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Expert questions education in a changing world

NEWBURGH – Educators and manufacturing executives grouped for a special conference at Mount Saint Mary College in Newburgh on Friday, where they engaged in breakout discussions and presentations by prominent keynote speakers. The keynote speaker was Willard Daggett, the founder and chairman of the International Center for Leadership in Education.

While he called manufacturing the cornerstone of the economy, and that strong manufacturing companies are built around their education programs, he presented some onerous data about the standards of US education. He said there was a clear conflict between "excellence and equity," and that our schools were quickly becoming museums as they struggled to adapt to a changing world.

"We've been talking about school reform in this country for three decades…but our schools look more like 1983 than unlike 1983," said Daggett, in reference to the “A Nation at Risk” imperative.

Academic success is not the heart of the issue, he said, citing that more 18-year-olds graduated last year than any in US history. It is application and content that is flawed, said Daggett.

"The world outside of school is changing four to five times faster than the rate of change inside school. Manufacturing is not what it used to be. The world's changing faster than school and we have this incredible gap that is emerging," he said.

To illustrate the gap, Daggett pointed to a study done by the Source of National Test Data called the Lexile Framework for Reading that takes into account all reading material in a curriculum and shows a severe drop-off in reading requirements between common entry-level positions and even the highest level of high school coursework; it's based on an educational 2,000-point scale, from "incompetent to extraordinarily competent," he said.

In the 75 high schools surveyed throughout all 50 states, English and language arts scored lowest in reading requirements, with that same discipline scoring only slightly higher in college. Career and technical education courses scored the highest, even above science and math.

"We teach reading using English/language arts as the platform to teach reading. The problem is it is fiction. What do you have to read in the workplace? Non-fiction," he said. "The reading requirements of the workplace are fundamentally and irreversibly different from the reading requirements we teach in our schools."

Even with those subdued requirements, said Daggett, 28 percent of 18-year-olds failed to pass a basic literacy test to join the Army, adding to the 30 percent who failed to graduate high school.

"We are down to less than one half of our 18-year-olds being eligible for the military because they lack basic literacy," said Daggett, a former director in the NYS Education Department.

The Annual Hudson Valley Manufacturing Conference was presented by manufacturing and tech firms like The Mid-Hudson Center for Global Advanced Manufacturing, The Solar Energy Consortium and the SUNY Institute of Technology, who live streamed the event to an audience in Utica.