The new issue of the AFT’s American Educator (circulation ~910,000) is out, and it offers a thorough overview of the debate over 21st century skills.
Common Core’s own Lynne Munson and Laura Bornfreund contrast what high-performing countries are doing in their classrooms with what the Partnership for 21st Century Skills would like teachers to do in American classrooms. For example, the high school exit exam in British Columbia asks students to spend 25 minutes “discuss[ing] the parallels between the father-child relationship found both in these passages [from King Lear] and elsewhere in the play,” while P21 would like 12th-graders to “translate a piece of dialog from a Shakespearean play into a text message exchange.” 7th- and 8th-graders in New Zealand “learn to explain how the interaction between ecological factors and natural selection leads to genetic changes within populations,” and also “investigate physical phenomena (in the areas of mechanics, electricity, electromagnetism, light and waves, and atomic and nuclear physics), and produce qualitative and quantitative explanations for a variety of complex situations.” P21 would like 8th-graders to “view video samples from a variety of sources of people speaking about a science-related topic” and “rate the videos on the degree to which the person sounded scientific, then identify characteristics of speech pattern, word choice, level of detail, and other factors that influenced their perceptions.”
Munson and Bornfreund conclude that P21 can do better and highlight three lesson plans endorsed by P21 that could be worthy of classroom use. The lessons “have the potential to extend students’ content knowledge while also developing their higher-order skills.” The lessons are significant because they’re outliers; according to Munson and Bornfreund “what makes these examples stand out from the rest of P21′s lesson ideas is that they suggest interesting ways to go deeper into core academic subjects.”
The issue also includes commentary from Diane Ravitch on the history of education reform fads (Diane insists that 21st century skills are a mirage, and that while “pedagogues, policymakers, thought leaders, facilitators, and elected officials are rushing to get aboard the 21st-century-skills express train” there is, in fact, “nothing new in the proposals of the 21st-century-skills movement.”), Dan Willingham and Andy Rotherham on what it will take to rehabilitate the 21st century skills movement (they say that “educators and policymakers must ensure that content is not shortchanged for an ephemeral pursuit of skills”), and Diana Senechal on why emphasizing the content of what is taught is the most daring education reform idea floating around today. Senechal writes that reformers should “pursue perfection in curriculum and pedagogy” through a conversation about “the meaning and purposes of education,” which includes “dar[ing] to specify what we will teach: the disciplines, works, ideas, and historical periods; the things to be mastered, grasped, and pondered.” As Russ Whitehurst put it: don’t forget curriculum.