Daggett: Schools Must Teach Thinking Skills

TUPELO, Miss. (AP) — The institution entrusted with preparing citizens for a rapidly changing world has been one of the most resistant to innovation, according to a respected education expert.

Bill Daggett told an audience of almost 1,000 people this week at the BancorpSouth Arena in Tupelo that America's schools are still doing many of the same things they did nearly 100 years ago for no reason other than tradition.

Those schools are educating students better today than they ever have, said Daggett. The problem is the world is changing much more quickly and American students are entering school much less prepared.

"Our schools aren't failing," he said during the Forum on the Future of Education. "The problem is that in the world outside, schools are changing faster than ours."

The forum was funded by CREATE Foundation's Toyota Education Enhancement Fund. It was intended to help an audience of Northeast Mississippi educators, parents and community leaders better understand changes that are coming.

"Innovation will really be the secret for where we need to go for our children's education," said Mississippi Interim Superintendent of Education Lynn House, who also spoke at the forum.

Schools must be more open to technology, Daggett said, noting new inventions like more powerful Internet search engines, watches and eyeglasses with Internet capabilities and automated cars — innovations that are all available today.

"We are preparing kids for a world you can hardly comprehend," he said.

Schools must have higher standards, use real-world application and teach students to think rather than memorize, he said. Those are the changes that the Common Core State Standards seek to address, he said.

The standards are new curriculum guidelines that 46 states, including Mississippi, have agreed to adopt beginning in 2014-15. They are not a national mandate, he said, but were developed by the Council of Chief State School Officers after studying the 75 most-rapidly improving elementary, middle and high schools in the country.

The key, he said, is a focus on preparing students for college and careers. With the new standards will come new state tests that will be harder but necessary. He said success will require community support.

"I predict our kids will have a hard time with it," he said. "When they do, circle together and say we know this is hard, but if we will prepare you for your future, we need to teach you to think."

Daggett praised Mississippi for raising its state standards during the past seven years. In 2005, Mississippi had more students proficient in fourth-grade reading than any other state because it had the lowest standard of proficiency.

Since then, it has greatly increased the score students must reach to be considered proficient, a step that means many fewer students reach that mark. Many other states did the opposite, he said.

"You did the right thing," he said. "You saw the world was changing and said you said you need to make the standards tough.

"No state in the country has worked harder in the last seven years to raise standards than the state of Mississippi. I have consistently been telling that to audiences around the country."

More work still needs to be done, he said, and the Common Core Standards are part of that.

Students will better be able to meet those higher standards, he said, if they are taught in a relevant way. That means real-world examples and using interests like arts or sports to teach ideas.

He also called for schools to teach reading at a higher level so students are better able to understand complex documents like contracts and manuals they will encounter as adults.


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