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21st Century Learning
In order to best understand this phrase, it is important to recognize the historical perspective.  Fourteen years ago, Congress passed a landmark piece of legislation best known as No Child Left Behind.  At the time it was seen as a bipartisan approach to ensuring that every student in our nation had the best educational opportunities.  Since its inception, the law was highly debated and eventually we learned that the outcomes were not what we expected.  

With several lessons learned, our nation’s leaders once again agreed to a piece of legislation that would govern education just a few short years ago.  This new law named Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) was signed into law to replace No Child Left Behind in 2015. According to the Ohio Department of Education, “ESSA represents a shift toward increased state and local control of elementary and secondary education… that will ensure students across the country leave our schools with the skills and knowledge they need to be successful in college, careers and life”. 

ESSA required that states develop a plan for implementation that would focus on educating all students, creating safe and supportive learning environments, and encouraging innovation and extended learning opportunities.  Ohio used this as a foundation for the new strategic plan called Each Child, Our Future.  The vision for education in Ohio is that every child is challenged, empowered and prepared. 

As a parent, taxpayer and citizen of this society, I feel strongly about the “prepared” part of that vision.  That statement bodes the question, what does prepared mean, exactly?  At the surface, it may mean that students are ready to go to college, military or work directly from high school.  And yet, each of those pathways leads to a state of adulthood where your contributions are both as a direct result of your choice and have a positive impact on the society, economy and those you consider loved ones.  How exactly do we prepare students for that?

According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development’s Employment Outlook for 2019, “Middle-skilled jobs are increasingly exposed to this profound transformation. We estimate that 14% of existing jobs could disappear as a result of automation in the next 15-20 years, and another 32% are likely to change radically as individual tasks are automated.”  This revolution in the labor market means a future for our society and the nature of our “work” that is constantly changing.  This makes understanding how to prepare our young people even more difficult. We need to engage our students in learning how to be ready to make changes.  In a recent article in Forbes magazine, the 12 most important skills needed to succeed in the world of work are learnability, resilience, agility, collaboration, verbal communication, written communication, empathy, creativity, problem solving, leadership, negotiation, and technology. These are the skills that are needed for success in the 21st Century.  

If we have students who are leaving school without these skills, they may not weather the storm of change facing our society now and in the future.  Our world including our workplaces are changing at lightning speed and students who do not have these skills will not be equipped to transition into and through adulthood.  

Ohio’s educational leaders are hopeful to impact the changes needed in education to prepare students with 21st Century Skills.  Unfortunately, data indicates that some groups of students do not have equal access to opportunities to learn 21st Century Skills. One group is students with special needs. According to the National Center for Learning Disabilities students with disabilities struggle to be successful in post-secondary learning opportunities and work. NCLD.org says, “Less than half (46%) of working-age adults with learning disabilities are employed, compared to 71% of adults without learning disabilities. Students with disabilities are less likely to attend, persist in, and complete postsecondary education. And if they enter the labor force, they make $4 less per hour than their peers.” This reality creates an opportunity gap for students with learning disabilities. 

It is important to recognize that for most students with identified learning disabilities, cognitive ability is average or better. It is also important to note that in many cases social and economic factors can present in students as learning disabilities.  Moreover, identified disabilities often result in less access to opportunities to learn the 21st Century Skills listed above based separate classes or limiting programming designed only for students with disabilities.  

Federal and state education regulations are calling for change to address this. Ohio’s strategic plan calls for our focus to be on the whole child.  Federal laws such as ESSA and Perkins are calling for focus on equitable access to all learning opportunities for each child.  And the National Center for Learning Disabilities is calling for education to be inclusive.  NCLD.org states, “NCLD believes that neglecting to provide students with disabilities with these 21st century skills and dispositions will further widen the opportunity gap for these students.”  Greenville City Schools is working hard to answer these calls by providing high quality educational services for students with disabilities that honor student choice, empower students to persevere and offer comprehensive interventions and supports.  

This shift in education is a journey and the teachers and staff at Greenville are working hard to implement these shifts.  Students of all abilities and with diverse needs all deserve equal access to educational opportunities because each child deserves to live the life of their dreams.  This work cannot be done without powerful partnerships with families, community support organizations, and stakeholders.  When you encounter a new learning experience for children in our community, consider the rationale for these educational changes and the future expectations for that young person.  When we work together we can prepare all students to realize their dreams and have a positive impact on our community. 
Andrea D. Townsend
Director of Career Technical and Special Education

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