Common Core’s aggressive skepticism about the Partnership for 21st Century Skills (P21) is slowly emerging as one of the great David vs. Goliath stories in education. The tiny Washington-based nonprofit, which is less than two years old, has been relentless in questioning the whole concept of 21st century skills. A big piece in next week’s Ed Week by Stephen Sawchuk gives big play and credibility to one of Common Core’s more troubling charges: that P21 is “a veiled attempt by technology companies—which make up the bulk of the group’s membership—to gain more influence over the classroom.” Sawchuk writes:
Although business-education partnerships are by no means new, P21 stands apart for the number of its partners, their influence in the technology world, and the sheer size and scope of the work it is trying to perform. And for that reason, it is worth asking: What is P21? And how does the group plan to respond to criticism as states adopt its prescription for student learning?
The piece also examines the background of P21′s executive director Ken Kay, a veteran technology policy advocate. The most interesting new tidbit: “According to P21’s publicly available 990, a federal form required of 501(c)3 tax-exempt organizations, the group used to share an address with Mehlman Vogel Castagnetti, a Washington-based technology lobbying firm,” Sawchuck reports. So what do all those technology companies get out of being part of the Partnership?
In exchange for dues, the member organizations receive several benefits, Mr. Kay explained. They become part of “a proactive process for creating a new vision of education.” They have new networking opportunities and better access to federal policymakers and state leaders. Finally, they can access “early intelligence” about where the education system may be headed in order to help ensure that products and services align with that vision.
P21 spent “in excess of $1 million of its revenue” two years ago to promote 21st-century skills, EdWeek reports. About half of the sum went to E-Luminate, “a marketing and communications-consulting firm of which Mr. Kay is the co-founder and chief executive officer. The firm has a contract with P21 to handle day-to-day operations of the organization,” Sawchuk notes.
To be sure, P21 the questionable 21st Century Skills meme is still an education bumper sticker — a phrase people throw around without thinking much about. But thanks to Common Core and Lynne Munson, the chorus of skeptics is growing louder and louder.