States offering students curriculum options that integrate key 21st-century skills would receive matching federal funds through an incentive bill introduced in the U.S. Senate May 13 by West Virginia Democrat John D. Rockefeller IV.

The legislation was developed using ideas generated from West Virginia educators and the Partnership for 21st Century Skills, which researched and surveyed the skills students need in the classroom to remain competitive for the future, according to a press release from Rockefeller’s office.

"The knowledge base and skills set that most students learn in school should expand to provide students with the skills, like critical thinking and problem solving, needed to succeed in modern workplaces and communities," Rockefeller said when he introduced the bill.

"The purpose of the 21st Skills Incentive Funds Act is to offer competitive grants from the Department of Education for states willing to invest in education reform. … Although the economic downturn has current challenges for new investment in education, waiting for a better time to engage in reform would be unwise," he added.

Shelley Pasnik, director of the Education Development Center’s Center for Children and Technology, said she is pleased to see the bill addresses more than simply putting more technology into schools.

"The legislation goes beyond technology. It’s about implementing a framework for 21st-century learning," she said. "It’s more promising this way. If it were just about technology purchases, it would be a missed opportunity."

The bill, which is co-sponsored by Sens. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, and John Kerry, D-Mass., suggests several areas where states could expand their curricula to encompass 21st-century skills, such as global awareness; financial, economic, business, and entrepreneurial literacy; civic literacy; and health and wellness awareness.

"Students need to go beyond just learning today’s academic context to develop critical thinking and problem solving skills, communications skills, creativity and innovation skills, collaboration skills, contextual learning skills, and information and media literacy skills," the bill reads.

If passed, the bill would appropriate $100 million a year for the U.S. Department of Education to pass on to states that have developed a comprehensive plan for implementing a statewide 21st-century skills initiative and are able to supply matching funds for their initiative.

Since the Partnership for 21st Century Skills was founded in 2002, ten states have voluntarily adopted the more comprehensive set of skills and standards that the group says are needed for students to remain competitive in the classroom—and beyond.

"There is no doubt that successful states have an informed, innovative, and civically engaged citizenry," said Paige Kuni and Ken Kay, chair and president of the Partnership for 21st Century Skills, in a statement. "In fact, to sustain a viable economy in today’s world requires workers with 21st-century skills, as almost all emerging industries are built upon knowledge, creativity, communication, and problem solving."

Pasnik said she sees passage of the bill as an opportunity for the states that already have implemented a 21st-century skills initiative—Arizona, Iowa, Kansas, Maine, Massachusetts, New Jersey, North Carolina, South Dakota, Wisconsin, and West Virginia—to receive financial help.

"The states that have been working with the Partnership have really been doing so on their own volition," she said.

The bill, S.1029, was in the Senate Committee on Finance at press time.

Links:

Senate Bill 1029

Partnership for 21st Century Skills