create more formalized common standards would help address some of the
challenges by focusing efforts in a
common direction. But common standards will not, by themselves, be
The past few decades have seen great
progress in education reform in the
United States—progress that has especially benefited less-advantaged
students. Today’s reformers can build on
that progress only if they pay keen
attention to the challenges associated
with genuinely improving teaching and
learning. If we ignore these challenges,
the 21st century skills movement risks
becoming another fad that ultimately
changes little—or even worse, sets back
the cause of creating dramatically more
Skills and knowledge
are not separate,
powerful schools for U.S. students,
especially those who are underserved
Goodlad, J. I. (1984). A place called school.
New York: McGraw-Hill.
Loveless, T. (2002). A tale of two math
reforms: The politics of the new math and
NCTM standards. In T. Loveless (Ed.),
The great curriculum debate (pp. 184–209).
Washington, DC: Brookings.
National Institute of Child Health and
Human Development Early Child Care
Research Network. (2005). A day in the
third grade: A large-scale study of classroom quality and teacher and student
behavior. Elementary School Journal, 105,
Shapson, S. M., Wright, E. N., Eason, G., &
Fitzgerald, J. (1980). An experimental
study of the effects of class size. American
Educational Research Journal, 17, 141–152.
Silva, E. (2008). Measuring skills for the 21st
century. Washington, DC: Education
Sector. Available: www.educationsector
Andrew J. Rotherham is Cofounder and
Publisher of Education Sector and writes
the blog Eduwonk.com; arotherham
@ educationsector.org. Daniel Willingham
is Professor of Psychology at the University of Virginia and the author of Why
Don’t Students Like School? (
Jossey-Bass, 2009); firstname.lastname@example.org.