Beware outside consultants? – Part 1, Willard Daggett

The work of Willard Daggett is HUGE here in Iowa. Dr. Daggett heads the International Center for Leadership in Education (ICLE). His emphasis on ‘rigor, relevance, and relationships is so prevalent in the state that those three buzzwords come up in almost every conversation pertaining to school success and student achievement.

I’ve never had a chance to intersect personally with Dr. Daggett, although I did get to hear ICLE’s Senior Vice President, Dr. Ray McNulty, speak at the Vermont Principals Association Leadership Academy this summer (and he did a nice job). I confess that the center’s rigor/relevance framework has at least some intuitive appeal to me.

So I was surprised today when I ran across a scathing May 2008 blog post by Gerald Bracey that raised some pretty serious concerns about Daggett’s veracity (if you don’t know Dr. Bracey, he’s a longtime education scholar and a passionate defender of American schools). Back in 1995 he originally voiced his doubts about Daggett. Thirteen years later he is still concerned about Daggett’s accuracy and/or truthfulness. Here’s the video that accompanies Bracey’s post


Here are additional links (some by Bracey) that raise concerns about Daggett:

Should Iowa be basing much of its school reform work on this guy?

I had never heard about any of this. After reading through all of these links, however, I can see why afterward it would be pretty difficult for educators to have much faith in Daggett’s work. Regardless of the underlying appeal of his messages, at what point do the multiple accusations about Daggett’s ongoing disregard for facts impact his credibility and worthiness as a consultant and/or speaker? I wonder if the Iowa Department of Education, state educational leadership associations, and school districts even know about all of this. If so, should they disregard his rigor/relevance framework and exhortations about teaching kids 21st century skills?

19 Responses to “Beware outside consultants? – Part 1, Willard Daggett”

  1. Thanks for sharing this. It’s old news, but he keeps getting hired at high prices.

    Earlier this year, I sat in the audience for one of his performances. The stuff he was saying was so patently ridiculous that I was fact-checking on my iPhone and then passing it around the room.

    He’s a pretty good entertainer. He gets soft and then real loud and scares you into thinking that there are non-Americans coming over the hills to destroy our way of life.

    Daggett also claims to be supported by the Gates Foundation. Is there any evidence to support this claim?

    The real question is why any conference, district or government agency would hire someone with this message at all? Even if 100% of his resumé and facts were true, the message is one of fearing foreigners, Ripley’s Believe-it-or-not factoids and economic insecurity.

    How does that improve one teacher’s practice or make one child’s better?

    I hope we’ll get a chance to debate the merits of “rigor, relevance and relationships” someday.


  2. Scott,

    At the beginning of this year we had the good Dr. speak in our district. Prior to the event each building was asked to give up the majority of our PD funds for THE YEAR to be able to bring him to the district. Whether or not he is factual was less a concern to the buildings than the extreme cost of his appearance. The harm done for this academic year was incalculable. Staff fact checked him, ridiculed the event in the follow up meetings, and left feeling there was no point as our future is too bleak to contemplate. Plus, did I mention we now have very little if any funds available for follow up PD. Roadshows like this are very entertaining but not pedagogically filling.

  3. I’ve heard him speak 3 times in the past 5 years. His message is essentially pretty standard and yes, he fires off a great deal of facts which I have to admit, readily accepted.

    I reread a blog post I did on him almost 4 years ago. (note Wes Fryer’s comment)

    All of us use stories to help corroborate our beliefs and ideas. We just assume these are true and not fabricated.

    I would say in today’s world of information literacy, he would do well to respond to these more than he has.

  4. @ Scott
    Thanks for sharing the great post. Every two years our district hires one of these experts to come in for a day long assembly for all 43 elementary and 6 high schools in our district. I look forward to researching our coming speaker for next fall. I do have faith that our superintendent has done his research. Note our coming speaker is not Mr. Daggett.

  5. One district I’m familiar with adopted his points of view, had everyone citing rigor and relevance and I even blogged a correlation between R&R and the LOTI (survival in the current climate was critical). Later, I read Bracey’s critique (one of many) and other corroborated that on my initial blog entry.

    The problem is that top level superintendents are seeing this guy and hiring him. Why can’t we do better in K-12 schools?

    The funny part is that if someone were to bring this up to the Daggett Disciples in a school district, there would be immediate repercussions…you have the wrong attitude, etc. How can we encourage different attitudes about these hucksters in our districts without the messengers being shot?

    Here’s my link contrib to Daggett Deception:

    Of course, is this any different than Marc Prensky’s work and Jamie McKenzie’s unveiling?

    Thanks for revisiting this topic,

  6. I remember seeing Daggett on videotape, shown around/in Seattle schools in the late 90’s. And live, at least once. I can’t believe his show is still on.

    Miguel brings up a couple of others. I recently heard Prensky at NCCE in Seattle. Ho hum. Had a beer with Jamie in the mid 90’s and talked/dreamed about the future of the web in schools. He’s still on point, for me. Thanks, Scott.

  7. In CA here and have never heard of Daggett, but we had a Ruby Payne person come in and it sounds about the same. They have a charismatic person come in and tell personal anecdotes about how they changed lives. This was post-Katrina so the focus seems to be on taking in refugees from New Orleans and turning them into budding Rhodes scholars.

    If you’ve never heard of her, her essential message seems to be “poor kids need to be taught differently because they grow up in a culture of ignorance.”

    I’m at a low SES school so of course the teachers lapped it up. “It’s not us! It’s the culture of poverty!”

  8. Iowa’s infatuation with Daggett spoke more about Iowa’s state of education than it did the “power” of Daggett’s message. We have to remember this: despite the embellishments and the high price tag, Daggett’s message is not new. It is literally a Gardner x Contextualism punnent square.

    As ridiculous as this sounds, what Daggett offered many Iowa school districts was a visual graphic to make sense of “21st century learning”, and administrators and state officials bought into it. They already knew the research (and Daggett provided nothing new there), but the visual helped them make sense of it.

    Now, I would be one of the first in line to criticize Daggett along the lines of fear-mongering, having listened to him several times in Iowa, but I have to admit that he did help spur needed change in Iowa. It goes to show how far behind we were.

  9. never heard of this gentlemen but the two most important leadership qualities are: motivation to achieve and concern for people, he shows both.. in a different ways albeit.

    it is also wise of a leader to challenge the status quo to push the envelope and have the courage to stick with what you believe in. to bear down with an optimistic attitude and grind out what you believe is right.

    the issue of leadership in education is extremely important, yet the youtube clip is stating many, many facts.. none of which i see as a administrative role except for his willingness to learn more information..

    there is also an issue of spending a large sum of money for his appearance. this is another issue in itself. being that everyone used ‘groupthink’ to decide to spend the money to bring him in, whether they agreed or not. they agreed to spend their $$ on this for their PD.

    using consultants for PD is the most wasteful use of money for schools. you have a culture where most have Masters degrees in their specialty areas.. along with the wealth of knowledge in Generation WE… WHY spend money for outsiders who do not know your students, staff, and culture??? WHY not harness your own expert knowledge base who is already on your payroll???? (Buy-in is already there… because it is their ideas.)

  10. Ande,
    I agree that you need to access those leaders in your building, but to never bring in new ideas from the outside is not a good practice. Many of the staff here in my district have master’s degrees which they earned in the early 70s and after earning it they never had to take another class again as they were issued permanent professional licenses. I think organizing professional development is a lot like running a kennel. You use what you have, but it is crucial to bring in new blood from time to time or you get dysfunctions due to a lack of knowledge about what is happening elsewhere.
    I think you are correct about internal efforts being much more well received than those initiated after an expert showed up and proposed an idea that sounds good but is difficult to implement and they are not there to aid in implementation. They get to walk away and go propose the same solution to some other school with an entirely different problem. I wonder how many of the professional presenters meet with a team from the district or even have a conference call prior to their presentation and explore the existing knowledge base to better meet the needs of their audience?

  11. Been on vacation so this is a bit old, but I can honestly say that we have had a good presenter lately (follow up on David’s question) that did actually find out a good base amount of where we were in his presentation. Thanks Dr. Scott McLoed for your effort to do that.

  12. Another late post but what I am hearing here is the same no matter who the consultant, no matter when (whether it was two years ago or ten). A consultant? Who wants to change things? We’ll find a way to discredit him or her! Yes!

    And then what? I don’t agree or disagree about any of the opinions stated here… I just find it incredibly interesting that such intelligent educators, people with such strong opinions, cannot come up with their own suggestions for changing what really is a problem. You realize that of course. Not one person here had a solution: only complaints.

    Or… are you saying there is no problem? Your students are doing great, right? I mean really, what we need is someone who can appeal to everyone, not irritate anyone or ruffle feathers. Placate the masses into thinking they are doing a great job. It makes sense… I mean, it’s the way all the teachers here operate, right? I am sure that none of you have ever used a bit of fear or a threat to get students to perform. If you don’t turn your homework in… If you don’t pass the class, you could get held back. I’m going to have to call your parents if you keep acting up. You’ll call it behavior management or some other catch phrase but when someone else is calling YOU on your actions then suddenly its fear mongering. Hmm…

    Sorry, all. I love teachers. I come from a family of teachers. I work with teachers. I am a teacher. And I am so sick of all the reasons and excuses for not enough PD, bad consultants, no parent involvement, community engagement, funding– go back into your classroom and teach the way YOU KNOW YOU SHOULD BE. Use technology. Update your skills. Stop teaching the same way you learned. Engage your students. Care about them. Stop looking at test scores as the be-all and end all and then blaming NCLB. Reach out to your community rather than always blaming and excusing when they try to introduce something new.

    Don’t know what your situation in Iowa is, but if your kids can’t read, can’t do math, can’t join the workplace, can’t break cycles of poverty and crime– cannot pass the tests– then you are not doing your job. Plain and simple. And you can blame anyone you want, but there are teachers in schools in places all over this world who have less resources than you and far more challenges– and whose students succeed. Why don’t you admit this is about adult egos and not student achievement.

    A concerned educator and researcher

  13. Dagget is a snake oil salesman and a fraud…. why do you pay these people?

  14. One of Daggett’s people, who sounds a lot like LC, was at our school on Friday, September 4, 2009. She was spilling anectdotes, some unbelievable, with no real data. The problem for me, a lowly nothing teacher, is that when I find you out in a lie, I then do not trust most of what you say to me. I do love my job, enjoy most of my students, and care very much about education. Lying and educating do not go together. Truth and education are better partners.
    We were forced to attend one of Daggett’s sessions in Philadelphia last spring. At the end, I asked the teacher next to me, “What are we supposed to do now, take rifles and go after the Chinese?”. The presentation was a cross between a revival meeting and a carnival show. I watched many teachers respond to his xenophobic speech with enthusiasm.
    Teachers who dare to question Daggett, his people, or his methods, are singled out as reactionary incompetents who ought to quit or retire. Principals do target people who disagree with his program. Several schools in Philadlephia are now under his thumb, thanks to funding provisions from NCLB.
    I am so relieved to find this site. In confirms my suspicions.

  15. I would love to respond to LC First of all, LC does not sound like a teacher who is currently in practice. LC sounds like an educational consultant who gives no suggestions except for “use technology” and “don’t teach the way you learned”. Sorry LC (loser consultant?), I had some amazing teachers in my time and I hope I can bring some of what they brought to me to my own students. As for the technology part, horrible teachers can use technology, good teachers can use it too, and good teachers don’t need technology to do their jobs. It puts money into the hands of companies selling the technology, and not all of it is good or useful. Its nice to make things easier, but its not the end all. Its been a nice buzz word however. My solutions? Yes. We know that each student has his or her own gifts and talents. That’s Howard Gardener from Harvard..multiple intelligences. Instead of streamlinging schools with a one size fits all approach (force every 8th grader to do Algebra I, force physics for all), help students identify what they are good at and what they are passionate about and offer a curriculum that meets their needs. One size does not fit all, one size fits NONE. When you yell “GO BACK AND TEACH LIKE YOU KNOW YOU SHOULD BE”..well then…what are you saying? We know how to teach kids but we are sitting around doing nothing? Really?! REALLY?!
    Who could it be to make you say such a stament? Hmmm?! Who could it be, who could it be, I just can’t imagine who? Could be beeeeeeeeee…….

    DAGGERT!?!!!!!!!!! (Dane Carvey does it much better than I do)

    Loser consultant, go back to the classroom and get a real job. Then again, my guess is that you couldn’t hack it in the classroom and that is why you are now a consultant.

  16. Teacher, 35 years. We had to endure many like Daggett and consultants and NGOS are who are ruining education and have been for years under various program titles.

    Now Daggett is being dragged out with Marc Tucker to promote Common Core in Manchester NH.

    God help us all.

  17. After 5 years THANK GOD Daggett has left the building!


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