Education and Learning for the 21st Century           by Barbara Barnes


The word “choice” has taken on a prominent place in education today. The hysterics versus excitement in the responses are interesting to say the least!  In fact, school choice, and private sector initiatives helping public education, have been around for years. The following is a short history of my first hand knowledge of educational choice and partnerships. Each example had an amazing leader with outstanding teachers or learning leaders, working with parents and partners, to improve education and ensure all students were successful, regardless of the demographics.


Irvine Unified School District originated in 1974 as a district of choice. The visionary IUSD Superintendent, A Stanley Corey, believed that each school should have it’s culture of excellence based on the student and parent population at that site.  At the time the district served a university community, a growing corporate community and two Marine Corps Bases. The schools were in the general categories of Basic Skills, Neighborhood Schools, including the military base, and Year Round Calendar Schools in configurations of K-6, K-8, 7-8, 6-8 and high school. Parents and students could choose the school that was appropriate for their needs and transportation was provided by the district. At times there were waiting lists for specific schools. Principals were encouraged to find unique ways to meet the needs of their population. 

Vista Verde School was (and continues to be) one of two schools in IUSD on a 45/15 day year-round calendar. It was also the only K-8 configuration with students organized in multi grade classrooms. Students attended school 45 days and had a 15 day vacation or they could extend their school year by attending our “Intersession” based on careers, the arts, and an outdoor education camp. Teachers chose and were paid to plan and teach “intersession.” CNN, a very new cable station, created a series on the failure of year round education. Reporters interviewed Vista Verde teachers, parents. and students to find out why they would attend a school on year round calendar. The CNN reporter had to report that year round worked very well at Vista Verde. The school formed many partnerships with business and the community. 

Dr. Paul Brandwein, noted scientist and author of more than 55 books, partnered with the school to pilot his science textbook series, titled Science and Technology. He personally presented scientific principles at every grade level in every classroom. Marriott Hotel, Ricoh, Cannon and Toshiba all partnered with Vista Verde providing career information and donations. The school had the freedom to chart it’s own path within the district and community and it worked! The Irvine Partnership in Education program was launched in 1982. New corporations, locating in Irvine, formed partnerships with every school in the district. Science based companies became the district’s Science Alliance and provided science experts, field trip opportunities, technology training, classroom speakers, student mentors, judges for science fairs, and advanced labs for student research.

In 1983 President Reagan launched the National Association of Partners in Education, (NAPE) a Private Sector Initiative Act, pairing schools with business to improve learning. Annual conferences were held in Washington DC for educators and business partners to present their programs and document student progress.

A spin off of this innovative concept was the International Partnership Network (IPN) featuring private sector business / education collaboration around the world. These conferences were held in, London, Paris, Trondheim, Norway and Toronto.

In 1989 the Pacific Telesis Foundation provided a grant to study of the Role of the Principal in the State of California.  One hundred outstanding principals volunteered to take one of the first computer based survey’s, comparing their personal skills with their job requirements. Pac Tel received a Private Sector Initiatives Award from President Reagan for this study. As a result the foundation continued supporting educational transformation with their Education for the Future grant in five schools, representing diverse student populations in California: Vietnamese students in Sacramento; Hispanic Migrant worker’s students in Salinas; African American students in Oakland; multiple language schools in Irvine and Vista. Professional development and curriculum conferences were held with all staff in one location. This allowed teachers to share different strategies based on their student populations. Teachers could apply or modify these for their students. The EFG curriculum concept was shared at one of these conferences.

The EFG Curriculum Collaborative was formed in 1990 to develop project based learning using Joel A. Barker’s EFG curricular concept. Ten annual conferences, with innovative educators and business leaders, were held across the US and in England. These concepts not only changed how students learned but altered the way schools “worked.”

21st Century Prep opened in 1993 in the Chattanooga, Tennessee City School District. The innovative superintendent, Dr. Harry Reynolds, began a “paradigm shift” in the way the inner city school system educated students. The district closed a failing junior high and replaced it with a K-12 magnet school for students from across the district. Parents and students could choose to attend this school. District teachers were required to re-apply to become "Learning Leaders" at this school. This was a public school with an initial population of African American inner city students. The key components of this school were:

Inner City Population

Mandatory parent involvement

7 Habits of Highly Effective People provided by Stephen Covey

Project Based Learning following Joel A Barker’s EFG curricular concepts

Latest Apple computers

Student work judged by experts and business / community partners

Promotion based on competency

Many partners including, McKee Foods, Corp., TVA, Tennessee Aquarium, 100 Black Men, Rotary, Lowe’s, the Manufacturers Association, and other business and community organizations all partnered with the school, provided up to date project information, and worked with individual and teams of students to evaluate their project work. As a result of these strategies state test scores increased rapidly and 100% of students graduated from high school and entered college. University of Tennessee designated this school as a Professional Development site and Virginia Tech doctoral students conducted a qualitative and quantitative analysis of the school’s organizational strategies and student achievement. Monthly workshops were conducted for school staff and visiting educators from across the US and New Zealand.

Over the next ten years the EFG Curriculum Collaborative implemented the concepts and learning strategies, developed in Chattanooga, across the United States and in five countries. Innovative educators worked with the private sector to apply learning to real world issues.

Student’s could choose a particular project to investigate, apply skills and learn real world information. The Water Project began at 21st Century Prep where K-12 students partnered with TVA and the Tennessee Aquarium to study the Tennessee River. Research included water quality, wildlife, flood zones, work by scientists at the aquarium, economics of the river, water transportation and sports. California students researched water quality at a local beach and maintained statistical records over a period of one month. Students, at Pittard Campus School, MTSU, chose the Land Project and created a nature trail on their campus, featuring plants native to Tennessee. Marblehead and Concordia schools in California created school gardens and students in a summer school in North Carolina partnered with Weyerhaeuser to learn about wood products and reforestation. Students at Carillo Magnet School, in Tucson, adopted a vacant lot across from the school, conducted an archeological dig, displayed art in a building on the lot, and utilized xeriscaping on the grounds. Using the Energy Project, students at Lakeside Middle School partnered with the Hydrogen Fuel Cell Research Center at UC Irvine and met with automobile executives at a hydrogen fueling event. Students at Summit Academy in Elgin produced a TV program utilizing equipment donated by NBC in Chicago. A parent at the school, an executive with Motorola, trained EFG Collaborative members in “Blue Sky” visioning techniques used by the corporation. Students at Skills for Tomorrow Charter School learned business and career skills at the new shopping center in St Paul, Minnesota.

Students in England applied the Economics Project to work with a local bank and analyze language barriers and productivity of employees. Their report was so beneficial, the bank expanded the student research to all branches. Elementary students at Sabin Magnet School chose The Arts Project to research the Monet exhibit at the Art Institute of Chicago, including Monet’s life, Impressionist art, economics of the Institute, and attendance.  Students in Akiachak, Akiak, and Tuluksak, Alaska invited the village elders into the school to teach them how to weave baskets, carve masks and make dolls. The students created a business plan to sell these artifacts to galleries across the US.  The principals reported improved art, math and writing skills related to this project. The district partnered with the University of Alaska and the EFG Yupiit Culture Curriculum is featured on their Alaska Native Knowledge Network.  This is another example of personalizing learning for a specific population of students.   

San Onofre School is located on Camp Pendleton MCAS, Students live on the military base and can attend this K-8 school near their homes or attend a school in  San Clemente. Most of the students attend the school on the Marine Base.  Beginning in 2002, with the start of a war, business and community partners began supporting these Marine students as their family members were deployed many times. Beaumont Foundation of America donated carts filled with laptops so technology was available throughout the building. Taylor Guitars donated 20 new guitars that continue to be used in an after school club today. Business in San Clemente sponsored student trips and the Presbyterian Church provided family dinners at the school. Students sent packages to deployed Marines in Iraq and San Clemente veterans attended the flag ceremonies at the school. The school was awarded the Impact Award, the top technology award in San Diego County and a California Golden Bell Award for Partnerships.

Today members of the Presbyterian church conduct “Terrific Tuesday,” an after school program of tutoring and quilting, craft, guitar, and entrepreneur clubs at San Onofre School. Teachers at the school create the tutor curriculum and train the volunteers. The guitar club recently serenaded the San Clemente Rotary Club, a sponsor of the after-school program. All of these strategies were designed for students in military families and another example of personalizing instruction for the needs of the particular population and collaborating with the neighboring community.  Students in Chattanooga are taught real world skills by the Boys to Men Foundation and students around the world are entering the Hype Youth Start Up Foundation contests designed to develop student entrepreneurs.  Vocational students at A Child Unheard School in Uganda partnered with It’s The Kids to learn international skills.   


In 2015, on a trip to Chattanooga for a 21st Century Prep reunion, my cab driver asked if I had ever been to Chattanooga.  I replied that i spent extensive time in Chattanooga, helping to start 21st Century Prep.  He responded, “that was a great school, both my kids went there.”  I asked what his “kids” were doing today.  He said, “both graduated from college, one works for the school district and the other is a business man, both are doing great!”  I said, “good for you for putting your children in the school.”  His response, “that was my wife’s doing because they were failing in the school they were attending.  She said lets try 21st Century Prep. So that’s where they went.”


The examples in this article were not mandated by the federal government, required in bureaucratic regulations or directed by teacher unions. In each case there was freedom to choose the schools or educational strategies based on the specific needs of the student. Some solutions were applied widely and others were appropriate for one specific group or team. In every case innovative educators made instructional paradigm shifts and kids saw a connection between skills learned in school, to success in their lives, and ultimately a positive future. Most of these principles can and should be applied today. Many had a well known CEO, Superintendent or charismatic leader initiating the idea.  However the real transformation work was done by ordinary educators and private sector partners, doing extraordinary work to improve education for all.  A partial list includes: Sally, Rosa, Dorothy, Judy, Leslie, Karla, Ellen, Larry, Randall, Herbert (Book), Karen, Beverly, Warrington, Donna, Ed, Tracey, Mike, Jo, Suerose, Henry, John, Bruce, May, Terry, Doris, Tess, Amir, David, and Jen.  I believe it’s time to stop the finger pointing, and political posturing to collaborate and improve education for all kids.  Feel free to offer your ideas!  That’s what “collaboration” is all about.



Education and Learning for the 21st Century           by Barbara Barnes

The false, skewed, and inaccurate information in schools and on campuses today is frightening! The question is;

Are we creating ideologues unable to cope with disparate facts and ideas or are we  preparing students with skills necessary for life, work and citizenship in the 21st Century?

At ITK we strive for the latter using the following learning strategies and ask students to:

1.  Select a real world topic to identify.  

2.  Identify current issues and consider historical facts.

3.  Gather facts digitally and in real world interviews with business partners .

4.  Investigate rules, laws or regulations related to the topic.

5.  Research and communicate opposing viewpoints to determine fact from fiction.

6.  Conduct an economic analysis of varying actions based on needs of all.

7.  Consider actions related to local, regional, national, or global populations.

8.  Communicate possible solutions with peers, experts and partners..

9.  Create a project or product to solve  problems and make the world a better place. 

10. Present your portfolio of work digitally to be judged and critiqued by others.

Using this ten step approach students integrate subjects, think, problem solve, collaborate, communicate,  and above all, prepare to be successful adults who can work with others  and improve conditions, locally and globally.