Join the conversation

...about what is working in our public schools.

21st Century Skills

Blog Entries

The Library of Congress is the world’s largest library. Materials are added at the rate of 10,000 per day and the Copyright Office has a card catalogue with more than45 million card entries. It contains 838 miles of bookshelves and holds a collection of more than 147 million items. The Library is open to the public and its resources are available on-site in Washington D.C to anyone older than 16 with government issued identification. The American Memory Project – an effort to digitalize a large portion of the Library’s collection – has more than  9 million items available electronically, for free, to anyone with access to the internet. ...

When it comes to high stakes testing, of any kind, its purpose should always be questioned. What is the value-add of a high school exit exam? Should it test students’ basic skills? College and career readiness? Do today’s tests do either?  

A few weeks ago, a school board member in Florida took a version of the state’s 10th grade high school test, the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test. Students must pass this test to graduate, and they have five opportunities to do so. The school board member averaged a D on the reading section, noting that: “In our system, that would get me a mandatory assignment to a double block of reading instruction.” This individual has two masters’ degrees and a successful professional career. He admits that while the material tested wasn’t fresh in his mind, he also didn’t use it in his work, thereby making him wonder how relevant it really was for the average student’s success after leaving school. ...

Recently I was looking through old paper files in the Learning First Alliance (LFA) office and happened upon a successful grant application that LFA had received some years ago to gather, record, and disseminate the knowledge, skills, and approaches successful school districts use to ensure their students achieve to their highest abilities.  The project resulted in a publication called Beyond Islands of Excellence that, indeed did chronicle what goes into an effective public school system and profiled districts whose students had benefited from their wise, effective leadership.   I was struck by how much the scope of work described in the successful grant application articulated the concepts and big ideas that LFA organizations and their leaders still work diligently to implement today. ...

We often speak of the importance of teaching students 21st century skills, especially what the Partnership for 21st Century Skills calls “the 4 Cs” – creativity, communication, collaboration and critical thinking. But what does that actually look like?   

Ask Bijal Damani. At the Microsoft Partners in Learning Global Forum, this business teacher from India told me about a course-long project she uses to improve the 21st century skills of grade 11-12 students and to prepare them for the real-life challenges that they may face once they enter university and the job market.

In this project (which is also a competition), 120 students divide themselves into teams of ten. Each team then comes up with an innovative product that solves a problem to make the world better (so while something like chocolate flavored cigarettes is “innovative,” it wouldn’t count here).

Once the students decide on a product, they have to come up with a marketing plan for it. That plan must include a newspaper advertisement, a magazine advertisement, a radio jingle and a TV advertisement. They have to determine the price of their product. And they have to create a website for ...

Hong Kong has one of the world’s richest economies. It also has a high level of income disparity between the rich and the poor – according to the Gini coefficient, higher than that of the United States [and we have been hearing a lot about the disparity of wealth in our country lately]. As a result, it faces one of the same challenges we do in educating students – a gap between the haves and the have-nots.

This week I had the opportunity to attend the Microsoft Partners in Learning Global Forum, which celebrates teachers and schools that effectively use technology. There I met Andy Li, a teacher at Hong Kong’s Salesian School, which is a Catholic school run with government funding.*

The school's goal is to give young, lower-class students an equal chance to learn. And according to Li, one big aspect of that is technology. While rich children in Hong Kong have iPads, Androids and any other technology that they may want, many of his school’s students (age six to twelve) do not have personal computers at home. And in ...

According to a recent report on science education in California, more than half of elementary school principals do NOT believe it is likely that a student receives high-quality science instruction at his or her school.

If anything, I would expect principals to be optimistic about the strength of their schools, so this finding really drives home longstanding concerns about the state of elementary science education.

And it makes sense when one looks at teacher responses to the survey. Forty percent of elementary teachers reported spending less than 60 minutes a week on science instruction. Thirteen percent reported spending less than 30 minutes a week on it.

These findings come as not only California stakeholders but the President, governors across the nation and the business community are all stressing the importance of STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) education to our nation’s economy and future competitiveness.

If everyone recognizes the importance of it, why isn’t science education better?

The survey offers some explanations around a general theme: The conditions to support high-quality elementary science instruction are rarely in place. Elementary teachers are unprepared to ...

I may be able to afford my connection costs, but staying plugged-in is not cheap; a comparison of Comcast and Verizon shows prices between $69.99 and $100.00 a month, before taxes, for varying internet and cable packages.  For low-income families, prioritizing access comes after purchasing food, making loan payments, buying clothes and filling up the car with gas. Yet in the digital age, it’s becoming evident that children without basic technological skills will be at a disadvantage in the workforce and society. ...

Ann Flynn's picture

Steve Jobs’ edtech legacy

Editor's Note: Our guest blogger today is Ann Flynn, Director of Education Technology and State Association Services at National School Boards Association (NSBA, a member of the Learning First Alliance). This post was originally published on NSBA's School Board News Today.

The death of Apple founder Steve Jobs has triggered an outpouring of worldwide support by individuals touched by the innovations he enabled. One reporter compared Jobs to the Thomas Edison of our generation, and indeed his vision has transformed the way we create, connect, and communicate much as Edison changed the lives of those in the past century. We take the contributions of Edison for granted now, rarely thinking of his innovations with electric lighting or the phonograph as “technology”. They were simply devices, that over time, changed the world. The collection of devices attributed to Jobs’ vision, from the early computers to the latest iPads, are already regarded for what they enable us to do to simplify day-to-day living and learning, rather than just being the newest cool gadget.

His innovations allow adults and children alike to interact with their world in ways only previously imagined in science fiction. Many adults recognize the convenience of having the power of the Internet in the palm of their hand, the ability to manipulate content with the touch of a finger, the option to carry a lifetime of favorite tunes, or download applications to simplify everything from airline schedules to paying for parking meters. Yet some of those same adults have not embraced the idea that these tools can have the same transformational impact on education for today’s youth. Jobs’ Apple was among the earliest technology companies to recognize that their devices could impact learning and ...

This piece was initially written for ARTSBlog as part of their recent blog salon, a collection of 30 posts by arts education leaders in celebration of National Arts in Education Week (September 11-17, 2011). View the original posting here.

Editor's note: Our guest blogger today is Brad Hull. Brad is currently Deputy Executive Director at the National Association of State Boards of Education (NASBE, a Learning First Alliance member). He holds advanced degrees in both education administration and music, and his experience extends from classical music performer, to college instructor, policy maker, national association manager, education researcher, and administrator. For more, see

I grew up in a small conservative town in Pennsylvania. As a budding piano player, my entire focus was on the great hymns of the faith, playing in church every Sunday.

The first time I had ever memorized a piece of classical music was in preparation for my college entrance auditions.

With this small bit of information about me, you can well imagine the sight of me as a very green, frightened, and shy freshman, entering the halls of the Oberlin Conservatory of Music as a piano major, walking around the three floors of practice rooms hearing incredible music emanating from almost every one. On top of that, due to a lack of attention to technique, I had developed tendonitis the summer before.

My piano teacher was phenomenal and we studied the Chopin Nocturne in D-Flat, op. 27 no. 2 for the entire year. Little did I know that these were lessons not only about Chopin, but also about living and working. Here are a few things that I learned:

1. The best things in life require attention, presence, and care. Don’t take anything for granted. Chopin ended the phrase on the half beat for a reason. Turning this ...

Clearly espousing emphasis in STEM education is all the rage these days—with good reason. However, despite theoretical broad support and frequent political lip service, successful implementation of STEM-fostering programs in public schools has been lacking.

That’s why a current competition funded by the Carnegie Corporation— Partnering for Excellence: Innovations in Science + Technology + Engineering + Math Education on the Changemakers website—sounds like a condonable endeavor. The website notes the lack of progress thus far, saying that “our communities are filled with many of the world’s most talented professionals in these fields. They work in hospitals, universities, and museums; biotech, engineering, and architecture firms; graphic-design and urban-planning studios; hedge funds, banks, and computer-software, gaming, and pharmaceutical companies. They just rarely directly impact our public schools.” ...

Syndicate content