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Research Center

21st-Century Education

Essentials on education data and research analysis

What constitutes a 21st-century education? The answers vary (Walser, 2008), but 10 states have already adopted the framework used by the Partnership for 21st Century Skills (, and more states are preparing to do so. The Partnership’s Framework for 21st Century Learning specifies student outcomes in four areas:

1. Mastery of core subjects (English, reading or language arts, world languages, arts, mathematics, economics, science, geography, history, government and civics) connected by interdisciplinary themes such as global awareness and financial literacy

2. Learning and innovation skills such as critical thinking and collaboration

3. Information, media and technology skills

4. Life and career skills such as self-direction, adaptability, responsibility, social skills, and leadership

Cooperation and Collaboration

Participating states have infused a spectrum of skills into their standards and curriculum. And the partnership has established a national network of organizations that provide professional development to help implement 21st-century learning initiatives. But in schools struggling to achieve adequate yearly progress, educators may wonder: Are 21st-century skills and student achievement linked?

Teaching students to pose and answer questions that require them to challenge assumptions and describe causal relationships can increase learning and memory, says a guide published by the U.S. Department of Education (Pashler et al., 2007).

A research team led by Robert Slavin conducted a systematic review of the research on the achievement outcomes of four approaches to improve middle and high school student reading. The team identified 33 randomized or matchedcontrol-group studies that met the criteria. Instructional-process programs that involved cooperative learning and those that combined large- and small-group instruction with computer activities yielded positive effects. The conclusion: “Programs designed to change daily teaching practices have substantially greater research support than those focused on curriculum or technology alone” (Slavin, Cheung, Groff, & Lake, 2008).

Interdisciplinary Education

A pedagogical approach that includes developing language and literacy skills and connecting lessons to students’ lives improves student achievement, especially for English Language Learners, say researchers at the University of California-Berkeley (Doherty & Hilberg, 2007). For schools looking to reap the potential benefits, researchers caution that teachers need support, which the partnership says includes standards, assessment, curriculum and instruction, professional development, and learning environments.

Carla Thomas McClure is a staff writer at Edvantia, a nonprofit education research and development organization. John Ross is a senior research and development specialist at Edvantia. To find citation of all the references used in this article, go to


Doherty, R. W., & Hilberg, R. S. (2007). Standards for effective pedagogy, classroom organization, English proficiency, and student achievement. The Journal of Educational Research, 101(1), 24-34.

Pashler, H., Bain, P. M., Bottge, B. A., Graesser, A., Koedinger, K., McDaniel, M., & Metcalf, J. (2007). Organizing instruction and study to improve student learning (NCER 2007-2004). Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, National Center for Education Research.

Slavin, R., Cheung, A., Groff, C., & Lake, C. (2008). Effective reading programs for middle and high schools: A best-evidence synthesis. Reading Research Quarterly, 43(3), 290-322.

Walser, N. (2008, October). Teaching 21st century skills. Harvard Education Newsletter. Retrieved from