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/