Tapping 21st Century Skills

We’re still into the first week of the new year, and it looks like 21st century skills is quickly becoming my white whale for 2009, supplanting my doggedness on Reading First and SBRR last year.  Eduflack was prepared the let the issue sit after some of yesterday’s back and forth.  I had my say, and I acknowledge the learned opinions of those who disagree with me on said say.  But then the Christian Science Monitor has to go and tickle my interest again this morning.

CSM’s Stacy Teicher Khadaroo looks at how teachers are making the necessary adjustments to prepare their students for the challenges and opportunities of what is before them.  The full story can be found at: <a href="http://www.csmonitor.com/2009/0108/p03s03-usgn.html
What really got me, though, was the graph that accompanied the article, looking at the issue of what “creativity” means to superintendents and the business community.  The crux of this is, according to CSM, that “creativity is key for a 21st century workforce.”  What’s startling about the data is how our school leaders and our business leaders see the issue of creativity so differently.  Asked to rank issues on a scale of one to 10, what came in as number one for the business community (problem identification or articulation) ranked ninth with superintendents.  The supes’ top concern (problem solving) only scored in the top eight with our business minds.
Why is this significant?  Like it or not, our schools are preparing our future workers.  These numbers demonstrate there is a real disconnect between the learning priorities set by our schools and the expected outcomes of our employers.  It is no wonder so many business leaders I speak with say that a potential hire with only a high school diploma simply doesn’t have the skill sets needed to thrive in today’s challenging economy.  They’re looking for different things than many K-12s are prioritizing.
Let me be clear.  I am not suggesting that our business leaders should hijack the decisionmaking process in K-12, nor should our public schools be transformed into glorified trade schools serving merely as a pipeline into the workforce.  What I am suggesting is the need for greater collaboration in all areas of the learning process.  School districts need a better understanding of the skills and knowledgebase that local employers are seeking and need to better understand how to offer that within the confines of their current curriculum and state performance measures.  They need to look at innovations that open up new content and that offer the tried-and-true in ways that better engage and better inspire today’s students.  
Businesses need to move beyond simply sponsoring the sports teams and placing ads in the yearbook and become true learning partners.  How can they offer internships to students, opening their eyes to potential careers?  How can they offer externships to teachers, helping them see how their instruction links back to the opportunities that will be available to their students?  How can they help more students see the relevance of school, supporting teachers as they try to boost student achievement and avoid growing drop-out numbers?
It is trite and overused, but sometimes it really does take a village to raise a child.  It definitely takes a wide range of stakeholders to effectively educate them.  And until key stakeholders like superintendents and the business community share a common view on needs and priorities, we will continue to struggle between good intentions and missed opportunities.

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