As the past chair of P21, I have well documented positions that a key to education reform is ensuring that 21st Century Skills are articulated, embedded and measured as a core compontent of the learning process. As education leaders in that model this every days in schools around the world- you are great advocates for this position. Check out the latest article posted on Ed Week and join in the conversation.
The organization Common Core, which calls for giving students strong grounding across academic disciplines, has organized an open letter critiquing the program put forward by the Partnership for 21st Century Skills, and calling for the group to revise its goals.
That letter is signed by some big names in education policy, including Randi Weingarten, of the American Federation of Teachers; education historian Diane Ravitch; Core Knowledge founder E.D. Hirsch Jr.; Chester Finn, of the Fordham Foundation; and John Silber, the retired president of Boston University. Some of those people have been on record previously as opposing the 21st-century-skills push.
The Partnership for 21st Century Skills, as we've discussed in the pages of EdWeek, promotes the cultivation of a broad range of critical-thinking, creative, and analytical skills among students, including technological know-how, as well as "soft skills," in areas such as communication. Those skills are vital to succeeding on the job and in life, the organization argues, and schools should nurture them. Supporters of that approach say they are not overlooking the importance of hard-and-fast academic content, but critics of the skills movement have not been assuaged.
In its open letter, titled "A Challenge to the Partnership for 21st Century Skills," the letter-writers say the approach of the Partnership, or P21, "marginalizes knowledge and therefore will deny students the liberal education they need." They add that "skills can neither be taught nor applied effectively without prior knowledge of a wide array of subjects."
The letter accuses P21 of attempting to "teach skills apart from knowledge," and calls for the program to be "fundamentally revised." As it now stands, it is "undermining the quality of education in America."
While the AFT's Weingarten's name is on the letter, her objections are definitely not shared by the 3.2 million-member National Education Association. The NEA is a founding member of P21, the union's executive director, John Wilson, noted in an e-mail, when I asked him for comment. Wilson took a dim view of the letter, which he said mischaracterizes P21's agenda.
"This group continues to amaze me," he said of the letter-writers, "that they would pit core knowledge against 21st-century skills, when our students need both. ... I have witnessed first- hand teachers using 21st-century skills and new technology to enhance the teaching of core subjects. To relegate today’s students to rows of desks, a teacher at the front of the classroom espousing content, and a textbook with paper and pencil is to guarantee that our students will be left with the lowest skills and the lowest-paying jobs."
Ken Kay, the president of the Partnership for 21st Century Skills, had this response in an e-mail: "We have never advocated, in any context, the teaching of 21st century skills separate from content. It is clear that you can’t just teach students to think, you have to teach them to critically think, problem solve and innovate about something – knowledge is the base of learning."
Added Kay: "Why don’t we all agree on an agenda of improving curriculum, assessment and professional development to ensure students acquire deep content knowledge and at the same time develop the skills vital to success in today’s world?"
Wow, I've been an AFT member since it was founded back in the early 70's. Common Core's position goes against what I thought was AFT's vision for the future of education (including the Effective Teaching Professional Development Courses.) I'm going to conatact AFT and Randi Weingarten to share my dissappointment.
I have to admit i was shocked that Randi signed onto this letter....given the other signatories, I cannot see an alignment to AFT goals...I would love to have a conversation with her to understand her concerns about 21st Century skills and her rationale for aligning with the right wing, conserative, voucher/ charter school promoting segment of academia. Even if you arent a big believer in 21st Century skills in education it seems like an odd crew to tie yourself to as a teacher union leader.
Before I was half-way through your post, I shook my head in disbelief. I spoke my feelings aloud and continued reading. I was thrilled to see John Wilson's comments as they mirror my own. The Common Core letter seems to focus on "memorized facts" more than an understanding that students need skills to collaborate and communicate effectively. I wondered if Common Core is trying to influence a possible national core for subjects and/or technology. If that is their position - it appears Common Core would like to have students memorize and demonstrate their memory to show competency.
<soapbox> I have worked hard to incorporate 21st Century Skills into classroom activities that meet my state science content. I would be challenged to change my teaching style towards "memorization and regurgitation." I was complimented this week by peers ... we just learned that 94% of my 9th grade students passed our state science criterion referenced test last year. What I found amazing from this data is how I work to teach students their core. My focus is on learning science processes and skills to go along with 21st Century Skills. We include content as the basis for our work - but I do NOT use a textbook or conventional lecture and memorization. I hope that Common Core does not derail the great progress that P21 has achieved so far. </soapbox>
Please keep us informed on the progress of this letter. Its implications are tremendous and I hope quickly overcome.
Thanks for including all the links in your post. I'm headed off to do my homework and read the original article and letter. This truly does seem like a setback!
I looked through a site this evening... I have found not much in the argument's extreme's which gives a lot of credence to the objections of Common Core. The best practice would be (of course) to teach content knowledge through the use of lessons which incorporate 21st century skills. Glenn makes this point eloquently.
It brings to mind the argument between the "Whole Language" approach supporters and the "Phonics" supporters. Of course, the best teachers will use some elements of both along with strong skills in using context clues to read. It's a false bifurcation of an important issue.