Analysis of the Initiatives and Motives of the Partnership for 21st Century Skills

May 27, 2009

After spending some time familiarizing myself with the Partnership for 21st Century Skills (P21s) website, I initially thought the organizations’ goals and mission were well intended. The site states that its mission is to “serve as a catalyst to position 21st Century skills at the center of US K- 12 education by building collaborative partnerships among education, business, community and government.” With the direction that technology is pushing the business world in, it is no surprise that there is a push for the education world to follow suit. I agree that there needs to be more ICT skills taught within schools, and that today’s students require a knowledge of a different sort of skills than previous generations did, especially in regards to technology. P21 explains the need for change, in saying that “students will spend their adult lives in a multitasking, multifaceted, technology-driven, diverse, vibrant world – and they must arrive equipped to do so. Against this backdrop, literacy in the 21st century means more than basic reading, writing and computing skills. It means knowing how to use knowledge and skills in the context of modern life” (Partnership for 21st Century Skills, A report and mile guide for 21st century skills, p. 4). In an attempt to stress this point even further, they bring up the point that Alvin Toffler states, “The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannon learn, unlearn, and relearn” (p. 4).  Dave Nagel (2009) of The Journal, also discusses the goal of P21 as a need for “learning environments to move away from a model in which schools mimic factories with their fixed structures, inflexible schedules, and various barriers designed for uniformity as both a means and an end. Instead, education systems should embrace the concept of ‘whole environments for the whole child.’”


What surprised me on the site is the mass abundance of skill sets they expect students to learn and understand by the time they reach the workforce. These include not only the core subjects as identified by the No Child Left Behind Act (English, mathematics, science, foreign language, civics, government, economics, arts, history, and geography), but also what they have included under necessary skills: 21st Century content (global awareness, financial, economic, business and entrepreneurial literacy, civic literacy, and health and wellness awareness), learning and thinking skills (critical thinking and problem solving skills, communication skills, creativity and innovation skills, collaboration skills, information and media literacy skills, and contextual learning skills) ICT Literacy, and life skills (leadership, ethics, accountability, adaptability, personal productivity, personal responsibility, people skills, self direction, and social responsibility) (Partnership for 21st Century Skills, Skills Framework). Even at first glance it is evident that a lot of these skill sets are redundant and overly exhaustive. It may seem this way to me because I work in a state that already requires that most of these skills be taught already in our classrooms. Most of P21’s additional content is already incorporated into the core subject areas content, and the additional skills are the means for teaching that content. Is it really necessary then for the initiative to be pushed into today’s classrooms that are already teaching these skills to their students? Also, their framework is well defined, but the area of assessment seems very vague. If we are to incorporate and teach these different skills, how do we accurately assess them in timely and effective ways, and what merit will they hold on students’ progress reports?


When trying to find the answers to these questions, I ended up spending a lot of time reading through the site, only to be more confused in the end, because of the vagueness to which they describe their own answers to these questions. It was in trying to find the answers that I stumbled across a very troubling piece of information in regards to what I saw as the underlying motive for most of the P21’s initiatives: the type of business most of its contributors were part of and made revenues off of – technology.  A quick glance at its members and you will find top names in the creation and production of a vast array of modern technological devices from “Apple, Dell, Hewlett Packard, Lenovo and Microsoft, to even more names that produce software for those devices including Blackboard, Cisco systems, Adobe Systems, Intel and Verizon.” (For a full list of its members click here: Board Members). What bothers me here is the fact that these companies benefit and exist because they make a profit off of the sale of either technological devices or software. If they can continue the drive for increased technological use in schools, they will continue to fuel their own companies’ success. While I am, and have always been, a proponent for the integration of technology in the classroom, because of the value it provides for student learning and success in the future, I am troubled by the fact that P21s members are mostly in it for their own corporate gain.


According to Daniel Willingham (2009) who participated in a forum discussion with P21 president, Ken Kay, stated that Ken Kay said “our real expertise is the setting of goals. Other people have to figure out how to make that happen.” The problem then is with P21 giving a variety of resources, lesson plans and assessments for educators, districts and states to use right off of their website. If their expertise is not in these areas, why are they giving suggestions on how to fulfill these goals? Willingham also points out a variety of flawed assumptions in P21’s vision for change that are definitely worth pondering including that: “knowledge and skills are separate, teachers do not have cognitive limits, and that experience is equivalent to practice” (2009). For a full explanation of Willingham’s flawed assumptions visit his blog by clicking here: Daniel Willingham


As an educator, I am wary of P21’s framework that is being presented to states and school districts. Although it will gives schools who have struggled with integrating technology a good place to start, I find it very confusing and vague in terms of actual applications, and ways to assess these skill sets. I am fortunate to work in a place that already has a grasp on the importance of fostering these skill sets in students in order to ensure their future success, and will be curious to see whether we adopt and use P21’s framework in the future. As states ponder aligning their curriculum to P21’s framework (ten states already have adopted the framework) that they thoroughly examine the impact that it is actually having on students, so that before they alter everything hey have worked so hard on, many of which who have found success in other ways, it isn’t already deemed a failure or another pedagogical fad that suddenly disappears.


For further discussions on the implications and initiatives of the Partnership for 21st Century Skills visit:


Core Knowledge – 21st Century Skills Fadbusters


Ecology of Education – An Education for the 21st Century without 21st Century Skills?



Nagel, Dave (2009, January). Partnership for 21st Century Skills Calls for Reevaluation of Learning Environments. Retrieved May 27, 2009, from The Journal Web site:


Partnership for 21st Century Skills. (n.d.). Skills framework. Washington DC: Author. Retrieved from


Partnership for 21st Century Skills. (n.d.). A report and mile guide for 21st century skills. Washington DC: Author. Retrieved from

5 Responses to “Analysis of the Initiatives and Motives of the Partnership for 21st Century Skills”

  1.   cwwade on May 28, 2009 1:45 pm

    It is far more than any district could hope to accomplish. I think a teacher, school building or school district, would have to pick and choose as to where to start and where to finish with all of the ideas and information. But it was thought provoking and lead to other good sources on the web.

  2.   ksternquist on May 29, 2009 10:50 pm

    I agree that the initiatives put in place by the Partnership for 21st Century Skills are not something that a district would be able implement or accomplish in a short period of time. Picking the skills that work best for each district would require a great deal of thought and a well laid out plan before implementing in the classroom.

  3.   Gregg Wigen on May 31, 2009 3:16 pm

    “What surprised me on the site is the mass abundance of skill sets they expect students to learn and understand by the time they reach the workforce.” I agree that the list of ‘core’ subjects is a bit overwhelming, but I also think the supposition is that these core skills will be included in the K-12 curriculum and therefore can be managed over time rather than trying to fit them all in to 4 to 6 years of education.
    You also pointed out that the assessment end of the philosophy is a bit thin, this is due to the relative infancy of the movement, I believe. I would definitely like to see some growth in that area but I expect over time that will happen. For now, the best thing I think educators and collaborators on the 21st Century goals can do is to work on enhancing their curriculum without drastically altering it so they can include the life skills and critical thinking abilities that students will need in the future. I do believe that this movement is going to need time to build up steam and likely will need to be pushed at a federal level in order to get a majority of schools to begin complying.

  4.   Jessica Wellman on May 31, 2009 7:21 pm

    I agree that there are a lot of skills this website has listed, but I feel if you look at the list some of the skills we already incorporate into our lessons. This will take time and does need to be planned out before sudden changes occur but over time I think little changes will start occurring. I liked your comment about assessment of these skills; I had never given that aspect a thought. I wonder if in the future this site will create some ideas on how to assess these skills. Along with assessment your comment on how this site did not have any suggestions on how to fulfill these skills was also excellent. I think if the site included suggestions it would help us teachers out and give us some ideas on how to incorporate these skills into our classrooms now. I posted a similar thought about the board members. I am hoping their best interest is not their pockets and in the future citizens of this world.

  5.   ksternquist on June 1, 2009 7:58 am

    Gregg and Jessica,
    I agree that the skill sets will most likely be taught over time, and many are already skills that teachers have been teaching for quite a while now. I would also hope that the assessment portion of P21s initiatives would develop over time. I would also hope that they really evaluate their methods before ensuring educators that they will work in the classroom. I like the main mission of P21, but definetly think that it needs to be a little more developed before states and districts start adopting its practices.

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