Creating a 21st-century education system that prepares students, workers, and citizens to triumph in the global skills race is the central economic competitiveness issue currently facing the United States, according to a new report from the Partnership for 21st Century Skills (P21). The report provides a sobering wake-up call for the nation’s civic and education leaders.

The report, called “21st Century Skills, Education, and Competitiveness,” argues that for the United States to be globally competitive–and for states to attract growth industries and create jobs–the nation requires a fresh approach to education that recognizes the critical role 21st-century skills play in the workplace.

The report summarizes the challenges and opportunities that, if left unaddressed, would curtail U.S. competitiveness and diminish the nation’s standing in the world economy. It urges policy makers and leaders in business, education, and workforce development to use the report as a resource for shaping policies that are attuned to competitive needs.

“We need to recognize that a 21st-century education is the bedrock of competitiveness–the engine, not simply an input, of the economy,” the report says.

It notes that the country’s economic output has changed dramatically over the past 30 years, and there is no sign this trend will stop.

In 1967, the production of material goods (such as cars and equipment) and the delivery of material services (such as transportation and construction) accounted for nearly 54 percent of the country’s economic output. However, by 1997, the development of information products (such as computers) and the delivery of information services (such as financial and broadcast services) accounted for 63 percent of the country’s output.

As the world continues to shift from an industrial economy to a service economy driven by information, knowledge, and innovation, cultivating 21st-century skills is vital to economic success, the report states.

While the global economy has been changing, the United States has focused primarily on closing domestic achievement gaps and largely has ignored the growing necessity of graduating students capable of filling emerging job sectors, according to the report.

And while focusing nationally on closing achievement gaps between the lowest and highest performing students has been a legitimate and useful agenda, the report asserts that this goal has skirted the competitive demand for advanced skills.


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