Teachers filled the auditorium at Lewisburg Middle School Friday for a three-hour presentation by Dr. Bill Daggett, founder of the International Center for Leadership in Education.
Daggett did not stay still for long. He walked up and down the aisles, making eye contact with his audience, and demanded their participation by repeatedly asking for a show of hands in answer to questions he was asking.
"Everybody supports change as long as they don't have to do anything about it," Daggett told teachers. Unfortunately, the world outside the school system is changing faster than education, leaving a "skills gap" between what high school graduates can do, and what prospective employers wish they could do.
Eleven years ago, the reading standards set for the ACT and SAT tests were the highest expected of high school graduates. Now, students need to read better than this to get into the military or succeed at a job, and even documents relating to their own life, like insurance policies or contracts, require reading at a higher standard.
"The rest of the world has passed education by," Daggett said. "You're pretending to prepare kids for a world you don't even live in. Technology has changed the world forever."
He introduced listeners to Wolfram Alpha. The online service answers factual queries directly by computing the answer from structured data, rather than providing a list of Web pages that might contain the answer as a search engine would, according to Wikipedia. It was released to the public on May 15, 2009, and was voted the greatest computer innovation of 2009 by "Popular Science."
"The kids already know it," Daggett said. "They are using it to do their homework. Within a year it will be able to write term papers."
Around the world, children in India and China spend twice as much time in school as their American counterparts.
"We have the shortest school day and the shortest school year in the industrialized world," Daggett said, predicting this would have "huge" economic consequences.
The International Center for Leadership in Education (ICLE) is holding its 19th Annual Model Schools Conference in Nashville this summer, and Daggett promised this would introduce teachers and administrators to teachers from some of the most rapidly improving schools in the country.
"Those teachers are not working harder than you are," Daggett said. "They are working differently. You have to become focused like a laser on the most critical skills. You've got to get serious about teaching reading."
He gave examples of lessons that students really absorbed because they found them relevant to their own life, and said "relevance makes rigor possible," but added a teacher has to have a relationship with each student to know what is going to be relevant.
"We are at a cross roads" in education, Daggett said in conclusion, recommending that teachers "love the kids more than the courses, and more than your colleagues."
He got a standing ovation, and the teachers emerged into the spring sunshine fired up with new enthusiasm for their profession.