web sites. A section called "Living History" encourages students to continue studying American government and the presidency beyond Inauguration Day. The materials are geared toward students from elementary school to high school, and they offer lesson modifications based on students’ ages.

"It is crucial that our students understand that we are not only living history and making history with this inauguration, but also carrying forward the historical contributions of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and his influence on our incoming 44th president," said NEA President Dennis Van Roekel. "These important lesson plans will help students understand President Obama’s message of a ‘sense of unity and shared purpose’ into the next four years and beyond."

NEA also partnered with kidthing to launch a project called "Dear Mr. President." Kidthing, a free digital media player, allows kids to download and read books, play games, and watch videos using a computer.

Through the kidthing web site, students can submit letters and drawings expressing their hopes, dreams, and ideas to President Obama. Owing to popular demand, the deadline for entries was extended from Inauguration Day to January 27, 2009.  Students and educators can learn more at www.kidthing.com.

ePals, a company that operates a global network of K-12 schools and their students, oversaw a similar video project. On Nov. 4, 2008, ePals asked students nationwide to submit their thoughts directly to Obama through Your Presidential Minute, a contest hosted on the company’s election-focused web site, 2008 Election Central.

Students from all over the world submitted one-minute videos, audio recordings, and presentations expressing their views to Obama and his new administration. ePals has compiled the best responses and has shared them with Obama’s transition team and with members of the ePals Global Community.   

In one of the videos, a student from Kenya says: "Every child in the world needs education. Education empowers us mentally. The mind is the most powerful tool you have. In you, Mr. President, we see the evidence of what an empowered mind can achieve."

tags

New technology a big draw for school’s library

An injection of $30,000 worth of new computer technology into the Mifflinburg Area High School library has resulted in more student visits and nearly triple the amount of subject research, reports the Daily Item of Sunbury, Pa. And the dramatic spike has been achieved within three months, according to librarian Eileen Slaby. "My goal was to double it at the end of the year," she said of research hits being made on the school’s Power Library search engine. "To see it happen by mid-year is absolutely wonderful." Slaby received a $30,000 grant last summer from the Library Services and Technology Act through the Office of Commonwealth Libraries. It was used to buy a laptop cart with 30 laptops, an LCD projector, a printer, and an electronic whiteboard. Slaby said the main goal of the grant is to develop more collaboration between the library and teachers. But the new technology also has been a big attraction for students, she said. "It’s nothing to see 70 students in here at one time," said Slaby, adding that students also are allowed to sign out a laptop to use in the classroom. "That’s definitely more than there was before we got the new technology." Slaby said the impact was immediate. "Power Library indicated the library had 8,054 searches made in September through December last year, while during the same time this past fall, there were 19,373 searches done," she said, adding that with the laptops, the library now has 66 computers available. "As we can see, the technology is doing what it’s supposed to do."

Click here for the full story

tags

Tech giants vow to change global assessments

Microsoft, Intel, and Cisco–three technology giants that last year vowed to increase their efforts aimed at global education reform–have banded together to develop the next generation of assessments: tests that measure 21st-century skills and provide a global framework for excellence.

At the Learning and Technology Forum in London earlier this month, the three companies unveiled plans to underwrite a multi-sector research project to develop new approaches, methods, and technologies for measuring the success of 21st-century teaching and learning efforts in classrooms around the world.

"As employers of tomorrow’s talent, we have a common interest in bringing together the power and reach of our companies to improve learning outcomes so students are equipped to succeed in a dynamic, technology-rich world," said Anoop Gupta, corporate vice president of education projects and the Unlimited Potential program at Microsoft. "But more generally, as members of the global economic and social community, it is in our long-term interest to support education reform that leads to widespread economic development and a more prosperous global society."

The three companies have a long history of supporting education initiatives and have worked together successfully in the past with other organizations to support education reform. For example, the firms developed the UNESCO ICT Competency Framework for Teachers and were the founding members of the World Economic Forum’s Global Education Initiative, which aims to transform education through public-private partnerships.

"We believe that collectively we can have a greater impact," said Gupta. "This collaboration is also a response to the needs of customers, particularly governments, as they seek greater efficiency, effectiveness, and–frankly–simplicity in their partner relationships."

Martina Roth, director of global education strategy for Intel’s Corporate Affairs Group, agreed that the collective efforts of the three companies are stronger than any individual firm alone.

"The link between successful educational systems and strong economies is indisputable. However, there is a disconnect between what goes on in schools now and what goes on in today’s workplace. By not ensuring that our children are equipped for the workplace, we are doing them a disservice and ultimately harming ourselves and our economies," Roth said.

Based on extensive research, Cisco, Microsoft, and Intel concluded that most education systems have not kept pace with the dramatic changes in the economy and the skill sets that are required for students to succeed. These skills include the ability to think critically and creatively, to work cooperatively, and to adapt to the evolving use of information and communications technology (ICT) in business and society.

Schools also need a consistent way to measure success in these areas, company officials said.

"The goal isn’t to assess ICT independently," explained Gupta, "but to incorporate ICT into measuring other skills that are invaluable in the 21st-century workplace. New assessments can provide information that students, teachers, parents, administrators, and policy makers need to catalyze and support systemic education reform."

The companies said there is no specific model that the project will be looking for. Rather, it will aim to inform school leaders of the characteristics of effective learning environments that can deliver 21st-century skills and assessments.

The three firms also announced the appointment of Australian academic Barry McGaw, director of the Melbourne Education Research Institute at the University of Melbourne, as executive director of the project.

McGaw was previously the education director of the Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD), where he was a key figure in the development of the OECD’s Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), which measures the reading, mathematics, and scientific skills of 250,000 students from 32 countries.

"Part of the challenge in creating an assessment of 21st-century skills is that there is no universally accepted definition of what is meant when we talk about 21st-century skills," Gupta said.

One of the working groups that McGaw will direct is tasked with making a recommendation on a standardized set of 21st-century skills and their measurement, "taking advantage of work that already exists in this area," said Gupta. Senta Raizen, director of the National Center for Improving Science Education at WestEd, will be in charge of that group.

McGaw and his team of researchers, especially John Bransford and his working group on learning environments, also will look into innovative classroom practices globally and identify those practices that support 21st-century skills.

"The reason why students in innovative classrooms haven’t scored better than those in traditional classrooms is because the assessments were measuring the wrong skills," said Roth. "Therefore, the focus is [on changing assessments] to appropriately measure 21st-century skills, thus influencing teaching and learning, as well as curricula changes."

McGaw will oversee an executive committee, a project lead team, and up to 50 leading experts and innovators in academia and government.

"Reforming assessment is essential to enabling any systemic changes in education," said McGaw. "In PISA 2003, we took a step by adding an assessment of problem solving, but one limited to analogical reasoning. We hoped to add ICT competence in PISA 2006 but did not succeed. We all need to work together to advance assessment practice."

The initiative also is supported by the International Association of the Evaluation of Educational Achievement (IEA) and its Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS).

To accelerate the project in time to influence the next versions of PISA (2012) and TIMSS (2011), the project will review successful classroom practices for the teaching and testing of 21st-century skills and draw implications for large-scale assessments.

"Cisco, Microsoft, and Intel understand that technology in and of itself will not … achieve the kind of global transformation necessary to bring education into the 21st century," said Cisco in a statement. "We believe technology has a key role to play in realizing the vision of a high-quality education for all, and we want to provide the resources to help make that vision a reality. The alliance is working with academic experts and the education community to provide the resources they require to make rapid progress on this issue. We encourage everyone from private companies to public organizations to parents and teachers to join together in this important effort."

The companies are actively encouraging other partners from schools, government ministries, assessment organizations, universities and education research institutions, foundations, and businesses to join in the effort.

"In many classrooms, the teachers teach what is measured," said Gupta. "By influencing international assessments, and working with countries to influence their policy and approaches to national assessment, we believe this project will have a direct and large-scale impact on what is taught and how it is taught in schools across the [world]. In this way, it is our hope that this project will help schools move to the style of learning environment that engages the current and future generation of students and delivers to students the skills and competencies they need for successful and prosperous lives in the 21st century."

Links:

Assessment Call to Action white paper

Learning and Technology World Forum

Microsoft

Intel

Cisco

Note to readers:

Don’t forget to visit the Measuring 21st-century skills resource center. Graduates who enter the workplace with a solid grasp of 21st-century skills bring value to both the workplace and global marketplace. Go to: Measuring 21st-century skills

tags