21st-century skills movement grows

Illinois, Louisiana, and Nevada have become the latest states to join the Partnership for 21st Century Skills (P21), a national effort to integrate 21st-century skills into teaching and learning to prepare students for a global, information-based economy.

P21 made the announcement at the end of a recent Cyber Summit, which ran online June 1-9. The summit featured a series of nine webinars that gave policy makers and educators a chance to collaborate, share ideas, and learn from their colleagues who have implemented 21st-century skills programs in their own states and school systems.

“We…wanted to reach out to the whole country and everyone who follows us, and let them participate in more than just a one-way conversation,” said P21 President Ken Kay.

The addition of three new states to the 21st-century skills movement brings the number of participating states to 13. (The others are Arizona, Iowa, Kansas, Maine, Massachusetts, New Jersey, North Carolina, South Dakota, West Virginia, and Wisconsin.) Participants agree to update their standards and assessments to incorporate 21st-century skills such as problem solving, critical thinking, communication, collaboration, global awareness, and financial literacy.

This fall, P21 plans to release a self-assessment tool for 21st-century skills, which Kay said he hopes will give school leaders valuable insight into how to teach these skills, based on feedback from stakeholders.

Partnerships that include educators, policy makers, and business leaders are crucial to the movement’s success, Kay added.

“You can’t really move into the 21st century without the cooperation of businesses and the states,” he said. “We’ve been modeling collaboration, but also modeling partnering.”

The virtual summit featured several speakers who highlighted the need to teach key 21st-century skills, and it focused on the best practices of participating states.

“There is a need for change in education,” said Paige Johnson, a P21 board member and worldwide manager for K-12 education at Intel Corp. P21 hopes to help educators as they try to address the needs of a knowledge-based economy, she added.

Students should learn core subjects within the context of 21st-century themes, Johnson said. Standards within the core subject areas should be reworked so they address what it means to be a critical thinker, problem solver, or collaborator within the standards.

Most local education systems are stable, Johnson said, and that’s good–but that also means dramatic reform can be met with resistance.

“We need to ensure that all students are critical thinkers and problem solvers, that students can take on complex problems, but [we also need to] get them more civically engaged, too, so they can work across cultures,” she said.

“Kids will be competing with kids in their own towns and states, but also with kids throughout the world,” said Kathy Hurley, senior vice president of strategic partnerships for Pearson School Companies and P21 vice-chair. “They won’t succeed unless they have these types of skills for their jobs: information literacy, critical thinking, and problem solving.”

Arizona recently completed a new long-range educational technology plan and revised its ed-tech standards. The state also established an education web portal, is trying to lower the cost of computing devices so more students have access to them, and is working toward better data systems in its schools–all of which contributes to the state’s “perfect storm” in education, said Cathy Poplin, Arizona’s deputy associate superintendent for educational technology.

State educators and officials worked for 15 months to rewrite Arizona’s educational technology plan and standards, and the 2009 Educational Technology Standards are aligned with the International Society for Technology in Education’s National Education Technology Standards for Students (NETS-S) and the P21 Framework.

“Our hope is that students have learning experiences that are engaging, involving, use critical thinking, and develop digital citizenship,” Poplin said. “You can’t have great student learning without the support of leadership.”