Ted Mitchell and Jonathan Schorr discuss the issue of innovation and what the feds can do in a new essay. Obviously, I’m in favor a more robust federal role here, too. But, I can see the other side of the argument. Not the Petrilli argument that it’s politically futile, which I don’t buy. Rather a conservative argument that there really isn’t a lot new under the sun here and it’s self-indulgent to think that outside of some technological and curricular innovations there are big breakthroughs waiting to happen as in fields like medicine or aerospace. In other words, to borrow from football, the pushback on this idea should be that policymakers should focus on blocking and tackling rather than razzle dazzle. I don’t buy that either and think there are some big new ideas out there around delivery of education, still it’s a real issue to debate.
But, one place I do think we’re self-indulgent is this idea of “21st Century Skills,” which is why I liked Jay Mathews’ recent column so much. Have the skills really changed that much? Analysis, critical thinking, problem solving? We’re not the first society where those skills have been needed or valued. What’s changed is the need — for both equity and economic reasons — to give many more students a high quality education that allows them to develop these skills. In other words it’s about broadening access to a good education rather than a radically different conception of what a good education is. If dressing that up as 21st Century Skills helps sell an equity agenda, that’s great, otherwise we are flattering ourselves some about just how revolutionary the world we live in really is.