A great divide exists between what a student experiences in a classroom and outside of school. An advancing technological society bombards our students daily with new ways of problem solving and communicating. Unfortunately, school systems have not kept pace with those changing times. Students still use a lot of textbooks, paper and pencils. Not to mention, most collaboration exist only among classmates in the room. As an initiative to help drive education into the 21st century, an organization "The Partnership for 21st Century Skills" has created a website to help promote collaboration in the hopes of building a bridge over the gap that currently exists. Overall, I was impressed by the site except for a few concerns and it made me realize that the need for 21st century skills will have implications in the classroom.
As I initially reviewed this site, I was impressed and able to understand the purpose of the site. The site is easy to navigate with a lot of information. Their mission statement, "Serve as a catalyst to position 21st century skills at the center of US K-12 education by building collaborative partnerships among education, business, community and government leaders" (Partnership for 21st Century Skills, 2002) is clear. Their mission statement supports how "we need to build collaboration skills where the whole is more than the sums of the parts" (Laureate Education, 2008). We all need to act as a team for the benefit of students and the United States to compete in the 21st century. The availability of tools and resources to educators such as Route 21 and MILE Guide impressed me. "The goal of Route 21 is to provide and online interactive tool that demonstrates how 21st century skills can be supported through standards, professional development, assessments and curriculum and instruction" (Partnership for 21st Century Skills, 2002). Students, so often need real-life applications to learn concepts likewise educators could use real-life classroom applications to implement technology as Route 21 offers. "The MILE Guide toolset is designed to help educators and administrators measure the progress and helps districts determine where they are on the spectrum of ensuring students have the knowledge and skills required for success in today's world" (Partnership for 21st Century Skills, 2002). This provides a checklist for my classroom to help me set goals of where I would like to take my classroom in the 21st century.
As I dug deeper into the site and reviewed the participants of "The Partnership for 21st Century Skills," I was surprised and concerned that there is not mention of educators becoming member of this partnership. The membership extends to states, businesses and organizations. The lack of 21 century skills in the school system is "...a wicked problem that can only be understood by multiple people, each with a different perspective, each with a different expertise, coming together and intercommunicating not just to subdivide the problem, but actually to construct what the issues are, to speak each other's language and understand each other's perspective well enough that they can accomplish something together" (Laureate Education, 2008). The educators are on the front lines and are familiar with the operation of a classroom. They are the ones that engage with student learning on a daily basis. What looks good in black and white on paper does not always transfer well into a classroom. We are professionals in the field and should be included in the decision-making process of the implementation of 21st century skills in the classroom.
Upon looking further into the site, I read how this partnership provides seven strategies for 21st Century Skills Initiative. I am concerned with a part of their fourth strategy that links core knowledge with 21st century skills. It states, "Given the results that matter for students today, most academic standards are too low and do not reflect 21st century skills or content. Many states allow students to earn a high school diploma with eighth or tenth grade knowledge and skills (or less), in core subjects. Higher standards are essential" (Partnership for 21st Century Skills, 2002). No Child Left Behind (NCLB) holds all states accountable for student learning and progress in core subjects. The lack of progress or water-downed curriculum comes not from the mandate but from school systems, educators, or demographics. My severe learning-disabled students struggle to make the same amount of progress as my regular students. They make progress but at a slower rate and at a lower level. Equity of current material and technology is nonexistent across different demographics. Poorer school systems do not have current textbooks or resources to teach the material and the educators do the best the they can with the means provided. Some school systems may have more English Language Learners than others. The students may be strong in core knowledge but cannot read the test so the results are not accurate. I question whether "The Partnership for 21st Century Skills" considers these issues that educators face daily in the classroom.
The movement towards a 21st century classroom has implications for students and teachers. First, "...the 21st century skills model is consistent with the metrics and accountability emphasized in the No Child Left Behind Act(NCLB), and it can help us develop a broader vision of accountability as we evolve to meet this century's challenges" (Partnership for 21st Century Skills, 2002). When this movement succeeds, accountability will be even higher for teachers and students of not only core content but also 21st century skills. "As much as students need to learn academic content, they also need to know how to keep learning---and make effective and innovative use of what they know---throughout their lives" (Partnership for 21st Century Skills, 2002). In incorporating these new skills, teachers will need to learn a new way of teaching and students will experience a new way of learning. The students will gain the same core knowledge but in a different way than previously. The classroom will transfer into what a current workplace looks like.
"...in the modern world, in work, things are largely done by teams, and so in education, we need to think about preparing students intensively to collaborate" (Laureate Education, 2008). Educators, businesses, states and communities need to continue to collaborate to lessen the gap that exists between classrooms and society. Classrooms need to role model the technology-enhanced society that adults work in daily. "The playing field is being leveled" (Friedman, 2005) and if we want our nation to continue to be a leader, then we need to better prepare the next generations for what awaits them.
Friedman, T. (2005, April 3). It's a flat world, after all. The New York Times. Retrieved November 16, 2009, from http::query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9F06E7D815
Laureate Education, Inc. (Producer). 2008. Skills for the 21st Century [Motion picture].
Understanding the Impact of Technology on Education, Work, and Society. Baltimore: Author.
Partnership for 21st Century Skills. (2002). Retrieved from http:www.21stcenturyskills.org/index.php