More Questions for Administrators, Policy Makers, and Teachers

It is not unusual to hear public school teachers express concern that all the recognition and celebration is directed to “high-achieving students.” Rarely is attention paid to the students who worked hard to receive a lesser grade and many teachers question why the effort of the latter group is not acknowledged and celebrated.

It is a tragedy that so many children go through school without ever having their accomplishments celebrated; the last thing they need, however, is a “participation trophy.” The tragedy is not that we never celebrate the accomplishments of low-performing students rather that they rarely have accomplishments worthy of celebration.

This raises the question, why are we content to preserve an education process that produces such disparate results?

Just because a student does not understand a lesson the first time through, does not mean they are incapable of learning and understanding. It just means they need more time and they need an education process that allows teachers to adapt what they do to respond to a student’s unique needs. Rarely do we give kids an opportunity to keep working until they learn. On the few occasions that we find a way to give kids the extra time to learn, it is because we found a way to circumvent the education process not because the malleability of the process gave us the freedom to innovate.

The current education process is structured like a competition that assumes that all kids are on a level playing field. It rewards the students who learn the most the fastest. Even worse, it requires that we grade kids on how much they have learned in an arbitrary timeframe and then record that score next to their name. Worst of all, we push the students onward without the prerequisite knowledge they will need to be successful on subsequent lessons, not to mention as adult citizens of a participatory democracy.

We go to great lengths to help a student qualify for graduation even though they are unable to perform at the level expected of them with reference to academic standards. It is as if having a piece of parchment that says they qualify for graduation will excuse them when they are unable to qualify for or do a job; when they apply for college admission or seek enlistment in the Armed Services.

What does a young man or woman do when they are unable to obtain and keep a decent job or pursue other meaningful opportunities because they lack the basic skills required to make a place for themselves in mainstream society? If these young adults are black or other minorities the challenges they face are often insurmountable and they are left at the mercy of discrimination. We wonder why so many find themselves in prison or are the victims of an early, violent death. We wonder why so many of them live in poverty and produce new generations of children with needs for which our education process is unequipped to meet.

We shake our heads in bewilderment when so many American voters seem willing to believe anything said by the leaders of whatever political point of view to which they are loyal. Do we not see the connection that we have sent millions of young men and women out into society without the knowledge and skills necessary to evaluate the critical issues of the day and to think independently?

Public school educators seem unable to understand that the motivation of education reformers, as poorly conceived as their solutions might be, is a result of their dissatisfaction with public education and the quality of high school graduates. They are dissatisfied customers seeking to replace their supplier.

The existing education process restricts our teachers’ ability to give students the close personal relationships they need to be healthy, both emotionally and intellectually. The process does not permit teachers to formally assess each student’s level of academic preparedness and, then, design a learning path to meet their unique needs. It does not allow teachers to give students the time and attention they need to learn. It does not give kids however many attempts they need to be able to demonstrate that they understand. The education process is not set up to help kids learn as much as they are able at their own best pace. It does not help them learn well enough that they can apply what they have learned in real-life situations.

Rather than seeking ways to help teachers deal with the stress and frustration of teaching a classroom of kids who have lost hope, have stopped trying, and have begun acting out, why don’t we address the root causes of both the frustration of our teachers and our students’ lost hope. We do not because it is difficult if not impossible for people to stop and look at the big picture when they are immersed in what they are doing; when they are, as the old saying goes, “up to their necks in a swamp full of alligators.”

Low-performing students, particularly the disadvantaged, have become a norm in public education, particularly in racially and economically diverse communities. While I believe most public school teachers and administrators believe that these kids can learn, one must wonder how many teachers and administrators have come to believe this is the best we can expect.

What educators must do is find a vantage point from which they can see the entire education process, as an integral whole, and then ask themselves whether they are doing what they should be doing. The fact that our classrooms, grade-levels, and the way we organize teachers and students has been in place for generations does not mean it is the only way to do what we do.

We should be asking:

• “Does the education process exist to drive our purpose or should our mission drive the education process?”

• “Does the education process exist to serve children and their teachers or are teachers and their students expected to sacrifice their wants, needs, personalities, and unique capabilities in conformance with the structure or process?” and, finally;

• “Are academic standards a representative guideline of what we think kids need to know in order to have meaningful choices in life, or is it both a road map and time table of how students should get from point A to Z, no matter what their individual potential, capabilities, and interests?”

My challenge to public school teachers, administrators, and policy makers is to believe that designing and creating an education model that can be molded around teachers and students is a simple human-engineering project no different than designing any other production process. All it requires is that we open our hearts and minds to the belief that there is a better way to do what we do and the faith and hope that it can be found just beyond the boundaries of conventional wisdom.

I offer my education model, as an example, of an education process that enables teachers to develop and master their craft for the sole purpose of helping every child develop their God-given potential.

An Invitation to Peruse My Most Recent Blog Posts

Whether you are a new visitor to my blog, Education, Hope, and the American Dream or a new follower on Twitter, why not take a moment to check out the most recent articles.

I also encourage you to take a look at my education model that completely redesigns the education process to allow teachers to focus on meeting the unique needs of each student, and assures that students get the relationships, time, and attention they need to learn, sans failure: The Hawkins Model

Imagine what it would be like to teach in such an environment and how it would impact your students.

Also be aware that “Likes” are nice but “retweets” are both nice and “helpful.” A “like” lets the Tweeter know that you liked what they had to say. A “retweet” goes a step further and shares the Tweet with your followers, which makes it powerful and allows you to do what Twitter does best: spread the word!

Here are my most recent blog posts:

Aug 16 – Let the Positive Leadership of LeBron James and Akron Public Schools Lead the Way!

8/10 – Grades based on Age and Focus on Standards and Testing Obscures Purpose!

7/27 – Relationships

7/18 – We Must Be Willing to Believe There is a Better Way to Teach Our Children

7/3 – Are students who fail, quitters?

6/19 – Thinking “Outside the Box”

5/25 – More Evidence that its time for Public School superintendents and Advocates for Disadvantaged kids to act!

5/14 – Public schools need visionary, Positive Leadership

4/27 Black Panther, the Movie: a Call to Action!

4/15 Who is @melhawk46 and What is His Agenda

 

Let the Positive Leadership of LeBron James and Akron Public Schools Lead the Way

However the controversy plays out, of athletes kneeling during the National Anthem before NFL football games, I want to go on record as a supporter of these talented and courageous men. Besides, when did kneeling with one’s head bowed become a sign of disrespect. I would encourage participants in any performance venue to take similar action.

Contrary to what many critics suggest, these are not spoiled, selfish millionaires showing disrespect for the American Flag. Rather these are Americans who are using the platform they are blessed to have been given to speak out against injustice in America; a nation that has not yet risen to the level of greatness to which it aspires. The American flag is a beautiful symbol of our democratic principles, but its symbolism is only as relevant as the principles, themselves. What is disrespectful is the presentation of the colors by people whose actions demonstrate a disdain for those principles.

Whether it is:

• attempts to prevent minorities from exercising their constitutional right to vote in our local, state or national elections;
• separating children from parents who have sought to immigrate to this “nation of immigrants” to escape religious, political, racial, or other forms of persecution much as our own ancestors have done;
• discriminating against men, women, and children because of their religious faith or nations of origin; or
• denying the right to the same presumption of innocence to which the rest of us are entitled, by profiling and unjustifiably shooting black or other minority suspects of criminal behavior, or even acts of civil disobedience.

These and many other injustices are far more disrespectful of the principles of liberty and justice delineated by the Declaration of Independence, the United States Constitution, and the Amendments that we refer to as the Bill of Rights; than kneeling during the “Star Spangled Banner,” our National Anthem. Every American not only has the right to take a stand or a knee on behalf of those for whom the principles of liberty and justice are being denied, we have a sacred duty to do so.

A few months ago, I wrote that “the movie Black Panther, has a compelling message for all Americans, but particularly to successful men and women of color.

“It is a call to action with an unequivocal message that it is not acceptable to isolate oneself from the problems of society when one’s successes, discoveries, and genius can make a . . . difference.”

NBA star LeBron James has set a marvelous example of giving back to one’s community with the creation of his I Promise School, in partnership with Akron Public Schools. We must all accept responsibility for ending the failure of millions of disadvantaged children, a disproportionate percentage of whom are black or other children of color, in so many public schools as well as charter schools, or parochial.

I challenge successful men and women of color—and every other socially-conscious American man or woman—to come together as powerful positive leaders to transform public education in America, similar to what the LeBron James Family Foundation and Akron Public Schools are striving to do.

I would ask these positive leaders, however, not to delay intervention until children are in the third or fourth grade. Instead, start on the first day they arrive for Kindergarten to help them not only overcome their disadvantage but help them catch up and develop their unique talents and abilities so they can become the best version of themselves.

Can you think of anything that would do more to make America great, than creating a reality in which every single young man or women, upon finishing grade twelve, is literate, numerate, and in possession of a portfolio of knowledge and skill that, in conjunction with a healthy self-esteem, will give them choices about what to do with their lives in order to find joy and meaning; to be full members of our participatory democracy.

I offer an innovative education model that changes the way we prepare our nation’s children to fulfill their God-given potential. I believe this education model, which you can examine at http://www.melhawkinsandassociates.com/education-model-white-paper/ can and will transform public education, with your help. All it requires is a willingness to open your hearts and minds to a new way of educating our nation’s children and that you abandon the long tradition of incremental improvements; a tradition that has brought us to the point at which we find ourselves today.

Through our utilization of the principles of positive leadership, we have the power to end the failure of disadvantaged children and all other kids, for all time. What are we waiting for?

Grades Based on Age and Focus on Standards and Testing Obscures Purpose!

In the mid-19th century, the one-room schoolhouse with one teacher working with children at varying stages of learning, each pursuing different academic objectives, began giving way to Horace Mann’s vision of an education process. Mann was influenced by the Prussian education model that organized students by grades, based on age.  The Prussian model was designed for organizational efficiency and discipline. Mann’s model and focus remains the process of choice, today, in private, parochial and public schools.

If there is meaningful research to show that this is the best way to structure classrooms and organize students and teachers for learning, I hope someone will share it with me.

In a one-room schoolhouse, a teacher’s priority was to help every child get from where they were upon arrival for their first day of school, to where they needed to be when they left school to embark upon life as an adult citizen. Some students only needed to learn how to read and write; others needed to prepare to find a job or to take over their family’s farm or business; and, some  aspired to go to college to become teachers, doctors, and other professionals. Each student was guided by their inherent abilities, their unique interests, by their own dreams for the future and the dreams of their families, and by a caring teacher.  That teacher’s only purpose was to help each child prepare for whatever future to which he or she aspired.

It is my assertion that the existing education process, to which so many educators are loyal, has obscured that mission and purpose, for generations.

One of the characteristics of organizations, irrespective of venue, is that if leadership is not diligent in remaining focused on and reminding the organization and its people of its core mission or purpose, the process that was created to serve that purpose becomes the entity’s focal point. Over time, that mission or purpose becomes obscured by the clutter of the process. This is what happened when administrators and policy makers  committed to moving students from Kindergarten or first grade to twelfth grade, as a class.

The existing education process requires that “students at each grade level” be able to meet certain criteria before they are deemed ready, as a population, to move on to the next lesson or grade level. The shift in focus from preparing individual students for their unique future to preparing all students of a given age to advance as a group is subtle, but with each school year the degree of separation between the original purpose and the secondary agenda, expands.

When formal academic standards were established, teaching to the standards and meeting their arbitrary time frames grew in importance. No longer were we teaching individual children according to their unique level of academic preparedness or pace and style of learning, rather we were marching to the cadence of the Prussian fondness for order and organizational efficiency. The standards also opened the door for high-stakes testing, that was viewed as a method of assessing the effectiveness of schools and teachers. Not only did we begin teaching to the standards, we began teaching to the tests.

What high-stakes testing measures, however, is not the effectiveness of teachers and schools. It reveals, instead, the ineffectiveness of the education process in helping individual children learn as much as they are able at their own best speed; despite the efforts of public school teachers. Educators must cease viewing the results as an indictment against themselves and use it as evidence to show what they are asked to do does not work for all kids.

Can you imagine a teacher in a one-room school house telling a child, I’m sorry but time is up! I need you to move on to the next lesson, along with your classmates, ready or not?

I’m certain some of you are thinking, “but we don’t teach in one room schoolhouses!” And, of course, you are not. But, “are you teaching kids to prepare for their own unique futures or are you “teaching to the standards” or “teaching to the test?” You need not feel guilty after answering truthfully. Neither should you feel powerless to bring about a transformation.

The appropriate question educators and positive leaders at every level should be asking, is: “has our fundamental mission and purpose changed?”  And: “should mission and purpose be driven by structure and process or should it be the other way around?” It is this author’s assertion that mission and purpose should always drive structure and process and assuring that this is the case is the responsibility of positive leaders.

At one time, holding a student back so they could repeat a grade (be given a second chance to master the subject matter) was not uncommon. Gradually, educators gravitated away from that practice because it was perceived to be the greater of two evils.

A decade ago, writing about this issue in Educational Leadership, Jane L. David[i] wrote, describing the reality in public education:

 

“School systems cannot hold back every student who falls behind; too many would pile up in the lower grades. Moreover, it is expensive to add a year of schooling for a substantial number of students. Therefore, in practice, schools set passing criteria at a level that ensures that most students proceed through the grades at the expected rate.” (March 2008, Volume 65, Number 6).

 

By sacrificing so many children to preserve the process we demonstrate that the process was then and continues to be viewed as more important than our students.

Had “mission and purpose” been driving “structure and process,” educators and policy makers of an earlier time might have asked the question positive leaders should pose, relentlessly, “who exists to serve whom?”

What I have endeavored to create is an education model designed to remain loyal to “mission and purpose” amid the dynamic changes taking place around us. It offers a process that gives educators the freedom and support necessary to: form close, long-term relationships with students; elicit the support of parents; help children experience, celebrate and expect success; shield them from loss of hope that comes with repeated failure: and, to apply leading-edge methodologies, tools, and innovations for the benefit of their students.

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

 

[i] Jane L. David is the Director of the Bay Area Research Group