By Kevin Kelley
American schools need to move past the practice of simply preparing a student for the next grade level and prepare him or her for the 21st-century workplace, a nationally known speaker on education reforms said.
Willard Daggett, the founder and chairman of the International Center for Leadership in Education, spoke to parents and members of the public in the auditorium of Fairview High School the evening of Sept. 30. Earlier that day, Daggett spoke to the district’s teachers about changes coming to education.
In his evening talk, Daggett called American schools the greatest in the world because they educate all children; however, schools in other nations, like China, are better performing because they are more selective, he said.
American schools today are graduating more students who pass standards that are more stringent than ever, Daggett said. But that’s not enough, he said, because technology is changing much more rapidly than schools can change.
“Our schools have become museums,” Daggett lamented.
Students are prohibited from using smartphones and their built-in calculators during state proficiency tests, Daggett noted. But in just a few years, the same technologies available on smartphones will be built into buttons on clothes. He joked that the school board may have to force students to take proficiency tests naked.
“The boys will show up for the test,” he joked.
Daggett, who studied which schools are improving the most rapidly and what they’re doing, said successful schools are often the most difficult to change. That’s because administrators and parents see themselves as successful and not in need of reform.
Improving schools often implement looping, a practice in which a teacher stays with a class of students for more than a single school year. The teacher is more familiar with each student, Daggett said, and becomes a better teacher because he or she knows better what is expected in the next grade. Improving schools also emphasize relationships, Daggett said. He noted high schools at which each student is assigned a counselor for all four years.
The culture surrounding a school, namely the community and parents, must support changes for them to be effective, Daggett said.
Too many high school graduates are not prepared for college, Daggett said, and too many are dropping out. But unprepared students are still accepted by universities because the institutions have created an oversupply of classroom seats for college freshmen, he said.
In a day when more and more people are beginning to question the value of a college education, Daggett said he still thinks qualified students should attend college. But he noted the large number of college graduates struggling to pay off debt and who return home to their parents. He suggested that school districts report not only how many students enroll in college, but also how many complete the degree in four years.
“What you major in matters a lot,” Daggett said. He said engineering/technology isa major that often leads to lucrative jobs, is the second most popular major in nations the U.S. competes with globally, but ranks eighth among U.S. students.
“It’s not what you took, it’s what you can do with what you took,” Daggett said.
Technology has reduced low- and middle-wage jobs throughout the industrialized world, Daggett said. But other countries have done a better job of directing students to majors and skills that are demanded by the workplace, he said.
The old educational model split students into two tracks – college preparatory and vocational or technical training, Daggett said. Today K-12 education must prepare students from both college and careers, he said.
The change that’s coming to education – a needed change, according to Daggett – is a move from simply having students collect knowledge to having them apply knowledge, particularly knowledge from different disciplines, to solve problems.
New proficiency tests will reflect this change, Daggett said. Because test scores will likely go down once the more rigorous tests are implemented, parents may become upset, he added.
“If you only want to be prepared for college, you don’t have to know how to apply knowledge,” he said. “If you want to be prepared for the world beyond college, application of knowledge becomes critical.”