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21st Century Skills

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The civic mission of schools has a tendency to get lost in the din of other debates surrounding our nation’s education system. Beyond the uproar over teacher evaluations, standardized testing and the role of government, we must keep in mind the fundamental purposes of public education, the heart and soul of a public system.

This civic purpose of public education seeks to empower our nation’s children, and future leaders, with a deep seated understanding of citizenship, civic duty and societal needs. It aims to provide the very tools needed for future generations to participate in the debates surrounding not just education policy, but other critical issues we as a nation – and member of the global community – face in the twenty first century.  Education is more than just factual knowledge, and civic engagement and participation depend on a deeper understanding of our culture, society and history. ...

By Tim Magner, Executive Director, Partnership for 21st Century Skills (P21)

Despite many education experts, business leaders, and higher education professionals joining the bandwagon to implement and highlight 21st century skills and helping define the now 10-year old 21st century skills movement, there’s been an important missing element: Research in the arena of 21st century skills to date has been scarce. With the release of the National Research Council's report Education for Life and Work: Developing Transferable Knowledge and Skills in the 21st Century, we now have additional confirmation to support both the abundant opinion research and anecdotal evidence we have used over the years to advocate the importance and value of an education that includes both knowledge and skills. 

P21 commends the National Research Council (NRC) and the sponsors of the report for producing the most comprehensive research-based articulation of the case for 21st Century skills to date. The caliber and breadth of the research community brought together on this effort speaks to not only its importance in the future of our education system, but to the impact these findings will have across the K-12 education spectrum.  This report represents a historic validation of what the 21st century skills education community has worked hard to ...

Editor's Note: This post first appeared on the Partnership for 21st Century Skills’ blog in July 2012. Reposted with permission.

As both a former classroom teacher and long-time nonprofit executive, I'm well aware of the importance of creativity, collaboration, critical thinking, and communication (the Four C's) to success in both the classroom and the workplace. So I've been a strong supporter of imbedding the acquisition of those skills into formal education even before the inception of the Partnership for 21st Century Skills (P21) and the creation of the impressive tools that have resulted from the P21 work. Also, I've been impressed with the thoughtful (and collaborative) work that's gone into the creation of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) for mathematics and English language arts that pull together the wisdom of practitioners and researchers in the education field to establish goals and benchmarks for what students should know and be able to do in order to be successful in the 21st century world of work and citizenship. And, all sixteen member organizations in the Learning First Alliance share that commitment to providing rigor and relevance to all of the students we serve.

With that in mind, I've been mystified by some of the resistance to implementation of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS), which to date have been adopted by 45 states and the District of Columbia, based on two complaints: (1) that the CCSS are a "top down" over reach of the Federal government and (2) that the adoption of these standards and the common assessments that are being developed to measure student progress will lead teachers to "teach to the test", thus ...

As with many developments in public education, when you hear about a “public private partnership”, you would do well to ask a few follow-up questions. For example, you might wonder about the true business interests – given that many entities are profit-driven. If the company has a foundation arm providing grants, what are their metrics pushing for schools or districts to demonstrate? To what extent does the business respect education experts and maintain a respectful distance from policy decisions?  Are these programs operating in traditional public schools and are they successfully expanding? Do these programs support equity? In an era where tax dollars are scarce and public schools are struggling under the challenges of tightening budgets, it is tempting to cite examples of cross community collaboration as a possible solution to school funding issues. However, not all partnerships are the same when you compare quality, mission or implementation, and continued questioning is essential. ...

Earlier this week the State Education Technology Directors Association (SETDA) released its latest report, The Broadband Imperative: Recommendations to Address K-12 Education Infrastructure Needs, at an event featuring presentations by a panel that included two state leaders from Maine and West Virginia along with a district administrator from New Jersey.  Once again, we were reminded of the opportunities that are opened up for students and teachers (and those administrators that lead districts and schools) when robust connections and ubiquitous communications devices are available for teaching and learning.  However, having more years of experience than I like to admit in advocating for the appropriate use of technology to support personalized learning opportunities and teaching effectiveness, I was struck with the realization that this meeting and its recommendations, while important, were not new.   ...

You know you’re witnessing learning in action when you see children clamoring to answer a math question, hardly able to stay in their seats with hands stretched to the sky. For those who are often removed from the classroom, analyzing data, processing paperwork in human resources or working in national advocacy, it is always refreshing to be in the presence of educators and their students.  Two weeks ago, I participated in a National School Boards Association Technology Leadership Network site visit to Clark County. More than 300, 000 students are enrolled in the Clark County School District (CCSD) in Nevada, the nation’s 5th largest district. The district has 37,361 employees on payroll, making it the state’s largest employer. ...

When and how did you learn about credit cards and credit scores? Did your parents teach you; did they lead by example; did you take a course; or did you learn by trial and error? What does just paying the minimum payment each month really mean in the long-term? April is National Financial Literacy Month and an opportunity to examine school’s role in educating young Americans when it comes to financial decision-making.

I did not have much exposure to financial education during my high school experience, but I was fortunate enough to learn a great deal from my mother and to have her support my navigation of the college financial aid process. Since graduation, I’ve also participated in a number of seminars, all of which  have proven tremendously helpful when it comes to my own financial decisions about higher education, home ownership, savings and investments and planning for retirement. It makes me wonder what decisions and mistakes I would have made without that enhanced understanding. ...

A recent report from the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) suggests that arts education can help narrow the achievement gap that exists between low-income students and their more advantaged peers. But new data from the federal government suggests that low-income students are less likely to have access to arts education than their higher-income peers. 

Certainly arts education is important for its own sake. But in a time of tough budget choices, arts education advocates must speak to its tangible benefits, which the NEA report clearly does. By nearly every indicator studied, a student from a low-socioeconomic (SES) background with a high-arts educational experience significantly outperformed peers from a low-arts, low-SES background, closing (and in some cases eliminating) the gap that often appears between low-SES students and their more advantaged peers.

And not just the standardized test score gap. The report does show that low-SES eighth grade students who have a history of high arts engagement have higher science and writing scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) than those who do not. Such high school students had better GPAs than their low-arts, low-SES peers (and in some instances, than all students). But I was more impressed with some of the other outcomes ...

As a member of the Millennial Generation, I couldn’t help but notice “The New Generation Gap in Schools,” an article in the March issue of the American School Board Journal, published by the National School Boards Association (NSBA) that asserts Millennials are arriving in schools – as parents – and that the public education community can prevent a new generation gap by earning our support.  I certainly agree.

The article’s generation profile says we are more diverse, racially tolerant, less conservative and less likely to have served in the military than the generations before us. We tend to be more liberal, socially and politically which may lead us to support public schools philosophically and theoretically, but does not automatically guarantee we will send our children to traditional public schools. ...

Editor’s Note: Our guest blogger today is Lillian Kellogg. She is Vice President of Client Services for Education Networks of America (ENA), overseeing marketing as well as strategic national association partnerships. She has dedicated her career to education and technology and has more than 25 years of experience in working with school districts and libraries in the field of educational technology. Among her many accomplishments, she currently serves as the Board Chair for the Partnership of 21st Century Skills (P21).

While we are firmly within the second decade of the 21st century, it is apparent that so much more needs to be done to help each student truly comprehend what they need to know and do to be successful in the years ahead. This call to action is every bit as important today as it was when we first started the conversation on 21st Century Skills, but it has changed. Early on the notion of 21st Century Skills was aspirational; today it is an alarm bell.

Work and life in the 21st century continue to change at lightning speed (see the Iowa- Did You Know? Video) and today 21st Century Skills matter more and for many more students now than ...

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