June 24th, 2019

Why Now? Why Us?: Inclusive 21st Century Learning



What is 21st Century Learning? Watch this video to learn how some state teachers of the year define 21st century learning and why it’s important!

Why now? Why us? The answer is simple: The world is changing rapidly, and there is no time to waste. We want to make sure that students with disabilities are being prepared for the realities of today and the challenges, opportunities, and possibilities of tomorrow.

In 2018, NCLD launched an initiative to examine how 21st century learning skills and dispositions were being taught and cultivated in schools, with specific attention to students with disabilities. Ten charter schools were selected from across a range of networks, including Big Picture Learning, Brooklyn LAB, EL Education, Envision Education, High Tech High, and New Tech Network. The initiative defined 21st century learning as the capacity for students to engage in and generalize learning across skill areas such as critical thinking, problem solving, self-advocacy, communication, and collaboration, and dispositions like self-determination and growth mindsets to apply learning from one context to another.

NCLD believes that neglecting to provide students with disabilities with these 21st century skills and dispositions will further widen the opportunity gap for these students. The resources developed as part of this project are intended to provide a path forward for individuals and systems, offering guidance about educator practices and policies, and sharing tools and videos that could enhance a shared vision about how to create and sustain an inclusive 21st century society.

Why Now?

Why Us?

The four most sought-after traits by employers are communication skills, problem-solving skills, ability to work on a team, and initiative.

Less than half (46%) of working-age adults with learning disabilities are employed, compared to 71% of adults without learning disabilities. Adults with learning disabilities are twice as likely to have dropped out of the labor force completely as compared to their peers without learning disabilities.

College faculty believe that students lack key skills and dispositions, such as critical thinking, problem solving, and intellectual openness.

Students with disabilities are less likely to attend, persist in, and complete postsecondary education. And if they enter the labor force, they make $4 less per hour than their peers.

Skills like critical thinking and positive problem solving have been related to more positive life satisfaction.

Individuals with disabilities who demonstrate a greater capacity for self-determination are more likely to persist in college and do better in the labor force.

Why Us?
Perspectives From Young Adults, Educators, and Experts

Why is it important for students with disabilities to be engaged in 21st Century Learning? Hear from some state teachers of the year on why it is imperative that students with disabilities are being prepared for the realities of today and the challenges, opportunities, and possibilities of tomorrow.


As part of a project to explore how 21st century skills and dispositions can be inclusive of students with disabilities, NCLD recruited eight nationally recognized experts and 10 practitioners to help examine how a handful of schools are implementing 21st century learning and determine how we can contribute to improving practice and spurring action in schools. NCLD would like to extend our gratitude to these individuals for their thoughtfulness, collaboration, and expertise. Although this project represents substantial feedback and influence from them, the views expressed in this project do not necessarily reflect the positions of the individuals or organizations listed.

Expert Advisors

  • Dr. Kathleen Airhart, Council of Chief State School Officers
  • Dr. Karla Estrada, California Collaborative for Educational Excellence
  • Dr. Allison Gandhi, American Institutes for Research
  • Dr. Evelyn Johnson, The Lee Pesky Center, Boise State University
  • Dr. Valerie Mazzotti,  University of North Carolina at Charlotte
  • Dr. Tameka L. McGlawn, College & Career Academy Support Network, University of California, Berkeley
  • Dr. Lauren Morando Rhim, National Association for Special Education in Charter Schools 
  • Dr. Gabrielle Rappolt-Schlichtmann, EdTogether

Educator Advisors

  • Sydney Chaffee, 2017 National Teacher of the Year
  • Kimberly Eckert, 2018 Louisiana Teacher of the Year
  • Sarah Barnes-Shulman, High Tech High
  • Dina Mahmood, Samueli Academy
  • Colleen Meaney, Francis W. Parker Charter Essential School
  • Lynn Player, Evergreen Community Charter School
  • Jessi Stein, Envision Academy of Arts and Technology
  • Tyler Telford, Brooklyn Laboratory Charter School
  • Cindy Tishue, Graham Expeditionary Middle School
  • Joe Wykowski, Downtown Denver Expeditionary School

Research Support

  • Cassandra L. Hunt, Department of Special Education, University of Kansas 
  • Ling Zhang, Department of Special Education, University of Kansas

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