As I sat in the audience of the International Summit on the Teaching Profession listening to ministers of education and union leaders from around the world discuss 21st century skills, I could not help but wonder if other countries were once again going to take American ideas and use them to surpass us. The United States began having serious conversations about a framework for 21st century skills almost 10 years ago. Books have been written, some school districts have created excellent practices, politicians have talked the talk, and still, we have not fully integrated these skills into our academic content. If not now, when?
The time has come for educators, business people, and government officials to get serious and provide support for every school in America to become a true 21st century center for learning. To support a rigorous education for all students, we must integrate communication, collaboration, critical thinking, and creativity skills (the 4Cs) into a curriculum that engages students and expands their learning beyond the four walls of a classroom. Thankfully, there are three key players that are serving as catalysts to launch American education into this new era of technological innovation.
First, there is the Partnership for 21st Century Skills (P21) led by Tim Magner, former Director of the Office of Educational Technology. Over 30 businesses such as Pearson, Cisco, Dell, Verizon, Apple, and Intel and professional organizations such as the National Education Association and the American Association of School Librarians have come together and designed the Framework for 21st Century Learning. This framework has become the lighthouse guiding state education agencies who are leaders in this effort. States such as AZ, IL, IA, KS, KY, LA, ME, MA, NV, NJ, NC, OH, SD, SC, WV, and WI have embraced this framework and have created initiatives to integrate this work into their system of education. Did you notice that there are a lot more states that need to become partners with P21? And did you also notice that there are a lot more businesses and organizations that need to join P21 in this effort? If not now, when?
Second, there is EdLeader 21. This is a learning community of about 86 school districts that is serious about graduating 21st century learners. Ken Kay who founded P21 initiated this important program. The group has created seven steps for education leaders that will assure every student will be ready for citizenship and the economic challenges of the 21st century. They are the following: (1.) Adapt your Vision of 21st Century Outcomes and LEAD! (2.) Create a Community Consensus. (3.) Align your System. (4.) Build Professional Capacity. (5.) Embed the 4Cs in Curriculum and Assessment. (6.) Support Teachers in the Classroom. (7.) Improve and Innovate. There are over 14,000 school districts in the United States. Every district needs to be a part of this learning community. If not now, when?
Third, there is the Office of Educational Technology led by the very capable Karen Cator. Karen formerly directed the leadership and advocacy efforts in education for Apple. She is also a past chair of P21. Under her leadership, a new National Education Technology Plan has been developed. As described on their website, "this plan addresses the five essential components of learning powered by technology: learning, assessment, teaching, infrastructure, and productivity." This office has initiated some very relevant and creative programs. Their work should be a critical part of the major initiatives of the administration of President Obama and Secretary Duncan. Sometimes the language is worked into their speeches, but we need to see the substance worked into legislation, regulations, and funding opportunities that are driving the reform in our schools districts. If not now, when?
The United States can be a leader in aligning our education system with the new world that has captured the attention of our students. We can lead the way into the innovation economy. We can plant our flag at the top of the world rankings for education achievement. If not now, when?