We are on the Brink of an Exciting Frontier
This year’s conference hosted a special Friday afternoon general session for Bill Daggett, noted author and president of the International Center for Leadership in Education. Daggett is the creator of two widely used educational frameworks, the “Application Model” and the “Rigor/Relevance Framework.” The latter is a practical planning and instructional tool for determining the relevance of curriculum and assessment to real-world situations.
Daggett’s message to his listeners was that career and technical education (CTE) is needed as never before, yet we must get beyond the old voc-ed model of the 1980s and 1990s. We must find ways to integrate CTE with academics as well as art, music, and physical education. If we can do that, he said, these will be “the best of times.” If we hang on to an obsolete model, they will be “the worst of times.”
Daggett pointed out that today’s highest-performing schools are the ones that have been willing to change. They do things differently. “They explore why we should change,” he said, “not because we’re uncomfortable with the past, but because the world is changing.”
Daggett’s Application Model outlines five stages in the application of knowledge: (1) knowledge in one discipline, (2) application within disciplines, (3) applications across disciplines, (4) application to real-world predictable situations, and (5) application to real-world unpredictable situations. As educators, we want our students to be independent thinkers who are comfortable in stages 4 and 5, but standardized testing (and hence most teaching) focuses on stages 1 and 2. CTE is the only way to get students to stages 4 and 5, but, unfortunately, most people don’t recognize that fact. CTE is still held back by a negative image. Most people still think of CTE as “shop class.”
Daggett’s Rigor/Relevance Framework is a Cartesian grid representing the intersections of the five stages of his Application Model (horizontal axis) with the six stages of Bloom’s Taxonomy of Learning Domains (vertical axis): (1) knowledge (or awareness), (2) comprehension, (3) application, (4) analysis, (5) synthesis, and (6) evaluation. (For a graphic of the framework, visit http://www.leadered.com/rrr.html.) Educators should strive to enable their students to function at the intersection of high levels of knowledge and application, but this cannot be accomplished through conventional approaches. We can’t get there one discipline at a time, Daggett said. We must integrate disciplines in ways that promote rigor and make learning relevant to an increasingly diverse student population.
Daggett stressed the seriousness of the challenges we face. Our young people live in a technology-driven world that many adults only vaguely understand. To make his point, Daggett showed a video of “siftable chips,” inexpensive digital building blocks that interact with the user and with one another. In today’s world, computers will fit in wrist watches, buttons, and eyeglasses. Separate computer keyboards and monitors will soon be a thing of the past. The American educational process must adapt to these and many other technological developments. Otherwise, it too will soon be stuck in the past.
According to Daggett, the need for dramatic change in education is also driven by economic factors. Three decades ago the United States was the dominant economic power in the world, but that is changing. China has become the world’s manufacturer and has a vast population—over 100 cities with more than a million people, compared to ten in the United States. India is even more populous, and is making rapid advancements in technology. Today the world’s fastest-growing economies are found in countries that, historically, have lagged far behind the United States: Vietnam, Argentina, Brazil, Indonesia, and Panama.
In Daggett’s view, the major challenge facing American education today is finding a way to keep pace with an ever-changing global business environment—all the while making the most of diminishing resources. It’s doable, though, he explained, if we are more dedicated to improving the lives of our students than we are to preserving the status quo.