Earlier this month, the Partnership for 21st Century Skills released five State Implementation Guides designed to help lawmakers and educators integrate 21st century skills into every aspect of education, from curriculum to professional development. Together the guides constitute a roadmap to mediocrity, and to more profit for P21 vendors.
The first document (a guide to curriculum and instruction) sounds promising, since P21 normally skates past curriculum to talk about skills, assessments, and professional development. But all P21 does here is point readers to their previously published Skills Maps, a series of docs that “provide educators with short idea-generating examples of how these skills can be integrated into core subjects while making the teaching and learning of core subjects more relevant to the demands of the 21st century.” P21 has skills maps in social studies, English language arts, science and geography, which is odd because they all read like advertising/marketing curricula, at best. Eighth grade science students are encouraged to determine what patterns of speech and word choice make someone “sound scientific.” Geography students research the use of globes, maps, etc. in logos and screen savers. And an English Language Arts lesson has students translate Shakespeare into a text message.
Things go downhill from there as P21, once again, uses the idea of 21st century skills as thin cover to push the products of its corporate members. On page 4 of the Assessment Guide: ”The assessment development process should be collaborative, involving not only assessment experts, but … outside vendors who provide assessment-related services and products.” Readers will find numerous vendors of assessments on P21′s website. On page 5 of the Professional Development Guide P21 argues that school districts should “[i]nvest in creating professional online learning communities to support teachers, administrators and state department of education employees in the creation of online support groups for 21st century skills.” P21 then points readers to professional development software made by Intel, a member of P21′s Strategic Council.
On page 5 of its Learning Environments Guide P21 pushes schools to “[m]ove toward flexible units of time that enable project-based work, interdisciplinary themes and competency-based measures of student progress.” Why? Well, because Cisco Systems says so: ”Cisco Systems and Metiri Group have reviewed the research on the effectiveness of education technology, and outlined the general trends and their effectiveness to help educators invest more wisely in technology.” Metiri Group’s bread and butter is providing consulting services to state and local governments about implementing technology and related 21st century skills initiatives.
With so much marketing savvy on board, one would think that P21 would be a bit more canny at reinventing itself in order to escape some of the criticism that has been leveled against it throughout most of 2009. Instead, the organization just keeps making the same old pitch.
James Elias and Lynne Munson