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.
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.
Perspectives From Young Adults, Educators, and Experts
I wish I had developed a growth mindset earlier in my educational career because it would have helped me be more open to receiving help and accommodations and more open to change and new experiences.
—Savannah Treviño-Casias, NCLD Young Adult Leadership Council Member
I have been fortunate to develop skills to help me understand how I learn and how to advocate for myself. These skills will enable me to capitalize on my strengths and also speak about them as I apply for jobs. I have also developed a sense of grit and determination that allows me to face adversity and expect to overcome it.
—Ben Gurewitz, NCLD Young Adult Leadership Council Member
Education is powerful. It’s also our students’ civil right. It’s our responsibility as educators to support all of the diverse learners in our schools in using their education to change the world
—Sydney Chaffee, 2017 National Teacher of the Year
It is critical that educators develop practices to ensure that all learners be seen, heard, valued, and celebrated, so that they all have the chance to contribute to, thrive within, and shape the world they’re a part of.
—Kimberly Eckert, 2018 Louisiana State Teacher of the Year
Social and emotional skills are critical to thriving in learning and life, yet students with disabilities rarely have opportunities to access or practice these skills with support. More knowledge is needed about how to integrate SEL into the core experience of learners at school.
—Dr. Gabrielle Rappolt-Schlichtmann, Executive Director and Chief Scientist at EdTogether
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.
- 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
- 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
- Cassandra L. Hunt, Department of Special Education, University of Kansas
- Ling Zhang, Department of Special Education, University of Kansas