Educational expert urges restructuring of Balto. Co. schools, teaching methods Changes needed so students can be competitive, he says

December 02, 1997|By Howard Libit | Howard Libit,SUN STAFF

In a highly unusual session, Baltimore County's 160 principals yesterday got a dose of inspiration and a radical road map on how to improve schools from one of the nation's leading authorities on educational change.

"We have extraordinary cultural and organizational paralysis in our schools," said Willard R. Daggett, president of the International Center for Leadership in Education in Schenectady, N.Y. "We designed the American education system around teaching, not around learning."

His message came as more than 1,000 administrators, teachers, parents and business leaders took part in an all-day schools management seminar at Martin's West, sponsored by the county's Career Connections program.

In a series of speeches, Daggett said dramatic changes are needed to ensure graduates are competitive in the 21st century, including a restructuring of how schools are organized and a changing of priorities in what teachers teach and how they teach it.

"One grade has nothing to do with the next. One [class] period has nothing to do with the next," Daggett said.

Reading instruction, he said, must go beyond "novels, newspapers, magazines, poetry and Shakespeare."

"They are essential but they are no longer adequate," said Daggett, who held a variety of leadership positions in New York's state education department before becoming director of the center. "No nation in the world except the United State would expect that technical reading should be taught in language arts.

"We have to have every teacher be a reading teacher," he said.

The all-day seminar is part of a statewide effort to help schools better prepare students for the work force, known as Career Connections.

The state program is funded by a $25 million federal grant, and Daggett was paid $6,000 for yesterday's seminar -- a figure considered low for management consultants.

It's extremely rare for all 160 Baltimore County principals to be pulled from their schools for an entire day while classes are in session, educators said.

Typically, such meetings are held either on staff development days or before the school year begins.

Yet county educators said Daggett's message was so important that it was critical for all principals to be there, along with other representatives from every school.

"If the changes he is talking about are going to happen, it's going to occur at the building level," said Edward Fangman, who oversees the county's Career Connections program. "They're the ones who can make the changes."

Daggett -- who works with school reform initiatives in Texas, Michigan, North Carolina, Japan, Germany, England and Russia, and is a consultant to such groups as the National Business Roundtable and the National Governors' Association -- said American schools try to teach too many topics without showing students how to apply them.

"Content without context is meaningless," Daggett said repeatedly, echoing a line used early in the day by Baltimore County schools Superintendent Anthony G. Marchione.

Daggett praised Baltimore County's recent efforts to streamline what teachers are expected to cover during the year -- called the county's essential curriculum -- but said the schools need to do more.

Schools need to create a set of basic subjects that are critical for students to learn if they're to be competitive with the rest of the world, Daggett said.

"You've made a far better program than almost anyone in the country," Daggett told the Baltimore County educators. But "if you're not willing to address the organizational paralysis and the barriers it creates, stop talking about essential knowledge and continual improvement."

Pub Date: 12/02/97

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