Public Schools and Teachers Must Heed Customers!

Public school teachers are not to blame for the problems in public education but they must accept responsibility for responding to the customer dissatisfaction and doing something to fix it.

I once heard a public school teacher making a presentation who said that “it was not his job to train students to work for someone’s corporation.” His comment brought an immediate cheer from the audience of other public school teachers. At the time, I accepted his comment as true. It was only later that I decided this was not right!

It is the job of our teachers and schools, both public and private, to help their students gain sufficient knowledge and skills to give them choices about what to do with their lives. One of the choices a young man or woman may make is to go to work for “someone’s corporation.” In fact, they all need to find some way to make a living for themselves and their families. If a young person lacks the skills and knowledge necessary to be successful at such a job then our public schools have not done its job. Performance must always be judged against the results produced and this applies to private, parochial and charter schools, as well.

This past week, The Fort Wayne Journal Gazette, printed an article in which improved graduation rates in our area’s schools were touted. What those educators who were celebrating their success do not seem to understand is that, to the communities those school serve, graduation rates are meaningless statistics if these young graduates are unable to use what they have learned on the job, in the military, at a college or university, or as a responsible citizen of their communities. When many of those graduates return to their communities and gravitate to gangs, drugs, crime, violence, incarceration, or an early violent death, they don’t choose such a life because of its glamorous appeal, they choose it because they are not qualified for much of anything else. Clearly the interests of neither the community nor these young people are well-served.

When our private and public schools are meeting the needs of neither their students nor their communities then something is horribly wrong and it doesn’t matter whether we blame poverty and segregation, or unmotivated and unsupportive parents. When something does not work it is the responsibility of the people who produce that “something” to keep trying new approaches until they find something that will work. It is not sufficient for public school educators to say they are doing their best. Customer dissatisfaction is never acceptable even in a community with poverty and segregation.

What educators must come to accept is that it is dissatisfaction with the results produced by public schools that is the motivating force driving education reformers to use high stakes testing to document those unacceptable outcomes. It is such failures that are the motivating force behind the privatization of schools through the creation of charter schools and voucher programs. These reformers did not wake up one morning and decide that charter schools might prove to be a profitable enterprise. They were motivated by what they have witnessed with respect to the qualifications and work ethic of young people entering the job market and by their belief that they can do a better job. It does not matter whether we agree with this logic but it is the reality behind the reform movement.

Unfortunately, these business men and women did not apply the same rigorous problem-solving methodologies that they would have used to replace an under-performing production process in one of their operations. They did not take the time to understand why public schools are not performing up to their expectations and then use that knowledge to design a more effective education process. Rather, they decided that if they just move kids to a private school setting; pick teachers who are not members of a union; recruit students whose parents are motivated to move their child to a better school; and, then manage those schools the same way they manage their businesses, everything will be better.

Today, we are seeing that many of the charter schools that have been thus created are not performing any better than the public schools they were intended to replace. Instead they are teaching kids the same way public schools have been teaching for as long as any of us can remember and they are getting the same outcomes.

If we want better outcomes, we must take the time to understand why the existing educational process is not working and re-invent that process to do what we need it to do. We need an educational process that gives each and every child the time and resources they need in order to learn and that gives teachers the time, support, and resources they need to help their students along, each and every step of the way. We need an education model that works.

The education model I have introduced in my book, Reinventing Education, Hope, and the American Dream: The Challenge for Twenty-First Century America is a model that is designed to give teachers what they need in order to teach and give kids what they need in order to learn. The reader is encouraged to check out both my model and a white paper that summarizes the findings and conclusions of my book at http://www.melhawkinsandassociates.com/education-model-white-paper/

An Open Letter to President and Mrs. Obama

Dear President and Mrs. Obama:

While the election of Donald Trump has created great uncertainty for the poor and minorities, there is no uncertainty about the impact Vice President-elect Mike Pence and Betsy DeVos will have on public schools and our nation’s most vulnerable children. If ever we needed powerful champions for American public schools, their students, and communities we need it now.

During your eight years in office, your administration had very little impact on public education. Disappointing, I know, but the facts are indisputable that millions of American children are struggling in school. Once you leave the White House, however, you will be perfectly positioned to lead public education through a transformation. All that is required is that you open your hearts and minds to a new way of thinking about the reasons why so many of our children are failing and what we can do about it.

Think about what is happening in our public schools in urban and rural communities all over the U.S. The numbers are staggering. In just two school districts in Fort Wayne, Indiana, more than 7,000 students in grades 3 through 8 are unable to pass both math and language arts components of the 2016 ISTEP+ exams (Indiana’s version of high stakes testing). While seventy to eighty percent of African-American children are among that population, that total also includes white and other minority students.

These children are not just statistics; they are living, breathing boys and girls with names and fading dreams. Multiply that total by the number of struggling urban and rural school districts in the U.S. and we are talking about millions of children. This is a national tragedy of unprecedented breadth and scope. That the percentage of children who pass both exams actually drops when they reach middle school is evidence that the longer we allow this reality to persist, the further behind these children will fall.

While many students do excel in public schools, the overwhelming majority of the students who are struggling will leave school without the skills necessary to give them choices about what to do with their lives. They will return to the communities into which they were born and will begin producing a whole new generation of children who are destined to fail in school and are doomed to live in poverty, just as their parents and grandparents have done. Many will end up in prison or die an early, violent death. This is not an exaggeration, it is incontrovertible fact.

This tragedy in public education exists because both education reformers and public school educators are wrong in their assertions about the cause of these failures and what to do about them. While public school teachers and administrators defend public education in spite of compelling evidence that the needs of disadvantaged children are not being met, education reformers promote the privatization of our schools through the use of charter schools and vouchers so that parents can use tax dollars to pay for their children to attend charter schools and other private schools.

The fallacy in this latter approach is that education reformers are doing nothing to help the public schools that are being abandoned. It is as if they have decided to help the children they can and let the rest fend for themselves. We cannot permit public education to become triage where we pick and choose to whom we will offer the opportunity for a quality education without which the American Dream cannot exist.

How many failing children does it take before we declare the evidence to be compelling? Only a fortunate few of these young people will find a good job on which they can support their families, contribute to American enterprise, and pay their fair share of taxes. The rest will continue to be an economic burden to taxpayers and a social burden on their communities and justice systems. The fact that these Americans are perceived as a burden is the single greatest factor in the chasm that divides the American people. It is this reality that solidifies the anger and resentment in the hearts of so many Americans and allows them to justify their prejudices and, in some cases, their bigotry. Donald Trump’s election is proof positive.

There is a simple axiom in business that if a system or process consistently fails to produce acceptable outcomes, no matter how hard people are working, then the system is flawed. Clearly, the educational process at work in our schools is flawed. In almost any other venue, leadership would promptly replace the flawed process with one that can and will produce the desired outcomes. Educators are not trained, however, to step back and examine what they do systematically. In public education, educators and reformers are entrenched in a ferocious battle over all of the wrong things and we keep making the same mistakes and enduring the same unacceptable outcomes.

Every once in a while, throughout history, there have been voices crying out in the wilderness with new ideas that changed the world. Consider the possibility that this appeal might be such a voice and, then, visit http://www.melhawkinsandassociates.com/education-model-white-paper/. There, you can review the implementation plan for my Education Model and a white paper that provides an overview of the findings and recommendations offered in my book, Reinventing Education, Hope, and the American Dream: The Challenge For Twenty-first Century America. It is an education model that enables public school teachers to give disadvantaged students the time and attention they need to learn while allowing other students to move ahead at their own pace and that rejects the idea that learning is a competition with winners and losers. It is a model that is structured to support success and that rejects failure, absolutely.

Thank you for your service to our nation and for the class and compassion with which both of you have served. Then, please recognize that your work is not done. With your help we can alter the reality for disadvantaged children, far too many of whom are poor, black, and other minorities. Our nation’s children need you more than ever.

Sincerely,

Mel Hawkins, BA, MSEd, MPA