Lakeland Union High School paid almost $20,000 this year for 11 school administrators to head to the Orlando, Florida, area – a half mile from Walt Disney World – for an education conference, The Lakeland Times has learned through an open records request.
The 20th annual Model Schools Conference, sponsored by the International Center for Leadership in Education, drew more than 6,000 participants to listen to education leaders describe their models, best practices, and next practices, according to the conference description. The conference’s focus was on literacy, technology and career pathways, and was closely aligned with the so-called Daggett System for Effective Instruction.
Dr. Willard Daggett is the founder and chairman of the ICLE. In the Daggett system, organizational leaders set out to create a culture, establish a shared vision and then attempt to align organizational structures and systems with that vision. The Daggett system has drawn a flock of educators through the years, hundreds of school districts paying thousands of dollars to attend conferences or to have Daggett speak, but the entire system and ICLE have also been criticized as a clever marketing and promotional scheme for Daggett himself.
Attending the conference from the Lakeland area were LUHS district administrator Todd Kleinhans, LUHS principal James Bouche, curriculum assessment directors Faye DeMarte and Teresa Andrews, AV-W district administrator Rick Morgan, AV-W principal Rich Fortier, LdF district administrator Larry Ouimette, LdF principal Ron Grams, MHLT district administrator James Ellis, MHLT principal Rob Way, and North Lakeland district administrator and principal Brent Jelinski.
All totaled, for conference registration, airfare, travel, baggage, parking, lodging and meals, the tab for the three-day conference came to $19,388.65. LUHS paid for all but a few incidental expenses.
Specifically, conference registration weighed in at $5,110; airfare cruised along at an altitude of $5,060.06; baggage and parking came to $309; lodging cost $6,579.20; meals gobbled up $2,201.39; and the administrators ponied up $129 for reference media.
Funding for the conference came through a Federal Title IIA Grant received by the district. The purpose of Title IIA funding is to develop and implement mechanisms and strategies to assist schools in effectively recruiting and retaining highly qualified teachers, principals, specialists and administrators. The funds are typically used for professional development.
“Annual trips to the Model Schools Conference have been written into our district’s grant application for the past several years as part of our staff development and school improvement plans,” Kleinhans said in an email this week. “Typically, the building principal and curriculum director approve those teachers and administrators that attend on any given year. I approved this year’s trip to include ‘feeder’ elementary school superintendents and principals.”
No teachers attended the 2012 conference. In addition, the LUHS school board did not specifically approve the trip, Kleinhans said, though it does approve the budget, including professional development funds.
“Approval to attend professional conferences is a function of school administration,” Kleinhans said. “Administrative approval to attend professional conferences is a function of the district administrator or his/her designee. The board approves the (fiscal year) budget which includes professional development for district employees.”
Traveling in style
Most of the traveling group stayed at the conference center site, the Gaylord Palm Resort and Convention Center. As the hotel website describes it, you have to see it to believe it.
“Sun-drenched and spectacular, Gaylord Palms Resort and Convention Center brings excitement to life through world-class restaurants, dynamic on-site recreation, and breathtakingly beautiful gardens under glass,” the website states. “Our signature atriums, tropical and lush, recreate three Florida environments, immersing you in the sights and sounds that make the Sunshine State a top vacation destination. From the gently rising mists of the Everglades, to the funky and vibrant island revelry of Key West, to the Spanish-infused, old-world charm of St. Augustine, you’ll delight in these unique Florida-themed settings.”
The registration cost of $5,110 included $330 in lunch vouchers, 22 at $15 each for 11 people. Registration itself totaled $4,780.
If they lodged in style, they ate in style, too. On June 25, for instance, at Fulton’s Crab House, server Jordan served up RI Narragansett lobster, Florida grouper, snow crab and whipped potatoes for $578.30. Add the taxpayer-funded tip and the final cost was $693.96.
Dinner was not always so pricey. On June 24, eight people dined at Old Hickory for a comparatively cheaper dinner of $372.50, including gratuity. The fare included $40 center-cut filets, $44 New York Strips and a $46 New York Strip, bone in, of course.
On Raglan Road Irish Pub the check blared, “Here’s The Damage.” The damage for five was $319.97, gratuity included, for sirloin steaks, salmon, fish and chips, and baby back ribs.
Daggett, one of the conference’s keynote speakers, has his adherents – witness the school districts that shell out big dollars to his group – but he also has a posse of critics who have trailed him for years. If nothing else, Daggett is controversial.
Here’s how the nonprofit John William Pope Center for Education Policy described him way back in 1999:
“Education consultant Willard Daggett lies about his resume, gives false information, and charges an exorbitant amount for his speeches – triple what most education scholars charge – according to an Oct. 22 Investor’s Business Daily (IBD) report,” the center wrote on its website. “School systems across the country, however, believe in Daggett’s message and gladly pay the $7,000 to $10,000 a day that it costs to hear him speak. Among them is the The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.”
The website pointed to a speech Daggett gave in Gross Pointe, Mich., in which he allegedly claimed the U.S. was the only country still teaching chemistry and biology as separate courses. The problem was, the website reported, further research showed that no nations integrated the two subjects.
“In the same speech, he claimed to have been a university president and to be a trustee of two major universities,” the center stated. “When pressed for names of the universities, Daggett said only that he had been a professor.”
The late education expert Gerald Bracey, a Fellow at the Education Policy Studies Laboratory at Arizona State University until his death in 2009, was another constant critic of Daggett, telling the Pope Center that Daggett was “full of crap as a Christmas turkey.”
Bracey placed Daggett on his Rotten Apples in Education annual list on multiple occasions, for, among other things, using non-existent research to explain why 12-year-olds were better operators of VCRs than high school graduates – namely, that American high schools emphasize literature and that literature was a right-brained activity, while figuring out a VCR is left-brained.
“In fact, all language is processed in the left hemisphere,” Bracey retorted
In 2008, writing in The Huffington Post, Bracey labeled Daggett as education’s Baron von Munchausen for telling what he called “whoppers.” In one example, Daggett is alleged to have told an audience of high schoolers that his oldest daughter was the president and CEO of the fourth largest medical facility in the world. When Bracey called the facility, he recounted in The Huffington Post, he found that the daughter did indeed work there – as the office manager. In fact, she answered the phone for an office with four doctors.
The criticism has continued this year. Pete Borden, a columnist with the Marietta Daily Journal, began his own investigation after he learned that local educators were Disney bound.
“Most of what I found was self-promoting material concocted, no doubt, by Daggett and his staff,” he wrote of the ICLE. “All of it was ambiguous in content, making broad claims, impossible to document. Such is a not an unusual practice in creating a resume, with little substance.”
The ICLE was founded in 1991. On its website the ICLE does list seven case studies citing successful work with seven school districts as well four testimonials for the 21-year period. And clicking on a Showcasing Our Results link simply takes you to a registration form for the 2013 Model Schools Conference.
This year they are again headed to a Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center, this time in National Harbor, MD.
Richard Moore may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org