Motives of 21st-Century-Skills Group Questioned

Depending on whom you ask, "21st-century skills" can mean different things: technology literacy, the ability to analyze and apply knowledge, a knack for working effectively with colleagues in teams. In what is probably its most visible form for educators, though, the term refers to the work of the Partnership for 21st Century Skills, the Tucson, Ariz.-based public-private initiative that has put the provision of all those skills at the center of its agenda. Known as P21, the group claims 14 member states as working to foster the adoption of new academic-content standards, professional training, and assessments aligned with those skills. It has influential allies, too, including the 3.2 million-member National Education Association. Former Apple Inc., executive Karen Cator, now the head of the U.S. Department of Education's office of educational technology, served a term as chair of the group's strategic council. But after seven relatively quiet years of work, P21 is facing a vocal chorus of detractors of its initiative, primarily from among advocates for a liberal arts and sciences curriculum. Recently, those critics have leveled a more serious charge at the organization. P21, they allege, is a veiled attempt by technology companies—which make up the bulk of the group's membership—to gain more influence over the classroom.

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