average.1 Part of the reason for the weak average performance of American students is uneven learning and achievement among different groups of students. Disparities in the relative educational attainment of children from high-income versus low-income families have grown enormously since the 1970s (Duncan and Murnane, 2011). In a related trend, the gap between average incomes of the wealthiest and poorest families has grown.
Business leaders, educational organizations, and researchers have begun to call for new education policies that target the development of broad, transferable skills and knowledge, often referred to as “21st century skills.” For example, the Partnership for 21st Century Skills2 argues that student success in college and careers requires four essential skills: critical thinking and problem solving, communication, collaboration, and creativity and innovation (Partnership for 21st Century Skills, 2010, p. 2).
Although these skills have long been valuable (for example, Thomas Alva Edison observed in 1903 that “Genius is 1 percent inspiration, 99 percent perspiration”), they are particularly salient today, and education officials are beginning to focus on them. Sixteen states have joined the Partnership for 21st Century Skills, based on a commitment to fuse 21st century skills with academic content (Partnership for 21st Century Skills, 2011) in their standards, assessments, curriculum, and teacher professional development. Some state and local high school reform efforts have begun to focus on a four-dimensional framework of college and career readiness that includes not only academic content but also cognitive strategies, academic behaviors, and contextual skills and awareness (Conley, 2011). At the international level, the U.S. secretary of education participates on the executive board of the Assessment and Teaching of 21st Century Skills (ATC21S) project, along with the education ministers of five other nations and the vice presidents of Cisco, Intel, and Microsoft. This project aims to expand the teaching and learning of 21st century skills globally, especially by improving assessment of these skills. In a separate effort, a large majority of 16 OECD nations surveyed in 2009 reported that they are incorporating 21st century skills in their education policies, such as regulations and guidelines (Aniandou and Claro, 2009).
To increase understanding of the research related to deeper learning, 21st century skills, and related educational goals, the Carnegie Corporation of New York, the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, the John D. and
2This nonprofit organization includes business, education, community, and governmental groups.