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A 21st Century Purpose for K-12 Education

With so much talk and money thrown at school reform, we should heed the advice in Daniel Pink’s best selling book, Drive, the Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us. According to Pink, “The secret to high performance and satisfaction—at work, at school, and at home—is the deeply human need to direct our own lives, to learn and create new things, and to do better by ourselves and our world.” Think for a moment about what that means for teachers, for site principals, and for students.  

Drawing on decades of scientific research on human motivation, Pink exposes the mismatch between what research shows and what business does-and current school reform initiatives are unfortunately imposing. While carrots and sticks worked somewhat successfully in the twentieth century assembly line model, that’s precisely the wrong way to motivate teachers and administrators for today’s 21st Century education challenges. In DRiVE, Pink examines a new approach that has three essential elements:

  1. Autonomy – the desire to direct our own lives.
  2. Mastery — the urge to get better and better at something that matters.
  3. Purpose — the yearning to do what we do in the service of something larger than ourselves.

What California needs is an overarching purpose for public education that will inspire and unleash the collective potential of over six million school children. Over the last several months, a Purpose has been deeply discussed and outlined by the California Coalition for 21st Century Skills. 

On January 13th, 2011 a 21st Century stakeholder meeting was held at Fullerton College in Orange County. The National Partnership for 21stCentury Education (P21) States Director Helen Soule flew in from Washington DC to support a growing P21 California movement that included leaders from business, publishers, California PTA, Association of School Administrators, California Science Teachers Association, California Mathematics Council, California Council for the Social Studies, Californians Together, the CTA and CFT, school board members, superintendents, labor, community organizations, higher education, and educational non-profits. Senator Lou Correa and Assembly Education Chair Julia Brownley (represented by Chief Consultant Gerry Shelton out of Sacramento) announced their joint efforts to produce ground-breaking legislation which for the first time will steer California towards the future, embracing the vision of P21 while at the same time preparing students  for the new “Common Core” assessments rolling out nationally in 2014.

Building on the energy generated by the P21 California group, Assembly member Julia Brownley and State Senator Lou Correa are sponsoring two bills (AB 250 and SB 402) that will give all stakeholders renewed purpose for k-12 education. These bills will help define a much needed vision and direction for public education that will help prepare our six million school children for citizenship with college or career content knowledge and skills for success in a 21st Century globally connected world.

Senator Correa’s  bill would require “each curriculum framework to describe how content can be delivered to intentionally build creativity, innovation, critical thinking, problem solving, collaboration, and communication into and across each content area, to the extent the description is deemed appropriate by the board.” 

This is a big deal in that it will begin to take pedagogy beyond “teaching to the test.”  Imagine classes where students are asked to analyze, synthesize, evaluate and create their own original thoughts through writing, speaking about real world issues.  

Currently, Frameworks are written without regard to interconnection and interrelationships among all content areas; and do not support student application of content knowledge to real world challenges. As a former member of the Curriculum Commission, I should know. Moreover, Frameworks do not consistently recognize the importance of preparing students for 21stCentury content and skills needed for success in  college or careers. If AB 250 passes, it will be a game changer defining a purpose that is overarching and inspiring.  The Correa bill will help guide the Frameworks process, which is the blueprint for implementation of the content standards.

Assembly Bill 250 introduced by Julia Brownley is a comprehensive bill that attempts to reform several important areas calling for the update of frameworks (aligned with Correa’s bill), professional development, instructional materials and assessment to align and support the new Common Core standards, which will be implemented in 2014.

Although there is so much at stake if the governor’s anticipated June ballot measure fails, it is discomforting to be forced to ask for voter support when there has been no clear goal other than meeting rigidly prescribed multiple choice metrics that have narrowed the curriculum to basically two subjects.  The stakeholders involved with P21 California believe that the Brownley/Correa bills will give public education a refocused raison d’etre and begin to unleash the creative synergies among all stakeholders, which can propel our state back to greatness.

We need to write letters in support of both these bills.  For more information about what you can do and find sample letters, please see www.p21california.com

Mike Matsuda is a Trustee on the North Orange County Community College District, and Co-Chair, California Coalition for P21.