MORE THAN 20 years after the publication of A Nation at Risk and half a decade into the new millennium, we seem to be in jeopardy again. Employers and university professors demand certain skills and modes of thinking appropriate for the challenges we face in the 21st century. But policy makers and school bureaucrats are increasingly reverting to an antiquated model of education. If we do not change course now, we will fail an entire generation of children and imperil the nation's future. Thankfully, visionary school leaders are beginning to confront this disconnect between 21st-century expectations and seemingly permanent 19th-century school values and practices.
There is a growing consensus among members of the corporate community, university professors, and informed educators regarding the skills needed for success in college and in the marketplace. According to the Business-Higher Education Forum, "today's high-performance job market requires graduates to be proficient in such cross-functional skills and attributes as leadership, teamwork, problem solving, and communication," as well as time management, self-management, adaptability, analytical thinking, and global consciousness. (1)
A study by 20 of America's most prestigious research universities identified these same proficiencies and skills as the ones students need not only to gain admission to college but to succeed there. (2) While the study proposes standards for the various academic disciplines, its introduction indicates the "proficiencies" these standards are meant to develop. Likewise, at the precollege level, educators have articulated locally and nationally a core body of knowledge--what we know students should know.
Regardless of the angle of vision, there are remarkable similarities in what experts see. In short, we do not lack clarity about what to teach; …