By: The Common Core Team
Are abilities like creativity, collaboration, communication, problem solving, and critical thinking unique to the 21st century workforce, or are they skills that have always been defining characteristics of well-educated citizens and successful employees?
Recently, The Partnership for 21st Century Skills was formed to develop a “unified, collective vision for 21st century learning that can be used to strengthen American education.” Fair enough, but as the “P21 framework” is slowly rolling out in seven states, we fear that the states might be riding a dangerous pendulum swing back to an embrace of amorphous skills at the expense of real content.
In its September, 2008 report the partnership insists that:
Our ability to compete as a nation-and for states, regions and communities to attract growth industries and create jobs-demands a fresh approach to public education. We need to recognize that a 21st century education is the bedrock of competitiveness-the engine, not simply an input, of the economy.
And we need to act accordingly: Every aspect of our education system-pre K-12, postsecondary and adult education, after-school and youth development, workforce development and training, and teacher preparation programs-must be aligned to prepare citizens with the 21st century skills they need to compete.
Preparing students to compete in increasingly sophisticated workplaces is a laudable goal, but is “work-readiness” the sole purpose of education? Does it really make sense to create “life skills” standards and require that they be taught and assessed as part of the academic curriculum in schools? Or “employability” standards, as Iowa has done that include standards on information processing; goal setting; understanding organizational models; and use of self-management, leadership, and entrepreneurial skills? Presently, there are eight other states developing 21st century skills standards and assessments: Kansas, Maine, Massachusetts, New Jersey, North Carolina, South Dakota, West Virginia, and Wisconsin.
In October, Michael Lind of the New America Foundation joined Common Core co-chair, Diane Ravitch, at the Grantmakers for Education (GFE) conference where they discussed their concern about the diminished emphasis on liberal arts education in U.S. elementary and secondary schools. Ravitch cautioned against business-driven education reform and lamented the growth of curricula that are exclusively pre-professional. Lind pointed out that creativity and innovation have always set the U.S. apart and that the U.S. still ranks first in the world for patent filings. “While we want to be globally competitive,” he said, “We do not want to be “globally identical.” An audience member said that “the whole GFE conference program” was about work-readiness, and Lind suggested that perhaps the U.S. is due for a re-assessment of the purpose of education.
We think that skills such as creativity, communication, critical thinking, and others should not be in competition with content; instead they should be integrated into a comprehensive, rigorous curriculum. After all students who can speak a foreign language, who can read Dostoyevsky, who know calculus, and who understand the periodic table of elements are also going to be able to process information, set goals, and think critically.