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Bruno: Everyone's Confused About "21st Century" Skills

Creativity posterI appreciate what Out In Left Field's Katharine Beals was trying to do in this June post, but I think some of her argument is overly optimistic. Follow the links and you'll see that her thesis is that the "21st century skills" movement is basically a con publishers like Pearson are pulling on everybody, contrary to the preferences of real-world employers.

The problem, though, is that it's just not the case that employers don't support the 21st century skills movement. It's actually quite common for business leaders to complain that applicants lack "creativity", "problem-solving skills", and "teamwork/collaboration" skills.  In fact, the Strategic Council of the Partnership for 21st Century Skills includes such "21st century employers" as Adobe, Apple, and Intel.

Now, none of this matters much to me because I don't think that the opinions of business leaders should have outsized weight in our policy considerations in the first place. The real issue is not that advocates of the 21st century skills movement aren't aligned with the business community, it's that they're wrong on the merits: for the most part the skills they want schools to teach aren't really context-independent abilities at all, because they depend largely on students' domain-specific background knowledge.

Given how widespread confusion about "21st century skills" is among educators, we probably shouldn't be surprised that it's also widespread among employers, who don' t have any special educational insight just by virtue of working in business. This means, unfortunately, that we can't count on the business world to prevent our educational system from being blown off-course by this particular fad. - PB (@MrPABruno) (image source)

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Well, that’s just it. A set of skills that no two people seem to be able to define the same way isn’t really getting anyone anywhere.

The Partnership for 21st Century Skills sends over this response:

Clearing the Fog over 21st Century Skills – response to Everyone's Confused About "21st Century" Skills 7/26

While Bruno is right to suggest that there has been lack of semantic consistency among educators, business leaders and policymakers about the specifics of what constitutes 21st century skills, it is short-sighted to call focusing on the reality of our increasingly global knowledge economy and shifting education needs for our students a “fad.” In fact, there is significant agreement among these groups regarding the set of skills necessary for student success.

To address this challenge, the Partnership for 21st Century Skills (P21) developed a comprehensive Framework for 21st Century Learning with input from hundreds of educators, business leaders and experts around the country. At its core, P21 is a collaborative effort among leading education organizations, foundations and nonprofits, as well as 17 partner states. It is the breadth of the Partnership and the diversity of its voices that help blend the ideas and needs of all stakeholders into a common agenda for student success. The importance of these skills has also just received significant research support from the National Research Council.

Our world is changing rapidly and how we prepare our students for that world must change as well. Content knowledge, while still critical, is no longer sufficient. All students, not just those who will go to a four-year university, must be prepared with both deep knowledge and 21st Century Skills to compete in the global economy.

While numerous states, schools and districts are embracing change and leveraging 21st Century Skills to transform the educational experience to be more rigorous and more relevant, P21, its members and partners are working to ensure that all educators, community members and parents understand what 21st Century Skills are, why they are important, and how we can all work together to ensure that students graduate ready to take on the challenges of the 21st century.

Tim Magner – P21 Executive Director

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