From Investors Business Daily
When Willard R. Daggett gave a day-long series of talks to the Grosse Pointe, Mich., school district last November, faculty, parents and students thought they were listening to a top expert in education.
Such an expert, in fact, that Grosse Pointe paid him $10,000 for the day — triple what respected education scholars usually get for speeches, several education consultants said.
A high school science teacher was skeptical, though. Among other things, Daggett had told the educators that the U.S. was the only nation that still taught chemistry and biology as separate courses. The teacher looked into it and found no nations that integrated the two subjects.
He sent a note to Gerald Bracey, a psychologist who specializes in education statistics.
Bracey was livid. In a 1995 article in the education journal Phi Delta Kappan, he had taken Daggett to task for talking at length about a study that Bracey couldn’t find. None of the top scholars he had contacted knew of the study either. And the study’s findings seemed implausible.
When he asked Daggett for the sources of that study and several other statistics, he got a letter from Daggett’s lawyer. It said, in essence, that Daggett was too busy to help Bracey.
Yet here Daggett was again, spinning anecdotes and statistics in return for big bucks. Tax dollars, in fact. So Bracey sent Grosse Pointe’s top officials a letter. It detailed several of Daggett’s claims and Bracey’s rebuttals, with his sources.
The district passed Bracey’s concerns on to Daggett. Daggett replied with an eight-page letter that attempted to answer only a few of Bracey’s questions. Even the answers he did give were mostly unsourced and full of information irrelevant to the questions Bracey had posed.
The district’s response? In a written statement, district superintendent Suzanne Klein would only say, Dr. Daggett continues to be a popular speaker in other school districts in our area. (Klein refused to be interviewed for this story.)
Grosse Pointe North High School Principal Caryn Wells, who pushed to invite Daggett to speak at Grosse Pointe after hearing him at a conference, said she was satisfied with Daggett’s response. Asked whether she would invite him back, Wells said yes. District spokesman Kathy Roberts said Wells viewpoint reflected the district’s.
The problem, said several education scholars, is that Daggett is only one of dozens of self-described education experts who prescribe reforms that are based on shaky research. In some cases they are merely marketing whizzes who sell videos and books and provide training sessions, though they often do no research themselves.
The education community is constantly and chronically taken in by any peddler of snake oil or witchcraft that comes down the pike, said Chester Finn Jr., president of the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation and a former assistant U.S. secretary of education. They just mutter words that educators like to hear.
If you used the right buzzwords, added Finn, you could turn yourself into a millionaire. Most of it is just hocus-pocus.
Daggett himself has spoken in dozens of districts ranging from Olathe, Kan., to Niagara Falls, N.Y. He’s been a keynote speaker at a Kentucky Department of Education conference, the Midwestern Governors Association conference and the 1995 National School Boards Association annual conference.He’s even given the graduation speech at Georgia Southern University.
The Center for School Leadership and the Kenan Best Practices Center at the University of North Carolina have set up a partnership with Daggett’s firm.
Sam Houston, the center’s executive director, said, I’ve known Bill Daggett for years. I think (he) does very good work.
Daggett’s firm lines up speaking and consulting engagements for Houston.
In Idaho, the J.A. and Kathryn Albertson foundation paid $ 175,000 to bring Daggett in for a series of talks and workshops with state educators.It also offered hundreds of thousands of dollars to districts that were willing to work with Daggett.
“He’s very research-based”, Sharron Jarvis, the foundation’s executive director, told the Idaho Statesman.”I do like his perspective that we’re a global economy.”
The Hernando County schools in Florida paid Daggett $8,000 for a day-long speech in August 1998 and sent 10 educators to Daggett’s Model Schools Conference at a cost of almost $10,000. The money came from a federal School-to- Work grant.
Hernando County superintendent John Sanders reaction to Daggett’s talk: The content of his message is very pertinent to education today. I’ve been in the business for over 35 years. Much of what he had to say I’ve seen firsthand myself.
Maryland’s Baltimore County schools took their 160 principals out of school to hear Daggett talk in 1997.
Pricetag: $6,000, from a federal grant.
One wonders which is worse, a top education consultant who knows Daggett’s work well said, (Daggett’s) flimsy work or the districts willing to pay him $10,000.
Daggett styles himself a global expert on school reform.He claims to have served on school-reform commissions in Germany and Japan and to have worked with reform efforts in districts on four continents.
Yet Harold Stevenson, an expert on international education systems at the University of Michigan, has never heard of Daggett and has no idea where he gets his international statistics.
Daggett claimed in a 1998 speech that 29 countries require four years of technical reading and writing in high school (i.e., learning how to read a computer manual). Two years earlier, he told an audience that 19 countries had that requirement.
Even an expert wouldn’t know the details of what happens in 29 countries, said Stevenson. Daggett said the statistics were based on his own travels.
After leaving his post as the director of occupational education for the New York State Department of Education, Daggett set up the International Center for Leadership in Education.
It now boasts a staff of seven and several senior consultants, nearly all of whom have doctorates. Even Thomas Houlihan, the former senior education adviser to North Carolina Gov. Jim Hunt, is listed as one.
What about Daggett’s own resume?In his speech to Grosse Pointe, he claimed to have been a university president and to be a trustee of two major universities. When pressed for their names, Daggett said he had been a professor, not a president. He has claimed to be a former university president in other speeches as well.
The two major universities he claimed to have been a trustee of: Northwestern Business Institute in Pennsylvania (not affiliated with Northwestern University) and, formerly, Kent College in Great Britain.
Daggett’s speeches are a mix of futurism and warning. Some of his observations are vague: Our children live in a technological information society pushed by global competition.
He tells faculty, students and parents that the skills needed for entry-level business are higher and fundamentally different than those needed to succeed in higher education.
For instance, he says, schools teach algebra, but high-skill jobs require knowledge of statistics, logic and probability. Also, schools teach kids to read novels, Shakespeare and poetry, he says, but businesses need people who can read technical manuals.
As proof that high schools aren’t teaching much of value, he told Grosse Pointe that, according to College Board data, 68% of colleges don’t require a high school diploma.How is this possible? Community colleges, he said, don’t require diplomas, bar none.
Renee Gernanda, who runs the College Board’s database, said the College Board had never calculated that statistic. Asked to do so, she found that 25% of community colleges don’t require diplomas. Daggett said her statistic was wrong, but offered no proof.
Other gaffes included telling the audience that California has 21% of its kids in charter schools. The actually statistic was around 1%.
He talked at length about a Harvard study that took the top two seniors from 2,100 U.S. high schools and had them take the ninth-grade exams in math, science and social studies. Nearly 90% supposedly failed two out of three exams.
The problem: No one at Harvard’s Graduate School of Education knew of the study. Daggett says he heard about it at Harvard, but didn’t provide a source.
In a long talk on biotechnology, he told the crowd that Pfizer was able to invent Viagra, its wonder drug for erectile dysfunction, after scientists discovered the gene domination that causes male sexual dysfunction. Viagra has nothing to do with the human genome.