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AFT Joins '21st Century Skills' Group


The American Federation of Teachers is rejoining the Partnership for 21st Century Skills, a group that works to instill in students such skills as critical thinking, collaboration, and creativity, and to feature best practices for student learning.

In the shifting world of Washington education groups, this may seem like small potatoes. But it's worth noting because, in the days before the Common Core took over the standards conversation, the AFT was strongly opposed to the P21 group—indeed, it was among several who argued that the 21st-century skills movement might water down content-rich curriculum. (It even had an issue of its American Educator magazine devoted to this debate.) 

Things have changed a lot since 2009. For a while, the Council of Chief State School Officers provided financial-managment and human-resources support to the independent organization, but that has ended. Its leadership has turned over. Its membership looks very different, with fewer ed-tech companies and more general kid-focused ones (Crayola, Lego Education). The AFT executive vice president who raised the most concerns about P21, Antonia Cortese, has since retired.

More to the point, the AFT credits P21 for helping launch this initiative to rethink school accountability systems, especially on reducing the weight placed on standardized tests.

"The AFT re-connected when we started working with P21 on a new approach to accountability. P21's Board Chair, Stephan Turnipseed, really gets the importance of teachers' roles in developing meaningful accountability systems and the need to balance skills development with creativity—for both teachers and students. It was time for us to rejoin, and we did," according to Marla Ucelli-Kashyap, the assistant to AFT President Randi Weingarten.

Clarification: This post has been updated to clarify that the CCSSO provided financial services to P21, but did not actually fund it. (The relationship between the two was dissolved in 2014.)

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