This week’s “Daily Journal” guest columnist is Terry Stoops, Education Policy Analyst for the John Locke Foundation.
Over the last three years, Governor Easley and North Carolina’s education establishment have employed the term “21st century” ad nauseam to promote their quixotic education agenda, one in which they promise to keep our kids “competitive” in the so-called 21st century economy. Yet catch phrases and buzzwords cannot hide the fact that a “21st century education” is simply a more expensive and more bureaucratic version of North Carolina’s current system of public schools.
The new and improved 21st century classroom would include a host of pricey electronic devices, gadgets, and toys that, according to advocates, would put an end to silly, old-fashioned book learning. North Carolina Newspapers in Education recently published a short introduction to 21st century education titled Making the Grade: Education for the 21st Century. The tract explains:
In the ideal 21st century school, each school will have facilities and personnel that are necessary for a 21st century education. This includes individual classroom spaces – many with movable walls and flexible desk/table/cubicle configurations – and technology that is similar to what adults already use in the workplace. That means classrooms outfitted with an interactive digital whiteboard and data projector; a classroom set of individual student response devices; digital and video cameras; a telephone; one or more multimedia work stations that include printers, science probeware for experiments, digital microscopes and graphing scientific calculators for the upper grades.
Advocates for “21st century schools” fail to explain how, for example, individual student response devices are preferable to students simply raising their hand, but that is not the point. The point is to convince parents that their child will be doomed to a life of destitution if he or she does not have access to individual response devices, science probeware, digital microscopes, and graphing scientific calculators – technology that most adults do not use (or need) in the workplace. Regrettably, anxious parents become a natural ally to education officials who champion new and costly programs that students supposedly need to have in order to be successful in the elusive 21st century economy.
Needless to say, educational technology has not lived up to the hype. Stanford University professor emeritus Larry Cuban’s excellent study of educational technology, Oversold and Underused: Computers in the Classroom, agrees. Cuban concludes, “The introduction of information technologies into schools over the past two decades has achieved neither the transformation of teaching and learning nor the productivity gains that a reform coalition of corporate executives, public officials, parents, academics, and educators have sought.” Elected officials and education leaders in our state have ignored the fact that educational technology has failed to improve student achievement in North Carolina in any significant way. Yet under the guise of the “21st century economy” they will continue to urge taxpayers to foot the bill for the latest ed-tech craze.
Of course, even the most enthusiastic proponent of “21st century schools” will argue that technology is only one piece of a much larger effort to 21st century-ize public schools. Indeed, what would a 21st century school be without 21st century professionals (also known as teachers and administrators) teaching a 21st century curriculum? In its list of goals, the State Board of Education calls on teachers and administrators to “have the skills to deliver 21st Century content in a 21st Century context with 21st Century tools and technology that guarantees student learning.” Furthermore, they are expected to “use a 21st Century assessment system to inform instruction and measure 21st Century knowledge, skills, performance, and dispositions.” Apparently, 21st century literacy coaches, a Center for 21st Century Skills, and 21st century community learning centers are necessary to achieve these goals.
In order to explain what the State Board of Education means by “21st Century knowledge, skills, performance, and dispositions,” we obviously need a cartoon character. Enter Nicky Future Ready (pdf illustration).
Nicky Future Ready is the creation of the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction’s Elementary Education Division. According to the Department of Public Instruction publication sales Web site:
Nicky Future Ready was "born" this summer. He represents the elementary children we teach in our classrooms. Nicky is "labeled," but not with negative labels and stereotypes. He is labeled with the attributes of a future ready student! Do the students in your school "wear" these labels, too? These are attributes every student will need to be globally competitive in the 21st century.
Nicky “wears” seventeen attributes: (1) self-directed responsible worker, (2) multi-lingual, (3) critical thinker, (4) effective communicator, (5) relationship builder, (6) health-focused life-long learner, (7) financially literate citizen, (8) creative/innovative thinker, (9) knowledgeable global citizen, (10) strong team contributor, (11) proficient reader, (12) science savvy, (13) literate consumer of media, (14) capable technology user, (15) effective problem solver, (16) curious researcher, and (17) skilled mathematician.
Interestingly, the so-called 21st century economy demands that elementary students master the same communication, computational, and critical thinking skills required for success in the 20th century economy. As such, North Carolina’s children still need competent teachers and capable administrators, not classrooms full of technology or posters of cartoon characters, to be successful in school and beyond.