Dr. Bill Daggetts Keynote Addresses Need For Fundamental Changes in Education

Dr. Bill Daggett, Founder and Chairman of the International Center for Leadership in Education, delivered the keynote address Friday to a welcoming audience of delegates at the opening session of AFSAs Triennial Convention: Exploring the Changing Landscape of Public Education.

Dr. Daggetts remarks drew on his extensive research of innovative practices in place at the nations most rapidly improving schools, practices that range from addressing students social and emotional and mental health as a first priority to focusing on the future needs of students to succeed in the changing workplace.

In a compelling presentation, Daggett repeatedly provided evidence of how ill-equipped current education approaches are for the emerging, technology-driven economy of the current age and the need for school leaders to act as mentors for the changes necessary for better preparing students for the challenges of work life that they will be confront.

Daggett proudly declared from the outset of his presentation that he is never politically correct, but asserted nonetheless that the U.S. public education system is the finest in the world because no country balances equity and excellence better than we do in the U.S.

He reflected on the experience of having reared five children who represent a wide range of skills and who have faced significantly different challenges, including one daughter who has severe epilepsy and an 11-year-old son who was critically injured when a drunk driver ran him over as he stepped off a school bus. His son nonetheless survived and has ultimately thrived as a college graduate in part because of developments in medicine and technology.

Daggett expressed frustration, though, with the approach to teaching that has led to college graduates being unable to find financially rewarding work: well- educated and broke, in Daggetts words.

He cited the major findings of three national commissions that he has led dedicated to determining the most successful and productive learning practices:

  • Future-focused rather than forward-focused learning, which he explained as poking a stake in the ground five years out and determining what our students will need then to be successful.
  • Focus more on students than content, such as designing tests to the middle third of students rather than the top third, so that two-thirds dont effectively fail as they currently do as a result of the design of todays tests.
  • Focus on growth rather than proficiency.
  • Fundamentally change instructional practices.

To dramatize why future-focused schools are essential, Daggett showed many commonplaces of life today that did not exist when 2018 high school graduates entered kindergarten, such as I phones, Facebook;, Twitter, Instagram, and Amazon Alexa, among others.

For todays children entering kindergarten, he asserted, there would be equally radical changes by the time they graduate, owing to revolutionary changes being triggered by the communications and digital revolutions especially developments in bio and nano technologies that will take place over the next five years.

Kindergartners of today, he said, will face a radically changed world and will be challenged to know how to behave in relation to this changing world, as micro processors are now being built that are more powerful than early mainframe computers. These developments in nano technology will lead to products that will be stronger than steel, though with the texture of Jello.

He cited the development, for example, of laundry-less clothing and bullet-proof shirts, as well as tires already being developed for market that cannot be punctured, and building trades technologies that will radically reduce construction time not to mention driverless cars being developed by an industry that already understands that such cars are first and foremost being developed for those who are older and want to remain independent.

Though the biggest change, Daggett averred, will be in health care, which already represents 18 percent of the nations Gross Domestic Product (GDP), noting in particular that over the next five years in dentistry alone there will be a 50 percent decline in employment due to developments in bio technology.

In short, he concluded, The availability of jobs for the unskilled means that weve got to do something for our less skilled children, because low-end jobs are going to be totally decimated by technology, adding that almost all technology training programs currently are training people for jobs that will not exist.

The question school leaders have to ask themselves, he suggested, is: Have we as an industry tried to cause our schools to be curators of a 20th century museum when the 21st is dominated by totally new technologies?

Evolutionary Change Recommended

The overarching problem, he said, is that we as an industry are regulated, certified, contracted to test the kids on a mode of knowledge that is unrelated to the challenges and capacities of the age we live in, an age that is already being outdated by the speed of change in emerging technologies.

While what happened to 2018 graduates is childs play compared to what todays children [entering school] are going to face, Daggett suggested that the changes needed to improve schools need to be evolutionary not revolutionary, wryly cautioning administrators that revolutionaries get killed.

School leaders, he said, need to give teachers help in how to make the changes. He suggested initiating a discussion with staff, but dont try to force it as administrators. His experience has been that their staffs attitudes will likely break into three different categories: a top third excited by every new idea; a middle third that asks: how does it relate to the tests; and, a bottom third that says over my dead body.

If you go too fast, Daggett counseled, the bottom third is going to chew you alive.

He suggested starting by engaging in an evolutionary process with the third that is most attracted to the prospect of making changes.

Nurture that top one third thats interested, Daggett urged, by using a coaching model; by having those who have successfully made these changes mentor those who are predisposed to the necessity of change.

This is not simply about tweaking a curriculum, he said. This is about changing what administrators do, because I dont want my grandchildren prepared for the test; I want my grandchildren prepared for the future.

Lets love our kids and prepare them for the future rather than worrying about making adults comfortable, he concluded.

Dr. Daggetts presentation was treated to a long standing ovation.