How Do We Reinvent the Education Process to Provide Every Child with the Highest Possible Quality Education?

Educators understand that our students deserve the absolute best that their teachers have to give and also that teachers deserve the gratification that comes from our students’ success. Similarly, many of you recognize that giving kids the time and attention they deserve is often made difficult by the existing education process. You also know that in this environment, made toxic by high-stakes testing, it is hard for teachers to feel appreciated when test results are used, not as a diagnostic tool to help us do a better job, rather to justify blaming teachers and our public schools for the problems in public education

Teachers who have been around for a while know that the teaching profession has been under-appreciated for decades and they have seen many colleagues burn out and leave the profession they entered with such high hopes, expectations, and dedication.

The fact is that the world has changed exponentially over the last half century while the education process has remained relatively static. Certainly, new tools, techniques and technologies have been introduced but not all have made a teacher’s job easier. Many do not work the way they were envisioned in every teaching environment or for all students. Incremental reforms have been going on throughout the lifetimes of most of us and the best measure of their lack of success is the dread teachers feel in the anticipation of a new wave of education reforms.

I urge teachers to consider that there is an entire field of knowledge with respect to organizations and the processes utilized to serve each organization’s mission and purpose and to achieve their objectives. One of the things organizational leaders and specialists come to understand is that a process that continues to produce unacceptable outcomes, no matter how hard people work or how qualified they may be, cannot be patched, jury-rigged, or duct taped to fix that which is broken. Neither can new tools and technologies be utilized to fix an obsolete process any more than we can adapt a 747 for a trip to the moon. Elsewhere I have used the parable of new wine in old wineskins to illustrate why we haven’t been successful in fixing public education for every student through the introduction of new methodologies and technologies.

Systems are complex logical processes where the internal mechanisms that have been designed to serve the organization’s mission and purpose are integrated and interdependent. Like complex software, when we mess with the internal logic without understanding the whole, our changes will reverberate through the process creating an adverse impact on our outcomes and for our customers. Such patchwork solutions also make the work more difficult for every organization’s most valuable resource; its people. Even the best processes will degrade over time, no matter what we do.

The process utilized to reinvent an obsolete process can be replicated in almost any venue. It begins with:

• A re-clarification of an organization’s mission and purpose;

• Listening to and understanding our customer’s ever-changing requirements;

• Challenging all of our assumptions about what we do and why;

• Listening, also, to the people on whom we depend to produce our goods and services and who see flaws of the underperforming process in real time;

• Research to makes sure we are using state-of-the-art tools and technology;

• Creating a process designed to produce the outcomes we seek and that supports all of the people and resources engaged in that effort;

• A performance management system to solicit feedback and measure outcomes against expectations, not to fix blame but to help us learn from mistakes;

• To problem-solve disparate outcomes in a relentless pursuit of excellence; and, finally,

• Research and development to anticipate changes in the dynamic environment and marketplace in which we live and work.

I encourage the reader to examine the education model I have developed as each of the above components have either been completed or are in the process of completion. You can find my education model at my website at http://www.melhawkinsandassociates.com/education-model-white-paper/ along with an accompanying white paper written to introduce the education model’s logical foundation. You will also find my blog, Education, Hope, and the American Dream, with over 150 posts on the challenges facing public schools, their teachers, and students.

The education model is based upon my 40 years of organizational leadership and consulting experience; my experience working with kids, which began in 1966 and included nine years as a juvenile probation officer and supervisor, as a board member of a Montessori School, and as a co-founder of a Boys and Girls Club; two masters degrees, an MSEd in Psychology; and an MPA in public management; my own research and writing in the areas of the principles of positive leadership, organizational development, and systems thinking; and, my experience in the classroom over a ten-year period from 2002 through 2011, during which I walked in the shoes of public school teachers as a substitute in a diverse urban, public school district.

Although I have great confidence that my model will work to produce the outcomes we seek, I have and offer no illusions that it is the only possible solution. Also, I can assure the reader that it is and will always be a work in process. The reader is challenged to use my education model as a starting point to help you understand so that you can offer suggestions to improve my model or develop a better solution, if you can. You are advised, however, to relinquish any and all beliefs that the existing model can be modified, incrementally, to meet the needs of all of our nation’s children. Incremental changes to the current process is what got us where we are today and can only complicate things more than they already are.

Finally, I challenge the reader to understand that all the complaining and talk in the world will not fix the problems in public education. Neither will our complaints deter the efforts of the powerful men and women promoting what they call “Choice.” To stop them we must render them irrelevant and the only thing that works to solve such real-life challenges is applying the imagination of human beings working together for a common purpose.

Whether my model or yours, I challenge all of you to rally behind a solution as a united group of professional men and women dedicated to providing the highest possible quality of education for the children of our nation. It public education on which the futures of our nation’s children depends and it is our children on whom our nation’s future depend.

Please share this article, education model and white paper with everyone you know and ask them to join you in a crusade to transform public education in America. It may be the most important thing you will ever be asked to do for your country or for society, as a whole.

What Makes Teaching Such a Difficult Job?

Imagine any job where the people who arrive at your workplace are so lacking in the skills needed to be successful in your unit that training them seems problematic. Imagine, further that the people you work with or serve, capable or not, are unmotivated to perform the work or activity that is expected of them; are unwilling or unable to conform to acceptable standards of behavior; have families that may or not be supportive or, in some cases, may actually interfere with what you are striving to accomplish; and, that the most important influence in the lives of the people for whom you are responsible is their peer group. If they must choose who to disappoint it will be you and/or their families, not their friends.

Your education and training suggests many management and supervisory strategies that work in some settings but seem to be meaningless in others. You have also been taught that some individuals need more patient time and attention in order to learn from the mistakes they make but in far too many settings there is insufficient time to give them. Part of the problem is that you are expected to conform to arbitrary schedules that require that you reach certain checkpoints within a predetermined period of time. You are also expected to comply with arbitrary standards of performance and production that appear to have been written by someone who has never actually done your job.

These arbitrary schedules, standards, and production goals might even appear to make sense in the abstract but when applied to your assigned work space and to the unique characteristics of the people to whom you are assigned, they make no sense at all. These challenges, viewed in the aggregate, are difficult enough but imagine that your work will be inspected, routinely, as will the production results of your people. It would be one thing if these inspections and production reports were adaptive to the performance capabilities of your work group but, of course, they are not. Rather, your efforts are evaluated within the context of what we are told is an even playing field that is as arbitrary as are the schedules, standards, and objectives against which you and your people’s performance is measured.

If this was not bad enough, imagine that when your results fail to meet arbitrary expectations, you are asked to accept responsibility. When the results in your unit are particularly disparate when compared to other workplaces filled with people with a diverse range of capabilities, imagine that you are asked to bear the brunt of blame.

Finally, when you are evaluated by your leaders, imagine that they view their job not so much as a support system to help you achieve your objectives but rather as an inspector to police your performance, seeking evidence that what you are doing is wrong or insufficient.

Imagine the evaluation coming to a crushing crescendo when you are told that the problem is that you are not sufficiently engaged with your people and that you need to work harder to build relationships with them. There seems to be little, if any, recognition that building relationships with each and every one of the individuals for whom you are responsible requires that you allocate more time; time that has not been allocated to you.

Imagine that when you strive to improve your level of engagement, although a few individuals may actually respond, that some of your people, if not the majority, are far more challenging than others and not only require more time and attention than you are able to give them but actually resist your efforts.

The icing on the cake or, more appropriately the thorns in your crown, is that, at the end of an arbitrary period of time, you are assigned responsibility for a whole new group of people with which one of your colleagues has had a similar results. This requires that you start from scratch and go through the same process over and over, again, with no reason to anticipate better outcomes.

Can you imagine any way the job you are being asked to do will produce quality outcomes, given the inherent deficiencies in the process?

The challenge is that the production, assembly, or service delivery process within which you are expected to work is neither tasked, structured, nor resourced to enable you to provide your people—a group with a diverse range of personalities and capabilities—with the time and attention they require to be successful.

When you suggest to your leadership that what you are being asked to do does not work for all or part of your people you are told to “work harder.” They tell us that, “This is the reality with which we are expected to deal,” and that “we must suck it up and do our best without complaining.”

If you and your colleagues are sufficiently brave to ask the questions “What about my well-being?” and “How am I supposed to find any job satisfaction in such conditions?” imagine that your leaders look at you as if you are speaking an alien language.

Finally, when you commiserate with your colleagues in the staff lounge, over a drink in a neighborhood bar, or at your union or association meetings nothing ever changes. Oh, forget what I said about sharing a drink in a neighborhood bar. You have work to take home! There is no time for a drink however much you might feel you need it.

If you want to hear the final irony it is that this environment in which you are asked to perform miracles, mirrors the environment that your students must endure, like a parallel universe. The difference is that, unlike you and your colleagues, many of your students do not care. They feel free to take the easy way out and just stop trying. This enables them to spend their eight hours a day, five days a week looking for ways to have fun and make your lives more interesting in what they perceive to be a consequence-free environment. It will only be later in life that they will discover how wrong they were about the lack of consequences.

My recommendation to you—and, yes, I know I’m an outsider—is to go beyond pondering the absurd idea that their must surely be a better way and ask your union and association leaders help tackle the challenge of finding a new solution. I can assure you that there is always a better way but all the complaining in the world will not help you find it. You might also consider going to outsiders like me who have been paid to find solutions to other dysfunctional workplaces very much like yours.

Consultants like me have the advantage of being able to step back to a point from which we can view your work place as an integral whole and apply the principles of positive leadership, systems thinking, and organizational development to find all of the “disturbances in the force” that make production, assembly, or service-delivery processes like yours dysfunctional. Software engineers do exactly the same thing in their very specialized field working with computer applications.

As it happens, I have the added advantage of having actually walked in the shoes of public school teachers while working as a substitute teacher in a diverse, local public school district. In fact, I have already applied my 45+ years of expertise and experience, along with two master’s degrees, to examine the education process I observed and to reinvent it to achieve the outcomes we are seeking.

I can tell you with absolute confidence that the education process I have developed, if implemented as an integral system, will work to create an environment in which your students can actually learn and in which teachers can find job satisfaction and take pride in their work. I will also tell you, with absolute confidence, that mine is not the only solution; there is always another way. The advantage of my re-invented education process is that the work is already done and needs only a little tweaking.

I suggest that you use the education model I have developed as a point of embarkation. Use it as a tool to help you challenge the fundamental logic and assumptions of the existing education process and begin to view it objectively as just that, a complex organizational process with which we are expected to teach our nation’s children.

Maybe you will discover your own solution and maybe you will come to believe that my model will work. At least you will be moving forward rather being stuck in complaint mode, where nothing ever changes. Beware of the temptation to take the easy route, however, and drift away from systemic solutions and opt for incremental reforms with new strategies and technologies. The latter are probably good ideas but I can assure you they will not work within the context of an obsolete education process.

In an earlier piece I used the parable of “new wine in old wineskins” to illustrate that the new ideas and technologies, however inventive, will not work within the context of an obsolete process. This is the reality you have today and you know in your heart that not only does what you are asked to do not work, you know that it cannot work. Even in some of our highest performing public schools there are students we cannot seem to reach.

You can visit my website at www.melhawkinsandassociates.com where you can examine my education model and an accompanying white paper, as well as my blog, Education, Hope and the American Dream with more than 150 articles about the challenges in public education and about the false promise of current education reforms.

You will also have access to my books, the most appropriate of which will be The Difference is You: Power of Positive Leadership, based on my many years of organizational leadership and consulting experience and my book on education, Reinventing Education, Hope, and the American Dream: The Challenge For Twenty-First Century America (REHAD). While the book has much to offer and I would never discourage anyone from reading REHAD, please know that I am now writing a follow-up book as I have learned a great deal from all of you over the 5-year period sense the REHAD was published. An expanded version of this blog post is one of the chapters in my new book.

Thank you, educators, for the heroic work you do and please cling to the hope that better days will come if you reach out for them. Here is a simple test of whether or not there is reason to hope. Do believe children are capable of learning? Do you believe you are capable of teaching? If you believe both are true then the reason your students are not learning has to do with the process, not the people. Fix the process so that it supports learning and teaching in every conceivable way and both you and your students will be successful and you will have the job you envisioned when you chose to enter the profession.

An Open Letter to Jason Riley at The Wall Street Journal

Thank you for your column in the Wall Street Journal, “Do Black Students Need White Peers?” There are several issues in your column to which I want to respond.

The direct answer to your question is, “No, But.”

Black students do not need to have white children in their schools and classrooms in order to learn and I will elaborate on this point, below. The “But” part, however, is that all children benefit from being in in schools and classrooms with a diverse population of children. I believe diversity benefits every human being, whatever their age or venue.

The second point to address is the “Choice” movement with its focus on charters schools and vouchers. While I have nothing against charter schools, it is a myth that they always perform at a higher level than public schools. The data shows that while there are many successful charter schools, there are many that underperform when compared to the public schools they were intended to replace.

My biggest problem with the education reform movement focused on “choice” is that it is suggested that this is the solution to improving the quality of education in America; that it will end the performance gap between black and white children; or, that it will improve our nation’s ability to compete in the world marketplace. None of these assertions are true.

Having the best product or service in the world means nothing unless you are able to deliver it to customers. Any solution must be logistically feasible and it is simply not feasible to believe that we can solve the issue of the quality of American education with a handful of charters schools scattered in communities throughout the U.S. It would take us generations to create a sufficient number of charters schools to meet the needs of millions of American children and we cannot wait that long.

Besides, we already have school buildings in every community in the nation, all staffed with qualified teachers, trained in the same colleges and universities in which most charter school teachers were educated. The problem with both private and public education in America is that the education process that is utilized to teach our children has been obsolete for most of our lifetimes.

It is not the school building that makes the difference and it is not the teachers that are the problem. The only thing that makes a difference is what we do in our classrooms–what we ask of our teacher–wherever it is located. The sad but undeniable truth is that the education process in place in American public schools has not changed, materially, for as long as anyone can remember while the world into which our children are born has changed exponentially. The education process does not work for disadvantaged children and I believe the current education process does a disservice to even students on the upper end of the performance continuum.

The failure of the education process is not because teachers are incompetent and not because they do not care. The vast majority of American public school teachers are unsung heroes striving to do a difficult job under nearly impossible circumstances. My only complaint of teachers is that they have been blamed for the problems in our schools for so long that they have grown defensive when they should be banging on the table and yelling that what they are being asked to do does not work.

The real problem in our schools is that education leaders whether principals, superintendents, college professors, or policy makers are not under the same pressure, as their counterparts in a business environment, to relentlessly challenge their assumptions and to question whether they are meeting the needs of their customers.

The longer we delay fixing this obsolete education process the more young Americans will be forced to endure failure. We cannot afford to waste a single child and neither can our nation afford the incalculable opportunity cost that these children represent. Public education is the civil rights issue of our time and is at the root of all of our nation’s social and political problems. That so many people are so poorly educated that they are unable to bear the responsibilities of citizenship is why so many other Americans have grown bitter and resentful. The bitterness and resentment in the hearts of people for whom the American Dream is not real burns every bit as deeply.

The irony is that reinventing the education process to meet the needs of every American child is a relatively easy thing to do if education leaders, advocates, and policy makers would simply open their minds and hearts to the idea that their might be a better way.

As I have written, so often, the education process is no different than a production, assembly, or service-delivery process in the business world. Neither is it different than an application software. It is simply a logical process designed by human beings to produce a desired outcome. Such processes are altered, reinvented, and re-engineered with regularity in the private sector because businesses must respond to the dissatisfaction of their customers and to the dynamic changes in the expectations of those customers. Reinventing a process to produce a better outcome is a routine necessity in the private sector. In public education, and in many other public venues, such reinventions seem to be beyond the imagination of our leaders.

There is an axiom in operations management that if a process continues to produce unacceptable outcomes no matter how hard people work or how qualified they are then the process is flawed and must be replaced. We must go back to the drawing board. Just as in any other venue, a process must be focused on its purpose to such a degree that every single activity must be judged on the basis of how well it serves that purpose and how well it supports the people on whom one relies to do the job. The same is true for teaching kids.

In her book, The Flat World and Education: How America’s Commitment to Equity Will Determine Our Future, Linda Darling-Hammond makes the same point when she wrote:

“A business world maxim holds that ‘every organization is perfectly structured to get the results that it gets.’ A corollary is that substantially different results require organizational redesign, not just incentives for staff to try harder with traditional constraints.”

In American public education we have not reinvented the education process in generations, and no, just providing new and more sophisticated tools is not sufficient. The education process is not focused on the needs of students and it sets them up for failure and humiliation.

When young children show up for their first day of school the disparity in terms of their academic preparedness is cavernous. Yet teachers are expected to move kids along, from year to year, marching to the beat of a given state’s academic standards—common core or not—at relatively the same pace. As children begin to fall behind because they need more time to learn a given lesson, they are pushed ahead, ready or not. The teacher records a low or failing score in their gradebook and it’s off to the next lesson. In many subject areas, the child’s ability to learn a new lesson requires that he or she be able to apply what they have learned on previous lessons. As a result, the probability that a child who has fallen behind will fail, yet again, increases.

If you examine state competency scores in any state you will find that by the third grade, only about a third of disadvantaged students can pass both the English Language Arts and mathematics components of those exams. By the time those students reach middle school the percentage of those same kids who are able to pass both ELA and math exams has dropped to 25 percent or less. What we are teaching these kids is how to fail. School districts may boast of high graduation rates but an unacceptable number of those diplomas are worthless pieces of paper.

As it happens, I administer the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB) to young men and women who wish to enlist in the military. Most of these young people who take the ASVAB for enlistment purposes are recent high school grads or high school seniors. The minimum score for enlistment eligibility in the Army, for example, is a percentile score of 31, meaning that 30 percent of the candidates are not eligible for enlistment. (Some services have higher eligibility requirements).

ASVAB scores for blacks and other minorities mirrors the performance of middle school students on state competency exams that I referenced above. If one is unable to qualify for even the least desirable jobs in the military, for how many civilian jobs will they be qualified? So much for 80 to 90 percent graduation rates. It’s not the diploma that matters it is how one can apply in the real world that which they learned in school.

The sad but compelling truth is that this has been going on for more than a half century and, as a result, our poor urban and rural communities throughout America are filled with multiple generations of men and women who have always been poor and who all failed in school, diplomas notwithstanding. Many are dependent on their government, to the great resentment of other Americans. Why, because the education process has never been designed with the same rigorous focus on the needs of its students or to support teachers in meeting those needs.

It doesn’t need to be this way but no one wants to listen. We can alter this reality for all time as easily as we can alter a production process at a manufacturing facility or re-engineer the software of a computer application.

I invite you to check out my website where you will find an education model I have developed at http://www.melhawkinsandassociates.com/education-model-white-paper/

I, also, invite you to check out my blog, “Education, Hope, and the American Dream” where I have posted over 150 articles on the subject of public education and the challenge of meeting the needs of disadvantaged students, a disproportionate percentage of whom are black and other children of color.

For nearly 5 years I have been seeking a public school corporation willing to test my education model in just one of its underperforming elementary schools to demonstrate that we can teach every child to be successful and insure that no child fails. I have had no takers.

Since it takes 13 years to get a new Kindergarten student through high school, every year we delay creates a whole new generation of young Americans with no choices of what to do with their lives to find joy, to support a family, or to participate in their own governance as a well-informed citizen of a democratic society.

How long are we willing to accept an avoidable tragedy that destroys millions of young lives and that jeopardizes the future of our society?

Black or White They’re Just Kids: They Need Us & We Need Them; a refrain!

The original version of this article was written two-and-half years ago but events in the intervening months suggest to me that it needs repeated; with a few updates. It will be followed by a related article on bullying and peer pressure.

It is incredibly difficult for a white person to understand what it is like to be black. Sadly, most white people are perfectly content to know as little as possible about such things. For others like my white daughter and son-in-law who are parents of a black son, it is imperative that we understand as much as we possibly can.

My wife and I have now have four grandchildren. The eldest is a little girl who was adopted by that same daughter and son-in-law. She is of Mexican descent with beautiful, thick black hair, brown eyes, and golden brown skin. The second is a little boy whose skin is a beautiful, rich brown with eyes to match and who came out of his birth mother’s womb with a natural Afro. Our youngest two grandkids are the biological offspring of my youngest daughter and her husband. The eldest (and our third) is the palest of whites, bordering on pink, and her hair is as red as her father’s beard. Our fourth, now 18 months of age, has skin not quite as pale as his big sister’s but hair every bit as red.

Each of them have magnificent smiles that light up our lives even more than the lights of the holiday season and laughter that warms us during the coldest of times. Their smiles have reminded me that throughout my whole life, whenever I have been blessed to see a child smile, I am blind to any of the other features, that for reasons that are difficult to fathom, cause some human beings to pass derisive judgment. For me the smile of any child is a source of incalculable joy that is as common to the shared universal human experience as anything else in life.

These children represent our family’s beautiful rainbow and like all grandparents we love them so much that it hurts.

When our daughter announced that they were adopting a black infant we knew he would face challenges but we did not yet grasp the whole of it. In the four-and-a-half years since the birth of this sweet child, our nation has been rocked by racial violence and hatred. We have known that the American people have been divided, politically, for decades but could we ever have imagined that the President of the United States, through his words and actions, could model such rhetoric and enmity?

It is bad enough that so many citizens could interpret our President’s words and actions as a license for the public expression of embittered hatred but are we truly so divided, ideologically, that good men and women would choose to tolerate such enmity out of hope that this President can “make America great, again.”

Is there any reason to believe that a man who builds walls, figuratively and literally; who condemns one of the world’s great religions for the radical violence of a few (as if Christians have never done a despicable deed); who provokes confrontations; calls people names; who brands the free press as liars; who challenges the legitimacy of our election process; ignores and ridicules the advice of his diplomatic, intelligence and law enforcement advisors; who rejects the research of the overwhelming majority of the world’s scientists; and, who blames others when things go wrong can be the kind of leader who will unite a culturally diverse nation? Can a bully provide the kind of inspirational, positive leadership we need, so desperately?

Through the escalation of the violence and hatred over the last four-and-a-half years we have become painfully aware of the dangers our sweet and beautiful little guy will face; not because of anything he has done but only because of the way the color of his skin will affect the attitudes of a huge population of Americans.

I have spent my entire lifetime striving to understand why our world is so full of hatred over issues as insignificant as the color of one’s skin. I still struggle to understand why differences in eye or hair color are perceived as different shades of beauty while differences in skin color produce such extremes of bitter passion.

I was blessed to be born to parents who taught that we are all children of Creation and that we were blessed to live in a country in which we are all considered to be equal under the Constitution.

I was equally fortunate to live in a neighborhood and attend an elementary school where I learned to be friends and playmates of my black classmates before I ever learned of the existence of bigotry and racism. Somehow, I never noticed that when I was playing with my black friends that my white friends were off doing something else and vice versa.

When I first witnessed the hatred that my white friends had for my black friends, I was devastated. Innocence was forever lost but I never lost my perception of diversity as something to be cherished as beautiful.

Later, at the age of 20, I was privileged to spend a summer working in a churchyard in Philadelphia, providing a place for young children to gather and play, safe from the reaches of the gangs whose territories sandwiched our little oasis. All but one of these kids were black. While I was responsible for the boys and girls between the ages of 8 and 16 who came to play in our churchyard and game room, I played with them far more than I supervised. While my job was to keep them safe, I must confess that these youngsters taught me far more than I ever could have taught them.

For the first nine years after college and the military, I worked as a juvenile probation officer where I supervised a multi-racial group of boys and girls between the ages of 9 and 17 and worked with their families. Later, I was one of the founders of a local Boys and Girls Club where, once again, I was privileged to be around and play with a diverse group of children. Later, when I decided to focus on my life-long dream of writing books, I worked part-time as a substitute teachers for my local public school district and glimpsed, first hand, the challenges that both students and teachers face.

What I learned about children during these significant chunks of my life was that whether black, white, or shades of brown; rich or poor; male or female they are all just kids.

They all laugh when they play or act silly; cry and bleed red when they get hurt; get mad when they lose; celebrate when they win; get embarrassed when they are made fun of; yawn when they get sleepy; respond to warmth and affection with warmth and affection; and, suffer egregiously when abused by their parents or society or when bullied.

These boys and girls all have the ability to learn; they are all curious about the world around them; and, they all get discouraged and feel humiliated when they fail. They all suffer great loss of self-esteem when they give up on themselves after repeated failure and no longer believe in their ability to compete.

They all deserve our respect not only as individual human beings but also as members of their unique cultural traditions. The only difference, once they arrive at school, is their level of preparation and motivation. They all deserve the best we have to offer and the very fact that so many children fail provides irrefutable evidence that what we are doing does not work for everyone.

I truly believe that, in spite of the heroic effort of our teachers, it is here, in our elementary schools that we will find the roots of the problems that beleaguer us as a nation and society. Whether we are teachers, administrators, policy-makers, or deans and professors of schools of education, educators must be willing to pull our heads from the sand and stop defending the indefensible.

The fact that so many children are failing, particularly minorities and the poor, is not a predisposition of birth or a fact of nature. That children are failing is nothing more than an outcome of a flawed system of human design. The performance gap between black and white children and other minority classmates is an outcome our traditional educational process is structured to produce. Like any other production- or service-delivery process it can be reinvented to produce the outcomes we want and need.

This flawed system is not the fault of teachers and other professional educators. Rather, the culpability of educators is that they are the people in the best position to identify the failure of this flawed educational process but they hold back as if they are afraid to act. It is critical that we understand that this lack of action is not because they are bad people or incompetent professionals rather it is because they have learned to perceive themselves as powerless.

Teachers must be challenged to accept that powerlessness and hopelessness are functions of choice.

The over-riding truth as we move deeper into this exponentially complex 21st Century is that we need each and every one of these boys and girls just as desperately as they need us. Our ability to compete in the world marketplace will require the absolute best of every single American and if we do not pull together as one beautifully diverse nation of people—the proverbial melting pot—the results will be tragic for all of our grandchildren and great-grandchildren, black or white or any of the colors of the rainbow. What we see happening, today, is a preview of the rest of this 21st Century unless we choose to act.

It is only when we have gained an understanding of the forces that impede the education of our children and accept responsibility for our outcomes that we begin to acquire the power to implement meaningful changes in policy and practice. This is what positive leadership is all about.

I invite the reader to check out my Education Model and White Paper to see one way we can reinvent the education process to produce the outcomes we need.

Educators are as justified in their opposition as Indiana’s new pathway to graduation is essential!

I understand the point of view of teachers and other educators who have spoken out against Indiana’s proposed pathway to graduation. They are as justified in their opposition as the new pathway is necessary for the State of Indiana.

“How can this be?” you ask. “How can such divergent points of view have validity?

From the perspective of employers, our colleges and universities, and even our Armed Forces, a new and more rigorous graduation requirements are essential. The lack of academic preparedness of an unacceptable number of high school graduates is, well, unacceptable.

I saw it as a juvenile probation officer during the first nine years of my career; as an employer, beginning nearly 40 years ago, I saw it as a substitute teacher for ten years, and I see it now as a test administrator for the Department of Defense, responsible for administering the ASVAB (Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery) for young men and women seeking to enlist in the military. I have also spoken to professors, who teach freshmen and sophomores in our colleges and universities, who are frustrated at the lack of academic preparedness and motivation of students.

In previous posts I have written about the ASVAB and how many high school graduates and seniors are unable to achieve a score of 31, which is the minimum score for enlistment eligibility. I have written how the performance of black and other minorities, on the ASVAB, mirrors what we see on state competency exams, and on data from NAEP (National Assessment of Education Progress). It is interesting that achieving a score of 31 on the ASVAB is being proposed as one of the additional requirements for graduation under the new pathway but did you know that although a 31 is the minimum score for enlistment eligibility, that enlistment incentives are offered only to candidates who score 50 or higher. A score of 31 might make a prospective enlistee eligible but it does not make them desirable candidates.

The bottom line is that far too many of the young people graduating, today, are poorly prepared or motivated to be successful on the job, in the military, or in a university classroom. Certainly there are many students who graduate with excellent records of achievement but they are far from a majority. There are comparable percentages of students at the bottom of the academic performance continuum who are virtually illiterate and innumerate. Most disconcerting is that the large group of graduates in the middle of the continuum are not qualified to do the jobs that society requires of them if we are to compete in a global marketplace.

The impressive sounding graduation rates about which so many public school districts boast are essentially meaningless. An official looking piece of parchment is meaningless if the bearer cannot compete in the mainstream society. Being unable to compete means that these young men and women have very few choices available to them as adults and often end up being dependent upon government support rather than being contributors.

As disturbing as is the data, it pales in comparison to the disturbing nature of the denial on the part of public school educators. American public school teachers and administrators seem oblivious to the level of dissatisfaction that exists in the communities they serve and in the nation at large. They seem disconnected from the dissatisfaction of their customers and seem not to understand that education reforms are motivated by this dissatisfaction and not by the greed of corporate executives.

This is tragic because education reformers evidence no understanding of the challenges of teaching children and their reform initiatives do more harm than good. We cannot solve the problems in public education until public school teachers and administrators accept responsibility for the problem; and please note, I said responsibility, not blame.

I consider myself to be an ardent advocate for public schools and teachers. I view all public school teachers as unsung American heroes especially the ones who teach in diverse or segregated public school districts. They are being asked to do the impossible. They are being asked to provide a high quality education to our nation’s most vulnerable children within the context of an education process that was already obsolete 65 years ago when I arrived for my first day of Kindergarten.

I am saddened that so many of the educators whom I respect and admire will stop reading about now because they do not wish to hear what I have to say. They are seemingly unwilling and/or unable to pull their heads out of the sand and acknowledge that what they are being asked to do does not work. I understand the trepidation of high school teachers in Indiana when they feel overwhelmed by what these new graduation requirements will demand of them when they are already overwhelmed by the enormity of what we ask them to do under the current requirements.

As necessary as more rigorous graduation requirements might be to the welfare of society, it is outrageous to expect public school educators to meet these expectations unless we are prepared to fix an obsolete education process that allows kids to arrive for their first day of the ninth grade as unprepared for the demands of high school as our twelfth graders are unprepared for the demands of the work force, of university classrooms, and military entrance requirements.

American society is as disconnected from what transpires in our nation’s most challenged public schools as our public school teachers and administrators are out-of-touch with the level of dissatisfaction of their customers.

Yes, I know that there are many of our nation’s finest school districts that will insist that they are doing an exemplary job with their students and that those young men and women leave high school well-prepared for life after high school. They too are wrong. They are wrong not because they are doing anything wrong and not because their students are incapable, rather because the education process, itself, impedes the ability of even our best students to strive for, let alone reach, their full potential.

The problems in public education are so huge and so pervasive that it is easy for us to feel overwhelmed in the face of its challenges. This is true only because educators are so immersed in the education process that they cannot view it as an integral whole.

The way we have structured our schools and classrooms and the way we have designed our instructional methodologies and the way we have organized our curricula, and the way we have allocated our resources are nothing more than components of a logical process. Like any other process, whether production, assembly, service delivery, or software application the education process at work in our schools, both public and private, can be reinvented, re-engineered, re-designed, re-tasked to do anything we want it to do, even things we have not yet imagined to be possible. It is time for us to step back and rethink what it is we do and why.

Is there anything more important for the future of our society in the uncertain times that are unfolding before us, than the way we prepare the children on whom that future depends?

It is time to take a few step back and examine the education process in place in our schools from a systems-thinking perspective. It is time to challenge each and every assumption we have made about what we do and why. It is time to redefine our purpose and then reinvent the education process to give our teachers the direction, structure, time and resources they require to give each and every one of our students the patient time and attention they need to learn every single lesson.

It is not enough to teach lessons, however, and we must do so much more. We must teach our children how to get along with one another; we must teach them how to question why we do what we do as a people; we must teach them how to think creatively and how to utilize their imaginations to find new and innovative solutions to the challenges we face in this ever-more complicated world; we must teach them to understand history not so that we can yearn to return to a simpler time because there will never be a simpler time. We must teach them history so that they can learn from our mistakes just like we want to help them learn from their own mistakes.

We must teach them how to be successful and I am not talking about being rich and famous. We must teach them that success is a process of learning from our mistakes, building on what we know, striving for ever-higher expectations, and learning the most important truths in life. The first of those truths is that there is no such thing as failure; there are only disappointing outcomes from which we can learn and grow. The second of those truths is that people are more important than things and that the value of everything in life is measured in terms of its utility to people. The third truth is that what got us where we are today will not take us to where we want and need to be tomorrow. Our success in meeting the challenges of tomorrow will come from the wisdom we have gained from the mistakes we have made and learning that there are no final answers. Every question answered raises a whole new set of questions, Our questions are the energy that powers our imagination and ingenuity.

Every problem facing American society today is rooted in the manner and success with which we educate our children. That makes public education the most important issue on the American agenda and the civil rights issue of our time.

I challenge teachers to believe that both you and your students deserve better. I challenge you to have the courage to accept responsibility for the problems in our schools and in the education process with which you are expected to work. I challenge you to shout out at the top of your voices when what you are being asked to do does not work and to draw upon your collective power to demand support for changing the reality of public education in America.

Raising expectations is a good thing only when we give ourselves the tools necessary to meet them. Our educators do not have the tools they need to meet current requirements, let alone the new ones, however much needed they may be. We must give them these tools.

The Pathology of Secondary Agendas in Public Education!

Over the years in teaching, like so many jobs people do, our core purpose has become obscured by secondary agendas. It might help to look at a simple example from another venue.

In a government organization for which I do some part-time testing, reduction of spending to avoid exceeding one’s budget has become a top priority. Someone in the command structure decided to eliminate overtime as this was a big contributor to over-spending. Overtime now requires prior approval by top leadership.

It was fascinating to observe how quickly the “no-overtime mandate” became more important than saving money. This problem occurs anytime multiple testing assignments are scheduled on the same day in my immediate geographical area. When this happens, my organization’s solution is to send someone from an hour or two away to handle one of those assignments; thus obviating the need to pay me 4 or 5 hours of overtime.

The practice makes sense until one compares the actual expenditures for the two test sessions. On close examination, one would find that bringing in another test administrator from an hour or two away more than doubles the cost of paying me between 4 or 5 hours of overtime. Not only must they pay the second test administrator’s testing time, they must also pay that person’s two to four hours of round trip travel time, plus $0.535 per mile in travel reimbursement.

The end result is that adherence to the overtime policy, instituted to reduce expenditures, has become more important than saving money. In just one of these examples they spend about $250 to avoid paying me an extra $100 of overtime. So much for saving tax dollars.

This is what happens, often, when our core purpose becomes obscured by secondary agendas.

In thinking about the core purpose of public education, at one time homework and classroom work in preparation for a quiz or test, were intended to be viewed as practice. Their purpose was to give teachers an opportunity to use the mistakes students make to, first, identify where their students need help and, secondly, to help those kids learn from mistakes. The same is true for mistakes on quizzes and tests. In many classrooms, the scores of practice assignments are recorded in a gradebook and are factored into computation of grades. Practice assignments, and especially quizzes and tests often signal the end of a given lesson and time to move on to a new lesson.

Compare practices and performances of a band, choir, or athletic team. Practices in preparation for a concert or game are to help improve performances in the concerts or games and are rarely graded. Even mistakes that occur during the performance are singled out so the performer or athlete can continue to work on those areas in which their performance is weak and rarely for grading purposes. While level of performance throughout a semester may influence grades, individual mistakes are rarely tallied for record-keeping purposes. Mastering the skills are the clear objective.

In the academic arena, grading and then recording scores of students’ homework, classroom work, quizzes and tests often seem to have become more important than using a student’s mistakes to help them learn and master the academic material.

Grading practice assignments, quizzes and tests that were originally intended to signal that there is more work to be done seems to have become an end, in and of themselves. It signals that work on one lesson is completed and that it is time to move on to a next lesson, grading period, semester, or school year.

In today’s education environment, schools and teachers are under tremendous pressure to keep their students and classrooms on pace, per their state’s academic standards and in preparation for statewide competency exams. The unintended consequence is that the original mission of schools and teachers, which was to help children learn, has become obscured.

There is no way to pinpoint when this change occurred and it is not the fault of any one person. It is simply one of the pressures to which any logical process can be subjected. It happens all the time in production-, assembly-, and service-delivery processes in private enterprise but the effect on product or service quality almost always results in a quick reduction in customer satisfaction. Many business failures occur because producers of goods and services do not monitor customer satisfaction closely. Successful producers are always listening to their customers and are able to take immediate corrective action.

In public education, customers such as employers and the military have been expressing dissatisfaction for decades and they are not the only ones. I have heard any number of college professors who teach freshman and sophomore classes complain about the lack of academic preparedness and self-discipline of many of their students.

Understand that this is not the fault of teachers who are doing what they are being directed to do. Making sure their schools are not diverted from their core purpose is the responsibility of leadership, however, starting with principals and ending where the buck stops in any public school corporation.

It is incredibly difficult for leaders, in any venue, to admit that what they are doing is not working and is producing unacceptable outcomes and the further removed they are from their end customers, the more difficult it is. High level administrators of public school corporations, along with their advocates, must be challenged to recognize that the education reform movement, misguided though it may be, is motivated by the same type of customer dissatisfaction as a struggling business entity. What distinguishes public education from producers of consumer goods and services is what is at stake.

In public schools, our nation’s children are suffering, especially disadvantaged students, and this is having an adverse impact on every aspect of life in American society.

Somehow the superintendents and governing bodies of local school corporations; along with teachers, both individually and collectively; must find the courage to accept responsibility for the problems in our public schools. It is not until we accept responsibility for our problems that we begin to acquire the power to solve them. And, it is not until educators accept responsibility that the failure of disadvantaged students will cease.

Please check out my Education Model and White Paper
I also want to introduce a few new blogs I have found:

https://shanephipps/wordpress.com/
http://www.justintarte.com/
www.davidgeurin.com
www.tsschmidty.blogspot.com
www.marlenagrosstaylor.com/blog
www.brentclarkson.com/blog