Students must be able to build on success, not failure!

It is incredibly frustrating that public school teachers and administrators have been unwilling and/or unable to take seriously the education model I have developed. It is exasperating because I know teachers want to do what is best for their students. I also know how frustrated so many public school teachers are and that the prospect of burnout is something many of these dedicated men and women fear. That teachers are blamed for the problems in public education must be especially galling.

It is even more frustrating that advocacy groups for black children and other children of color seem totally uninterested in a solution that will end the failure of millions of disadvantaged kids and shut down the schoolhouse to jailhouse pipeline that is transporting these kids to a life of poverty, failure, crime, and early violent deaths.

If only all of these dedicated men and women would open their hearts and minds to the possibility of a new way to educate our nation’s most precious assets.

“This will not work in my classroom(s)!” is what public school teachers and administrators say when they first review my model. I hear it all the time.

Of course, they are correct, but this is exactly my point. In the current education process, nothing different will work because the process is flawed. To paraphrase Linda Darling Hammond, “the existing process is structured to produce the outcomes it gets and we will not get better outcomes if all we do is ask teachers to work harder.”

There are many teachers in high-performing schools who feel good about what they do but there are also many teachers in low-performing schools who are frustrated, daily, because they are unable to get through to unmotivated students.

Odd as it may seem, African-American leaders, who jump through the roof in response to symbols of oppression, do not even bother to respond to the possibility of a solution that will attack the roots of that oppression.

I ask public school educators to take a figurative step back and imagine an environment in which they are expected to give each and every student however much time they need to learn each and every lesson. Imagine an environment in which teachers are expected to develop longer term relationships with students and where the process is structured to facilitate the development of such relationships; with both students and parents.

My challenge to public school teachers and administrators is that they consider that the education process can be re-designed and re-configured to produce whatever outcomes we want.

My challenge to advocates for black children and other children of color to consider the possibility that African-American students and other disadvantaged children do not need to fail.

My education model is constructed on the premise that academic success is no different than success in any other venue. Success is a process of trial and error, of learning from one’s mistakes and applying that knowledge to produce better outcomes. Success is built upon success and the more one succeeds the more confident he or she becomes. The more confident he or she is the more successful one becomes. Success is contagious and can become a powerful source of motivation.

The key, of course, is that one cannot master the process of success until he or she begins to experience success, routinely. In school, kids learn and each lesson learned is a success. Very often, success on subsequent lessons requires that one apply what one has learned from previous lessons. When a foundation of success is laid down in school, young boys and girls approach adulthood with a wide menu of choices in terms of the kind of future that can be built on that foundation.

Imagine, however, when there is no success on which to build. When kids fail, or even learn only part of a given lesson, they are less like to learn the next lesson. A pattern also emerges in this scenario but it is a pattern of failure rather than success.

For many of these kids, failure is the only thing they know. It is only a matter of time before they give up, stop trying, and begin acting out in class. Third grade is when many states begin administering competency examinations. Right from the beginning, a significant percentage of third grade students are unable to pass both math and English language components of their state exams. Although African-American students have the lowest passage rates, the poor performance extends to a percentage of students from all demographic groups, including white students.

By the time these students reach middle school the scores are even lower. In many middle schools, as many as eighty percent of black students fail to pass both exams. Middle school teachers throughout the U.S. can attest to the incredibly low level of motivation displayed by their students. Any illusions that high schools are able to turn the performance of these students around in four years are just that, illusions; high graduation rates notwithstanding.

When they leave school, the overwhelming majority of these low-performing students return to their communities, unqualified for jobs or military service. For many, it is the final station on the schoolhouse to jailhouse line. Far too many suffer early, violent deaths. Those who live spawn a whole new generation of children who will start from behind and will never be given a realistic opportunity to catch up. They are entrapped in a maelstrom of poverty and failure.

It is an American tragedy of unprecedented breadth and scope and it is at the core of our nation’s greatest political, economic, cultural and civil rights challenges. The chasm that divides the American people is very much a function of the bitterness on the part of some citizens because of their resentment that they are asked to support our nation’s poor and infirm.

The magnitude of this reality makes public education the civil rights issue of the 21st Century. That it is a crisis that can be prevented so easily, however, is the greatest tragedy at all. The ambivalence of the people who can bring an end to this tragedy is the greatest mystery of all. Do they not care?

We can end the failure simply by making sure every child has however much time they need in order to learn. If there is a reason why we should not do this, I truly wish someone would explain it to me.

Please check out my model at http://www.melhawkinsandassociates.com/education-model-white-paper/

“Say it ain’t so, Joe!”

These words were shouted at the great Shoeless Joe Jackson when news of the 1919 Black Sox scandal hit the press. Shoeless Joe’s fans did not want to believe that their star could have been involved in throwing the 1919 World Series between Jackson’s Chicago White Sox and the Cincinnati Reds.

As we prepare for the 2017/2018 school year it is business as usual for both private and public schools throughout the U.S. Having made no substantive changes in the education process, we can expect the same disappointing outcomes that we have seen in previous years, for as long as any of us can recall. Sure, there are many schools where kids do well and this lulls us into a false sense of security that all is well with public education. However, in schools serving large populations of disadvantaged kids, a disproportionate percentage of whom are black or other minorities, are failing in great numbers. This is an American tragedy of historic proportions and as a fan of public school teachers, I do not want to believe that they will permit this American tragedy to continue. These are children who will suffer their whole lives because we are not willing to change what we do and how we teach.

“Say it ain’t so, teachers!”

Beginning now and over the next several weeks, a whole new class of five and six year-olds will be starting Kindergarten just as others have done in the past. Wherever their public schools may be, they will be greeted by professional teachers who will give their best effort on behalf of their students—our nation’s children. The fact that there is a cavernous disparity in terms of the academic preparedness of the children who will be arriving for their first day of school will not alter the teaching plans that have been developed and approved to help prepare these boys and girls for the first grade.

People underestimate how much of an adverse impact this disparity has on the academic performance of these children. Some of the more advanced students are already reading, can count and maybe do some basic arithmetic. Students on the other end of the academic preparedness continuum may not know or be able to recognize the letters of the alphabet and may not know numbers, colors, or shapes. The challenge to get such a diverse population of students ready to move on to first grade by the end of the school year is formidable. Fortunately, in most states, teachers need not yet worry about high stakes testing, which adds greatly to the pressure to move kids quickly.

Kindergarten teachers do their best to prepare their students for first grade but giving each and every student the time and attention they need in order to learn is neither a priority nor an expectation against which teacher performance will be evaluated. In classrooms where all students are relatively well-prepared, the year will go smoothly. In classrooms where few, if any, are well-prepared things will not be so easy and teachers will struggle to give each child the attention they require. There are just too many of them. When they do move on to first grade, this latter population of students will be as ill-prepared to meet first-grade expectations as they were when they began Kindergarten.

By the third grade when high stakes testing rears its ugly head, the number of students who are struggling will have grown and the results of their first competency exams will reflect that lack of preparedness. Already, there will be many students who are beginning to give up on themselves because they are not learning to succeed, they are learning to fail.

Three years later, when these kids arrive at middle school, the majority will have already stopped trying and will have lost hope. Don’t take my word for it. Pull up the websites of any state’s department of education and you will find that in poor urban and rural school districts, roughly 75 percent of black, middle school students will have been unable to pass both math and English language arts components of that state’s competency exams. In those same schools you will often see that as many as 50 percent of white kids are unable to pass both math and English language arts components.

What you will find in these schools is a cultural disdain for education that transcends both racial and economic boundaries. By the time these kids move from middle school to high school the one lesson they have learned best is that they are unable to learn and that learning is not worth the effort. Let me rephrase that statement. This is not a lesson they have learned on their own, it is the lesson they have been taught simply because the education process has allowed them to fail. We allowed it because teachers were unable to give these kids the time and attention they require and because those same teachers were unwilling to shout out at the tops of their lungs that what they are being asked to do does not work for disadvantaged kids.

Is it any wonder that education reformers are essentially abandoning public schools in our nation’s distressed communities in favor of charter schools? It is unfortunate that reformers lack the insight to recognize that they are making the same mistakes as those made by the leaders of underperforming public schools. At present, charter schools are no more successful in meeting the needs of disadvantaged kids than any other school.

Now, ask yourself how we can go from 25 to 50 percent of middle school students unable to pass state competency exams in math and English language arts to 90+ percent graduation rates from the high schools to which these middle school students will be going. If you think we were able, somehow, to turn these students around during four years of high school, then think again. It would take an extraordinary effort on the part of teachers and students, with the full support of parents, to make up in four years what these kids were unsuccessful at learning during their first nine years of school. Most teachers would be willing to make that effort but that is not what they are being asked to do; it is not the way the education process has been designed to work.

Ninety percent of these young men and women will leave high school, after four years, with a diploma in hand but, for many, it is a meaningless piece of paper. The real world in which these young adults must now make their way is unforgiving and intolerant of shoddy effort and performance. These young people will be confronted with the stark realization that they are unqualified for all but the most menial jobs and they will find this to be true whether they seek work in civilian life, or seek to enlist in the Armed Services.

And, we wonder why education reformers have lost faith in our nation’s public schools. As long as public school superintendents, principals, teachers, and advocates are unwilling to open their eyes, hearts, and minds to the reality that is happening around them, reformers will continue to work, with great zeal, to put public schools out of business. If we allow that to happen the tragedies that the poor and minorities endure, today, will pale in comparison to the consequences of a world in which a quality education is not even available to them. Ours will have become an elitist society and there will be precious little any of us can do about.

Say it ain’t so, Joe!

Help Me Understand Why We Are Content to Let Disadvantaged Kids Fail!

The fact that we continue to allow disadvantaged kids to fail in school is a great mystery to me and I wish someone would help me understand why.

Do we not believe the data from annual assessments?

I understand that public school teachers and administrators abhor high-stakes testing. I understand their resentment that such tests are utilized, inappropriately, to measure the performance of schools and teachers. I understand that the very existence of high-stakes testing places pressure on schools and teachers to “teach to the test” rather than teach kids to learn. I understand all of the concerns of public school educators with respect to the degree to which state competency exams disrupt the learning process.

Do these concerns invalidate the results of state competency exams, however?

The results of state competency tests show a clear and convincing pattern of failure of students in public school districts serving a diverse population of children, whether looking at race or household incomes. This is true in public school districts throughout each of the fifty states in both urban and rural communities.

African-American students have the lowest performance record on state competency tests. In our most diverse schools, by the time they get to middle school, the percentage of African-American students able to pass both math and ELA exams is as low 20 percent. I know this should be obvious but this means that roughly 80 percent of black students are failing by the time they reach middle school.

If you are a teacher from one of these schools and you are shaking your head in disagreement, open your gradebook and what do you see? You don’t have to answer this question out loud; just be honest with yourself when you look at the performance of your students, because it is not your fault. As I have said so often over the past few years, “anytime a process continues to produce unacceptable outcomes no matter how hard people work or how qualified they may be, the process is flawed and must be replaced.” This is applies to the American education process, as well as production and service delivery processes.

How can public school educators justify their assertion that public schools are better than they have ever been, given the data reported by state departments of education, everywhere?

I understand that school districts are proud to show improved graduation rates but do graduation rates trump state competency exams? Do we really believe that the middle school students who perform so poorly have turned it around by graduation?

It is my privilege to administer the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB) to young men and women interested in enlisting in the Armed Services of the United States. Every week, I see the ASVAB scores of recent high school graduates and high school seniors and I can tell you that the results do not mirror the graduation rates about which school districts boast so loudly. ASVAB results do mirror the results of state competency exams in school districts serving diverse communities, however.

Ninety percent of students in public schools serving diverse populations of children might be graduating from high school but nowhere near that many are able to qualify for enlistment. While this is especially true of black students and other minorities, many white students fall short of enlistment eligibility, as well.

Having been an executive in charge of hiring candidates for employment, I can also say that nowhere near ninety percent of the candidates whom we considered for employment were able to meet even our minimum requirements.

Don’t take my word for it. Survey employers in your community and ask them to share their experience.

It is understandable that public school educators feel the need to defend themselves from the harsh criticism of education reformers but simple assertions of success are a feeble defense, at best. All such claims do is damage the credibility of advocates for public education in the eyes of both education reformers and the general public.

I have been shouting out, for the last four years, that the poor performance of disadvantaged students in our public schools is the result of a flawed education process and not the result of incompetent teachers and bad schools. The existing education process is structured like a race to see who can learn the most, the fastest and we have learned to tolerate an unacceptable level of failure.

It need not be this way!

We can easily redesign the education process in such a way that every child learns as much as they are able, at their own best pace. The beauty of this is that success is contagious. As kids gain confidence that they can learn, their enthusiasm and pace of learning accelerates. Success is contagious even for those of us who sit on the sidelines. As parents begin to see a change in the performance and behavior of their children, it will be much easier to pull them into partnership with the teachers of their sons and daughters.

Please check out my Education Model and white paper