By Dean Whittaker

Recently, I had the opportunity to hear Dr. Willard Baggett, President of the International Center for Leadership in Education ( speak. His topic was “Preparing Students for a Changing World.” In his well researched and documented presentation, he made several observations about the state of education in the United States.

He pointed out to the audiences of business leaders, teachers and administrators that
students are different today. They are natives in a technological world to which their parents are immigrants. Student brains function differently due to the use of video games. Our 19th-century teaching methods are a challenge for the students from the 21st century. The appropriate use of technology is critical to engaging students and preparing them for a technological society.

The skill gap between what is taught in school and what students need in the work place and in their personal lives is growing. In particular, entry level positions for most jobs now require a higher level of reading skill than is currently being taught in our schools. Daggett calls our schools museums because the world is changing 4-5 times faster than they are: 40% of what is required to be taught in our schools today is not relevant to the needs of employers or, for that matter, the students themselves. Dr. Daggett pointed out that globalization, technology, and demography are the three major factors impacting education today, and that it needs to be rigorous and relevant.

Our students will be competing with those of India and China, countries with a much longer school day (8 1/2 hrs.) and school year (239 days). Chinese and Indian students are required to have biochemistry before entering the 10th grade. My own state, Michigan, has the shortest school day and school year in the country, with the most required topics in each subject area of any state in the nation. That means fewer days for more subjects, not exactly a recipe for an in-depth, rigorous education.

The latest government mandates do little to allow teachers to do their best for their students. “No Child Left Behind” enforces specific requirements on what is to be taught and how it is to be taught, resulting in little or no flexibility for the teacher to tailor the lesson plan to the needs of the students. Teachers in training are even discouraged from interest-directed learning themselves: those studying to become teachers have as little as one credit hour of electives during their four to five years of college due to requirements of this program.

Through funding from the Gates Foundation, The Center for Education Leadership has studied the 25 top-performing schools in the United States. Some of their findings suggest that flexibility, depth, and relevance are more important than regimented coverage of “the three R’s” and even big education budgets.

1. The top performing schools focus on applied knowledge, making subjects relevant and meaningful.
2. The top schools have integrated curriculum with teachers preparing joint lesson plans.
3. The more art in the curriculum, the better the schools performed.
4. It was not the most affluent schools that performed the best.
5. High performance schools taught reading in content areas rather than as a separate subject.

The Model Schools Conference On June 30 – July 3, 2007 will feature representatives from these top performing schools, where they will tell their stories. To learn more, visit their website at

Dr. Baggett stated that the education system will not change until the pressure to change exceeds the resistance to change. Among the highest performing schools, the pressure to change most often came from the business community and not the schools. Achieving equity and excellence in our schools is very difficult to do.