“Say it ain’t so, Joe!”

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

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

“Say it ain’t so, teachers!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Say it ain’t so, Joe!

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

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

Do we not believe the data from annual assessments?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It need not be this way!

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

Please check out my Education Model and white paper

The Challenge to Leaders of Public Education

In all business organizations, it is the top executives who bear responsibility for assuring that the entity is focused on its mission and that the mission, itself, properly serves the needs, interests, and expectations of customers. The process must also be structured and resourced to support the people on the line. This is the essence of organizational leadership; of positive leadership.

Positive leaders are guided by three principles or axioms of organizational development:

1) It is not until one accepts responsibility for a problem that he or she begins to acquire the power to solve it;

2) 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; and

3) The point at which a process can no longer be improved is the exact point in time that it becomes obsolete.

In public education, the top leaders are superintendents and the people on the line are principals, teachers and their students. In spite of a procession of incremental improvements over the last half century, disadvantaged students still struggle to pass state competency exams. More importantly, when these students leave school they find themselves at an even greater disadvantage in society. This reality has enormous adverse consequences for American society and is at the root of our nation’s greatest social, economic, and political challenges. The opportunity cost that these young men and women represent is incalculable.

Assertions by public school educators and their supporters that public education is better than it has ever been are difficult to comprehend, given the data. Even a cursory examination of the process shows that kids who start out at a disadvantage are not given the time and attention they need to learn. The proof of this assertion can be found in teachers’ grade books, everywhere. If a teacher records a failing grade, it means the teacher has moved his or her class on to a new lesson even though some students have not yet learned. These kids are pushed ahead with the rest of their class, ready or not, and it is only a matter of time before they give up, stop trying, and begin acting out.

The education reform movement, with its focus on high-stakes testing and privatization through the creation of charter schools and vouchers is a response from dissatisfied customers of public education. These powerful men and women leading the education reform movement are justified in their concerns but their solutions could not be more wrong. They are wrong because of their lack of understanding of how kids learn. They are doing great harm to our nation’s most vulnerable children and to their teachers, schools, and communities.

The education process at work in schools, both public and private, has become obsolete and no longer meets the needs of a diverse population of 21st Century students. Over the decades, while the process has deteriorated, public school teachers, administrators, and policy makers have learned to tolerate what they consider to be an acceptable level of failure. Public school educators blame poverty and segregation for these failures and suggest that it is up to society to address these issues.

Somehow, educators have lost sight of that fact that society has already taken action to address the issues of poverty and segregation. Society has created a system of public education; has built public schools in every community in the U.S.; has allocated trillions of taxpayer’s dollars to support this purpose; and, has hired professional educators who have been trained to teach a diverse population of 21st Century American children. At no time has society carved out exceptions with respect to which children will be taught and at no time has society said there is an acceptable level of failure.

This reality exists for no other reason than we allow it. If we want to put an end to the failure we must completely reinvent the education process. Such a reinvention is a straightforward organizational development project in which we design the education process so that teachers are expected to give every child the time, attention, and support they need to learn. All it requires is a little imagination and a willingness to acknowledge what we all know to be true. What do we know?

That the current education process is set up as a race to see who can learn the most, the fastest. Our response to students who are unable pass practice assignments, quizzes, chapter tests, and state competency exams is, first, to record their Cs, Ds, and Fs in the teachers grade book and, second, to report those grades to parents and the school corporation. Those grades then become part of a child’s permanent academic record and color both our expectations of our students and our students’ expectations of themselves.

We cannot change this reality through incremental changes or through the introduction of new and innovative programs unless they are part of an integral whole. Transformational change requires that we deal with the education process as a systemic whole and that we create a structure with the same diligence and attention to detail that is utilized in developing a software application in which every piece of code is written to serve and support the application’s purpose.

We must take action to transform public education in America before it is too late. The responsibility for this transformational change rests on the shoulders of all public school educators but superintendents—the CEOs of public education—bear the ultimate responsibility. It is time for them to step up and become the powerful, positive leaders that our society needs them to be.

I challenge The School Superintendents Association (AASA) to take the lead and guide its members through the transformation process. Our children and the American people are counting on them, as are public school teachers and administrators. This is the only way to stop the drive to privatization and high stakes testing that threatens our children, their schools and communities. If our superintendents do not accept responsibility and act, to whom can we turn?

I offer a model that I have developed and that was initially presented in my book, Reinventing Education, Hope, and the American Dream: The Challenge for Twenty-First Century America (Createspace, 2013). The model has, since, been refined to accommodate all that I have learned since my book was published over four years ago. The model and an accompanying white paper that lays the logical foundation for the model are available for review at my website at http://www.melhawkinsandassociates.com/education-model-white-paper/.

I challenge the AASA to assemble its most creative members and use my model as a starting point. I believe they will discover that it will work and that authorizing its implementation will be within the statutory power of local school boards. That being said, these leaders of public school corporations throughout the nation are invited to come up with a better solution, if they can. I also challenge teachers, both individually and collectively, to do whatever is in their power to influence their leaders to act.

Is this not the most important issue on the American agenda? Is it not worth our best efforts?

The reality is that if The School Superintendent’s Association, the American Federation of Teachers, the National Education Association, the Bad Ass; Teachers Association, and every other advocacy group in support of public schools, would set aside their differences and focus on their common interests, they would have more than enough power to make education work for all children, even disadvantaged students.

The coup de grace would be that the education reform movement with its focus on testing and privatization would become irrelevant.

We Need To Have a Conversation!

Since I began promoting my education model and reaching out to public school teachers, administrators, and policy makers, I have been baffled by the unwillingness of public school educators to accept responsibility for the failure of so many of their students. Please note that I said responsibility, not blame!

I love teachers and consider teaching to be a noble profession. I want teachers to be successful and to be respected for the vital work they do. I want them to find fulfillment in the art and craft of teaching our nation’s children. For many, however, teaching has become stressful and unfulfilling and too many teachers are leaving the classroom well before retirement.

Sometimes, each of us is required to tell people whom we love the honest truth; the words they need to hear whether or not they want to hear. I want to tell teachers that “what you are doing is not working for all of our nation’s students and it is harming children. Our nation’s children deserve better and so do you.”

In the case of millions of disadvantaged students and/or the non-white, the current education process is doing great harm, often sentencing them to a life of poverty. A life of poverty often means a life of crime, incarceration, and/or an early, violent death. The economic cost of supporting this population of poor, uneducated Americans is enormous and it saps American society of its strength, its spirit, and its shared values. This is unacceptable.

How many of our public school teachers go home every night and feel good about their jobs; how many feel a true sense of accomplishment? There are many schools where teachers do feel good about what they do but there many other schools where the greatest sense of accomplishment a teacher feels is that they have survived the day.

Teachers, principals, and superintendents rarely have an opportunity to see what happens to their students when they leave school and enter the real world. Sure, some students stop in to say hello, but most often these are the students who did well in school. What teachers do not see, up close and personal, is what happens to young people who leave school unprepared for the responsibilities of citizenship, unprepared to compete in the job market, and unable to keep jobs they are fortunate enough to land. What teachers do not see is what happens to their former students, now young men and women, when they find themselves crashing head first into the hard realities of life in the Twenty-first Century.

I wish teachers and administrators could be with me every Thursday evening when I administer the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB) to young men and women who want to enlist in the Armed Services. A significant majority of these young people whom I test in Fort Wayne are from high schools throughout Northeast Indiana. There are a few testers who are 11th graders, received a GED, or who dropped out and did not finish school, and also a few who have one or more years of college. A significant majority of the young men and women I test, however, are high school seniors and recent graduates. While I am not authorized by my employer (the Department of Defense) to share official data regarding ASVAB scores, I can provide some anecdotal information that I think tells an important story that public school teachers and administrators need to hear.

The ASVAB is the entrance exam for the Armed Services and is, also, a vocational aptitude assessment used to determine the types of jobs and training for which candidates are most qualified. In addition, the ASVAB is offered in many high schools as a vocational aptitude test to help students plan for their futures, whether or not they are interested in military service.

For enlistment purposes, applicants must earn an “AFQT” score at least a 31 out of a possible 99. The AFQT score is a composite score of 4 of the 10 tests that make up the ASVAB and includes “arithmetic reasoning,” “word knowledge,” “paragraph comprehension,” and “mathematics knowledge.” While 31 is the minimum score for eligibility and is accepted by some of the Services, some Services have a threshold of 45 or, even higher.

In addition to enlistment eligibility, the DOD uses the scores to determine “desirability” for military service. While 31 is the minimum score for enlistment eligibility, the military does not consider someone to be a “desirable” candidate for enlistment unless they score 50 or higher. Only around half of the young men and women who seek to enlist in the Armed Services score well enough to be considered “desirable” candidates. The proportion of candidates who are ineligible for enlistment because they were unable to score 31 or higher is about one quarter of the testing population.

If a young man or woman is not eligible for enlistment and, therefor, are considered unqualified for jobs in the military, for how many civilian jobs will he or she be qualified? Apply that same comparison with respect to being considered “desirable” for enlistment. Most shocking of all is the number of these young men and women who score below 20, or who earn a single digit score. These latter two groups of young Americans, products of our nation’s public schools, are functionally illiterate and innumerate.

Is it any wonder that the education reform movement has been driven by leaders from business and industry? These powerful business men and women who want to reform public education in America are motivated by the difficulty they have in finding qualified candidates for their businesses.

Some educators scoff at this suggestion and I have heard more than a few declare that it is not their job “to train automaton’s for someone’s company.” As a former business executive, I can assure the reader that neither civilian nor military employers are looking for automatons. Employers are looking for young people with a solid academic foundation; a good work ethic; an ability to communicate effectively with co-workers, suppliers, and customers; are able to think creatively and find solutions to problems; and, are willing to show initiative.

What our teachers should do—what they must do—is prepare kids so they will be able to work wherever they want, according to their interests and abilities and so they can participate in their own governance as citizens of a democratic society.

What I would love for public school teachers and administrators to see are the faces of these candidates for enlistment when I hand them their score as they walk out of the testing room. They arrived at the ASVAB test site with high hopes and expectations that they will find a place for themselves in the military. It is a crushing disappointment when they realize that they are unqualified for enlistment.

As a civilian employer, I recall the same crushing disappointment in the faces of applicants when they were denied employment because they could not demonstrate basic proficiency in math and reading.

What kind of life will a young person have if they are virtually illiterate and innumerate, and unemployable at age 20? What is the opportunity cost to our nation when these young people are unable to provide for themselves and their families? What is the cost to society if they end up in our jails and prisons?

Maybe if educators could see the faces of these young people, up close and personal, they would begin to see that what they are doing in their classrooms does not work for a significant percentage of their students. Maybe they would be less likely to boast about improved graduation rates. Maybe they would be willing to step back and truly examine what they do and why, not for the purpose of rebuttal, but in search of a better solution. What they would see by stepping back is that the education process is failing to meet the needs of far too many of their students.

It is not sufficient for public school educators to say there is nothing they can do until society addresses the problem of poverty. Our society has done something to address the issue of poverty. Our government has created a system of public education, we have built schools in every community, and we have hired professional men and women who have been trained as educators, and we have taxed the American people to pay for those schools and teachers. It is not acceptable for teachers to look around at society and say “who, me?” Is there any other profession in American society where it is acceptable to produce unacceptable outcomes, repeatedly, and do nothing about it?

We all need to understand that it is incredibly challenging to teach children who arrive for their first day of school unprepared, unmotivated, and with minimal parental support but that does not make it okay when they fail. Here is my message to public school teachers throughout the U.S.:

It may not be your fault that the education process is not working but it is your responsibility to do something about it. It is not until we accept responsibility for the challenges we face that we begin to acquire the power to overcome those challenges. The best way to stop the attacks and criticism of misguided reformers is for public school educators to come together as a unified group of professionals and shout out, loudly, that what you are being asked to do does not work. It is not until you have made such a declaration that you will be in a position to create an education process that will work for all children and that will also work for you, our children’s teachers.

Please consider the education model I have developed as one way to meet the needs of all children and, also, as a way to restore teaching to the rewarding endeavor you were seeking when you chose to be a teacher.
http://www.melhawkinsandassociates.com/education-model-white-paper/

If you think you can do a better job, then go for it, but remember, a little bit of tinkering will not work. If we want a solution, we must be willing to create a system that is engineered to meets the needs of children, that will teach them how to be successful, and in which every activity is designed to support teachers and students in the vital work they do. This new solution must be put together with the same diligence and attention to detail as a software application in which every piece of code is written to serve and support the application’s purpose.

Please understand that what you are doing today and the outcomes you are producing will never be satisfactory and will never prepare our nation’s children for the unprecedented challenges of the Twenty-first century. What it will do, however, if you cling to the obsolete process at work in our schools, is assure the success of education reformers who are working hard to shut down public education in America.

Relationships Are an Indispensable Variable in the Education Equation!

Recently, I have heard many very smart people trash such ideas as “personalized learning” and “digital learning.” While I have great respect for all of you, I ask you to consider the question, “what if you are wrong?”

Just because “Education Reformers” who are attacking public education are misusing these concepts does not mean they are bad ideas! Clearly, education reformers are wrong to think that the future of public education will be realized by kids working independently on computers, going their own way, and not needing the help of teachers. Anyone who thinks that would be a good thing and would increase the quality of education our children receive does not know much about working with children.

Those of us who have worked closely with children, especially kids as young as 5 and 6, know that relationships matter more than anything. And make no mistake, relationships are every bit as important to preteens and teenagers. Think back on the kids with whom you had the most success and it will almost always be the students with whom you had the best relationships. Also, think back on those times when you were successful in your own endeavors. More often than not, in those special times in our lives, we were working closely with a favorite teacher, boss, or mentor.

When working with children of any age, not only do relationships matter, they are paramount. Relationships are an indispensable variable in the education equation.

“De-personalized learning” is what kids are getting, now, and it is tragic.

Every year, young children who arrive for their first day of school and who are starting at a disadvantage are placed in a race with other students in their classroom. It is a race in which these children are totally unprepared to compete. When they begin falling behind, we act surprised when they give up on themselves, stop trying, begin acting out, and maybe even drop out of school before graduating.

In the hands of qualified teachers whose minds and hearts are open to new ideas, “personalized learning” can be a powerful strategy. When a child is beginning from his or her own unique starting point on an “academic preparedness continuum” and is being given the time he or she needs, the child will begin to learn and will progress at his or her own best speed. As kids begin to discover that they can learn, they will gain confidence and gradually increase the pace at which they learn. Once kids discover that they can learn, successfully, learning becomes fun!

It is my belief what children need is learning of the most “personalized” kind, from capable and qualified teachers with whom they feel a close, personal connection and who have at their disposal the most sophisticated tools and resources.

Dissing “digital learning” is another example of educators reacting with Pavlovian predictability to neutral names and labels that have become pejorative words and phrases. Just because reformers over-value digital tools does not reduce their potential as tools for capable teachers. And, the fact that they undervalue teachers and the relationships between teachers and students creates a real opportunity for those of us who are against high-stakes testing, privatization, charter schools and vouchers.

It creates an opportunity to demonstrate how effective public schools will be when they employ an education process or model that:

• Optimizes the power of positive relationships between teachers and students;

• Pulls parents into the equation as partners in the education of their sons and daughters;

• Identifies an appropriate starting point for students based upon where they are on an academic preparedness continuum when they arrive at our door for their first day of school;

• Tailors an academic plan to meet the unique requirements of each student, in conjunction with academic standards;

• Expects students to learn as much as they are able at their own best speed;

• Expects teachers to give each child the time and attention they need to learn as much as they are able;

• Expects teachers to help kids learn from mistakes even when it takes multiple attempts and then celebrate each success like the special achievement it is.

• Equips teachers and students with the best tools and resources available, including cutting edge digital tools and learning technology; and,

• Expects students to achieve a sufficient level of mastery of subject matter that they can apply what they have learned in the real world and where nothing less is acceptable.

With such a model, public schools will outperform charter schools and other experimental classrooms at every level.

Champions and heroes of public education, at every level, are asked to take a step back so that your passion does not overshadow your wisdom. The job of public school educators is not to blame poverty and segregation for the failure of so many of our disadvantaged children. Rather it is to accept responsibility by acknowledging that what we are doing does not work for everyone and not giving up until we find a solution that will work.

Public school educators have been blamed for so long for the problems in public education that they will not listen to just anyone. It is for that reason that the champions of public education whom teachers have come to admire and respect are in the best position to influence public school educators at every level. Having the respect of teachers comes with certain responsibilities the most important of which is to provide positive leadership.

I have applied all that I have learned from over thirty years of organizational development and leadership experience to examine and strive to understand all that I witnessed during the 10 years in which I worked as a substitute teacher for an urban public school district. My objective, initially, was to understand why so many children are failing and I very quickly realized that I also needed to understand why some children manage to succeed in spite of all of the disadvantages they face. Once I felt I had a solid understanding, I began applying the skills I developed while working with my clients as an organizational development and leadership consultant.

I was guided by an axiom from operations management that said “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 should be replaced or reinvented. In almost every instance, giving hard working people a process that works proved to be empowering and led to unprecedented success.

In every project the objective and methodology was the same. Apply the principles of systems’ thinking, organizational development, and positive leadership to clearly identify mission and purpose and then design a process that is tasked, structured, and resourced to produce the outcomes my clients were seeking. The outcome of my effort with respect to education was a process or model designed to empower teachers and meet the needs of all students, even the disadvantaged children.

I invite you to examine the model and accompanying white paper at
http://www.melhawkinsandassociates.com/education-model-white-paper/. I then ask for your help in finding at least one superintendent and school district willing to test my model in one of its lowest performing elementary schools.

It’s all about the kids!

Educators and Billionaires: Adversaries or Partners?

Anyone who has worked with kids knows that when an adult has a real connection with a child, amazing things happen. Clearly, some proponents of “personalized learning” or “digital learning” seem unaware of the importance of such relationships and this is tragic. These powerful advocates from the Gates’s to the Zuckerbergs and beyond are squandering hundreds of millions of dollars on initiatives that will ultimately fail. More tragically, the combination of their zeal and power has pushed us further away from a solution.

We need to embrace the utilization of technology in education but rather than involving professional teachers to learn how technology can be folded into the art and craft of teaching, these reformers have drawn a line in the sand. They want to diminish the role of teachers because they have not taken the time to understand why so many children are failing.

In the education model I have introduced, first in 2013 with the publication of my book, Reinventing Education, Hope and the American Dream: The Challenge for Twenty-First Century America (CreateSpace, 2013) and more recently on my website under “Education Model and White Paper, my conclusion is that if our goal is to bring an end to the failure, we need to enhance the relationships between teachers and students (and parents) rather than diminish them. The problem with public schools, today, is that the education process is rigid and obsolete and does not support improving relationships and giving students more time to learn. Rather, it is a system that is structured like a race to see who can learn the most, the fastest, and where there are both winners and losers.

Once we have addressed that issue, as I have done in my model, it opens the door to the utilization of technology to help professional teachers guide their children down an academic plan that has been tailored to the unique needs of the child. The categorical imperative, however, is that the relationships are the key to every interaction between people, and the more fragmented our world becomes the more important these relationships become.

My model changes the structure of the education process and classroom in such a way that teachers are supported in their efforts and that such relationships are an expectation, not something that happens every so often. Anyone reading this who has had a special relationship with a favorite teacher at school, or a favorite boss or supervisor at work, knows that it was during these periods that we were the most productive and achieved the best outcomes. We look back on these special times with regret, particularly when we were in school, that such relationships were not allowed to continue. These relationship could not endure because the education process required that we move kids on to a new grade and a new teacher at the beginning of every school year. The existing education process is focused more on preserving traditions than it is meeting the needs of 21st Century children.

My model changes this reality and makes the formation and preservation of such relationships our highest priority. No matter what we do in life, even if we are programmers writing code in a secret location, our success is ultimately determined by our ability to interact, communicate, and form relationships with other human beings.

Technology in any form, whether “digital learning software” or making full use of our smartphones, will always be tools to help us achieve results and produce outcomes through our interactions with other people. As I wrote in my book, The Difference is You: Power Through Positive Leadership (Create Space, 2013), even in their purest form, the value of assets whether land, money, or time is always measured in terms of their utility to people. The challenge is to keep abreast of new developments and discoveries, in the context of a dynamic environment. This is the job of leadership, in any venue, including public school corporations.

In education, whether public or private, the relationships between teachers and students are paramount whether we are talking about five and six year olds in Kindergarten or teenagers in high school. The second priority for teachers in my model are to pull parents into these vital relationships as partners with their child’s teacher. When there is a positive and enduring bond between the key players in education’s cast of characters, truly amazing things happen.

In her insightful blog post, “The Edu-Tech Billionaires Promote ‘Personalized’ Learning That Lacks the Personal Touch,” Jan Ressinger notes that true collaboration would involve the “billionaires” working with teachers through the NEA and AFT, and through college departments of education.

There is a simple lesson from 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 or reinvented. The one thing of which we can be sure is that the outcomes produced through the initiatives of our “billionaires” have been no more acceptable than the outcomes produced by far too many of our public schools. Our best chance of success is when the business community, even through retired consultants like this author, and professional teachers work together.

The irony is that the outcomes from the charter schools promoted by our billionaire reformers are rarely any more acceptable than those from the public schools the charters were intended to replace. And, why should we be surprised at this? With rare exceptions the charter schools rely on the same obsolete education process as public and most private schools. When are we going to admit that putting different teachers into different classrooms while using the same process will never produce the outcomes we need.

I invite the reader to check out my model and white paper to see how professional teachers, parents, and students can utilize the tools of the 21st Century to transform public education in America. Once we put talented professionals in an environment that is tasked, structured, and resourced to produce the outcomes we want, success is always within our reach.

Every Kid Needs a Favorite Teacher, Even in the Age of Digital Learning

Most of the people reading these words can recall a favorite teacher. If we are lucky, we may have had two, three, or more. However many, these special men and women played an important part in our development and academic success. With the spread of both digital learning and personalized learning, it is imperative that we clarify that the relationships between teachers and students, must always be at the core of academic success.

Relationships are everything in both public education and private, but it is also necessary that teachers have at their disposal and are trained to utilize, fully, the latest in instructional technology. No matter how good a farmer might be in plowing behind a team of beautiful horses or how much such a sight may stir the purist’s heart, their production will never approach that of farmers using the latest agricultural technology.

The impact made by our favorite teachers is the best way to illustrate the importance of the relationship between teachers and students and how powerful those relationships can be, even in the age of digital and personalized learning.

What did our favorite teachers do differently than the others who clutter our memory? Our favorite teachers treated us as if we were special. They liked us and they listened to us and they made us feel important. They believed in us and held out ever higher expectations, challenging us to push beyond our comfort zones, knowing they were close by to help us if we stumbled. They cheered us on and helped us celebrate each of the victories we worked so hard to achieve. They also smiled at us and it was genuine, heart-felt smile that made us glow. They treated us with respect, they trusted us; they wanted us to be the absolute best that we could be. They let us make mistakes without fear of consequences and taught us that mistakes are learning opportunities and the building blocks of knowledge and wisdom. They made learning fun and taught us that learning is a great adventure. We owe a great deal to these special men and women.

For children, relationships are everything. Relationships with their parents, siblings, extended family are vital to the healthy development of children. As their world expands to daycare, nursery schools, head start programs, or regular schools, relationships continue to be the most important ingredient in their ongoing growth and development. Whether their social skills, psychological and emotional development, or formal learning, kids need to feel safe and secure and they need to feel that the people with whom they interact care about them. Security builds confidence, and confidence builds motivation, and motivation leads to success, whatever the level to which we aspire.

The relationship between teachers and students is one of the two most important variables in the formula for academic success and this is true throughout a child’s thirteen years of school. As children get older and must learn to deal with temptations of peer pressure, solid relationships with teachers become more important, not less.

The other is vital variable is the support and commitment of parents. Parents, particularly those of disadvantaged kids, are suspicious because many of their own experiences with schools and teachers were negative. Most of them must be won over, but that won’t happen until teachers are able to demonstrate, in very real ways, that they are having a positive impact on the child.

If the reader has doubts about the importance of parental support and commitment, consider disadvantaged students who excel in spite of the incredible disadvantages they face. What is different about these success stories?

Almost always, when a disadvantaged child excels in school it is because of a parent or guardian who somehow clings to hope that an education will provide a way out for their children. These parents are ferocious in their commitment to make sure the child is motivated to learn and is working hard to learn. These mothers, fathers, grandparents or other guardians are fully prepared to seize their child’s teacher by the throat, figuratively of course, if they think their son or daughter is being treated unfairly or if the teacher is not giving their child the best effort of which they are capable. In these uncommon but almost miraculous success stories, it is the powerful parental commitment that is the difference maker. Without that parental commitment disadvantaged children fail, routinely.

It is only after their son or daughter begins to come home, every afternoon, bubbling about how much he or she loves their teacher that the parents are curious enough to want to learn what is happening. The same is true as parents begin to see their child enjoy success at school and be excited about the new things they have learned. Winning is contagious, even for those sitting on the sidelines. Teachers must be prepared to seize these opportunities to pull parents into partnership.

All educators know these things to be true, and many of you who are reading these words are nodding your head in agreement. What I want the reader to understand, however, is that the current education process is not structured to support and encourage teachers to reach out to parents. It is not an expectation held out for teachers and it is not something for which teachers are held accountable.

If these relationships are as vital as we believe them to be, then working to develop them must be at the top of every educator’s priority list. The reader is invited to read my education model and white paper to see how these expectations and the utilization of personalized learning are integral and interdependent components of a new education process.

Why-oh-Why Do We Do What We Do?

Should the education process at work in private and public schools, be structured as if it is a race to see who learns the most, the fastest? Or, should it be a process in which we help all kids learn as much as they are able at their own best pace?

Should the education process be competition in which some students win and others lose, or should all students learn how to be successful and how to win?

Why is it that even though some students fail to master a lesson, we still move them on to the next lesson with the rest of their classmates?

When we enter a D or F in our gradebook at the end of a lesson module or chapter test, does that mean we are satisfied with that child’s performance? Does it mean that our job on that lesson with that child is completed?

Do we ever stop to consider that we are setting students up for failure on future lessons where success depends on their ability to apply what they have already learned?

If we let these children fall behind, lesson after lesson, how will they ever be able to catch up?

How important is the relationship between teachers and students in determining a student’s success? If we all believe, as I do, that that relationship between teachers and students is essential to a child’s success, why do we sever the relationships, every school year, just because the calendar turns to May and June?

We all know that some children are easier to love and befriend than others but how often do we remind ourselves that the child who is hardest to love is the one who needs it the most?

Almost all of us agree that the involvement of parents as partners in the education of their sons and daughters is important, if not critical, to the success of a student, but how many schools treat the solicitation and welcoming of parents as a high priority? How many make this an integral part of what they do?

Very often, having an adequate time is critical to the success of a student in many aspects of the education process. So, why do we not make time?

We mentioned, earlier in this post, that bonding with one’s teacher can make all the difference in the success of a child and that forming such bonds can take an entire school year for some kids. What they need is more time with the teachers with whom a student has bonded, so why do we make them start over with a new teacher in August or September; often, a teacher they may have never met?

Given that having sufficient time on lessons is critical to the child’s success, especially for children who must start from behind or who struggle, why is allowing sufficient time to learn from one’s mistakes not at the top of our priority list? Why do we not make giving students the time they need to learn an expectation of teachers, everywhere?

If most of us understand that our ability to learn from our mistakes is a critical component of the learning process, why do we not embrace mistakes as learning opportunities? Many teachers reading these words will insist that, “Oh but we do!” and they mean that, sincerely, but the evidence that they do not is compelling.

Mistakes are critical to the learning process but when we count the mistakes students make against them, what kind of message are we sending. Teachers use the number or percentage of mistakes a student makes as one of the factors that determine the grades they record in their grade books. How can students believe mistakes are nothing to be afraid of when the consequences of those mistakes are adverse? This is one of those occasions where there’s an obvious disconnect between the words policy makers and administrators say and the things they require teachers to do.

Why do we focus on failure rather than success? In everything we do, the level of enthusiasm for that activity is a function of how successful we are. The more we win, the more we want to play, and the activities at which we win most consistently are the activities we enjoy the most. Winning is a form of success, however transitory, and successful people are almost always winners.

Losing, on the other hand, is a form of failure. When we lose repeatedly—when we rarely experience success—how long before we stop believing success to be attainable? How long before we give up and become unwilling to participate? How long before we lose interest and stop trying? If all we ever do is lose (fail) how do we not think of ourselves as a loser and a failure?

Why-oh-why would we ever want to teach children to view themselves as a failure and as a loser?

There is no question that many student excel in public schools in spite of the flaws in the education process. For kids who begin with a disadvantage—who start from behind—however, there are few success stories. Most disadvantaged students leave school with very few choices about what to do with their lives in order to find happiness and meaning. Far too many end up on the schoolhouse to jailhouse express.

The question we might want to ask ourselves is, how much more would our exceptional students accomplish, academically, if they were not asked to slow down and wait for classmates; if they were free from the distractions caused by students who have given up on themselves and have stopped trying? Even our most accomplished students must endure the adverse impact of a system that is flawed in so many ways.

Why-oh-why do we do what we do? Is it because this is the best we can do? Or, is it because we do not challenge our assumptions; because we do not stop, routinely, to make sure that what we do serves our mission and purpose? Is it because this is the way we have always done it?

Whatever the reason, how can we ever justify the failure of so many our nation’s precious children? How can we atone for the opportunity cost to society of huge population of children who will never reach their potential; who will never make the contributions to society that we should have been able to expect? How do we even calculate the value lost as a result of this opportunity cost to a nation that so desperately needs the very best of every single American man, woman, and child?

Why-oh-why-oh-why?

Seeing the Forest through the Trees

How is it that some of the nation’s most intelligent and accomplished people overlook a simple truth. As trite as it may be, the expression “can’t see the forest for the trees!” is as true as it is timeless. In the midst of the trees, or any other complex reality, it is incredibly difficult to see the whole of which we are apart. The consequence of being so immersed in the detail is that we are not fully aware of the external forces that influence whatever it is that we do. Without that broader perspective and the knowledge and understanding it provides, we find it difficult to resolve the challenges we face.

The analogy is very much like the reality in public education. Public school teachers, administrators, and policy makers work hard to address the challenges they face, particularly those in communities populated by large numbers of disadvantaged students, and yet satisfactory solutions elude us. Public school teachers and administrators seem disconnected from what outsiders perceive as the reality. Educators judge their work by the effort and commitment they put into teaching our children while those outside of the system judge the work of our schools by the performance of its graduates. Far too often those assessments are on opposite ends of the curve.

That raises the operative question. How do we judge any process developed to produce a product, service or any other outcome? Do we judge those outcomes by how hard people think they work and how much they say they care, or by the quality and utility of the outcomes, themselves?

The incremental improvements made in public schools over the last half century are comparable to course corrections of a ship at sea. The corrections are intended to allow the ship to arrive more quickly to its destination. If the destination, itself, is incorrect, however, the course adjustments are not only irrelevant, they might divert us even farther from our destination.

With respect to our system of public education, the education process as it is currently designed is neither tasked, structured, nor resourced to optimize each child’s academic success, particularly disadvantaged kids. The data from public schools in communities all over the U.S. supports this assertion. What we hear so often from public school educators is that “public schools are better than they have ever been.”

How these educators respond to challenges about the low performance of disadvantaged students provides insight into our dilemma. What educators say is that the performance of these kids is a consequence of poverty and segregation and fixing these socio-economic issues is the responsibility of society; not public schools and teachers. The unfortunate result of this disavowal of responsibility is that, in response to a half-century of poor performance of the disadvantaged, public school educators have made no substantive changes to the education process. They have, instead, relied on incremental improvements that are as irrelevant to American society as the course corrections at sea, by ships steaming toward the wrong destination.

It is clear to this observer—one who has spent an entire career working to help my organizations and clients fix ineffectual processes on the one hand and who has walked in the shoes of public school teachers while subbing, on the other—that the education process at work in our schools is fatally flawed. Because it is flawed, it has proven almost impossible for children who start at a disadvantage to acquire the knowledge and skills they will need to escape poverty and become fully productive and responsible citizens. The fact that public school educators have done nothing to address this critical deficiency is the motivating force behind the education reform movement.

What we need from public school educators is for them to acknowledge what they know to be true. The process does not work for disadvantaged kids.

The good news is that the reinvention of the education process is a relatively easy thing to do. All it requires is that we take the time to re-examine what it is that all kids need, including the disadvantaged, and then engineer a structure that is designed for the express purpose of meeting those needs. This is what this author has done in creating a new education model.

So what do kids need?

1) What kids need is more time on lessons with which they struggle. They must not be pushed to move on to the next lesson before they have mastered a current one. As success on many lessons depends on a student’s ability to apply what they have already learned, struggling students are set up for failure, are rarely able to catch up, and fall further behind. This repetitive bruising of young egos is devastating. .

2) What kids need is a fair starting point on a unique academic plan that builds on what they know and what they can do. What matters is whether each of the children for whom we are responsible learns as much as they are able at their own best speed. Students are not competing with one another in the classroom rather they are each laying their own foundation and building for their own unique futures.

3) What kids need are warm and nurturing relationships with all of the adults who share responsibility for teaching, protecting, caring, and advocating for them and the more such people there are the better off the child.

4) Children need the people who care, protect, teach, and advocate for them to work together as a team. The more these educators, mentors, and care givers communicate with one another and work together, the better it is for the child. This need places a premium on the parents and teachers working together as partners to be a positive force in the lives of our children.

5) Children need these relationships to be stable and enduring. We want each child to have the same quality of relationships that many of us recall when we think back on our favorite teachers. Often, it takes an entire school year to create these special bonds and, far too frequently, it never happens within as single school year. Once formed, why would we want to sever such relationships because it is May or June?

6) Kids need to experience and celebrate success at every opportunity. They must also learn that success is neither a destination nor a trophy. Success is a process in which we learn how to set goals and objectives, how to achieve them by learning from the mistakes we make along the way. It is the child’s mistakes that point us to areas where they need more work. We want children and teachers to think of mistakes as the building blocks of success and accomplishment.

7) Our children need to master the skills, knowledge, and discipline they will need in order to have real and meaningful choices available to them when they leave school. This is only possible when our children are able to utilize in the real world that which they have learned. If they cannot use it, they have not learned it and our job on with that child is not yet done. It serves no one’s interest when a child is allowed to fail.

Creating an education process that is tasked, structured and resourced to help children meet their needs is our responsibility and it is eminently doable. It simply requires that we acknowledge that the existing process is irreparable and then go back to the drawing board.

Use Your Imagination and Experience as a Positive Force for Change Rather Than As an Obstacle!

In almost any other venue in American society, when something is not working properly we waste little time before we fix it. We may try to fiddle with the problem for a while but if that fails to produce the outcomes we want we move quickly to revamp or replace a faulty component or process. Very few of us are willing to put up with disappointing outcomes.

This is especially true in business. Few businesses can endure dissatisfied customers as doing so is the quickest way to lose one’s business. When a pattern of disappointing outcomes is recognized, business owners feel a sense of urgency to find a solution. Only rarely will tinkering or other incremental adjustments do the trick. What is needed is a trip back to the drawing board, analyzing feedback, clarifying purpose and objectives, challenging one’s assumptions, and finding a new solution. Very often, the new solution involves a radical departure from the manner in which things were done in the past.

“But, this is the way we have always done it” is never an acceptable answer to dissatisfied customers. Learning how to be an agent for change is one of the core principles of positive leadership.

How is it that the American people can be tolerant to the point of disinterest in the fact that millions of American children are failing in public schools. Disadvantaged kids failing in a nation that boasts of American ingenuity and its commitment to human rights? It seems incongruous. Do we not care about disadvantaged kids? Do we think them incapable of learning and therefore undeserving of our time and attention?

In my last blog post, I quoted Linda Darling-Hammond from her book The Flat World and Education: How America’s Commitment to Equity Will Determine Our Future, (Teachers College Press, 2010). Dr. Darling-Hammond is President and CEO of the Learning Policy Institute, a Professor Emeritus of Education at Stanford University where she is Faculty Director of the Stanford Center for Opportunity Policy in Education. 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 the midst of the failure of so many of our most precious children, how is it that public school educators do little more than ask teachers to try harder while the education reformers are on a mission to shut them down? How is it that public school educators and the advocates that support them leave some of the most fundamental assumptions in public education unchallenged? Challenging assumptions is also one of the core principles of positive leadership:

• Does it really make sense for the education process at work in our public schools to be structured as if education is a race to see who can learn the most, the fastest?

• Do we really want public education to be a competition in which some kids win and others lose?

• How can we continue to justify asking children to move from one lesson to the next, one semester after another, and from grade to grade when they are unable to apply much of what they were expected to learn.

• Do we never second guess our tradition of accepting the failure of a significant percentage of public school students as an unalterable given?

• Does it still make sense to ask all children to progress through academic standards at the same pace as other children of the same age, even though there is great disparity in their level of academic preparedness?

• Other than the fact that this is the way we have done it for over a century, does it still make sense to move students from Kindergarten through grade 12, changing teachers every year?

• Is it fair to kids who want to learn to see valuable classroom time usurped as teachers allocate increasingly larger percentages of their time to unmotivated students who act out in class and exhibit no motivation to learn?

• Do we ever consider the possibility that there might be a better way to help kids learn?

It is so easy to blame public school teachers, whom I consider to be unsung heroes, for the problems in their schools and communities but doing so is no different than blaming soldiers on the front lines of combat for the faulty strategy and tactics of their commanders.

Our public school teachers need our help not our recriminations and they need our patience as it is only natural that they be resistant to change. That being said, the best thing public school teachers can do in their own best interests and the interests of their students is speak out about the inadequacies of the education process.

The education process at work in schools all over the U.S., both public and private, does not provide our children with the best chance to learn and it does not place our teachers in a position to teach at the top of their ability. The education process and the entire system of public education is flawed. Not only is it destroying young lives it is robbing our nation and our society of its ability to provide a safe community for its citizens, to compete successfully in a dynamic world economy, and to participate meaningfully in an increasingly interdependent global society.

Public school educators are challenged to step back to a vantage point from which the educational process can be examined as an integral whole. You are invited to evaluate the education model I have developed and an accompanying white paper at http://www.melhawkinsandassociates.com/education-model-white-paper/ If you do not think my model will work, use it as a springboard to come up with something that will work. Use your experience and imagination as a positive force for change rather than be an obstacle in the way of progress.