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A Mysterious 21st-Century Skills Meeting


Now THIS is interesting. Apparently, there's a big panel discussion on 21st-century skills going on today at the National Education Association's headquarters. NEA, one of the founding partners of the Partnership for 21st Century Skills, is hosting.

I heard about the event in a very roundabout way and sent a puzzled e-mail to a bunch of folks inquiring whether I could drop by and attend, since I've written about 21st-century skills in two recent stories. I was extended an invitation by one NEA official, only to have it rescinded minutes later by another.

The panelists all appear to be supportive of 21st-century skills. They include NEA Executive Director John Wilson; Ken Kay, the president of P21; and Paige Kuni, the worldwide manager of K-12 education for Intel and one of the P21 board members. Also expected to be in attendance is Barbara Pryor, a legislative assistant for U.S. Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va. Don't know where the senator stands on P21 but I assume, given that West Virginia's been pushing hard on 21st-century skills, that he's also supportive.

Is this an opportunity for proponents of 21st-century skills to lick their wounds from the battering they've gotten lately? Maybe, but it could be more than that. The invitation list, and I'm assuming it's invitation-only, reads like a who's who of the top education organizations in town. CCSSO? Check. AASA? Check. NASBE, AACTE, NSBA, PTA, NAESP, NASSP? Check, check.

On the other hand, also on the invitation list are a bunch of members from the American Federation of Teachers, including AFT Secretary-Treasurer Antonia Cortese, who's clearly not a fan of P21.


Russ Whitehurst's article the other day would be helpful here. Education has gone overboard seeking innovative "products" when we need innovative "processes." If P21 is supposed to be another product, then the skeptics are right.

The former director of the What Works Clearinghouse was also on target in stressing "measuable efficiencies" vs. measurable outputs. Hospitals, for instance get better results by doing a better job of getting our jobs done well, by following checklists and making sure that docors wash their hands, than by big ideas. I don't agree with Whitehurst on the efficacy of top down mandates, but his common sense approach if a great improvement.

In sports, which teams win, the organizations that heedlessly embrace the latest new thing, or the coaches who cut down on avoidable errors?

NEA can speak for themselves, but my understanding is that the meeting was presented as one in a series of policy symposiums that they (i.e., the NEA) have on a regular basis for primarily a DC-based audience. They served lunch at the event and had more RSVPs and seats than they could accommodate.

Suppose it is fashionable to suggest conspiracy theory, but I promise you as someone in attendance, the Core Knowledge crowd had no problem getting into the event. A healthy exchange ensued...

Perhaps you dropped off their media list?

Doug, I was specifically told by an NEA staff member that the event was not open to the press.

There's a good discussion of the meeting here:


Mr. Levin: I'm not sure who you are referring to when you say "Core Knowledge crowd." I didn't notice anyone from the Core Knowledge Foundation there and don't believe they were invited. I'm president and executive director of Common Core, which is in no way affiliated with Core Knowledge. We are entirely separate organizations. But we're both deeply concerned about a lack of quality, integrated content in P21's work. fyi--Common Core also was not invited but was welcomed to attend once we inquired. We're thankful to the NEA for including us.

Someone told me that Barbara Pryor is not an on the record person for the Senator's office.

So if press were to come to the event, she would not be able to participate.

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