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New & Noteworthy: July 2021

This month, we are reading about the wide variation in Civics and U.S. History standards across states; evidence that certain skills and attitudes are valued in the job market and the importance of embedding them in our learning systems; how education systems around the world are doing in developing key skills, character, and meta-learning competencies; the role of smart technology in education and the potential for improving student outcomes; and how some education ideas continually resurface—even after they have been discredited.

A new report from the Fordham Institute evaluates the quality of K-12 civics and U.S. History state standards based on their content, rigor, clarity, and organization. Only five jurisdictions received “exemplary” ratings: Alabama, California, Massachusetts, Tennessee, and the District of Columbia. Twenty states were rated “inadequate” in both subjects. The report includes five recommendations: 1) expand coverage across the grades, 2) provide more specific and detailed guidance, 3) put more emphasis on writing, argumentation, problem analysis, and the connections between core content and current events, 4) make the standards simpler, more flexible, and more user-friendly, and 5) address specific oversights and gaps in coverage.

A recent article by partners at McKinsey & Company specifies 56 foundational skills and attitudes citizens will need in the future world of work. The authors provide evidence that higher proficiency in these skills and attitudes is associated with a higher likelihood of employment, higher incomes, and job satisfaction. Given their value, the report recommends updating education and adult training curricula to focus more on these key skills, to invest in research to better understand how to develop and assess these skills, and to rethink credentialing systems to be organized around these skills.

A discussion paper from the Center for Curriculum Redesign (CCR) ranks the performance of education systems in over 50 countries in developing three kinds of key competencies: skills (how we use what we know), character (how we behave and engage in the world), and meta-learning (how we reflect and adapt). For each of 12 key competencies, CCR used proxy parameters from available global indices (sources include OECD, the United Nations, and the World Economic Forum) and weighted the data to give each country a score.  Key competencies include critical thinking, resilience, ethics, and leadership. The paper is intended to spark a discussion about how to best develop and measure these important competencies.

In Digital Education Outlook 2021, the OECD takes a deep dive into smart education technologies such as AI, blockchain and robotics and considers both the opportunities they offer for improving the effectiveness, equity and cost-efficiency of education and challenges of integration. The first part of the book focuses on the use of smart technologies in the classroom, while the second part explores implications for the management of educational institutions and systems.

Finally, in an ACSD piece titled Zombie Ideas in Education Bryan Goodwin, president and CEO of McREL International, notes six debunked education theories —  such as students have different learning styles or students learn best through unguided discovery — that continue to “return to life” despite the evidence against them.  As Goodwin reminds us, there is a tendency to gravitate to educational theories that seem plausible even if research suggests otherwise.