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Getting Serious About 21st-Century Skills

In a "best of" article just re-published by Educational Leadership, education policy writers Andrew J. Rotherham and Daniel Willingham argue that the 21st-century skills movement, despite its obvious relevance to the needs of today's students, risks devolving into a mere fad if reformers don't devote more attention to the infrastructure (both organizational and intellectual) of teaching and learning.

Among the challenges facing the movement, the authors write, are its advocates' tendency to separate skills from content as opposed to teaching skills "in the context of particular content knowledge"; a "romanticization" of student-centered instructional methods that masks a lack of relevant professional development for teachers; and the difficulty of developing high-quality assessments to evaluate thinking skills. Here's how they sum it up:

The point of our argument is not to say that teaching students how to think, work together better, or use new information more rigorously is not a worthy and attainable goal. Rather, we seek to call attention to the magnitude of the challenge and to sound a note of caution amidst the sirens calling our political leaders once again to the rocky shoals of past education reform failures. Without better curriculum, better teaching, and better tests, the emphasis on "21st century skills" will be a superficial one that will sacrifice long-term gains for the appearance of short-term progress.

Hat tip: Will Richardson, who wonders how innovative teachers are straddling these issues, particularly in terms of in-class assessments.

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