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Magner: NCLB Waivers Key to 21st-Century Learning

President Barack Obama’s recent directive addressing the No Child Left Behind education law is a step in the right direction, while the absence of Congressional agreement and legislative action on reauthorization underscores the lack of common agreement across our nation concerning the future of our education systems.

The administration’s waiver package responds to calls from states and districts to move beyond the current challenges and requirements of No Child Left Behind and supports state efforts to prepare every student to be college- and career-ready. It also provides states with the opportunity and authority to define student progress in ways that can move us toward this common agreement.

The Partnership for 21st Century Skills, the nation’s leading organization promoting 21st-century learning opportunities for all students, strongly supports Congressional action to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. While that process is under way, these waivers provide a unique opportunity for states to upgrade their achievement and accountability systems, and bring them into greater alignment with the needs of our communities, economy and democracy.

Overall, the conditions laid out by the administration in its waiver package will assist states in working toward rigorous yet attainable goals for student performance based on college- and career-readiness standards.

P21 and its members agree that the Common Core State Standards constitute an important starting point of what it means to measure and define “college and career readiness.” But it is important for these standards to be the “floor” and not the “ceiling” of what we expect from our students.

There are many ways to demonstrate and measure student success. We hope the administration will view the waiver process as a means of embracing states’ capacities to develop comprehensive measurement systems for 21st-century student learning outcomes that assess higher-order thinking and global awareness, along with technology, civic, health, economic and environmental literacies. These core competencies, coupled with life and career skills, represent what students should know and be able to do in a knowledge-based, global economy.

P21 is also working with the 112th Congress to support bipartisan legislation such as the 21st Century Readiness Act, which outlines a more expansive definition of student success that includes the four C’s (critical thinking and problem solving, communication, collaboration and creativity and innovation) and extends beyond the basics of reading, writing and math. These, too, are essential for our students to be competitive in the global economy.

Education and employment are interwoven, and in order to improve the international rankings of American students and the competitiveness of America’s workforce, we must be forward-looking and holistic in our approach to education reform.

Our nation’s future depends on our ability to prepare children not just to succeed, but to lead in the 21st century. Our students’ ability to master critical skills while simultaneously gaining rigorous content knowledge is a vital part of preparing them to be global citizens who can fortify the American workforce and fulfill the promise of our democracy.

Timothy J. Magner is executive director of Partnership for 21st Century Skills.

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