Dr. Willard (Bill) Daggett knows what he likes about schools in Tennessee.
“I think in general Tennessee has had good schools. What impresses me most is they are not content with good schools, and they want to have great schools,” says the CEO of International Center for Leadership in Education.
Daggett will bring his educational message to Blount County for a public forum to address teachers and administrators from the Blount County, City of Maryville and City of Alcoa school systems at 4 p.m. on Feb. 17 at the Clayton Center for the Arts. Parents and the community are invited to a free, public presentation at 7 p.m.
Before founding the Center for Leadership in Education in 1991, Daggett was a teacher and administrator at the secondary and postsecondary levels and a director with the New York State Education Department. He spearheaded restructuring initiatives to focus the state’s education system on the skills and knowledge students need in a technological, information-based society.
The creator of the “Application Model and Rigor/Relevance Framework,” a practical planning and instructional tool for determining the relevance of curriculum and assessment to real-world situations, he is also an author and speaker.
Daggett said he researches what works in the classroom, domestically and around the world, and brings that information on best practices to his audiences.
“I try to look at innovative models both here and internationally to see what is working,” Daggett said in a telephone interview. “I look at research to see what schools are making progress and get into those schools to see what they’re doing differently.”
Daggett said he probably spends an average of five days a month doing research. “But I have a staff that that is all they do. Before I go look, they’ve already been vetted,” he said. “I like ‘on the ground’ research, both internationally and in the U.S. and try to share what I see and learn. I try to bring random acts of success that I can find across the country.”
Daggett said he plans to motivate his listeners during the Feb. 17 event. “I’ll try to motivate the audience about what they need to do and to give them hints on how to do that,” he said.
Daggett recently took time for an interview with Blount Today. He shares his thoughts on a variety of topics facing teachers as they educate children who he says must be prepared to face global competitions for jobs and opportunities.
You coined the term “rigor and relevance” as a model for teaching. What do you mean by that, and how will it improve education?
“If a child sees something they relate to, they’ll become personally engaged in the learning process and that will enable them to obtain rigor. A statement has been made that we confuse obedient students with motivated students. There are a group of kids who will do well simply because they’re obedient. But for the kids who are hardest to reach, you’ve got to motivate them because they won’t do it simply because they’re obedient.
“That is why things like academies work. The thing is changing how you teach.”
You’ve collected evidence of what practices work best in the classrooms. What are the similarities in those best practices and how effective were they?
“Two things underpin best practices: Relevance makes rigor possible. When a student sees what a teacher is trying to teach as being relevant to everyday life, the kid becomes much more engaged in the learning process. For example, if the kid likes environmental science, use that as basis for teaching math and social studies, not just science, and the kid will be engaged.
“If a child, as bizarre as it sounds, likes football, use football. In its perfect form, football is nothing more than applied math and science. For example, for pass plays, the quarterback says go 20 feet, go left 20 degrees, and I’ll hit you. We never stop and try to teach them higher level math at an early age and use what they like. Find out what the kid likes and use that as an example of teaching rigor, and kids will become engaged in the learning process and their performance will improve.”
With the current economy, what challenges are facing schools?
“I see two conflicting challenges. Number one is in order to prepare our children to compete in a global economy, we need a higher set of skills than we have traditionally taught them. At the same time our schools are facing increasingly tighter and tighter budgets, which is an outgrowth of the national economy and the state of Tennessee economy, so we have got to become more efficient and more effective at same time, which means it can not be business as usual.
Are we moving toward more specialized schools with Magnet and STEM academies and is that a good thing if we are?
“We’re not necessarily moving toward more magnet and charter schools. They are one of many options, but our experience tells us the issue is not structure, the issue is instruction. What I mean is, it doesn’t matter what structure confines you. What matters is what happens at the point of contact between student and teacher. It doesn’t matter what that structure is, you need rigor and relevant experiences for the kids at that contact.”
Describe your philosophy of the relevance of education in society, especially in regards to budget constraints.
“Less is more. We have had a tendency to put everything but the kitchen sink on the curriculum. When everything is a priority, nothing is a priority. What we get into is coverage of a long list of topics rather than mastery of the most important skills and knowledge.
“The process has to begin with good, hard research on what is essential versus nice to know. What is essential, which would include strong mathematics, reading, writing, science and understanding of our history.
“But to teach those, you have to teach them in ways relevant to young people. They’re engaged and excited. Learning is an active process and if you don’t get a kid engaged, there is no real learning going on.”
What are the major things you see wrong with education in America today?
“There’s a lack of focus on most critical skills. There’s a lack of deep understanding of how to motivate the students. Relevance makes rigor possible. What is relevant to one student is not relevant to the next.
“There is a third ‘R’ I talk about, and it is relationships. We’ve got to get to know our kids and what motivates them. It changes how you teach. We’re more focused on teaching than learning.”
Where do you see education headed in the next five to 10 years?
“I think what we’re going to see is a deeper and deeper focus on fewer, clearer, higher skills and fewer, clearer, higher knowledge bases. There will be a shift from coverage of topics to mastery of topics. But to do that, you have to cover fewer things.
“I think we’ll also see more and more choices for kids. I think there will be more charter and magnet schools and more and more online instruction to supplement - not supplant - traditional classroom instruction.”
What do you think of No Child Left Behind?
“I think ‘No Child Left Behind’ is conceptually a very good thing. I think operationally there have been bumps in the road. What I like about it is it raised the standards to make our kids more competitive internationally. One of the bumps in the road is it requires continuous improvement every year. I support that, but it requires 100 percent of kids to be proficient by 2014.
“While most kids can be proficient, all kids can not be, but that’s a very small percentage. I use as an example my own daughter, who has severe mental retardation, autism and is a severe epileptic. Mentally she’s about 3. She is never going to pass a high school exam.
“We just need to bring some reason and a little bit of common sense, but conceptually the push to higher standards is something I totally support.”
Dr. Daggett’s visit is being sponsored by Blount County Schools, Maryville City Schools and Alcoa City Schools. He will offfer two presentations on Thursday, Feb. 17, at the Clayton Center for the Arts on the Maryville College campus that are free to the attendees.
At 4 p.m., Daggett will speak to educators in all three schools systems.
At 7 p.m., parents and the public are invited to a public presentation.