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Educator makes pitch for realism

Willard Daggett thinks he has the mystery solved.

Why are college graduates having trouble finding jobs at the same time business owners are complaining that they can't find good, qualified help?

Daggett's answer: American schools are teaching students skills they need to succeed in school, but not the skills they need to succeed in today's workplace.

"There is a mismatch," Daggett told a group of educators and business people in Clearwater Monday.

Daggett is director of the Schenectady, N.Y.-based International Center for Leadership in Education, which provides consulting services and research on employment and education issues to educators and business.

The Pinellas Regional Partnership, which received a grant in December to develop ways to better prepare students for the work force, brought Daggett to town for its business-industry-education summit on Monday.

The American education system teaches many things well, Daggett said. What it doesn't do well is teach most students how to apply that knowledge to the real world.

"You can have all kinds of knowledge and never be able to apply it," he said.

The education system hasn't caught up with the needs of business, according to Daggett. It is designed to produce workers with skills to survive in yesterday's industrialized society, not the fast-paced technologically advanced business environment of today and the future, he said.

Today's workers need a different set of more practical and technical skills, he said.

"The math, science, and language arts you need for entry level business today is higher and different than what you need for college admission," he said.

Daggett said many of the skills taught in school are not relevant in today's workplace.

For instance, rather than teaching algebra, which has little practical real-life applications for many jobs, schools should be teaching more practical math such as statistics, logic, probability and measurement systems better, he said.

And instead of teaching students to read and write from literature, there should be more emphasis on technical reading and writing, Daggett said.

Instead of requiring that high school graduates be able to write a clear paragraph, perhaps they should be required to be able to write a clear paragraph describing how to reset the clock on a VCR, he said.

Business people have been "screaming long and hard that the high school graduate couldn't read," Daggett said. But a recent study showed that they could read novels and newspapers just fine. It was technical manuals they had problems with.

The consequences of not changing the country's education system are great, Daggett said. If business can't find the workers it needs in this country, it will find them in other countries, where the workers are already trained in practical skills and will often work for less.

Daggett sits on school reform boards in both Germany and Japan, where children are being prepared to go to work beginning in the first grade. In America, students are taught skills to succeed in college.

"Our world is the world of school. Their world is the world of technology and work," he said. "I have learned that my kids are not prepared to compete against their kids."

At the same time Daggett urged educators to concentrate more on technical subjects, he also urged that they not abandon traditional subjects such as literature and art that might have less practical applications.

"They are the platform of an intelligent, thinking person," he said.