One of the attractions for me of coming to Tucson was the way in which this city is becoming a national hub of 21st century K-12 learning. This is manifested in many ways: that Partnership for 21st century Skills is headquartered here, that there are some fine charter schools here, and that several of the public school districts are doing fine 21st century learning.
Elizabeth Celania-Fagen is the (relatively) new Tucson superintendent here, and truly an outstanding next generation educational leader. She was appointed only about a year ago, and declared her innovative approach right away, in words which sound much like my own to the St. Gregory search committee: “The heart of who I am is focusing people around the future and what we want from our schools,” said Celania-Fagen. “Not everybody understands the difference between a 20th-century educational model and a 21st-century educational model.”
Recently she appeared on Arizona public media, where one questioner challenged her on what does she really mean, anyway, by her vision of “21st century sustainable outcomes.” She answered as follows:
It is no longer viable for our students to just memorize information, which has been sort of our history: You come, the teacher has the information, the textbook has the information, you memorize it, you regurgitate it, you get an A, and you move on.
The future of our country depends on a whole lot more than that, and it is not even really appropriate to memorize textbooks anymore. We cannot cover all of US history in a year; we need to start looking at learning differently, and we need also to look at what I call sustainable outcomes, meaning that when my students go to community college they won’t have to take remedial algebra, because they will actually have the skills and be able to use the algebra they took three years ago.
So the 21st century is about looking at skills and contents in a really smart way, so that it is not teaching everything, it is teaching the most important things deeply, concentrating on skills development, and in addition to that, doing teaching and learning in a way where students actually remember what they learn.
This is great. I think she captures succinctly how differently we need to teach and learn in our new era, and conveys central points of importance. I would read into her ideas some important ideas from Grant Wiggins: we need to teach for understanding, and do so in a way that students can retain and apply their learning far into the future. We need to not teach for coverage, we need to throw out the concept of surveys, and instead dive deeper and for greater mastery.