Little Focus on 21st Century Skills

for Global Competitiveness

Both information and non-information service industry jobs represent 86 percent of jobs in the U.S. economy.[1] The U.S. is experiencing slow growth in the workforce, and this creates serious concerns for slowing economic output and global economic competitiveness if there is not an increase in productivity. Boosting productivity and maintaining global competitiveness require an infusion of more highly skilled workers.[2] In order to lead in highly skilled industries such as technology and science, the U.S. will need a creative and innovative workforce. Employers are in search of workers who are equipped with skills beyond basic reading, writing, and math. Employers demand a highly skilled workforce that can engage in critical thinking, problem solving, communication, collaboration, creativity and innovation—the 21st century skills.

Improvement in students’ math and science achievement is key to innovation, global competitiveness, economic growth and sustainability. In 2007 only 34% of all Connecticut students scored proficient or above on the NAEP math assessment, and 33% scored proficient or above on the science assessment, but achievement in the STEM subjects is among the lowest in the nation for minority and low-income students.[3] In 2007 Connecticut ranked 36 in NAEP math performance for African-American students and ranked in the bottom four of states in Latino performance. Connecticut’s rank for low-income students is even more disconcerting. In 2007 the state ranked 25th for high-income student NAEP math scores, but ranked 48th in math performance for low-income students. On the NAEP science exam 44% of 8th grade white students scored proficient and above,but only 6% of African-American students and 7% of Latino students scored proficient and above.[4]

The key to producing a highly skilled workforce that can compete in a global economy is developing a highly skilled teaching force. The quality of teachers and their ability to deliver effective instruction determine students’ opportunity to learn and academic achievement. The student achievement difference between a highly quality teacher and a low quality teacher is nearly 50 points. Thus, a teacher’s skill set has great weight in determining a child’s future. According to a recent study of the world’s 25 top performing school systems, high performing school systems: 1) get the right people to become teachers; 2) develop the teacher work force into effective

instructors; 3) and implement targeted systems of support to ensure every child is able to benefit from quality instruction.[5] Connecticut is recognized as pacesetter in implementing policies to prepare and attract high quality teachers[6], and the state will need to continue to be a leader in teacher education investment in order to produce a globally competitive workforce.


Wagner, Tony, The Global Achievement Gap, Basic Books, New York, 2008.





[1] Partnership for 21st Century Skills (2008). 21st Century Skills, Education & Competitiveness. A Resource & Policy Guide 

[2] Council on Competitiveness (April 2008). Thrive. The Skills Imperative



[5] McKinsey & Company (2007). How the world’s best-performing school systems come out on top. 

[6] Darling-Hammond, L. (2010). The Flat World and Education: How America’s Commitment to Equity Will Determine Our Future. New York: Teachers College Press












Identifying the Problem