Most Recent Posts from February 16 through April 15

You are invited to check out the most recent posts on my blog, Education, Hope, and the American Dream,

4/15:  Who is @melhawk46 and What Is His Agenda?

3/31:  What Are We Teaching Kids When We Repeatedly Accept Less than their Best?

3/26:  A Letter to Superintendents & Advocates for Equality in Education for Children of Color and for the Disadvantaged

3/23:  Sacrificing Purpose for Administrative or Organizational Efficiency

3/12:  Quadrilateral Pegs through the Round Holes of Public Education

3/8:  An Important Message to our Nation’s Heroes!

3/8:  The Performance Gap Between Black and White students: the Civil Rights Issue of our Time – A Refrain

3/3:  How the Littlest Thing Can Constrain One’s Ability to Do One’s Job!

2/27:  “Something Incredible is Waiting to be Known!”

2/21:  Learning Is an Adventure of Discovery!

2/18:  A Minefield of Distractions or a new Education Model

2/16:  What If We Were Starting from Scratch?

 

It’s All About the Kids!!!!

 

 

Who is @melhawk46 and What Is His Agenda?

After a brief respite to spend time with my four grandchildren, it is back to work.

In response to my last blog post, Twitter user and educator, @thenerdyteacher, reacted negatively to some of the points I made in the article. He wrote:

“If you wanted to say it was something learned at school because of the system that accepts “C” as good enough, that would be one thing. Teachers do not teach mediocrity. They push students to do their best.”

And, of course he is correct, teachers do not set a goal for their students to be mediocre. They do their best to help their students do their best, to the extent the education process allows.

It occurred to me that @thenerdyteacher had not been a part of an ongoing conversation I have been having with educators, on Twitter. Had he been involved, he would know that expressing concern that “the system accepts a C as good enough” is exactly my point; a point I have been making for over five years. I would add, “the system also accepts Ds and Fs.”

For the record, I believe teachers are unsung American heroes and that blaming them for the problems in public education is like blaming soldiers for the war they were asked to fight. The problems in public education are not the teachers, rather they are the result of an education process that has grown obsolete. The education process at work in American public schools impedes rather than enhances the ability of teachers to respond to the unique needs of their students.

Ask yourself a simple question. Did someone sit down and design the education process (the process by which we teach students in our schools, today) because it was perceived to be the best way to teach our children or, did it evolve over time?

If it evolved over time, why not reinvent the process so that it is specifically designed to provide the best way to teach our society’s children in this 21st Century? The education process is no different than any other service-delivery or production process. It is a logical construct created to produce certain outcomes. Just because the existing process has been in place for decades does not mean it cannot be changed.

In case you are wondering, I am categorically opposed to the education reform movement with its focus on “Choice.” I believe the education reform movement places the future of public education and community schools at grave risk, making it imperative that we go back to the drawing board and reinvent our obsolete education process as if the future of our society depends on it; because it does.

Charter schools are not the solution to preparing millions of American children for leading our nation through the challenges the balance of this 21st Century will present for two fundamental reasons. The first is that most charter schools rely on the same education process used in the public schools they are intended to replace and, routinely, prove incapable of outperforming those schools. Moving kids to a different building with different teachers changes nothing. Different teachers and facilities are not the solution; what matters is what we do in those buildings—what matters is how we teach.

The second reason is that simple logistics make it impossible for charter schools to fulfill their “professed” promise that they will ensure the highest possible quality of education for all children. We cannot solve the problems of millions of children with a handful of charter schools, scattered here and there, serving a few hundred students at a time. We already have school buildings in every community in the U.S., full of students, and staffed with teachers trained in our best colleges and universities. This is where the challenges lie, and it is with those same teachers and in those same buildings that they must be met.

It is my assertion that no child should be allowed to fail. Our colleague, @thenerdyteacher, commented that “Failure is good for students as they learn new things.” I choose to distinguish between failure and mistakes and I believe our colleague would concur. We all make mistakes and we all experience disappointing outcomes. These are not failures and do not become a failure until we throw up our hands in defeat and stop trying. When teachers are required, by the education process, to record an F or other low score and move a class on to the next lesson, knowing there are students who are not ready, the system is forcing them to accept failure or less than a student’s best.

For these students, this is not an isolated event rather one that will be repeated lesson after lesson, semester after semester, and year after year. The longer it goes on the more improbable the odds that these kids will ever overcome their disadvantage. Kids are learning, but they are not learning the correct lessons; they are not learning how to create success for themselves.

Teachers do their best to help kids learn from their mistakes. At the end of a lesson, teachers take as much time as they can to help students who are struggling and are not ready to move on to the next lesson, but that only works when the number of struggling students is small. When the percentage of struggling students in a teacher’s classroom grows to 25, 50, 75 percent or more, the amount of time the education process gives teachers to help these kids is insufficient. There is no policy that tells teachers not to help these students, but circumstances often make it impossible. The pressure to move kids down the path established by academic standards is relentless. This arbitrary schedule is created, not to serve the best interests of our students, but to serve organizational efficiency and administrative convenience.

None of this is the fault of public school teachers and administrators but they are the only people in a position to do anything about it.

State legislators do not understand it and the powerful forces that influence them understand it even less. If we wait for people outside the field of public education to solve the problem, nothing will happen. It is only when we accept responsibility for a problem that we begin to acquire the power to change it. It is time for public school educators to accept responsibility, not for the blame, but for finding a solution. And, yes, I understand that this is easier said than done and this is where I come in. Whether what I am offering is an end-solution or a catalyst, it has been motivated by nothing other than the interests of our nation’s children, their teachers, schools, and communities.

If they are to learn at their optimal level, what students need is an model built on the essential variables of the education equation =

Warm, nurturing relationships with teachers for a sustained period
+ they need to start with what they know
+ they need our patient attention to give them sufficient time to learn from their mistakes
+ they need to build on their successes
+ they need the support of their parents.

Garnering the support of parents is a challenge and not something over which teachers have direct control. Providing the first four of the essential variables in the education equation, however, creates the best opportunity to pull parents into the process as partners, sharing responsibility for the education of their children. Success is contagious even for those sitting on the sidelines.

The existing education process does not ensure that teachers have the time and environment to form those important, sustained relationships; it does not ensure that we begin teaching each child at the unique point on the academic preparedness continuum where we find them when they arrive at our door; it does not make giving students as much time as they need to learn from their mistakes an over-riding priority; it does not allow all students to build on their success because one cannot build on success until one begins to experience it; and, the education process does not make parental support a priority and is not designed to facilitate the formation of such relationships.

Teachers do the best they can to make these things happen despite the education process but both teachers and their students deserve more. What teachers, students, and parents deserve and what school corporations must be compelled to do is provide an education process that is designed to facilitate the education equation. They require a process that is molded around the work that teachers, students, and parents must do together, much in the way the cockpit of an airplane is molded around the needs of a pilot.

I understand that many teachers reading this post are proud of the work they have done and of the success of their students and they should be proud. It took sustained effort to achieve that success within the context of a process that does not make it easy.

What teachers across the spectrum of public education must be willing to acknowledge, however, is the process does not work for every child, for every teacher, and in every school. And, if it does not work for every child it is not good enough. Every child counts or none of them count.

What all public-school educators must do is be willing to step back and think about how you would structure the education process if you were starting from scratch. Over the past dozen years, that is what I have been doing by applying my experience working with kids, leading people and organizations, finding innovative solutions, and applying what I learned over my ten years as a substitute teacher. I simply went back to the drawing board.

It may seem arrogant to say it, but I believe everything I have done and learned over the last 50 years has prepared me for this purpose: to change the way we teach children in order to ensure that every child learns as much as they are able, at their own best pace rather than an arbitrary schedule, and are driven by their own unique interests and potential.

I ask you to take the time to think about a new model designed to support teachers and students as they go about their important work. I am also asking for help in finding at least one superintendent willing to test my model in one of his or her district’s struggling elementary schools. The outcomes in these schools have not changed in years and they are unacceptable. That means we must try something other than what we have always done. My model can be found at http://www.melhawkinsandassociates.com/education-model-white-paper/

For those who would like to have a better understanding of why I believe I am uniquely qualified to introduce a new education model, I offer the short bio, below.

After a career that included: a summer running a churchyard playground and game room on Germantown Avenue in Philadelphia, in 1966, for the purpose of keeping teens and preteens away from gang recruiters; 9 years as a juvenile probation officer working with a similar population of kids; thirty years in organizational leadership positions and as an independent consultant, I left my consulting business to pursue a lifelong dream of writing books.

During a ten-year period from 2002 through 2011, during which I wrote 3 books, I worked as a substitute teacher for my local public-school district. This was the same district my three kids had attended.

During this same period, and up to present day, I also administer the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB) to potential enlistees in the Armed Services and, also, to high school students as part a Career Exploration Program developed by the U.S. Department of Defense. I have Masters’ degrees in both Education (psychology) and Public Affairs (public management).

Among my specialties as an organization executive and as a consultant had been to help organizations address their dissatisfaction with the unacceptable outcomes of their production and service-delivery processes. I did this by conducting an organizational assessment and then applying the principles of systems thinking, positive leadership, and operations management to reinvent the process to produce the desired outcomes. My work was guided by a simple axiom I have observed in operations management that:

“If a process continues to produce disappointing outcomes no matter how hard people work or how qualified they are, then the process is flawed and must be replaced or reinvented.”

In her book, The Flat World and Education: How America’s Commitment to Equity Will Determine our Future (2010) Linda Darling-Hammond made a similar point:

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

It is time to go back to the drawing board and reinvent the education process to ensure the success of every child.

What I proceeded to do, first, in my book, Reinventing Education Hope, and the American Dream: the Challenge for Twenty-first Century America (2013), and in my blog Education, Hope, and the American Dream, and through tweets and other forms of communication is clarify the mission or purpose of education; identify the key variables in the education equation; and, then design an education model that insures that every child receives the time, relationships, and support they need to learn as much as they are able, at their own best pace. No child should be pushed ahead to keep up with classmates and neither is it acceptable to ask other students to slow down and wait for classmates to catch up to them.

My book is now over five years old and I have learned a great deal since then, thanks to the many professional educators with whom I have had the opportunity to converse. I am working on an updated version to incorporate what I have learned, and to alter things I wrote, then, that I no longer believe to be true. I am striving to complete the book before the end of the summer.

In the interim, I have published an updated version of my education model and a white paper. The latter provides the logical foundation for the model and an overview of the other findings and conclusions from the book. The reader is encouraged to check out the white paper and model at http://www.melhawkinsandassociates.com/education-model-white-paper/

My blog now has over 200 articles written about the challenges facing public education and can be accessed at http://www.melhawkinsandassociates.com/blog/

You are invited to share your comments and criticisms through the blog or Twitter. I also encourage you to subscribe to my blog, and to share this message with your colleagues. However well your own school may be doing, I know you all share grave concerns about schools and students that struggle and I know you are concerned about the future of community public schools. This is an opportunity to make a difference that extends beyond the walls of your classrooms and schools.

What Are We Teaching Kids When We Repeatedly Accept Less than their Best?

It’s not just about failure. The education process is structured to allow kids to fail and this has tragic consequences but as former radio personality and commentator, Paul Harvey would say, “now here’s the rest of the story.”

We are not just teaching subject matter, we are also teaching life skills, one of the most important of which is to do your best. We don’t want them to fail but neither do we want mediocrity or average. Every time we move a class and its students on to a next lesson before some students have mastered the material, we are allowing them to give less than their best effort. What they are learning is that it is okay to settle for less than their best and this does not serve society well, given the challenges to which these young people will someday need to rise.

As an employer with responsibility for hiring people for hourly, administrative or professional positions, for much of my career, striving to train people to do a job when they are functionally illiterate or innumerate was only one of my frustrations. The other biggest frustration was people who can meet the basic qualifications for a job but always have to be pushed to do their best.

These individuals seem unable to work hard, strive for excellence, apply their imaginations, or seek creative solutions to problems. Their goal seems to be to get the job done as quickly as they can with as little effort as possible. From where did such an attitude come? Was it something in their drinking water? Was it the processed food they have consumed throughout their lifetimes? Or, was it something they were taught?

It is my assertion that it was something they were taught both at home and at school; and, if this is what young people are taught in school, is it all surprising that this would influence the way they would someday teach their children at home?

Whether we are parents or teachers, we do our children a great disservice if we do not demand that they always strive to give their best effort. That means we do not accept anything less than a high B on a lesson or chapter test. It means that we do not give in when our own children refuse to do what we ask. It means that we do not make idle threats when they know as well as we do that we will relent if they push back. It means that we do not make promises we do not intend to keep. We must understand that children will test us at every opportunity and, as I have written on multiple occasions, it is every bit as important that we pass the tests our children give us as it is that they pass the tests we administer to them.

When we give in to children and accept less than their best then this is the standard we have taught them to set for themselves. This it is unacceptable and every bit as damaging to their self-esteem as failure. Whether we are parents or teachers it is our responsibility to settle for nothing less than their best effort or behavior. This does not mean that they are pressured, punished, or placed under great stress. It only means that we show infinite patience and relentless persistence and keep working with them until we can celebrate genuine success, excellence, or victory.

We must forget about arbitrary schedules. What is important in life is that adults be able to accept the responsibilities of work, parenthood, and citizenship. It does not matter whether they learned these lessons the first time or required extra time and patience any more than it matters whether they learned how to ride a bike after one or two attempts rather that after a week of falling down, skinned appendages, and bruised egos. What matters, always, is that we be able to use what we have learned in life.

This is why we, when we measure academic achievement, it is imperative that we never settle for “approaching proficiency.” Proficiency is the only level of performance that is acceptable. If we cannot utilize what we have learned we have not learned it and this is true in every aspect of life.

We cannot continue to make the same mistakes, repeatedly. We must find a new way of teaching our children and I have developed a model that is worthy of your consideration. Please examine my model seeking to understand rather than rebut. http://www.melhawkinsandassociates.com/education-model-white-paper/ You risk only a brief hour or so of your time but the potential gain is to alter forever an education process focused on failure and accepting less than the best of our students.

A Letter to Superintendents & Advocates for Equality in Education for Children of Color and for the Disadvantaged!

I am asking for the help of superintendents, advocacy organizations and individuals in seeking one, two, or three public school districts with superintendents who are sufficiently frustrated with the lack of meaningful improvement on the part of their students that they would be willing to examine a new education model. It is a model designed for any school but is particularly suited to meet the extraordinary challenges faced by underperforming elementary schools. My model is designed to focus on success and stop the failure in public education.

Consider a single disadvantaged child, age 5 or 6, maybe black but from a family entrapped in the cycles of poverty and failure. Consider that he or she will be likely to register for Kindergarten in a public school, this fall, in which a significant majority of elementary students are unable to pass both the math and English language arts components of their state’s standardized competency exams. Consider further that, in many such school districts, the percentage of middle school students able to pass both math and ELA components of standardized competency exams is likely to be even lower.

How would you rate the odds of this child emerging from the 12th grade with the knowledge and skills needed to give him or her real choices about what to do in life?

Imagine the difference if we could place that same child in a classroom, free from things that distract teachers from doing what they know their students need them to do:

• Connect with the child on an emotional level;
• Pinpoint what the student has learned and where the child lags;
• Create a tailored academic plan to help that child build on what he or she knows;
• Refuse to let the child fail by providing however much help, time, and patient attention a student needs to learn each and every lesson;
• Help students learn to use their imaginations and creativity;
• Help the student discover that academic success is “a process of learning from one’s mistakes and growing in confidence that he or she can create success for themselves” and,
• Reach out to the child’s parents or guardians so they can help celebrate their son or daughter’s academic success.

An environment my education model is intended to create cannot exist given the manner in which our public schools are configured, today, or in most of our private, parochial, and charter schools; no matter how hard teachers work. It cannot happen because this is not what is expected of teachers and because the education process within which they strive to teach is not structured to support such objectives. Instead, it is structured to keep score based on who learns the most, the fastest, as students progress, as a class, down a path outlined by state academic standards. Such scores/grades will color both the child’s perception of themselves, and society’s perception of them, for the rest of their lives.

Is there any doubt in your mind that children would flourish in a positive learning environment such as I have described, and would far out-pace children who will be attending struggling elementary schools in a neighborhood or community near you? As a superintendent, you have spent time in the classrooms in underperforming elementary schools and if you are an advocate, you need to visit a few, if you have not done so, already. Ask yourself if what you observe gives you hope that a solution is just around the corner? Or, did you walk away thinking these kids deserve better and that, surely, there must be a better way?

We can create an environment in a public elementary school that will provide this kind of learning experience for every student? I listen to teachers and administrators every day and what I hear is how hard they strive to create the very things my model is intended to provide. One can sense their frustration that doing what they know they should be doing requires an extraordinary effort within a structure that is not designed to support those activities. For all their commitment, sacrifices, and heroism these educators find it difficult to step outside of their frame of reference and observe what is happening around them, objectively. They need a paradigm shift.

If you believe that some of the many programs, curriculum changes, methodologies, and technologies that have been introduced in the last few decades, and about which many teachers are excited, will transform public education then I understand your desire to cling to hope. I only ask you to do one thing. Ask yourself how many of these innovations will work in a classroom with 20, 30, or 35 disadvantaged students who are so far behind that it seems impossible to think they will ever catch up? Would it not be better if we were able to keep them from falling behind in the first place?

Search your own heart. If you believe one child could succeed in the type of environment I have described, then it is not too much of a stretch to believe every child could be successful if this was the kind of public-school classroom they will enter this fall. And, if such a model proved itself, how long would it take before other public school districts would follow suit?

If you are a superintendent in a school district serving a poor and diverse population of students, you know what the numbers say and you know they have not changed, appreciatively, in decades. You have an opportunity to provide leadership in a venture that will change the lives of your students. I also believe that the changes necessary to implement my education model are within the scope of authority of you and your school board.

If you are an advocate, you and your organization may be one of a very few that are positioned to make an enormous difference for disadvantaged kids, if only you would help find a superintendent willing to test a new idea. Imagine a new world where all children are equipped with the tools to they need to have choices in life. Children of color must also possess the tools and strong self-esteem needed to overcome the obstacles of bigotry and discrimination, much as many of you and your colleagues have done.

Join me in promoting a new vision that will transform public education for our children, the world’s most important and most vulnerable resource, by examining my education model. Look not in search of reasons why it will not work rather seeking reasons why it can and what you can do to help. Subscribe to my blog with over 200 articles about the challenges facing public schools, their administrators, teachers, and students at http://www.melhawkinsandassociates.com/blog/ and follow me on Twitter at @melhawk46.

Millions of disadvantaged children are desperate for someone to take the lead in doing something different.

Sacrificing Purpose For Administrative Convenience or Organizational Efficiency

Think about the early history of public education when a one-room schoolhouse, staffed by one teacher, was responsible for teaching a classroom of students from ages 6 to 17, all at different points on the learning continuum, with different abilities and objectives. Some students might have hoped to attend college while others needed to learn enough that they could work and someday take over responsibility for the family farm.

In this environment, the sole teacher had a clear purpose or mission. It was “to help each student learn as much as they could, at their own best pace, according to their own life’s goals.” Can you imagine that there was ever a time when teachers of that period pushed a student on to a new lesson before they were ready; before they understood and were able to apply the knowledge gained from a current lesson?

It was easy for these teachers to avoid being distracted from their purpose. There were no secondary agendas with which they were forced to deal.

Now, think about what happens as a community grows and the number of children of school age multiplies to a point where the community needs a school with a dozen classrooms and enough teachers to staff those classrooms. Do you think the decision makers, in those early years, decided to alter the purpose for which the school existed? Almost certainly they did not. They had every intention of continuing their efforts so that each child would “learn as much as they were able,” given their unique set of abilities, at their own pace, and in pursuit of their personal academic objectives and future goals.

At some point along the evolutionary development and growth of public education, however, administrators found that managing the actual operation of their school(s) was becoming more challenging. This is not a phenomenon unique to education. This happens in every type of organization that exists to produce a product or service. The larger an organization grows and the more people it involves, the more complex it will be and, therefore, the more challenging to manage and lead.

The precise way it happened does not matter, now, because it could have happened in any number of ways. What we must understand is that somewhere, at some time, an administrator decided it would be easier to organize and manage a school operation and easier for teachers to teach their students in their classrooms, if we organized students according to age. It would only seem natural, along the way, for teachers and/or administrators to also see a benefit if teachers were to teach children of that same age, every school year, because each age presents different challenges.

The next step in the evolution of this logic may have been to identify each age group and their teachers by “grade level.” These changes may or may not have happened quickly, but it would be only a matter of time before it would occur, to someone, that if each grade level is made up of children of the same age, maybe they should all be learning the same material.

It is likely that there was never a conscious decision to sacrifice the fundamental purpose or mission of schools that “all children learn as much as they are able.” No doubt, just the opposite was true, and educators and policy makers made the logical leap that the more effectively and efficiently they were able to run their school operation, the better things would be for their students and teachers.

I can almost hear the echoes of teachers expressing concern that if we move his or her class along a path outlined by academic standards, from lesson to lesson based on the way textbooks are organized, that some kids may have trouble keeping up. Teachers are, no matter what some critics would say, genuinely concerned about the welfare of their students and have a sincere desire that each of them is successful.

It is, also, easy to hear the echoes of school principals and other administrators, urging teachers not to worry. “There will be opportunities to spend extra time with those students who are struggling, to make certain that they do not fall behind.” The reader can also be assured that that such assertions were not disingenuous. After all, it was perceived that the number of such students would be small and well within an individual teacher’s ability to accommodate.

Such events in which one’s purpose is sacrificed for administrative efficiency or organizational convenience happen with such subtlety that most of the actors are unaware that anything has changed at all. It is only later, when the demographics of the population served by a school have changed and the number of children who struggle to keep up grows to a point that they can no longer be ignored and, that a teacher’s ability to respond, effectively, is compromised. Amid these evolving developments, I’m sure most teachers can recall occasions when the response from administrators, to their queries, was to “work a little harder.” Easy for them to say, particularly if they are the sort of administrators who have forgotten what it is like to be a teacher in a classroom.

Unfortunately, even the best leaders, those who are willing to work with teachers to help them find a way to provide the extra attention that some of their students require, are unaware that, gradually, the education process with its structure, standards, and arbitrary schedules, has re-prioritized the entire purpose of the institution of public education.

This is not the fault of leaders, individually, and this type of bureaucratization of organizations is common across all venues. The larger organizations grow the more bureaucratic they become, the more likely it is that an organization’s primary purpose will be marginalized by secondary agendas. The fault lies with the institutions of higher education that do not provide students who will become leaders of organizations, irrespective of venue, with the skills they will need to lead people and to understand the ubiquitous principles of organizational dynamics; principles by which all human organizations are governed. Colleges of education in our nation’s universities are not the only programs that fail to prepare their students for future leadership responsibility. In any organization, it is leadership that determines the quality of outcomes.

Throughout our nation, the fundamental purpose of our public schools, “that all children learn as much as they are able,” has been sacrificed for administrative efficiency, organizational convenience, and the arbitrary schedules on which our public schools rely. This is also true in private, parochial, and charter schools. Why else would the dedicated men and women who teach our children be willing to accept a reality in which they must tell children, through their actions if not their words:

• “I’m so sorry to give you a failing grade!”

• “I know you are not ready to move on to the next lesson, but I have no more time to give you.”

The subtler but equally disturbing messages that educators are sending are:

• “I know that because you do not understand this lesson, future lessons will be more difficult for you!”

• “Yes, I know these failing grades will follow you throughout the rest of your time in school and I understand that they will color the expectations that your future teachers will set for you.”

• “Yes, I know there is a limit to how much failure you can handle before you give up and stop trying.”

Taking the time to make sure students understand and to help them develop the skills they will need for the rest of their lives, may be the job school policies state that teachers are expected to do; but, in the environment in which teachers work, it is not the job the education process is tasked, structured, and resourced to support.

Simply stated, there is a disconnect between what we tell teachers they are expected to do and what the education process we have created for them allows them to do.

Please take the time to examine a new education model, designed to all teachers to focus on purpose: http://www.melhawkinsandassociates.com/education-model-white-paper/

Quadrilateral Pegs through the Round Holes of Public Education

Participating in the dialogue between teachers, principals, superintendents, and other players in our public schools has been enlightening and inspiring on the one hand and frustrating and discouraging on the other. It is wonderful to know there are so many amazing men and women who have dedicated themselves to teach our nation’s children. It is heartbreaking, however, to see how so many seem to be unaware that they are being asked to do one of the most important and most challenging jobs in the world in an environment that has not been significantly altered in at least a half century and clearly has not been adapted to meet the needs of 21st Century children.

It has been a struggle to find an analogy that resonates with teachers, principals, and superintendents so they can see what it looks like to observe them at work, from afar. I know that many consider me an outsider because I have not been trained as a professional teacher, making it easy for them to make light of my education model. My perspective is unique, however, and merits the attention of our nation’s public school policy makers, leaders, and classroom teachers. I am speaking as an advocate for public education and for American public-school teachers and school administrators, not as an adversary. I consider public school teachers to be unsung American heroes and I’m asking you to open your minds to a new idea.

As a student, I have earned two masters’ degrees, one in psychology and the other in public management. On my own I have been a student of leadership for over forty-five years and have written a book to share what I’ve learned about the power of positive leadership. Also, I have been a student “systems thinking” since reading Peter Senge’s book The Fifth Discipline: The Art and Practice of the Learning Organization, when it was first published in 1990.

I have had an opportunity to both participate in and observe what happens in public school classrooms from the perspective of a substitute teacher over a period of ten years. I have worked with some of my communities most challenging children as a juvenile probation officer for the first nine years of my career. I have spent 30 years of my career in organizational leadership and consulting where I designed from scratch or reinvented service delivery and other processes to produce acceptable outcomes for the customers of my organizations or for my clients’ organizations. I have both taught and counseled CEOs, managers, and supervisors how to be effective positive leaders of their organizations and its people. I have been both the designer and instructor of multiple employee training programs.

What I have witnessed as an observer of the public schools of my community are dedicated, hard-working professional men and women, giving their hearts and souls to their students in a system and structure that has not been significantly altered since I started school in the fall of 1951.

If you can imagine, even for a moment, what our nation’s system of highways would look like—given the number of automobiles and trucks on the roads, today—if neither President Eisenhower, in 1956, nor any of his successors had envisioned America’s interstate highway system, you will have an idea of how our public school classrooms and the education process at work within those classrooms look to me, observing from afar.

We are asking good people to educate our nation’s incredibly diverse population of students on the education equivalent of Route 66. These kids are the future men and women who must be prepared to lead our nation through the unprecedented and unimaginable challenges the balance of the 21st Century will present. Think about the diversity of American public-school students. They represent every color of the human rainbow, speak innumerable languages, come from families both fractured and whole from every corner of the planet, and with a range of backgrounds with respect to relative affluence and academic preparedness that is as cavernous as America is wide.

Public school educators are striving to do their absolute best for students in an environment in which they are without the support of our federal and many of our state governments and are under attack from education reformers with their focus on “school choice.” These reformers and the politicians who are influenced by them are destroying our public schools and the communities those schools were built to serve. As I have written on so many occasions, a handful of charter schools serving a few hundred students at a time, even if they were innovative, will never meet the needs of the millions of American children on whom our nation’s future depends. These charter schools that are being funded with revenue siphoned from the coffers that were meant to support our public schools and rely on the same obsolete education process used in the public schools they were intended to replace.

We already have school buildings in communities throughout the U.S., staffed with the best teachers our colleges and universities can produce, and filled with kids. This is where the problem exists and where its challenges must be met. We just need to change the way we teach these kids and the way we support both teachers and students as they go about their essential work.

There have been many innovations in public education in recent decades, but they and other incremental changes will be no more effective within the context of an obsolete education process than repaving the highways of the 1950s would be in meeting today’s transportation needs. It is the education process or system that is obsolete.

Over the past few years, I have worked to build an education model that I believe will put both teachers and students in a position to be successful. It is a model that was designed from scratch to be molded around the relationship between teachers and students, enabling all to perform at their optimal level.

I am seeking a superintendent of a public-school district willing to test my education model in one of its underperforming elementary schools. You know the numbers and, therefore, that what you have been doing has not altered the bottom line with respect to student performance in any meaningful way. Why not consider a novel approach?

My education model and white paper, can be examined at my website at: http://www.melhawkinsandassociates.com/education-model-white-paper/ along with over 200 articles on public education on my blog. I am asking you to risk a couple of hours of your valuable time. Are your students worth at least that much given that the value of the upside is incalculable?

We often blame poverty, discrimination, and segregation as the reasons why these children fail. The reality is that when we ignore the unique requirements of our students and try to push their quadrilateral pegs through the round holes of public education we are the ones who discriminate. What we are doing has not worked for the last sixty-five years and it will not work for the next sixty-five years. When we let them fail we render them defenseless against discrimination.

Our goal must be to arm these young people with the skills and knowledge they need to be impervious in the face of prejudice and discrimination and to ensure that they have meaningful choices. We can only accomplish this goal if we transform public education in America.

An Important Message to our Nation’s Heroes!

To my heroes in public education and to my heroes who are leading advocates for people of color, make sure you take note of a new piece of legislation being introduced in Congress.

What does it say to you when one of our elected representatives to Congress does not believe our public schools are good enough for the children of our heroes who serve in the Armed Services of the United States?

One of the lead stories, this morning, on the front page of the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette, reports that US Representative, Jim Banks, Republican from the 3rd Congressional District in Indiana, has introduced a bill that:

“. . . would let active-duty military families tap public funds to send their children to private schools.”

The Fort Wayne Journal Gazette also reported that “Banks wrote an op-ed column about his legislation that was published this week in the Wall Street Journal under the headline ‘Military Families Deserve School Choice.’”

It is time that our public school policy makers, administrators and teachers accept the indisputable fact that a growing percentage of the American people, led by conservative politicians and corporate reformers who are advocates of “school choice,” have given up on public education as the best solution for preparing our nation’s children for the future. These powerful men and women seem perfectly content to let public schools in affluent communities go about their business, but they view public schools serving disadvantaged children and their families as a lost cause.

To our heroes in the Armed Services of the United States. We understand how you feel about your children because we feel the same about all children, but, is this the America you are fighting to protect? An America where not every child counts?

It is time for advocates for people of color and the poor to acknowledge that these same supporters of “school choice,” whether conservative Americans and their political champions or powerful corporate reformers, are willing to abandon your children and their schools, teachers and communities. They consider you and your children to be part of Governor Mitt Romney’s infamous “47 percent of American voters who are dependent on government” and do not matter.

How long are we going to sit by and let this happen?

To public school educators I ask you to consider that all the protests, marches, rallies, and teacher strikes in the world will not alter the reality that disadvantaged children in America, a disproportionate percentage of whom are blacks and other minorities, are failing in our most challenged public schools, by the millions. Teachers may not deserve the blame for creating this reality, but they will be blamed until they are willing to accept responsibility and declare to the world that what they are being asked to do in our public schools does not work for disadvantaged children.

Teachers have not shown a willingness to say it out loud, but you know in your hearts that the existing education process does not work for children who arrive for their first day of school with minimal academic preparedness, little or no motivation to learn, and less parental support.

You know this to be true every time a student shows up in your classroom who is so far behind that catching up seems impossible. Teachers know this to be true every time you are required to record an “F” in your gradebook and move your class on to a new lesson when many of your students are not ready. You know in your hearts that these kids need more time to learn but the education process does not allow you to give them that time. You do your best to help these kids when there are only one or two of them in your classroom but when the kids who need more time represent 25, 50, or 75 percent of the students in your class, it is impossible to give them the help they require.

For advocates for people of color who are still working hard to make Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr’s dream a reality, surely you know that had it not been for the heroes of the civil rights movement in the 1950s and 60s, we might still be waiting for meaningful civil rights legislation. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 and other such legislation was passed only because the civil rights movement could no longer be ignored.

Today, in this second decade of the 21st Century, public education is the civil rights issue of our time. I challenge advocates for children of color and advocates for public education to come together as a united front to stop the failure of disadvantaged kids, once and for all. Imagine a world, 10 to 13 years from now, when every single graduate from high school is armed with a portfolio of knowledge, skills, and confidence to enter mainstream America with real “choices.” All we need to do is go back to the drawing board to reinvent public education.

Here is the good news:

1. I have already gone back to the drawing board to reinvent public education and have developed an education model focused on success and rejecting failure. Use it as a starting point. If you think it will work, run with it. Or, it may inspire a better idea from one of you. You can examine my model at: http://www.melhawkinsandassociates.com/education-model-white-paper/

2. Solving the problems in public education for all children, not just the disadvantaged, does not require an act of Congress. It does not require an act of your state legislature. All it requires is that we find a handful of public school superintendents willing to test this new education model, whether mine or yours, in just one of the lowest performing elementary schools in their district. Once proven to work, it can then be expanded to every school.

3. Implementing an education model that works for all children will also render irrelevant, the corporate reform and “school choice” movement.

Whatever you do, please don’t just sit there. There are millions of children who are desperate for your help, now.

It is public education on which the futures of our nation’s children depend, and it is our children on whom our nation’s future depends.

The Performance Gap Between Black and White Students: the Civil Rights Issue of our Time – A Refrain

Black Americans have been fighting discrimination since the Emancipation Proclamation. During the 1950s and 60s, Rosa Parks, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the legion of heroes of the civil rights movement fought discrimination relentlessly. As simple as I can state it: disadvantaged children, a disproportionate percentage of whom are black and other minorities, are the victims of systemic discrimination and they will continue to suffer until black advocates stand united in their determination to alter this reality. The performance gap between black and white students is the civil rights issue of our time and it demands action on the part of everyone who has a stake in the future of these children.

Public school policy-makers are very much like the US Congress in the 1950’s. If it had not been for the heroes of the civil rights movement, we might still be waiting for meaningful civil rights legislation. Disadvantaged children must not be made to wait. They are counting on us and we must act now. What a tragedy it will be if, in twenty years, our children’s children are still languishing as a result of an obsolete education process because we were reluctant to act; because we believed ourselves to be powerless. This is the antithesis of positive leadership.

Public school educators and their advocates have proclaimed that public education is better than it has ever been. That may be true for some children but it could not be further from the truth with respect to disadvantaged children, many but not all of whom are black and other minorities.

The fact that, for a half century or more, we have been accepting the performance gap as an inevitable outcome of poverty is a gross injustice. The test for discriminatory practices is whether or not an action creates a disparate impact. If the performance gap is not incontrovertible evidence of disparate impact, I don’t know what is. It is an injustice that has sentenced millions of disadvantaged kids, young men in particular, to a life of failure, poverty, violence, and incarceration. That we have accepted the assertions of public school teachers that the education process works for everyone, strains all semblance of credibility.

It is the job of public school teachers to teach all children not just the ones who come primed and ready to learn. The fact that so many children are failing means that something is terribly wrong; that something is not working. In any other venue we would never accept that there is nothing we can do to improve unacceptable outcomes. Imagine a hospital, for example, refusing to address an unprecedented number of deaths. Teachers are not to blame for the failures of the system but they have an obligation to stand up for their students, when needed.

The performance gap between black and white students is not because black kids are incapable of learning. That millions of kids who live in our poor urban and rural communities are disadvantaged in any number of ways does not mean they cannot learn, it just means they need a little extra time, patience, and attention. They need educators to keep trying new approaches until they find one that works.

Whether manufacturing a product, providing a service, or selling something, there is always a solution if the outcomes are not what we want. This is also true with the education process utilized in schools all over the U.S. Finding a solution is not even complicated. It is simply a matter of clarifying purpose; being willing to try something new; learning from our mistakes; and being committed to never giving up. Are these not the lessons we strive to teach our students?

That we also have access to the principles of organizational management, systems thinking, and positive leadership suggests that we should be able to accomplish anything.

I have developed a solution that will work but I need the help of black leaders to come together and convince public school superintendents with underperforming elementary schools to test my model. With the right kind of pressure some will be compelled to act. Some teachers may well be skeptical but if they want success for their students, and the overwhelming majority of teachers do, they must be open to a new way.

Please check out my education model, which I will offer for free, and the accompanying white paper that lays out the logical foundation at http://www.melhawkinsandassociates.com/education-model-white-paper/ All I ask is the credit of authorship. Right now there are millions of disadvantaged children who are learning how to fail and their lives will be irrevocably damaged unless people like you decide it must stop.

How the Littlest Thing Can Constrain One’s Ability to Do One’s Job!

For five years I have been pleading with educators to examine an education model I have developed to empower teachers to teach and students to learn. http://www.melhawkinsandassociates.com/education-model-white-paper/

It is model in which everything has been tailored to remove obstacles that impede the work of teachers and inhibits the work of students. These are two of the most important jobs in American society! Having had the opportunity to work in classrooms as a substitute teacher and view the education process through the eyes of an organizational and leadership development consultant gives me a unique perspective.

The following is a true story about a small manufacturing operation I worked with over a six-month period. The company employed 120 people. The owner/CEO was frustrated beyond description that the products being produced were not meeting customer expectations and that production costs made it impossible to price it competitively. His fear was that he was about to lose customers to his competition.

What I discovered, very quickly was a manufacturing process that seemed purposely designed to make his employees’ jobs more difficult.

This was one of the littlest and most obvious things to the point of being ridiculous, looking at it from my objective perch. It was, also, one of many examples of archaic structure and design that had an enormous adverse impact on the people, the quality of the work, the cost of production and, ultimately, customer satisfaction. Archaic structure and design is just another way of saying archaic and self-defeating leadership.

While at lunch with the management team of another client, I received a call from a shop-floor supervisor with whom I had spent much time. He told me that one of the lines had been shut down for an hour and was causing a chain reaction of shutdowns of the other three lines that were dependent on the first. The problem, it turned out, was that the first line had run out of masking tape needed to prepare the work-in-process for the next phase of the production process. The masking tape cost the company one dollar per role.

I said, “help me understand how you could be completely out of masking tape?”

The supervisor answered, “Oh, we have plenty of tape in inventory but its locked in the supply cabinet.”

It turned out that the plant manager did not trust his people to have access to the supply cabinet, so he kept the only keys. That morning, the plant manager had instructed his shop floor supervisors that he would be in a meeting for four hours and was not to be disturbed for any reason. Clearly, the shop supervisors had learned not to disregard this plant manager’s directives.

The ultimate irony of the situation was not that all four production lines had shut down for four hours because the shop floor supervisors were not trusted with the key to the supply cabinet to access a one dollar roll of masking tape. Rather, it was that the plant manager’s meeting was a series of interviews with prospective new shop floor supervisors. His intent was to replace the current supervisors who could never seem to address production issues.

The moral of this little story is that a process—whether production, service delivery, or teaching children—must be designed to support the mission in every conceivable way. Literally, the process must be constructed around the needs of the person doing the job, just as the cockpit of a fighter jet is engineered to enable every single action the pilot might be called upon to perform. If the process consistently produces disappointing outcomes no matter how hard people work or how qualified they are, the process is flawed and must be reinvented.

Now think about what happens to 5 and 6-year-old students, many of whom are away from their mothers for the first time, when they arrive for their first day of school.

The first thing they need is to bond as quickly as possible with a teacher who will be a surrogate mother. He or she will nurture the children during this first, most important transition in the lives of many of them, make them feel safe, secure, and special. How easy is it to accomplish this objective when it is one teacher for every 20, 25, 30, and sometimes even 35 students?

While handling that critical responsibility, the teacher must figure out how to prepare this diverse population of children with disparate levels of academic preparedness, motivation to learn, and parental support, to the point where they are ready to move on to first grade, as per criteria established state academic standards.

Oh, and I forgot, we would like for our teachers to reach out to the parents of these children in hopes that they will become partners, sharing in the responsibility for the education of their sons and daughters.

Clearly, academic preparedness, relationships between teachers and students, motivation to learn, and parental support are at the top of the list of essential variables in the education equation. Our teachers must accomplish all these challenging objectives knowing that the probability of their students’ success in first grade, and every grade thereafter will, in large part, be dependent on how well teachers do their jobs in that critical first year.

And, let’s not forget, at the end of their first nine months students will be separated from the only teacher they have ever known and with whom they may or may not have been successful in bonding. One of our colleagues, I believe @GetUpStandUp2 (Susan DuFresne), correct me if I’m wrong, likened this event to the trauma of divorce.

This is just one example of the many things teachers are asked to do for their students that the education process neither supports nor enables and for which it is not resourced.

“Something Incredible is Waiting to be Known!”

Recently, Chuck Canady (@chuckcanady) tweeted a quote from Carl Sagan, who said, “Somewhere, something incredible is waiting to be known.”

I believe something incredible is waiting to be known and it will happen within the next 10 to 13 years. The incredible event we will witness, will be that every single student who walks across a stage to collect their high school diploma, will have received: a quality education; will have a portfolio of skills that will enable them to have choices about how to find joy and meaning in their lives and to provide for their families; will have sufficient knowledge and understanding to participate in their own governance as citizens of a democratic society; and, will have gained a sufficient understanding of the important issues facing our planet and its people to make informed choices. They will also be able to add value to our society rather than be dependent on it.

If we began this fall, implementing an education model focused on success, relationships, giving kids time to learn, and eliminating even the idea of failure, in thirteen years every one of that first group of five and six-year-olds would be ready to graduate. I believe these young people will alter the job market by injecting millions of people, who formerly were destined to be poor, into the market to become taxpayers and strengthen the economic health of society. This will create revenues that will help society address the issues of replacing our nation’s crumbling infrastructure, end our dependence on fossil fuels, and address the consequences of climate change. We can only hope that this new group of young Americans will help us narrow the differences between us so that we can work together.

If we start, this fall with all K-5 kids, we will immediately begin to see magic happen in the classroom as relationships blossom and little brains begin to work. The older students in this group will present a challenge, but we will begin to see a real difference when they graduate in the next 7 to 12 years. From that point on, every single child will have never known anything other than a school environment in which they can be as successful as any of their classmates. And, no, we are not saying everyone will learn as much and advance as far because all of us have different potentials. What it will mean is that more people will fulfill their potential which almost always results in the discovery that they have far more potential than they ever imagined.

These young Americans will be the most diverse group of American citizens in the history of our nation and will begin to erode the deeply-entrenched racism that has plagued our nation for generations? We see it all the time. The attitudes of people who have never known a person from another race, religion, or nationality will gradually begin to change when they find themselves working side-by-side with them. The more diverse our neighborhoods, the more children of diverse backgrounds will play together in their neighborhoods and sit next to one another in a classroom.

I believe these new generations who will spill out of our systems of private and public schools, year after year, will have grown more tolerant of the differences between human beings. They will have learned that, like the color of our hair and eyes, the color of our skin is nothing more than a different shade of beauty. They will have seen more mixed-racial and multi-cultural relationships and families, more multi-racial children, more alternate lifestyles. This will help us move closer to a reality in which everyone can be accepted for who they are.

Because citizens will be growing more tolerant of the differences in people they will be learning that what we see on the surface of the people in our lives, like the color of our skin, is not the measure of a man or woman. Our hope is that they will become less afraid of people who look, talk, and worship differently than themselves. Because they will feel less threatened, they will be less prone to resort to violence to settle disputes between people, nations, and religions.

We cannot legislate an end to the prejudices in the hearts of mankind, but we can begin to transform a society to one in which minorities are no longer defenseless against discrimination and in which it is more difficult for others to justify those prejudices. It will be more difficult to justify their prejudices because they know these people. We will no longer be separate and apart.

They will be the generation, who because of their education and employability, will witness the shrinking and eventual elimination of poverty and illiteracy in this country.

They will have sufficient knowledge, understanding and wisdom to see that the policies of the past—whether conservative or liberal, democrat or republican—are not able to provide solutions to the new and yet unimagined challenges of the future. They will know that, as we progress into the mid to late decades of this 21st Century, that we will be challenged to seek new solutions that work for every man, woman, or child in every conceivable corner of the planet Earth.

All these incredible things will have happened because we will have replaced an obsolete education process with a new model for teaching children. It will be a model that focuses on building and sustaining positive relationships between teachers and students, teachers and parents, and between students and their peers.

It will be model that recognizes the extraordinary diversity of people and thus will be prepared to deal with what will, initially, be great disparity with respect to academic preparedness, motivation to learn, and parental support. It will be a model that gives every student that special relationship with a teacher that many of us recall with such fondness when we think back on our favorite teacher. Unlike the rest of us, this new generation will have enjoyed the security and benefit of such relationships for more than a single school year.

Through this recognition, the model will enable us to treat every student as a unique individual with a different starting point on the academic preparedness continuum, with a different pace of learning, with unique skills and talents, and with different dreams to fulfill. Each child will be on a tailored academic path that will give them more time to learn if they need it and more freedom to burst ahead to ever higher levels of academic exploration when they feel inspired; even if it means teachers must rush to keep up. No child will be judged against the performance of his or her classmates.

It will be an education model that recognizes that the power of the peer group, in this world of almost unlimited access to social media, will be stronger than ever. The structure of the model will create small communities of children who will remain together for a sufficient length of time that they will bond with one another and look out for one another. We will be working to create an environment in which, if they must disappoint someone, our children will choose to disappoint their peers rather than their teachers and parents with whom they feel closer than ever. They will be developing the strength of character to be the best version of themselves, regardless of what others think.

Because the relationships between students, teachers and parents will be stronger and long-lasting, we will be able to focus on the whole child; helping them develop their unique talents and interests, learn the self-discipline that is necessary to enjoy success; and develop a healthy self-esteem strong enough to endure the challenges of an increasingly more complex world where the rate of change will out pace anything adults of present day have experienced.

Finally, our children will learn that success is a process where learning from mistakes and building on one success after another, and will eliminate even the idea of failure. Our children will be internalizing the idea that success is a process in which there are only different velocities of learning. Gaining this understanding also helps human beings develop an abundance mentality and learn that win-win solutions and outcomes are by far the best solutions and outcomes.

Children will be learning that losing a competition in which they have given their best effort is only a loss within the context of such competitions and does nothing to diminish their self-esteem, their worth as a child of creation, or the meaning in their lives. None of us will win every time no matter how talented or brilliant we may be. We will be learning, instead, that because we strive to do our best we are winners in life, no matter the outcomes in small episodes of life. We will view those disappointing outcomes as wonderful opportunities to learn and grow.

This vision is every bit as achievable as exploration of space or phenomenal advances in science and technology. All it requires is a willingness on the part of educators and policy makers to open their hearts and minds to a new way of thinking about how we teach our children, and to challenge their assumptions about how we organize, structure and support teachers and students within our schools and classrooms. If a process does not allow an optimal level of learning, growth and development, then it is time for change.

I ask you to examine my education model and white paper because they offer a first step toward the future I have described http://www.melhawkinsandassociates.com/education-model-white-paper/ I hope it is a vision that we can all share.

The elegance of the model is that it is just a point of embarkation; that it empowers teachers and administrators to be continually reinventing the education process to meet the ever-changing needs of their students, communities and society. Who knows where the future may take us but if we remain focused on putting teachers in a position to teach and students in a position to learn it will be a great adventure of discovery.