Will 21st century skills weaken our federal education programs?
The Common Core blog, which shares my distrust of the 21st century skills movement, is warning about the appointment of Apple executive Karen Cator as head of the U.S. Education Department's Office of Education Technology. I don't know Cator. Common Core says she once chaired the board of the Partnership for 21st Century Skills, the movement's leading organization, and might push their agenda in Washington. I think the partnership is led by well-intentioned people, but so far they have done a lousy job showing how their approach will improve schools.
My recent column about a book by two partnership leaders made this case in more detail. Lynne Munson and James Elias, who wrote the Common Core post about Cator, seem to think she would use her new job to divert more education dollars to technology companies and forget about giving students a deep and balanced education.
Learning, Munson and Elias say,
"didn’t seem to be a major concern of Cator’s when we heard her speak at P21’s National Summit last June. Then she was just talking about how the 21st century skills agenda can save business money. She explained, for example, that P21 added “health literacy” to its skills framework because employers “need ‘health-literate’ people to keep down health care costs.” Apparently those sick days just eat in to the bottom line."
They say "21st century skills proponents are so in thrall to the idea of schools as a vehicle for selling more technology that “learning” sort of becomes a secondary concern, at best."
I wouldn't go that far. I think the people in the partnership want to make our schools better. But they have provided little guidance to teachers on what they are doing now that is wrong, and what they should do in the future that is right. In particular, they have said little that is useful about how technology can cure our biggest problem---the large number of impoverished students who fail to learn to read, write and do math proficiently. If Cator can come up with a solution to that, I will shed my doubts about her movement.
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