A New Era of Education Reform: Preparing All Students for Success in College, Career and Life

Oct 07, 2010
  • Description

As society changes, the knowledge and skills required for citizens to navigate the complexities of life and work must also change. As a result, some argue that schools must provide students with a broader set of skills that will enable them to thrive in our increasingly diverse, rapidly evolving and globally-connected world. The intent is not to replace the traditional academic disciplines but to infuse them with knowledge and skills that will better prepare students for success in the 21st century -- often referred to as "21st century skills." While others maintain that as long as a portion of the student population is not mastering basic reading, writing and mathematics skills, schools must continue to focus exclusively on the traditional core academic disciplines. In order to inform the debate about the rationale for and relevance of 21st century skills in Massachusetts' public schools, the Rennie Center for Education Research & Policy conducted a survey of superintendents, charter school leaders and principals statewide to gauge the extent to which school and district leaders support the integration of 21st century skills into public education. The goal of the survey was to provide a better understanding of Massachusetts' public school and district leaders' priorities for improving student learning, including their views on 21st century skills. The survey was followed by interviews with a small sample of administrators and educators in districts and schools where the integration of 21st century skills is a priority, in order to better understand district, school and teacher approaches for infusing 21st century skills into teaching and learning. The report describes the background and context for the study, the study methodology, and key findings from the statewide survey and interviews in a sample of schools and districts. The final section of the report puts forth considerations for policymakers and K-12 school and district leaders. Case studies of two public school districts, Reading Public Schools and Brockton Public Schools are included in Appendix B. The case studies offer two different approaches to integrating 21st century skills district-wide. The case study of Reading Public Schools illustrates a district-led approach. The case study of Brockton Public Schools is an example of how one school has spurred a district to focus on 21st century skills. The study gives voice to key education stakeholders who have not been part of the public debate about 21st century skills and provides clarity about what teaching and learning in classrooms that incorporate 21st century skills looks like. While opponents of 21st century skills argue that districts where most students have not yet mastered reading, writing and mathematics skills, should focus exclusively on core academic content, the study revealed that most school and district leaders believe all public schools in Massachusetts should be required to integrate 21st century skills into learning, including schools where students are lacking adequate basic skills. Interviews with superintendents who prioritize integration of 21st century skills revealed that input from a range of stakeholders led their district to expand their mission and vision for student learning to include 21st century skills and rather than adopt a pre-packaged set of skills, the focus in these districts is on particular skills and competencies that ?t the needs of their student body. While most schools and districts have not developed measurable goals for student mastery of 21st century skills, interviews with a small sample of administrators and educators revealed that 21st century skills are assessed at the classroom level, and most administrators view school- and district-wide assessment as a future step in the process of fully integrating 21st century skills. The endings also suggest that administrators believe that, to date, state policymakers have not adequately supported the teaching and learning of 21st century skills. This report was released at a public event on October 7th, 2010. View video clips from this event on our YouTube channel and read an EdWeek article featuring this report.