kitchen table math, the sequel: thank you, Jay Mathews

Sunday, November 9, 2008

thank you, Jay Mathews

Have I mentioned the fact that my district has produced a 20-page Strategic Plan that does mention 21st century skills and does not mention college preparation?

Well, it has.

This is why we have Jay Mathews:

Why I Don't Like 21st-Century Reports

Another well-intentioned report on the future of American schools reached my cubicle recently: "21st Century Skills, Education and Competitiveness: A Resource and Policy Guide." ... It is full of facts and colorful illustrations, with foresight and relevance worthy of the fine organizations that funded it -- the National Education Association, the KnowledgeWorks Foundation, the Ford Motor Company Fund and the Tucson-based Partnership for 21st Century Skills, a leading education advocacy organization that also produced the report and sent it to me and many other people.

So why, after reading it, did I feel like tossing it into the waste basket?

I know the answer to that one.

Because it's horsepucky on stilts.

"Our ability to compete as a nation -- and for states, regions and communities to attract growth industries and create jobs -- demands a fresh approach to public education. We need to recognize that a 21st century education is the bedrock of competitiveness -- the engine, not simply an input, of the economy.

"And we need to act accordingly: Every aspect of our education system -- preK--12, postsecondary and adult education, after-school and youth development, workforce development and training, and teacher preparation programs -- must be aligned to prepare citizens with the 21st century skills they need to compete."

Okay. Sounds good. I kept reading. There was much detail, accompanied by pie charts and graphs and photos of smiling children, about the growth of information service jobs.... It listed the "21st century skills" that our children need for the rapidly evolving labor market. These included thinking critically and making judgments, solving complex, multidisciplinary, open-ended problems, developing creative and entrepreneurial thinking, communicating and collaborating, making innovative use of knowledge, information and opportunities and taking charge of financial, health and civic responsibilities.

Good stuff. I liked all of those suggestions. I had only one question: How in the name of every teacher who has ever contemplated suicide during the unit on fractions are we supposed to make those things happen?


I know the answer to that one, too.

In low-performing schools, instruction in fractions will be replaced by instruction in PowerPoint (communicating and collaborating), new assessments measuring 21st century skills will be implemented, and scores will go up.

In high-performing schools, instruction in fractions will also be replaced by instruction in PowerPoint, new assessments measuring 21st century skills will be implemented, and scores will go up.

There will be one difference.

In low-performing schools, students won't learn fractions.

In high-performing schools, (some) students will learn fractions because their parents will teach them.

Question: what do parents think of this?

Or teachers?

Answer: it doesn't matter. The establishment has reached a consensus, and we-the-people will have no say in the mass abandonment by our schools of the liberal arts disciplines in favor of 21st century skills:

I know a lot of people are tired of testing, and some are tired of hearing about 21st century skills. But both are here to stay and both matter tremendously for education reform. Improving assessment is the very first bullet in Obama’s list of how to reform NCLB, and he intends to do it by creating new models for assessment that measure “higher order skills, including students’ abilities to use technology, conduct research, engage in scientific investigation, solve problems, present and defend their ideas.”

Easier said than done? On Monday Education Sector is going to release a paper I wrote about measuring 21st century skills (yes, 2 for 1! testing plus 21st century skills). At the same time we’re opening up a week-long discussion on our website to delve further into this topic--what should we measure? what can we measure? We hope you’ll join in with some good comments and hard questions.

Testing in the 21st Century


Ed Sector has spoken, and it will be so.

8 comments:

Laura said...

fractions will also be replaced by instruction in PowerPoint

Have you seen The Gettysburg PowerPoint Presentation?

Catherine Johnson said...

oh.

my.

god.

Catherine Johnson said...

You just made my day.

Anonymous said...

best thing i've read on consensus and science was a talk from michael critchton, currently majing the rounfd though it's several years old:

http://www.crichton-official.com/speech-alienscauseglobalwarming.html

SteveH said...

Unfortunately, Michael Crichton died on Nov. 4. I very much enjoyed his speeches and essays, especially the one about aliens causing global warming.

ElizabethB said...

I didn't know he died. I enjoyed his speeches and essays, as well.

I think his overall most important point is about the importance of good, documented, fact-based information, and how the public doesn't realize that we often don't have good, documented, fact-based information.

I thought he had an essay or speech dedicated to that, but didn't see it offhand. The theme runs through many of his essays and speeches, however.

Tracy W said...

These included thinking critically and making judgments, solving complex, multidisciplinary, open-ended problems, developing creative and entrepreneurial thinking, communicating and collaborating, making innovative use of knowledge, information and opportunities and taking charge of financial, health and civic responsibilities.

Exactly how do they think people managed in previous centuries? If communication is a 21st century skill, why were people writing books back in Ancient Greece? How did farmers manage to farm without thinking critically or making judgments? What were judges doing if not judging? What was simple, single-disciplinary and closed-ended about calculus? What was Shakespeare doing if not being creative? Who built the 19th century sewage systems?

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