What Do We Mean by 21st Century Skills?

By Patte Barth

Education experts often cite the need to “reinvent” schools for the 21st century. Futurist Alvin Toffler says that to do so “we should be thinking from the ground up.” One website devoted to 21st century schools declares that the new education “is bold. It breaks the mold. It is flexible, creative, challenging, and complex.”

It’s exciting to imagine a brave new world in public education. All around us, we see how much the Information Age is changing both our working and day-to-day lives. It only makes sense that school districts will need to adapt to these new demands and technologies.

But do we really need to start “from the ground up”? Is nothing working now? How do you even begin to “reinvent” nearly 100,000 public schools? And what are the consequences if we don’t?

For the past year, we have been looking into these questions at the National School Boards Association’s Center for Public Education. We asked Craig Jerald, a Washington, D.C.-based education author and analyst, to pull together the best thinking about the changing world and describe its implications for how schools need to prepare students. Here’s what we discovered:

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