Americans need to change the way things are done in the classroom if today's children are expected to compete in the global market against their counterparts from places like China, India and Eastern Europe.
So said Willard R. Daggett, a world-renowned educator, who spoke Wednesday at Niagara Falls High School to students, educators, political leaders and residents from across Niagara County.
Founder of the International Center for Leadership in Education, Daggett said American public schools are still teaching French and running a 180-day school year with 5 1/2 -hour school days while places like India and China require students to take advanced science courses like bio-chemistry during an 8 1/2 -hour school day in a 270-day school year.
"Why do our students take French when Chinese would be much more practical. Is it because we've always taught French or because we have French teachers? Why do students have the summer off? To rest up from those 180, 5 1/2 -hour school days? To work the family farm? It makes no sense," and gives an edge to students from other countries who are focusing on what they need to know to be successful, he said.
"We need to change the curriculum and make it relevant. When I was a kid, you could drop out of school and go to work in a factory and earn enough money to support a family. Those days are gone. Unskilled labor has disappeared in this country because of global competition. So every child coming out of our schools today needs higher standards than ever before to make it. The problem is our schools have failed to adjust" to the needs of the marketplace and make today's children more competitive, he said.
Daggett said students need to learn saleable skills and to focus on things like physical sciences such as mathematics, technology and engineering. He said teachers have to make children proficient in problem solving and knowledgeable on how to dig up information, evaluate it and make sure it's right.
"We need to let them know they have to develop saleable skills and that what you major in matters. But we're not telling high school kids that. We are telling our kids to go to college, take whatever you want and feel good about it. So we have [students with] four-year degrees coming home functionally unemployable because they majored in the wrong stuff," he said. "Today you need skills you can use."
"We have to understand first and foremost what are the most critical standards and what instructional practices you put in place that will enable schools to help kids achieve them," he said.
To do that, Daggett said educators need to assess their school curriculums, eliminate what's not necessary or outmoded, and focus on how to make students able to apply the material to real life.