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Global21 is Key to Moving W.Va. Schools Forward in the 21st Century

July 14, 2009

By
Dr. Steven L. Paine
West Virginia Superintendent of Schools

As students across West Virginia enjoy their summer breaks, they will return to class this fall to a different school environment. If you are a parent, grandparent or around other school-age children, you no doubt  have heard rumblings about how school is getting harder. School is changing, and it’s changing for all the right reasons. We want to make sure all West Virginia children are prepared for the world that awaits them.

The U.S. Department of Labor estimates that today's students will have 10 to 14 jobs by the age of 38. Thirty or 40 years ago, we knew the kinds of jobs our students would have. Now, 80 percent of the jobs today’s students will have don’t even exist yet. That’s why it’s important to learn the same skills that children across the world are learning.

Employers, like Verizon, Intel and Cisco, tell me and others in education that they want workers who are able to think strategically, use technology wisely, work collaboratively and communicate effectively. Employees are expected to have these skills their first day on the job. In today's weak economy, the resumes of those who don't speak the language of the 21st century are quickly passed over.

At the West Virginia Department of Education, we have spent the last few years working to improve our education system in West Virginia with a focus on mastering content. To do so, the West Virginia State Board of Education added world-class rigor to core subjects and aligned state standards with national standards in the National Assessment for Education Progress (NAEP), ACT, and SAT, as well as with international standards in the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) and the Trends in International Math and Science Study (TIMSS).

We call 21st century teaching and learning -- Global21: Students deserve it. The world demands it.

President Barack Obama has challenged schools across the country to adopt plans such as West Virginia’s Global21 that shifts away from traditional teacher-centered lessons and emphasizes student-centered learning integrated with real world issues.

“I am calling on states that are setting their standards far below where they ought to be to stop low-balling expectations for our kids. The solution to low test scores is not lower standards – it’s tougher, clearer standards,” Obama said recently in describing his education plan. “And I am calling on our nation’s governors and state education chiefs to develop standards and assessments that don’t simply measure whether students can fill in a bubble on a test, but whether they possess 21st century skills like problem solving and critical thinking, entrepreneurship and creativity.”

While Global21 emphasizes core subject knowledge, including math, science, social studies, English and foreign languages, it is no longer enough. Today’s employers, such as Cisco, Intel and Verizon, tell us they value people who have both knowledge and skills. They want employees who are smart and who know how to communicate, collaborate, analyze and solve problems their first day on the job. In today's weak economy, the resumes of those who don't speak the language of the 21st century are quickly passed over.

In addition to strengthening core subjects and incorporating 21st century skills into the curriculum, Global21 includes a new and more challenging state assessment in WESTEST 2, which was administered in schools in May. Results will be available later this summer. Students likely will take a couple of years to adjust to the more rigorous, complex updates to WESTEST 2.

The improvements to West Virginia’s system were voluntary and made in the best interest of children. We could have continued the status quo and our students would have done fine on the WESTEST. But that would not have been fair to students, who are now learning what students worldwide are learning.

Parents, grandparents, community leaders, business and industry, as well as principals, teachers and other educators will all be an important part as we explore new ways to challenge children's thinking in the 21st century. Global 21 is our tool to help children develop valuable skills needed to succeed today.

By working together to implement these progressive changes in our school system, we are putting West Virginia at the forefront of 21st century education. West Virginia is a pioneer in this arena. Join me and others as we work together to lead an educational revolution that will benefit our most precious resource – our children.

 

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