A recent article on The Glossary of Education Reform began with the basic definition of 21st Century Skills and moved into the debate surrounding the implications of teaching cross disciplinary, process skills – the 21st century aspect of education – versus teaching content – viewed as a 20th century focus. In our era of standardized testing this debate is happening everyday. In struggling schools – often schools of poverty – the push to maintain the traditional focus on content knowledge ties the hands of teachers who want to provide a richer curriculum for students. Teachers in poorer schools struggle with filling academic gaps and providing interventions. In our wealthier schools, students often have the background knowledge of facts or the technology and home support to get the facts that will take them to higher levels of thinking.
It is critical as we want to prepare all students for success in college and careers that our poorest students have the experience with thinking skills, problem solving, and cross disciplinary exploration. As it currently stands, many of our poorer students are passing standardized tests, graduating from school unprepared to compete with students who have experienced a more complex education. We must provide all students a 21st century education – we will need to re-invent our struggling schools to build strong foundations that allow students to experience the same educational depth and complexity offered at wealthier schools.