Opinion: A surprisingly sensible 21st-century skills report

Washington Post education columnist Jay Mathews, a self-professed critic of the so-called 21st-century skills movement in schools, writes of a new report that is "the first sensible report on 21st-century skills I have read." Mathews continues: "’Measuring Skills for the 21st Century’ was written by Elena Silva, senior policy analyst at the Education Sector think tank in Washington. It suggests that this idea is vital, important, and ought to be pursued, no matter what I say. I telephoned Silva to express my concern that we differ on this issue, since she always knows what she is talking about and I sometimes don’t. Our conversation reassured me. She has the same doubts I do about the loose and overheated way the 21st-century skills concept has been marketed, and the failure to give teachers useful guidance on what to do with it. She agrees with me that much of what is labeled 21st-century learning is not new, but represents what our best educators have been teaching for several centuries. Silva and I are also of one mind on the need to make sure this emphasis on analytical and critical thinking does not derail the national effort to make sure all students learn the basic content of the important disciplines, such as literature, math, and science. … Okay, I said. That sounds good. But … how about letting me see one or two schools that are already showing this is possible? Silva has done that. Her prime example is the New Technology High School Model, created by teachers, business executives, and community leaders in Napa, Calif., in 1996. They got money from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and now have 40 schools in nine states…"

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