Aren’t we supposed to begin with the end in mind? The main problem quite simply is that we have no guiding blueprint for education. Quick, ask anyone in the system from the superintendent to principal to a teacher, “What is the purpose of k-12 education in California?” It’s likely you’ll get a blank stare followed by how well their school is doing on the AYP or API or CAHSEE, all acronyms for various state or federally mandated multiple choice tests, mostly in just two subjects, Reading and Math.
However, if you were to ask a parent, student or business person, you’d likely get a different answer. The late former national and California state PTA president, Jan Domene, said this about what’s needed for education, “More than ever, parents want their children to graduate with the knowledge and skills that will prepare them for an extremely competitive global job market. Unfortunately, we find too many schools focused on the two subjects that are tested, and are consequently teaching kids strategies for success on standardized tests and not for success in the workforce or university. At the end of the day, parents want a whole curriculum, a relevant curriculum, and an assessment system that supports writing, thinking, real-world problem solving and innovation. Isn’t that what made America great?”
The American Management Association (AMA) would agree. According to a recent survey conducted by the AMA, national business executives say they need a workforce fully equipped with skills beyond just the basics of reading, writing and arithmetic (the three Rs) in order to grow their businesses. Skills such as critical thinking and problem solving, communication, collaboration, and creativity and innovation (the four Cs) will become even more important to organizations in the future.
Proficiency in reading, writing, and arithmetic has traditionally been the entry-level threshold to the job market, but the new workplace requires more from its employees. They also need the content knowledge that goes beyond Reading and Math and includes: science, social studies, visual and performing arts, career education that integrates STEM and world languages. This balanced and relevant curriculum will help students make interconnections leading to innovation and be prepared to solve some of the biggest problems and challenges facing our great nation.
Fortunately, a national forward-thinking group of business and education minds have taken the lead in showing the way for us by developing a framework for education called Partnership for the 21st Century (www.p21.org). This framework which has the support of such creative corporations as Apple, Cisco, Verizon, and the Walt Disney Corporation, as well as the National Education Association and the American Association of School Librarians, provides a concrete blueprint for California to once again lead the way and become the economic engine it is capable of. Fifteen states are already on board with P21 and are developing new standards and assessments aligned with "Common Core" that will prepare students for success in a global economy.
Cognizant of the severe budget crisis, the California Coalition for P21 calls for state leaders to move forward on integrating P21 language and goals as frameworks, standards, assessments and compliance monitoring instruments are normally updated and as funding permits. Additionally, coalition members have met with both state superintendents of public instruction candidates to inform them of the urgency of leading the way.
California needs to become the eighteenth state now if we are to ever again to live up to our moniker as the “Golden State.” We cannot afford to wait. *Note in March, 2013 State Superintendent Tom Torlakson announced that California is joining seventeen other states in supporting the P21 effort.
President, North Orange County Community College District and member of the newly formed California Center for 21st Center Education