Seems that in the last 96 hours the zeitgeist about “21st Century Skills” has shifted from lively debate and healthy skepticism to a brawl…was it the debate the other day?
…the burden should be on 21st-century skills proponents to prove that their methods offer a better way to prepare students for college and the workplace. So far, they haven’t done that. And while they say 21st-century skills will only complement the state’s current efforts, it’s not clear that the approach can be implemented without de-emphasizing academic content.
Teachers and parents across the state just don’t know enough about 21st-century skills. The unnerving part is that the proponents don’t seem to know much more.
This is hardly all bad because the push for 21st Century Skills could use some critical thinking of its own. But I hope that the very serious and legitimate concerns about content do not sidetrack the importance of making sure teachers can teach in ways that engage students and provide higher level opportunities for them to demonstrate what they know. There are issues of policy and support for teachers bound up in that challenge but it’s an important, even dare I say 21st Century one, for improving outcomes.
If you read E.D. Hirsch’s remarks from the big debate the other day (as well as his larger body of work) and Elena Silva’s recent paper on measuring skills (pdf) I think you can see a way through although we’re not there yet in terms of consensus around a strategy or the capacity to implement one.
Update: MassInc piles on but amplifies some good points:
Tom Fortmann, a member of the [Massachusetts] Board of Education, says, “My reaction when I first heard about the 21st-century skills movement was that everyone I worked with in the 20th century already had these skills.” The retired MIT-trained electrical engineer says such skills are indeed crucial, but he says many of them are already embedded in the state’s existing curriculum standards. The problem, he says, is they are “underemphasized in the classrooms.” Fortmann thinks the main focus should not be on changes to the curriculum, standards, or statewide assessments, but on recruiting high-achieving teachers whose own subject-area knowledge and command of 21st-century skills will facilitate their acquisition by students.
If we’re serious about closing the achievement gap and raising the level of performance of American education, we can’t be serious about asking teachers to walk on water and labeling them failures when they drown. Any credible reform has to be reasonable and achievable. 21st Century Skills, as currently conceived, fails dismally on both fronts.