Who Are The Students "Most Likely to Succeed"?

Are even our most successful schools truly preparing students for the Innovation Age?

I have closely observed how school culture can prize educational values of academic achievement and the prize of college as the great equalizer. "Get into a good fit college and you will have the stepping stone you need to be successful." While I believe I am aligned with the high standards and good intentions of getting every student into a dream school that fits his or her needs, I am observing more and more that the design of the underlying educational system itself is too outdated to serve the needs of the Innovation Age our kids will grow up to participate (or not) in. Consume or create? As much as Wagner+Dintersmith's book resonated with me, I am also ethnographically observing the lives of so many of my 20-30 year old colleagues making an impact in their communities and their world. Creating an equitable system that gives everyone the opportunity to be a well-rounded world-citizen with the economic ability and critical thinking skills so he, she or ze can participate, have a voice, is idyllic. Non-conformists move the world forward, no? We need to make broader sweeping structurally changes to what IS K-12 education. Let's discuss what wonder, creativity, and initiative look like when they are standardized.

Here are my take-aways from the read:

Some stand-out passages:

1. Our standardized tests measure OBSOLETE skills. (P.93)

2. "Google no longer asks for an applicant's college transcript, and 15 percent of Google hires today' don't have a college degree...The word college doesn't even appear in its online guide to hiring." (P.67)

3. "...the college "market" is being profoundly disrupted by the availability of free or low-cost online courses and alternate pathways for acquiring job skills. Business guru Clatyon Christensen believes that, because the value proposition for college has declined so radically and the finances of many colleges are so shaky, '15 years from now half of US universities may be in bankruptcy.'" (.P149)

20th Century Skills vs. 21st Century Skills


20th-Century Model:

  • Memorization of low-level procedures
  • Pattern recognition
  • Ability to perform calculations by hand
  • Speed
  • Accuracy
  • Ability to perform well under time pressure

21st-Century Model:

  • Deeply understanding the problem
  • Structuring the problem and representing it symbolically
  • Creative problem-solving
  • Pattern recognition to understand which math “tools” are relevant
  • Adept use of available computational resources
  • Critical evaluation of first-pass results
  • Estimation, statistics, and decision-making
  • Taking chances, risking failure, and iterating to refine and perfect
  • Synthesizing results
  • presenting/communicating quantitative information
  • Collaboration
  • Asking questions about complex quantitative information


20th-Century Model:

  • Clear penmanship
  • Proper spelling and grammar
  • Sound vocabulary
  • Ability to read written materials (novels, poems, plays)
  • Ability to write in complete sentences

21st-Century Model:

  • Use Sound Vocabulary
  • Read a wide variety of written materials (novels, poems, plays, essays, news) critically
  • Communicate clearly across multiple media forms, with a range of styles
  • Form and justify independent bold perspectives
  • Ask thoughtful questions
  • Engage in constructive debate


20th-Century Model:

  • Coverage of important events and figures
  • Aility to recall important historical facts
  • Write short essays clearly recounting historical information

21st-Century Model:

  • Critically analyze historical events and sources
  • Form independent views on dynamics and implications
  • Write clear and thought-provoking theses
  • Ask questions and engage in constructive debate
  • Relate historical developments to current issues shaping the world we live in


20th-Century Model:

  • Cover core disciplines - physics, chemistry, biology
  • Cover key definitions, formulas, and concepts
  • Gain familiarity with basic lab procedures

21st-Century Model:

  • Understand how the world works
  • Be able to form and test scientific hypotheses
  • Be able to ask insightful questions and design experiments
  • Build things based on scientific principles
  • Apply principles across disciplines
  • Develop scientific creativity

World Languages

20th-Century Model:

  • Sound vocabulary and knowledge of verbs and tenses
  • Ability to read and comprehend written materials
  • Ability to write basic compositions in the language
  • Focus on languages for science or ancient cultures

21st-Century Model:

  • True proficiency in speaking
  • Understanding cultures and the ability to navigate them
  • Ability to collaborate across cultures
  • Technology-leveraged polylinguality

Do you agree with these models for your discipline? Why or why not? Do your objectives and essential learning results reflect exit skills aligned with the models above? Why or why not?

booksTara Gilboa