AOL Time Warner Foundation
Apple Computer, Inc.
Cable in the Classroom
Cisco Systems, Inc.
Dell Computer Corporation
National Education Association
Seven of these are tech companies; one is the NEA. That tells me this is a case of converging interests: the tech companies want to sell technology to schools; the NEA wants to undermine test-based accountability.
What do these two goals have in common, you ask?
On the face of it, not much.
My hat is off to The Partnership: they've come up with an ingenious scheme to make these things happen by linking a widely disliked entity -- the NEA -- with something everybody wants: more, more technology.
Here's how it works.
As people like Elena Silva and Linda Darling-Hammond have argued, the states aren't in a position to create sound, objective testing programs to assess 21st century "learning and thinking skills" like "Creativity and Innovation Skills" or "Contextual Learning Skills." The Partnership makes no bones about it, stating flatly that standardized tests aren't up to the job: "Standardized tests alone can measure only a few of the important skills and knowledge students should learn. A balance of assessments, including high-quality standardized testing along with effective classroom assessments, offers students a powerful way to master the content and skills central to success."
At a minimum, shifting the focus away from "college knowledge" to 21st century skills, as my own district has done, offers educators an alternative standard, which can't be assessed by objective means and by which they can be deemed successful regardless of scores on state tests, NAEP, SAT, ACT, etc., etc.
tech sales to schools
The NEA is committed to "child-centered" teaching, as you can see here, here, and here. Child-centered teaching doesn't work, and a large majority of parents dislike it intensely, but the hopes and dreams of parents cut no ice with unions and the ed schools, so tant pis. Thus the edu-world has spent the past 100 years trying to kill off the liberal arts disciplines in spite of the fact that virtually no one outside the edu-world wants them to do this. And it responds to its chronic failure to educate children, as well as to the constant push-back from parents and taxpayers, by dreaming up new versions of William Heard Kirkpatrick's Project Method and pitching them to the public as reform.
That is where Intel et al come in. Read through the Partnership web site and you find repeated references to project based learning, inquiry, "interdisciplinary themes" and the like, all of which can be pursued via the collaborative wonders of "technology." Unions are bad, but tech is good, so tech is used to justify the need for less liberal arts, more projects, and a winding down of standardized testing.
Here is Gerald Bracey, writing in a recent letter to Education Week (registration required):
I was ready to toss out [the term] “21st-century skills” until I was skimming your recent article on the topic and found it familiar-sounding (“ ‘21st-Century Skills’ Focus Shifts W.Va. Teachers’ Role,” Jan. 7, 2009). Then I decided we could keep the concept, but just rename it. Let’s call it Progressive Education, or Digital Dewey, or The Reincarnation of William Heard Kilpatrick. Kilpatrick, one of John Dewey’s colleagues, wrote “The Project Method” for the September 1918 Teachers College Record.
If the Partnership succeeds - it has signed up 10 partner states in 7 years - the union will be able to teach "skills" that can't be assessed and the tech companies will be able to sell schools the technology they need to do it.
Joanne Jacobs on 21st century skills
Industry Makes Pitch That Cellphones Belong in Classroom
Progressive Education in the 1940s (youtube)