Thursday, July 22, 2010

A Challenge to the Partnership for 21st Century Skills

A group of prominent scholars, teachers, education reform advocates, and union leaders — including American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten, former Boston University President John Silber, New York University education historian Diane Ravitch, and Democrats for Education Reform co-founders Kevin Chavous and Whitney Tilson —issued a statement today expressing concern about the program put forth by the Partnership for 21st Century Skills (P21) and calling for its revision.  ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED September 14, 2010.

Education is a crucial resource that determines our children’s future and our society’s well-being. As America’s citizenry grows more diverse, we must reach out to include all of our children in the promise of America. As the global economy matures, it requires increasing levels of knowledge and deep understanding of the forces that shape our lives and our future. For these reasons, we must intensify our efforts to improve education. This is the historic challenge facing American education in the twenty-first century.

All students—regardless of race or class—deserve a first-rate liberal arts education, rich in the study of history, science, literature, geography, civics, mathematics, the arts, technology, and foreign languages. At the present time, there is growing pressure on our schools to reduce time spent on these disciplines and subjects to make room for what is now called “21st century skills.”

Skills are important and the Partnership for 21st Century Skills (P21) has identified skills that all children need such as critical thinking, creativity, and problem-solving. But P21’s approach to teaching those skills marginalizes knowledge and therefore will deny students the liberal education they need. Cognitive science teaches us that skills and knowledge are interdependent and that possessing a base of knowledge is necessary to the acquisition not only of more knowledge, but also of skills. Skills can neither be taught nor applied effectively without prior knowledge of a wide array of subjects.

Education policy and practice should be based on sound research and informed by an understanding of what has worked and what has failed in the past. Attempts to teach skills apart from knowledge have failed repeatedly over the last century because they do not work. Unless it is fundamentally revised, the program put forth by P21 also will fail. In the meantime, it is undermining the quality of education in America.

We, undersigned, call on P21 and other advocates of 21st century skills to reshape their effort by putting knowledge and skills together at the core of their work.

•Mark Bauerlein, Department of English, Emory University
•Kevin P. Chavous, co-founder, Democrats for Education Reform
•Antonia Cortese, Secretary-Treasurer, American Federation of Teachers
•Williamson M. Evers, Research Fellow, Hoover Institution
•Chester E. Finn, Jr., President, Thomas B. Fordham Institute
•William Fitzhugh, founder, The Concord Review
•Charles L. Glenn, Professor of Educational Leadership and Development, Boston University
•Barry Garelick, co-founder, U.S. Coalition for World Class Math
•Lorraine Griffith, teacher, West Buncombe Elementary School, Asheville, NC
•Jason Griffiths, Headmaster, The Brooklyn Latin School
•Joy Hakim, author of A History of US and The Story of Science
•E.D. Hirsch, Jr., founder, Core Knowledge Foundation
•Bill Honig, former Superintendent of Public Instruction, State of California
•Kathleen A. Madigan, founder and former president, American Board for Certification of Teacher Excellence
•Jack McCarthy, Managing Director, AppleTree Institute for Education Innovation
•Lynne Munson, President, Common Core
•Wesley Null, associate professor, School of Education and the Honors College, Baylor University
•Paul E. Peterson, Henry Lee Shattuck Professor of Government and Director of the Program on Education Policy and Governance, Harvard University
•Diane Ravitch, Research Professor of Education, New York University
•Roberta R. Schaefer, President and CEO, The Worcester Research Bureau
•John Richard Schrock, Professor of Biology and Director of Biology Education, Emporia State University
•Diana Senechal, English teacher, PS108K, New York City
•Michael Sentance, Former Secretary of Education, Commonwealth of Massachusetts
•John Silber, President Emeritus, Boston University
•Jim Stergios, Executive Director, Pioneer Institute
•Sheldon M. Stern, Historian, John F. Kennedy Library (retired)
•Sol Stern, Senior Fellow, Manhattan Institute
•Sandra Stotsky, Department of Education Reform, University of Arkansas
•Whitney Tilson, co-founder, Democrats for Education Reform
•Randi Weingarten, President, American Federation of Teachers
•Daniel Willingham, Professor of Psychology, University of Virginia
•Sam Wineburg, Professor of Education and of History (by courtesy), Stanford University
•Peter Wood, President, National Association of Scholars

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