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of the Twenty-First-Century Skills move- education program, what he thought of the
ment from many, including Diane ravitch, a criticism that the framework seemed to have
research Professor of education at New york received more input from economists and the
University. In September of 2008, she posted business sector than from educators. “My expe-
online: rience is that much of corporate America is
The notion of “21st century skills” is
more innovative and learner-centered than the
a fiction. There are no such skills. every
education community, so this doesn’t bother
single skill listed as a “21st century skill”
me.” At first this comment surprised me, but
has been in demand long before the 21st
it seems to point out the key to the parts of
century, in some cases for many centuries.
the movement that are working well: taking
Most of what is now proposed—whether
innovative ideas from other systems (the busi-
critical thinking skills or working in
ness world) and applying them, with teacher
groups—has been an integral part of the
input, to reorganizing programs and learning.
progressive education movement since the
Antioch New england has been teaching cur-
early years of the twentieth century.
riculum similar to much of the twenty-first-cen-
tury skills framework for the last two decades,
Diane ravitch is also co-
calling it “Critical Skills.” Their program was
chair of the Washington,
also developed with input from business lead-
D.C.–based group Common
ers who described a lack of creativity and col-
Core. Common Core believes
laboration in recent graduates.
that recent pressures to leave
Another angle of criticism comes in
no children behind and pre-
response to the expressed need for the U.S.
pare them for the future
to be number one in education. An emphasis
have meant that teachers and
on global competition, critics argue, cre-
schools are in effect aban-
ates an atmosphere in which only one entity
doning the core curricula of
is the “winner,” and others either ranked in
Digital literacy is one of liberal arts and sciences. The only way to cre-
descending order or classified as “losers.” The
the prime goals of twenty-
ate truly able learners is to continue to expect
misplaced focus on competition distracts us
first-century learning.
students to retain a certain amount of content
from considering how to improve education
Without a firm base in history,
and opportunities for children everywhere.
language, and cultural studies, all the fastest
The presence of so much criticism raises the
high-speed Internet access in the world won’t
question of whether twenty-first-century skills
mean clear global communication.
are worthy of our attention. Is it worth trying
Common Core and other highly vocal
to come up with a new framework in which to
groups have raised concerns that the Twenty-
fit all that teachers are already struggling to fit
First-Century Skills movement is motivated
into the school day?
more by economists and the business world
than by education. Education Week recently
published an article that examines contro-
The skills in action
versy regarding the relationships of P21
with e-Luminate,
a company specializing
I noticed when doing a search about twenty-
in software and marketing communications
first-century skills that one school district’s
that has received about half of P21’s spending
name kept coming up. Their carefully thought-
on professional development affiliates. Ken
out and clearly presented Web pages seemed
Kay is the president of P21 and the CeO and
to do the best job of outlining what these skills
co-founder of e-Luminate. Does this con-
are. I spoke with Mary Jo Conery, their Assis-
nection alone imply a conflict of interest, or
tant Superintendent for 21st Century Learning.
shady dealings? Are we being duped by the
It is clear that Catalina Foothills School
corporate sector to churn out workers that will
District (CFSD), also in Tucson, Arizona, has
benefit their bottom line, at the cost of provid-
a powerful desire to do the best they can for
ing excellent, meaningful education to our
their students. In contrast to the criticism of
twenty-first century skills being a global eco-
I asked David Sobel, Director of Certifi-
nomic competition, however, CFSD’s striving
cation Programs at Antioch New england’s
for excellence does not seem based on being
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