LaGRANGE — Troup County schools need to evolve, innovate and move beyond traditional teaching methods to succeed, a consultant told the Board of Education on Monday.
During a special meeting of the board, consultant Willard Daggett, founder and president of the International Center for Leadership in Education, presented his proposals for the school system. The board in August voted to hire ICLE to conduct a literacy study, needs assessment study, strategic planning and ongoing advisory services for a total $85,400.
Daggett said his group evaluated literacy needs and whether schools are adequately preparing students for real-world reading applications, including comprehension of occupational and technical materials for businesses.
He said he also compared the school system with the most rapidly improved schools in the country.
“Overall, you really have a very good district,” he told the board. “… But I want to underscore something, you may be good in the state and competitive nationally, but you are not one of the better school systems in the country.”
Daggett emphasized the importance of technology and integrating it into class curriculum in ways that can engage students. He also stressed that the system needs to make more locally based curriculum decisions.
He cited the Every Student Succeeds Act passed last year by Congress as allowing more local control, saying the Troup County School System should take advantage of moving away from the traditional testing and teaching styles, as well as overly stringent federal standards of the past. There will be resistance, Daggett said, but the system shouldn’t move backward to old styles of teaching and should move to more innovative means.
“We need to put a stake in the ground and look 5 to 10 years out, see what our children will need to know and ask, ‘How do we do that?’” he said. “Then we work from that.”
In his comparison to the most rapidly improving schools, he said many “aren’t what you’d expect” and have similar demographics to those of Troup County schools, including high percentages of students on free and reduced lunch.
School board member Debbie Burdette worried that breaking with federal and state standards would lose the system funding.
The most improved schools “worked within (federal) parameters,” Daggett said. “… I propose that you would need to go a long way to lose funding.
“Education has become almost paralyzed with No Child Left Behind and paralyzed with Common Core. Teachers spend all their time working on all the standards instead of working on lesson plans and allowing them to do what they love — teach. … So (the most improved schools) took control. They did not move to the point of being civilly disobedient, but they did what they had to.”
The school system needs to better prepare students for real-world and college life, Daggett said.
He said a poll of Troup teachers and students showed that 88.1 percent of teachers believed students could apply what they teach to the real world. However, only 53.8 percent of students agreed.
Citing findings of ICLE’s literacy study, he said Troup mirrors many school systems in America by having most students read fictional stories in English language arts when the real world requires more nonfiction. He suggested technical reading should be more of the curriculum, which will require more teacher training.
Technology provides an ever-changing landscape for education, Daggett emphasized. He said the innovations currently happening in technology are making many jobs obsolete. He cited that car technology is creating more preventative measures to avoid repair and maintenance. He showed the board video of a Ford sedan that will have sensor technology to allow its shocks to adjust and avoid dipping into potholes, as well as many vehicles that now come standard with automated brakes that avoid collisions.
That will likely lead to a decrease in job needs for vehicle maintenance, he said, which means more competition for students following that field. Daggett told the board many entry level jobs have been eliminated as more technology replaces the need for physical labor, and more medium-wage jobs are now also at risk.
“If you can write an algorithm for a job, that job is gone,” he said.
Daggett said priorities in educational curriculum are rigor, relevance and relationships. He said much of the fault of previous standards is focus on rigor and not enough on relevance and relationships. He said relationships — connection between students and teachers for lessons — should come first and rigor and relevance follow.
The relationship factor also helps for students who aren’t getting support for their education at home.
The system needs to “find a way for teachers to connect with some of those kids, find out what is relevant to them and use change in technology to deliver instruction,” he said.
ICLE is set to continue strategic planning with school staff and work to identify what ICLE believes will be more innovative and inclusive teaching methods.
Matthew Strother is editor of LaGrange Daily News. He may be reached at 706-884-7311, ext. 2153.