Partnership for 21st Century Skills (P21) is a group founded in 2002 by a number of technology companies — AOL Time Warner, Apple, Cable in the Classroom, Cisco Systems, Dell, Microsoft, software company SAP — and the National Education Association. It has since grown in membership but remains dominated by technology companies. Whilst continuing to promote the business agenda of standards, assessment and accountability, it argues that assessment needs to be broadened from tests of memorised facts:
Today’s K-12 assessments predominantly measure memorization of discrete facts, not the ability to apply that knowledge across disciplines, notes the Assessment Guide. To provide a rigorous education, accountability systems must be improved to measure whether students have deep knowledge of core academic subjects and the ability to think critically, problem solve and effectively communicate information about that knowledge.
Members of P21 are openly concerned about the skills of their future employees but they have also been criticised for seeking to gain influence over the classroom and generate business for themselves. Ken Kay, president of P21 (pictured), says this is just a 'cheap shot' by those who don't want schools to be more responsive to business needs. However it may well be an example of the critical thinking his group is supposed to be promoting. But he also notes that in return for their $35,000 annual membership, members:
P21 spent $1 million in 2007, half of which was paid to E-Luminate, a marketing and communications cosulting firm run by Ken Kay.
Education Week reported criticism of its recently released “skill map” for 12th grade English that suggests having students reduce dialogue from Shakespeare to a series of text messages.
In 2009 P21 went international with a new project entitled "Assessment of Teaching of 21st Century Skills" sponsored by Cisco Systems, Microsoft and Intel. Founding member countries are UK, Australia, Finland, Portugal and the UK. The project aims to develop a computer-based assessment system to test student skills as well as "Examine and recommend innovative ICT-enabled, classroom-based learning environments".
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