“All we’re trying to do is lay down a thoughtful set of design specs [for education].” –Ken Kay, Partnership for 21st Century Skills
In today’s edition of Education Week Stephen Sawchuk profiles P21. And he does so with the kind of hard-nosed journalistic skepticism that was absent from coverage of P21 for years. He discovers that this organization, which claims to be concerned with educating students, has a staff consisting entirely of public relations consultants. That its official address is that of a lobbying firm for tech giants. And that it was founded, it is now clear, as a means to give tech companies the intelligence they need to sell more of their products to schools.
As Kay indicates, the organization wants to create new “design specs” for our schools. But who would task a bunch of pr folks who are working for Cisco, Dell, Apple and the rest to do this? They haven’t the expertise to do so. And the perspective they bring to the task is the wrong one. Neither sales nor profit have ever been the province of American education—at least not until now.
Since February of this year, when Core Knowledge founder E.D. Hirsch, Jr., NYU education historian Diane Ravitch, and UVA cognitive scientist Dan Willingham presented papers questioning the validity of P21’s program, the organization has been on the receiving end of a mountain of first-rate advice about how they can improve their program. P21’s response has been to dismiss and demean that advice. An organization that claims to be interested in teaching students reveals something about itself when it cannot demonstrate the ability to learn.