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Statement Of Secretary Of Education, Paul Reville, On The Report Of The Task Force On 21st Century Skills

I convened the Task Force on 21st century skills for one reason, to help us better prepare our children, our students to succeed in our rapidly changing world. By success, I mean for them to have the skills and knowledge they need to be economically successful, to hold a job and be contributors to a 21st century economy; to be successfully prepared to function as informed, active citizens and potential leaders in a 21st century democracy embedded in a complex 21st century world; to have the knowledge, skill and dispositions to become successful heads of families or at least to have those traits we associate with family leadership and finally, success means that all of our children should be educated in ways that prepare them to be continuous, lifelong learners.

I believed that this Board, with the support and assistance of a highly expert commission should begin to consider how we might modify our educational strategies so as to maximize student readiness for the challenges ahead. To see the challenges of the 21st century, one need only look, for example, at our economy and the world's economy in dire, unforeseen straits, our democracy embarking on an unprecedented new chapter and the technology revolution which is daily altering our culture and bringing change and new challenges to our families and our society. What do our students, not just your children and mine but all of our children, need to ensure that they will be ready to be successful in this brave, new world. How can we build on, complement our already strong standards in ways that serve our students more effectively?

I asked the Task Force to examine our standards, assessments and accountability systems and advise us on how they might be modified to meet the challenges ahead. I asked the members to consider how we might better prepare teachers and curricula to guarantee that they were ready to educate and guide our students to preparedness. With this report, the Task Force has exceeded my expectations and given the Board and the Commonwealth much to consider as we move seek to improve public education in Massachusetts.

I believe this work will complement, not replace or compensate for, the education reform work so many of us have been deeply engaged in for the past two decades. We are proud of our achievements to date but let's be honest, we must recognize we have a long way to go to realize our dream of a fully excellent, equitable school system. Exhibit A in this case are persistent, troubling, achievement gaps: we have a higher floor for subgroups than most states but our gaps are as wide or wider than those in most other states. We are still failing far too many students, losing too many through dropping out, numbing too many with boredom and ill preparing so many that alarming numbers of our graduates are incapable of doing un-remediated college work or successfully completing post secondary education. Advocates of the status quo must face these disturbing facts and acknowledge our failures even while celebrating our successes. We have a long way to go.

On top of these facts, our employers are telling us, more urgently with each passing year, that we are not preparing enough of our students to do the jobs of the present and future. They tell us too few can make coherent oral presentations, solve complex problems using either creativity or technology, too few understand the complexities of the US in its relationship to the other countries of the world, too few can work effectively as part of a group or team and too few have the motivation and work ethic needed for success. This commission was a direct response to the pleas of employers, on whom the future of our economy depends, to update our education system by making it broader and more rigorous in its expectations.

Our education reform work is not finished. Some would have us hang a "mission accomplished" banner on Massachusetts, but we are not done. We can do better. Some apparently think that various tools of education reform, our standards, our assessments and our accountability systems, are so highly perfected and successful in their effects that they should be regarded as sacrosanct, but we disagree. We can do better. We must do better. Doing well is not good enough.

We can learn from our rich experience. We can build on our successes and recalibrate on the basis of our failures. We can move forward, and I am confident that the Task Force's work will show us the way. And for this I am very grateful to Chairman Chertavian and all the members for their service, their insight and their recommendations. Thank you for your report.

I look forward to a civil, public discourse on these recommendations and others which focus on the challenge of building a genuinely 21st century system of education for our students. We need to engage these topics and one another and then move forward with a sense of urgency as our students and educators are waiting for us to act on their behalf. Governor Patrick and I commend the Board for its willingness to boldly face the challenges and undertake the work ahead. We are confident that working together we can and will do better to ensure that each and every one of our students is educated for success. A decade and a half ago, the Commonwealth set out on a mission to make "every child a winner". Today, we take another step toward delivering on that audacious promise.

Last Updated: November 19, 2008
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