Building 21st Century Skills

Posted on Mar 19, 2010 :: Up Front
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Posted by , Insight on Business Staff Writer

Damian LaCroix couldn’t be more clear about the need to improve how we educate the next generation. “Seismic forces are altering the way we prepare students for life beyond high school – the ‘flattening of the world,’ globalization, competition, and shifting work and career patterns,” he says.

As superintendent of the Howard-Suamico School District and co-chair of New North’s Educational Attainment Committee, LaCroix is part of an effort to “design a new and improved public education paradigm – one that equips students with 21st century life and career skills in preparation for job opportunities that don’t yet exist.”

He and co-chair Jeff Rafn, president of Northeast Wisconsin Technical College, lead more than two dozen educators and business people who are organized into six task forces. One of those – Task Force II for PK-16 Education – is charged with preparing a Partnership for 21st Century Skills Framework for the New North.

The plan identifies core subjects that need to be mastered and themes that need to be woven into those subjects, including global awareness and literacy in financial, health, environmental and business issues. It also identifies learning, innovation and technology skills, and life and career skills that need to be incorporated from pre-kindergarten onward.

Nancy Schopf, vice president for education and leadership of the Green Bay Area Chamber of Commerce, is a member of the task force.

“We’re trying to apply the national 21st Century Skills initiative to our region, to infuse it across the curriculum,” says Schopf. “We know that workers of the future will need not only an academic background, but good work skills and a practical understanding of how these subjects fit together.”

Jeff Dickert, CESA 7 agency administrator, is excited about the breadth of the task force. “It includes representatives from chambers of commerce, businesses, individual schools, school districts, colleges and technical schools, and workforce development groups,” he says, adding that this is ground-breaking work.

“We’ve taken the benchmarks from the national initiative and are finalizing a very practical guide to helping meet those benchmarks, and then using them to evaluate progress,” Dickert says. “No one else has done this kind of rubber-hits-the-road implementation guide. We are expecting this to become a model that innovators across the country will want to adopt.”

Rafn underscores the importance of actually implementing these changes.

“When our report is final this summer, we will really work to make it happen. So often, efforts like these stop short of implementation. We need to make sure our students understand that they must continue to learn, and also make sure they have the right tools and skills to do that.”

“We absolutely need to develop productive, responsible, civic and globally-minded adults who prosper and serve,” LaCroix says. “Due to the challenges and opportunities facing us, this is the most historically challenging time to be in education – and yet the most exciting and rewarding time to be an educator.”

For background about the New North Educational Attainment Committee, go to www.thenewnorth.com/thenewnorth/home/education.asp.

For information about the national 21st Century Skills initiative, go to www.21stcenturyskills.org/index.php.