Innovate, Iterate, Improve: Strategies for Developing 21st Century Competencies

A new report by the Center for Global Education and Policy Studies Associates

Elementary School Kids

Innovate, Iterate, Improve: Strategies for Developing 21st Century Competencies, a report by the Center for Global Education at Asia Society and Policy Studies Associates, documents how three education systems (Denver, Colorado; Hangzhou, China; Hiroshima, Japan) participating in the 21st century competencies working group of Asia Society's Global Cities Education Network (GCEN) used improvement science methods to develop and test strategies to foster the competencies that students need to succeed in the 21st century. 

The goal of the working group was not to coalesce around a definition of 21st century competencies or to address a common competency or change idea. Rather, Asia Society offered a learning network, accountability, training and technical assistance, and a structure for a shared improvement process as teams grappled with questions reflecting their local priorities:

  • Denver: How can school-centered design approaches—with tailored supports from the district office—lead to improvements in interpersonal skills to ensure that students have full potential for classroom engagement?
  • Hangzhou: How do course selection decisions in high school open—or limit—future choices within the educational system, and how can students make the best decisions that will lead to personal fulfillment as they pursue that pathway?
  • Hiroshima: What skills and mindsets do students need to engage with and succeed in a competency-based education system? What supports do teachers need to foster new instructional strategies promoting competency-based learning?

System leaders explored new strategies and identified promising practices through small tests of change, typically at the classroom or school level, rather than launch a system-wide reform, and collected data to determine whether a new strategy is effective or requires adaptation. System leaders also shifted their reform thinking to incorporate "user-centered design": putting the users of policies and programs, typically students and teachers, at the center of solutions and approaching challenges through the lens, and with the ideas and experiences, of these users.

The report, written by Christina Russell of Policy Studies Associates, is based on interviews with working group team members and a review of materials and data documenting each system's strategies for developing 21st century competencies. The report also describes the following lessons learned from these systems' change efforts:

  • Ground efforts in system-wide priorities – but start small
  • Engage teachers in the improvement process
  • Distinguish data for improvement from data for accountability
  • Establish an infrastructure for the improvement process

This report is not an evaluation of the effectiveness of the strategies implemented in each city or of Asia Society's support for the work. Rather, this report explores how these three education systems developed and tested strategies to foster the competencies that students need to succeed in the 21st century, using improvement science approaches to iteratively build on emerging lessons and practices to better support students and teachers.

Download the Report

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