P21 in control

Partnership for 21st Century Skills would control “hundreds of millions in federal tax dollars” under Sen. Jay Rockefeller’s  21st Century Skills Incentive Fund Act, warns Common Core’s Lynne Munson.

. . .  if P21 doesn’t sign off on a particular state’s approach to integrating 21st century skills into its standards, tests, etc., that state would be ineligible to apply for federal incentive funds.  And corporate donations supporting that state’s efforts to adopt 21st century skills would not be tax-deductible — in other words, they would cease to exist.

Why give a private group with a controversial set of priorities that kind of control over federal dollars?

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  1. Margo/Mom says:

    Are there other groups who have worked to define such skills?

  2. This is what you get when you put amateurs in charge, and they turn it all over to their corporate buddies.

    check out their staff and board pages:


    Not one single teacher on the list, just a bunch of corporate hacks.

  3. Yes, Margo. Teachers.

  4. Margo/Mom says:


    Thinking as an arm of government with a sizeable amount of money to distribute, how would you operationalize that? Require that any grant applicants have a teacher involved in the planning? Are all teachers equally conversant with this body of work? Where have “teachers” published such a work? Does the group “teachers” have a consensus of any kind with regard to 21st Century skills (does the NEA agree with the AFT? does NCTM agree with NCTE?)

    If one were to consider a different “gatekeeper” how would you construct such a primary indicator?

  5. I was being arch in my response, Margo, but there’s a serious point underlying my quip. I’ve seen no evidence that there are any skills unique to the 21st century that can be explicitly taught in the abstract. If we’re talking about infusing critical thinking and problem solving into the academic curriculum, that’s what good teachers have done since Socrates.

  6. And no, I have no idea how to “operationalize” getting Socrates into every classroom. But I do think our time and money is better spent on improving teachers and teaching, helping to deepen students understanding and skills rather than trying to impose the artificial construction of 21st century skills on schools and using federal dollars as a cudgel to get state and school to swallow this latest flavor of Kool Aid.

  7. Margo/Mom says:


    While I would agree that much of what falls under “21st century” has been incorporated by many good teachers, not all teachers are equally good. I would also add that the focus of the work environment, while it may not have taken a great leap forward at 2000, has been evolving since the 1950s, such that desireable management behavior has shifted from being able to follow and give directions within a structure to being able to cull, develop and utilize the unique strengths of a cadre of workers. So, there is an increased need for people who understand group process, collaborative planning and implementation of processes and projects (and based on my experience sitting through IEP meetings, such people are not rampant within the teaching field today).

    In addition, the field of communications has changed drastically due to technology (again, something that teachers are not using well across the board to carry out routine communications with parents), and I would prefer that we move in the direction of teachers teaching kids who to use the technology well, rather than relying on the expertise of kids to bring teachers into the fold. Teachers who are well-versed in technology, according to my understanding, would prefer that thought be given to the incorporation of technology usage across content areas (perhaps akin to the way that reading are writing are tools used in all content areas)–rather that the one credit of technology at high school approach.

    I, Robert, am not being arch. I would say that I have observed the education of my son suffering due to the luddite thinking that puts technology, working together and other skills identified by the 21st century thinking into a separate bag to get to later, or to incorporate if the teacher has a special interest. It has stood as a major barrier to teachers being able to utilize and incorporate assistive technology to serve the needs of special needs students (better to keep them in that “slow” room down the hall), to recognize the very real skills and talents of kids that can organize their peers, or assist in decision-making, or find rich materials on the internet, or express learning in ways that don’t necessarily require a pencil.

    I am absolutely in earnest.

  8. Lightly Seasoned says:

    Everyone on that board has something to sell schools.

    In order to incorporate 21st c. skills, one needs 21st c. equipment. How convenient.

    Not that I’m cynical or anything.

    I think their goals are super-crap in terms of pedagogy. They’re wishy-washy and vague and all “process.” I defy you to come up with a lesson plan with achievable, measurable objectives for any one of them. Can you come up with a battery of multiple choice questions that prove proficiency in any one of them?

    I have great sympathy for your plight Margo, but you’re not looking at a viable solution here. I could give you dozens of lesson plans that integrate the use of technology and collaboration with old-fashioned “core knowledge/skills” in the secondary English classroom.

  9. Margo/Mom says:


    There are in fact people who have been working on such things as how best to assess such skills as the application of knowledge to an unfamiliar situation, (PISA is based on this), or ability to use of technology (NAEP is working on this), or to demonstrate skills through performance-based assessments (check into Linda Darling-Hammond on this one). I could find you lots of lesson plans that integrate technology into “core knowledge,” but the question is, how do we get teachers to use them? I found a wonderful resource that used spreadsheets in conjunction with mathematics. I provided them to my son’s teachers because he has a lot of production difficulties with pencil/paper and cannot produce math facts with any level of automaticity. They were great lessons. My son’s tutor (the school’s response to his math problems was a “one-on-one” math tutor–which means three kids and a teacher of some kind, not math, in a closet each working on something different), responded: “unfortunately, it’s still a pencil and paper world out there.”

    I recall that one of his “resource” teachers gave him an assignment that one of the content teachers had developed. It was a power point template, with the assignment being to do online research and construct a presentation. What my son got was a pile of papers–print-outs of the template, on which he was supposed write out his report.

    Assistive technology has morphed into Universal Design for Learning with tremendous potential for the inclusion of students with special needs alongside their typically developing or non-disabled peers. It even expands in really wonderful ways the things that are possible for the non-disabled. But as long as the teachers have a file cabinet full of worksheets–what’s it going to take to make that happen?

    Education is too important to trust to some vague belief in “good teachers” getting it right on their own. We need to develop and support standards, leadership, curriculum, assessments–all those things. Personally I don’t know if Ken Kays and P21 are the best of all possible organizations to lead the way on moving the stuff they have been defining into the curriculum across the country. But I don’t know who else is organized to work on this. Apparently there are pleny of folks willing to organize against.

    BTW–what is the NEA selling? They are on the Board.

  10. Ponderosa says:

    Content is the mother of beauty.

  11. Margo, I’m sure you are utterly convinced that your experiences are universal and require a federal solution. In the teacher circles I run in, PPT is considered too basic a technology to bother much with. My kids use blogs, wikis, databases, skype, etc. In fact, I don’t take drafts on paper anymore — they have to be emailed to me so I can use the comment feature.

    Maybe your school doesn’t use assistive technology, but it is simply taken for granted where I am (about 1/4th of our population is LD in some way).

  12. Margo/Mom says:


    Your district sounds like a great place. Mine, however, is the largest in the state. That’s a lot of kids to leave out of the techno-revolution just because some schools have gotten it right on their own. Isn’t the entire rationale of federal funding in education to provide a more level playing field throught compensatory education service to kids who are otherwise lefe behind?

  13. Lightly Seasoned says:

    Did you actually see that proposal? If their ideas are crap (which they are) and a state refuses to adopt them (why should we — we’ve spent time and money coming up with our own state technology strand), not only are they ineligible for federal money, but they lose private money, too.

  14. Margo/Mom says:


    Returning to my original questions–who else would you consider to be knowledgeable in the field and how would you operationalize such a grant opportunity (to ensure some level of quality)?

  15. Your premise is flawed, M/M. If the whole idea is unsound, then creating and administering a grant program creates an incentive to do something foolish. So the question is not who better than P21 to administer such a grant, but why are we pushing this in the first place?

  16. Lightly Seasoned says:

    You’re assuming that I think there should be a grant for this in the first place, which I don’t. I don’t think the federal government can guarantee any kind of educational quality with money.

  17. Margo/Mom says:


    LS, based on the information that her school has already adopted everthing of value that might be supported through a focus on twenty first century skills, demonstrates that at least for some kids, the idea is not unsound. For the rest–well I guess we are just supposed to do without? or emulate some unpublished set of standards that LS and other districts like hers are already using. Apparently some “private money” (which is now somehow jeopardized) has been available to them, or others, to support the infusion of twenty first century ideas into the curriculum of some schools. Why not others?

    But–you cannot argue that 1) the stuff has no value; but 2)teachers are already doing it; and 3) when confronted with the fact that not all teachers are already doing it–and it would have enormous value, at least for some kids; return to argument 1).

  18. We’re doomed, I’m afraid to argue in circles. I’m not arguing that it (i.e. critical thinking skills) has no value. I’m arguing against 21st Century Skills as a “brand,” as something new under the sun. I’m also opposed to a flawed set of ideas *specifically conceived and promoted by P21* and giving an organization that seems to be little more than an industry trade association hundreds of millions of dollars to spend on its own products.

    The problem is obvious. It’s not enough to embrace 21st Century Skills as an idea. This bill, if passed, would make P21 the Official Arbiter of what is an is not 21st Century Skills, and make them judge, jury and executor of who does and does not get public money. You want a grant to teach 21st Century Skills? Only if you do it our way. And given that P21 as an organization seems to be a wholly-owned subsdiary of Silicon Valley tech firms, it is not a stretch to imagine that what this ends up being is little more than legislation requiring states buy a boatload of tech toys for schools at taxpayer expense. Zero accountability. Zero proof of efficacy.

    Sorry, but this is just silly. It’s structurally unsound and ripe for abuse. I assume it has zero chance of becoming law, but then I’m out of the business of being surprised.