A Minefield of Distractions or a New Education Model

In a recent exchange on Twitter, I made a comment that “Relationships put teachers in position to teach but too often the process gets in the way. [The] Process can be designed to clear the way, so teachers are always able to seize those moments. The existing education process is a minefield of distractions.”

A good athlete or team will put themselves in a position where they can win a game. That doesn’t mean they win every time, but they give themselves a chance to win. There are no certainties in athletic competitions just as there are no certainties in classroom teaching. In many ways, teaching is like the practice of medicine. Public school teachers and physicians are craftspeople working to apply an uncertain science to help people. Good teachers, like good physicians, are always working to develop their craft and they never run out of things to learn and new things to try.

What I want to spend a few paragraphs discussing is the last part of the sentence, “relationships put teachers in a position to teach but, too often, the process gets in the way.”

For going on six years I have been striving to make the point to public school teachers that the education process within which they work gets in their way. The existing process truly is a minefield of distractions. I have yet to find the correct words to explain myself in a way that resonates with teachers, however.

Public school teachers have been teaching within the same structure and education process for their whole careers. It’s the same education process within which their own teachers had to work and the same one within which their teachers’ teachers had to work. The current education process and structure have become an “unalterable given” in the minds of public school educators and it does not put them in a position to win/teach very often. When it does put them in position, teachers must often make an extraordinary effort to accomplish their objective with a student or class. It is an extraordinary effort of the type that only the most dedicated teachers are inclined to make.

Think about how an operating room is constructed to serve every need of the surgeon. It has been engineered to assure the surgeon has whatever he or she needs, within easy reach. It is designed around the way a surgeon works and thinks and the way they have been trained to react to unexpected events and crises.

One can even see this process of “designing to specifications” on state-of-the-art assembly lines in a manufacturing venue; even to the detail that when the worker needs a cap screw or nut, all they do is turn and reach, knowing it will be there. It is applied ergonomics where the environment and all physical resources are designed and organized to optimize the capability of the physician or production worker.

Why would we not want to create the same work environment for teachers? Is there any job in society more important than teaching? Is there anything in society more important than our children? How would our children grow up to be doctors, scientists, engineers, teachers or other professionals if were not for our teachers?

Teachers work with a population of students that is diverse to the extreme; each student has a unique set of needs and abilities to which the teacher must respond; and each subject area offers multiple strategies to convey content and concepts to their students. Teachers must, however, practice their extraordinarily complex craft within the context of a brittle structure, regimented to the nth degree, following an inflexible set of academic standards, while working within the confines of an arbitrary schedule.

We all understand how important it is for teachers to form close, nurturing relationships with their students, but the education process is not designed in a way that supports teachers and students through that relationship-building activity. There are too many kids for too few teachers with too little time, and no backup systems to help teachers spend extra time with the children with whom it is the most difficult to connect. Then, whatever progress is made in forming those relationships is scrapped at the end of a school year when kids move on to the next grade where they will start, anew, with another teacher with whom they may or may not be able to bond.

We all understand how important it is to pull parents into the process as partners, sharing responsibility for the education of their sons and daughters, but there is no well-developed strategy integrated within the daily activities of teaching for accomplishing this objective.

We all know kids arrive for their first day of school with cavernous disparity with respect to academic preparedness and motivation to learn, but we make no formal effort to assess their state of readiness, so we can formulate a strategy that optimizes our ability to attend to their unique requirements.

We all believe that every child needs time to learn and that the best way for most children to learn is to get concentrated help to understand their mistakes and then have an opportunity to try again and apply the lessons learned. We do our best, of course, but the age-old process very quickly prompts us to move the class on to a new lesson, knowing that there are any number of students who are not ready. We don’t like it, but this is the way the process is designed to work and we all feel the burden of competency examinations looming in the future. We are asked to conform to the arbitrary structure, process, and schedule rather than expecting these things to conform to the needs of our students and teachers. How does this improve academic preparedness and motivation to learn?

It is just common sense that when we stop a lesson before a child understands, because time is up, that they will be that much less prepared to succeed on the next lesson, which may well require that they apply what they have already learned. Kids cannot effectively apply knowledge they’ve been unable to gain because an arbitrary schedule was the priority.

Almost everyone understands that it is through our successes, and the celebration of them, that we gain confidence in ourselves, thus improving the odds for a student’s successful mastery of future lessons.

When we record a failing grade, the research has long concluded that this has a labeling effect that colors their teachers’ perception of a child’s ability to learn, diminishes the student’s self-esteem, and makes it easy for them to believe what they hear when their classmates refer to them as one of the dumb kids.

How many more examples do we need to offer before educators begin to see that the existing education process has grown obsolete and truly is a minefield of distractions from their purpose. It is not created to make their job easy or to make learning easy and fun for students, or to help them develop a powerful motivation to learn. The process is not teacher/student focused.

Why don’t educators and education policy makers go back to the drawing board and start from scratch to create an education process that utilizes applied ergonomics to help teachers bond with their students; pull parents in as partners; makes sure every child is able to start from the exact point on the academic preparedness continuum where they were when they arrived at our door; that is structured in a way that helps us tailor an academic path to meet the unique requirements of each child; that gives each student however much time they need to learn a given lesson because a teacher’s job is not done unless the child can utilize what they have learned.

From about the middle of 2006 until late in 2013, creating such a teaching/learning environment has been my focus. I started by striving to make sense of what I had witnessed as a substitute teacher from 2002 through 2012. I had retired from my positive leadership and organizational development consulting business to pursue my lifelong dream of writing books and chose to sub to earn some extra income. As I began to observe the challenges faced by both teachers and students, it seemed natural to begin applying my experience in positive leadership and organizational development consulting to address a process that was clearly dysfunctional.

One of my specialties was evaluating the production and service-delivery processes of clients who were frustrated that their outcomes were unacceptable. My job was to analyze the process and then modify it to produce better outcomes or, far more often, reinvent the process to produce the desired outcomes. It was simply a process of making sure the internal logic and activity of the process were perfectly aligned to serve its purpose. It involved organizing the activity of the people doing the work to make sure they remained focused on that purpose and ensure that the process was engineered in a way that every action and resource existed to support the work people were asked to do; to help them do their jobs to the highest standards of quality.

The result of my work on the education process was reported, first, in my book Reinventing Education, Hope, and the American Dream: the Challenge For Twenty-First Century America, which includes the initial version of a new education model. After the book’s publication, in 2013, I continued to work to refine the process and published those results on my blog, first in a white paper that was written to lay the foundation for the education model and then present the model, itself. During this time, I also published over 150 articles on the challenges facing teachers and students in the public-school districts of America. They were written to challenge teachers to break out of their conventional boundaries and undergo a paradigm shift.

My intention was to create a system much like what I outlined above; an education process molded around the relationship between teachers and their students, putting teachers in a position to teach and children in a position to learn. And, then defining purpose and objectives, creating a structure to support the efforts of people, and the other components of an effective service delivery process. I continue to revise the model as I learn things from you, the professional educators with whom I interact on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Email, and through my blog.

I invite you to look at http://www.melhawkinsandassociates.com/education-model-white-paper/. What do you have to lose? Imagine what it would be to work in an environment that was conceived and constructed to support you in your work in every conceivable way.

What If We Were Starting from Scratch?

For the past few years I have been suggesting that if we are not getting the outcomes we need from our public schools—if too many kids are failing—it is time to go back to the drawing board. This is, also, what Chris Weber (@webereducation) has written about, when he suggests the question we should all be asking is:

“How would we design schools, classrooms, teaching, and learning if we started from scratch?”

Starting from scratch is what I have done to create an education model that I believe will enable us to give each child the quality education they deserve. In the white paper that accompanies my education model and that provides the logical foundation for it, I wrote:

“What I have endeavored to do is apply a systems’ thinking approach to examine public education in America, and the educational process at work within that system, as an integral whole. Systems’ thinking, introduced by Peter Senge in his book, The Fifth Discipline: The Art & Practice of The Learning Organization (Doubleday, New York, 1990), allows one to challenge his or her fundamental assumptions and to understand how a system is structured to produce the results it gets. One also begins to see how one’s own actions, as a player within the system, contribute to its disappointing outcomes.”

And,

“Through the utilization of the tools and principles of systems thinking, positive leadership, and application of organizational principles, we need to identify clear objectives for the creation of an educational process that will produce the results we want and for creating the structure to support those objectives.”

The new process we create must be engineered to facilitate, in every conceivable way, the specific components we determine to be essential if we are to teach the whole child.

Since I have been active on Twitter the number of times educators—teachers, administrators, principals and superintendents—have been talking about the importance of building relationships with students has increased exponentially. Particularly in the aftermath of the most recent school shooting, everyone has been stressing the importance of conveying to kids that they are loved. When some students are unable to form close relationships with their teachers and other students they are at risk of becoming isolated, picked on, bullied, or even ignored. These are the kids who may feel driven to do desperate, dangerous things.

Now, think about your own school and classroom and examine where the responsibility for building warm nurturing relationship with students falls on your priority list. Think about how much of your time are you able to allocate to this activity that we understand to be so vital.

Also, think about the 5 and 6-year-old students who arrive for their first day of school. Where on their first teacher’s priority list do we find “work to develop warm, nurturing relationships with each child” and how much of that first-year teacher’s time is allocated for that purpose? Is it 100 percent? Is it 50 percent? Or, is it somewhere below 25 or even 10 percent? How does that percentage change as class size increases from 20 to 25 students or even to 35 students?

How much of a teacher’s time can be allocated to winning the trust and affection of each child? How do we find time to do all of the other things demanded of us as teachers?

As it turns out, the relationships, themselves, are key to accomplishing all that is demanded of us. If we have the relationships it makes everything else easier. Most important of all is that once we have built the relationships, everything else we do reinforces and helps us sustain them.

After we have worked so hard for an entire school year to build and solidify our relationships with our students, and have worked to lay the foundation for learning does it really make sense to sever those relationships. Is it truly in the child’s best interests to say goodbye to their favorite teacher and ask them to start all over in the fall, with a teacher who may be a complete stranger? Is this really how we teach the whole child?

If we are honest with ourselves, we must acknowledge that the existing educational process was not created for this purpose and it can only be bent and stretched so far.

So, what is the answer? If we truly believe that forming these special relationships with our students is of vital importance, how do we give it the priority it deserves? And, how do we do all of the other things that our students need if they are to succeed?

The answer, today, is that we cannot do it all because the existing education process is neither tasked, structured nor supported to give the whole child what he or she needs to learn and grow.
What we must do is reinvent, re-engineer, or redesign the process in such a way that its priorities are clear.

Effective systems do not just happen, and rarely can a dysfunctional system be sufficiently repaired to do what we need it to do. Systems, organizations, and processes are designed with great attention to detail to ensure that purpose and objectives are clear and that the structure is created to support that purpose. They are complex systems of human behavior and students of the disciplines of organizational leadership have worked to understand their inner dynamics. We cannot just hope the organizations and processes we create will accomplish their purpose and produce the outcomes we are seeking. We must ensure that every activity undertaken exists to support our purpose and mission and we must provide relentless positive leadership to sustain our effort.

The education model I have created has been designed to do this and more? I urge the reader to take the time to examine the model, not it search of reasons why it will not or cannot work rather with the hope that it might. It is available for your review at http://www.melhawkinsandassociates.com/education-model-white-paper/

Time: An Essential Variable in the Education Equation

In recent posts we have talked much about the critical role relationships play in learning. Strong, nurturing, enduring relationships between teachers and students is one of the essential variables of the education equation. If parents can be pulled into the relationship as partners, sharing responsibility for the education of their children, the students’ probability of success will soar.

One of the other essential variables in the education equation is time. Not just time by itself, but time and our patient attention. In most school settings; whether public schools, private, parochial, or charter schools; the education process is structured around arbitrary schedules of time. This is not surprising because everything human beings do is done within the context of time. Not all things are meant to be on a predetermined schedule, however.

If you have ever been a part of a child’s life from birth to adulthood, you know that each child is unique and learns at their own pace. The human brain, particularly a child’s brain, is a remarkable thing, possibly the most remarkable thing in all creation. A child’s brain is programmed to learn; it is like a sponge that soaks up the world around it. While science has determined that there is a clear developmental path through which children grow and mature, the variance in rates of childhood development can be great. If your eldest child walks at 12 months and speaks in sentences by 18 months, there is no reason to be concerned when you second child takes a first step at 13 months and says only a few words at one-and-a-half. The only thing that matters is that the important bases are touched and that once a skill is acquired the child can utilize it, effectively.

When children arrive for their first day of school, we see much the same pattern. Some are already reading by that monumental first day but many of their new classmates are not. Some know their letters and numbers, others may know colors and shapes. Where they fall with respect to an academic preparedness continuum is determined by the unique characteristics of their individual lives and genetic capability. Not only do they have varying starting points, some learn more quickly than others and their manner of learning may differ. Just like early childhood development, however, the bottom line is that they all can and will learn. The question is: How can we best help them learn?

Everything else changes beginning on that first day of school. No longer is the pace and direction of a child’s development determined by nature or a child’s interests and talents. Pace and direction are now guided by academic standards that are essentially an arbitrary determination of things educators believe children must learn if they are to enter adulthood with choices. When I suggest that the standards are arbitrary, I am not suggesting they have been poorly researched, rather that there is an underlying assumption that the standards and their accompanying timelines are appropriate for all “non-special needs students.” This assumption has a powerful influence on the academic success and failure of our students.

No longer is learning a natural and fun process that progresses at the child’s own pace. The first change with which children are confronted is that specific learning objectives have been identified and prioritized. The second change is that the specific learning objectives have also been correlated to a schedule that provides guidelines for the pace of learning. The expectation of teachers is that they guide their students down an academic path, as outlined by state standards and at a pace that conforms to what has been determined to be an acceptable rate of progress. Teachers have some latitude to help if the number of students who are getting off to a slow start is small. The larger the population of students who struggle and the older they get, however, the more problematic it becomes for teachers.

To gage how well students have progressed through the outline of academic standards, competency assessments have been developed. It turns out that the performance of students, on these assessments, has been determined to be an effective way to hold schools and teachers accountable for the performance of their students. Therefore, the process has come to be known as high-stakes testing.

The process begins to break down when individual students are unable to keep pace and we can be certain that learning is no longer fun for these children.

As it turns out, the two most essential variables of the education equation; which I have suggested are enduring relationships between teachers and students (not to mention parents) and that children are given however much time and patient attention they need to learn at their unique pace, are difficult to provide within the context of the current education process. The education process is comprised of two essential components. The first are the academic standards and schedules and their accompanying competency assessments; and, the second is the way teachers, classrooms, students, and resources are organized to achieve their purpose.

Think about the current education process as a conveyor belt designed to move kids along the path outlined by academic standards and that the speed with which it moves is an arbitrary schedule intended to correspond to the benchmarks placed along the path. The way we have organized teachers is that they ride along with their students as the conveyor belt moves toward its destination.

When we place a diverse population of children on that belt it appears to work well for many of our students. Other students, however, lack the skills (academic preparedness and pace of learning) that enable them to remain secure in their seats. Gradually, these children begin to fall off the belt and they lack the ability to climb back on, unassisted. Their teachers reach out to them and retrieve as many as they can, while others fall quickly out of reach. The students who have been retrieved still lack the skill necessary to hang on, however, so they fall off again and again.

Never are teachers able to retrieve all students who have fallen behind and the population of children who are failing at school grows, unrelentingly. These young people have fallen off the conveyor belt and they have no where to go other than to be swallowed up by a maelstrom of poverty and failure that plagues our society.

Until we abandon the conveyor belt as obsolete and replace it with an education process that is engineered to meet each child’s unique requirements, students will continue to fail no matter how hard our teachers work; even with innovative and sophisticated tools and methodologies that are being developed.

If, however, we utilize our imaginations, in combination with our education and experience, to design and construct a process around the way children learn, and that empowers both teachers and students, we can help each child receive the best education of which they are capable. A nice bonus will be the discovery that, in the right environment, most of our innovations with which we have been struggling will work.

Once again, I urge you to take time to review my white paper and education model to see one way we can create a teacher/student-centered education process. Please read it not in search of reasons why it will not or cannot work, rather in hope that it might work. The model, which will be available for public school systems to use, free of charge, is available for your review at http://www.melhawkinsandassociates.com/education-model-white-paper/ You are also invited to peruse the other 150 plus articles posted on this blog, Education, Hope, and the American Dream.

“Street Smart” Translates to Every Other Kind of Smart!

When working with kids, outside of a classroom setting, their level of “street smart” is easy to recognize. What “street smart” tells us is that these kids can learn anything that is important to them. The fact that so many do not learn in school is because it is not important to them. If their families, from their own negative school experiences, do not value education we can be certain child will not. The operative question, therefore, is how do we make learning at school important to all our students?

The key is relationships but given how many people of color and other disadvantaged Americans are suspicious of teachers, especially white teachers, it is not easy to break through. This is particularly true when skeptical parents tell their kids, “don’t let the teachers treat you unfairly” and this is a common occurrence. As a juvenile probation officer almost every mother I spoke with expressed concern about their child being treated fairly at school. What I also discovered was that listening to them works better than talking, and if they feel they are being interrogated, they will clam up quickly. If I was patient and just engaged in a normal dialogue with them, they would become more forthcoming with info about themselves and their families.

For a white teacher with children of color, this is most true and I am confident that most teachers know this. It is so easy when we are busy, however, to revert to interrogation and giving orders. When they begin to learn that you have a genuine interest in hearing what they have to say—hearing their story—they become much more open. Nothing convinces them they are important to you better than paying attention to them.

The way we win the parents over is by winning their kids over. When they start talking to parents about their teacher as being nice, a parent or guardian’s natural curiosity becomes an ally.

Especially early, as teachers work to form relationships with new students, the kids will be quick to pass judgment on their teacher. It is ironic that so many teachers and parents think their children never listen to them. Whether or not they appear to be listening, I can assure you that they hear and see everything you say and do. And, when what you say does not jive with what you do, your integrity is diminished. You won’t know this, unfortunately, until you feel them pulling away from you, emotionally.

It is an oversimplification, I know, but things we wish to teach them in school are not important to them until they become convinced that they, the students, are important to us. I also learned that as suspicious as they may be, they hunger for closeness with adults. They will not open themselves to a teacher, however, until they begin to trust.

In the summer of 1966, in Philadelphia, I supervised a churchyard recreation program. The church sat on the border between the territories of two gangs and our purpose was to offer a sanctuary for kids—no gang recruiters allowed. All I did was play with the kids, ages 8 to 16, and listen to them, rarely offering advice, not that I had much advice to offer at age 20. My goal was to keep them coming and on any given day we would have between 15 to 30 kids on the grounds, some days even more. The only evidence that I was making a personal connection to them as individuals was 1) the fact they came every day, and 2) they began to share more intimate details about their lives.

The summer after my time in Philadelphia, I was in the Army, stationed in Maryland. I went back for a weekend, not knowing whether I would even be remembered. When I walked into the churchyard, the teenagers were aloof, at first, but the young kids charged me and dragged me to the ground. If you have ever been mauled by a litter of puppies, you can appreciate how I felt. Never had I felt more loved than I did wrestling under that pile of kids. The teens quickly came around, as well.

While I choose to believe that teachers care deeply about their students I do not believe enough of them take the time to listen to their students and then demonstrate that they care through their actions. Like anything else, we need to sell them on our commitment to their success. When we have accomplished that, parents become so much more accessible.

One more story, this one from my first year of subbing, and then I will get on with my point.

It had been 36 years since my summer in Philadelphia and almost 25 years from my last day as a probation officer when I subbed for a 3rd grade class. I had only been subbing for a few weeks After the first 20 minutes, I noticed a young black boy was following me around the classroom. When I gave a teacher a questioning glance she said, “he won’t stay in his seat. We can’t get him to listen to or do much of anything.” For the entire day, he was my shadow. He let me help him with his assignments; read to him; and, when we marched to art class, to lunch, or recess, he held my hand. Again, the teachers were astonished and told me he never let anyone get close to him.

I was only at that school for one day. One of the most difficult things about subbing is that you may never see the same kids again and rarely get an opportunity to build on even the smallest foundation of the occasional connections you make. To this day, I am ashamed to say that I did not stay in touch with that little boy, whether as a tutor, or “big brother,” or some other way. My only excuse was that, in addition to dealing with a couple of personal issues at the time, I was a rookie substitute teacher and was feeling overwhelmed by what I was experiencing, every day. I think of that child, often, and wonder how he is doing. He would be in his late twenties by now.

Back when I worked closely with kids I would have responded to this child’s need for affection, instinctively. In that summer in 1966, on Germantown Avenue, and when I began work as a juvenile probation officer a few years later, I learned far more from my kids than they learned from me. The most important lesson of all was that it is all about caring.

Teachers are just people and there are times when all are distracted by personal issues. Somehow, teachers must have sufficient strength of character and relentless commitment to their purpose, however, that they are able to set their personal issues aside when they walk into their school each morning. If you treat each student as if he or she is your number one priority; listen to them empathically and are able to convey through your words and actions that they are special, you gain a tremendous amount of leverage with respect to your ability to influence them in a positive way.

If you have any experience at all you know that you can never let up because they will test you almost every day, to reassure themselves that your concern for them is genuine. This lesson had quite an impact on me as a father and I think the lesson applies to teachers and parents, alike.

“It is every bit as important that we pass the tests our kids give us as it is that they pass the tests we give them.”

How often we pass their tests and demonstrate unconditional love and concern has a profound effect on our ability to make a difference in their lives. It is imperative that we not wait until they are 16 before we begin working to form the kind of connections that, truly, will transform lives. We need to recreate the education process so that its over-riding priority must be to help teachers form close, personal bonds with their students beginning on their first day of school. The structure must be engineered to support this purpose, time must be fully allocated, the ratio of teacher to student must be sufficient, and teachers and students must be allowed to remain together for more than just one school year.

From the first day a 5 or 6-year old child arrives at school, our focus must be to treat each boy and girl as a beautiful, unique child of creation. For some children it will be easy but there are some who will test us, severely. They are the children about whom my grandmother was referring when she told me that the “child who is the hardest to love is the one who needs it the most.”

Their first few weeks of school may the most important period of a child’s academic life. Making certain they feel special and are not being pushed beyond their cusp of knowledge and understanding must be our absolute priority. Thereafter, the education process must be a place where they feel special, where they discover that learning is a process they can master and where their successes are celebrated. The powerful self-esteem that comes from feeling special, combined with the confidence that they can create success for themselves will ensure that they will have choices in life; real choices.

The way our schools and classrooms are structured today and the misguided expectations we place on our students and teachers do not allow us to give our students what they need most. Nothing we can do, incrementally, will be enough. The process must be reinvented to fulfill its purpose. A process exists for no other purpose.

We can create a process that helps us provide our students with a solid foundation upon which they can build a future for themselves. What we discover is “street smart” translates to every other kind of “smart.” If we accomplish this for our students we will have also created a process that provides teachers with the sense of personal and professional fulfillment that comes when we help another human being create a life for themselves,

We have the power to create such a process. Time and children are being wasted while we tinker with this or that. Working together, educators like you and advocates like me have the power to reinvent the education process. All it takes is our imagination, courage, and determination to accept nothing less than the best for our students and nothing less than the best for ourselves.

While writing this post, today, I saw a tweet from and Jimmy Casas, an educator, (@casas_jimmy) who tweeted:

“Let’s not hide behind the standard line “I don’t have time.” We determine what we have time for & what we don’t. When something matters a great deal to us, let’s find a way to make it happen. . . .”

It fit perfectly with the theme of this post. It helps when the structure and process are created to focus on purpose. If our purpose is that all kids learn then the process makes providing that time its priority. The proper response is not “I don’t have time” rather it is “that’s what I’m here for!”

Please take the time to examine my education model at http://bit.ly/2k53li3 not in search of reasons why it cannot or will not work rather looking with hope that it might work. Also check out some of the 150 or more articles posted on my blog.

How Many Kids are Failing and What Does It Tell Us?

Here are some numbers to gnaw on from a well-respected, diverse midwestern public school district reporting on students who did not pass both the Math and ELA components of the state’s competency exams. Please note that the public school teachers and administrators to which we refer are all well-qualified, are dedicated professionals, and work hard to help their students. Although there are low-performers in every profession, the majority of our nation’s teachers are unsung American heroes.

Elementary school

Black students not passing both exams = 1,343 (76.6%)
Hispanic Students not passing both exams = 825 (64.4%)
Children of color not passing both exams = 2,816 (68.2%)
White Students not passing both exams = 1,498 (46.0%)

Total Elementary students not passing = 4,314 (58.4%)

Middle School
Black students not passing both exams = 1,030 (81.7%)
Hispanic students not passing both exams = 558 (66.7%)
Students of Color not passing both exams = 2,078 (72.5%)
White Students not passing both exams = 1,190 (52.5%)

Total Middle School students not passing = 3,268 (63.6%)

Total students unable to pass both exams = 7,582 (60.6%)

Many states commence the process of testing students for levels of competency in the third grade and continue testing through the eighth grade. Thereafter, competency testing shifts toward assessing eligibility for graduation. When results are reported, we will see that a certain percentage of students were unable to pass the Math and English Language Arts components of the assessment tool, as in the case of the above public school district. In another jurisdiction, the results may be reported as students being at, above, below, or approaching “proficient.” The term “proficient” typically implies a high level of mastery in subject matter and also and ability to utilize that knowledge in the real world. In others, the broad descriptors may be relative to where a student is relative to “grade level.” Always, the results offer some manner of comparison to state academic standards.

Although results vary depending on the level of diversity or segregation of school districts with respect to race. ethnicity, and relative affluence the above data are representative.

This is just one of more than a thousand school districts reporting comparable performance, and of course there are many smaller school districts with students who struggle, and even our nation’s highest performing districts have some students who perform poorly. Think about the numbers for a moment. We are talking about many more than ten million American children who are performing poorly in school, and these data reflect performance only in public schools. Private, parochial, and charter schools also report students who are not performing well in school.

There are a few patterns that emerge from the results of competency examinations that deserve discussion.

The most common is that, typically, black students perform well below their white classmates and moderately below children from other minority groups. Hence, the “performance” or “achievement” gap, and public education in general, are often referred to the Civil rights issues of our time. That so many children of color perform poorly in our public schools has tragic consequences for our nation and its future.

With respect to relative affluence, students from low-income families generally perform below their more affluent classmates. Another pattern with respect to children who perform poorly on competency assessments, is that their performance often drops by the time they reach middle school. Each of these patterns have been widely discussed and researched for decades. This is not “News!” fake or otherwise.

What concerns me are the students who consistently perform poorly on competency assessments, from one year to the next. My assumption, which you are invited to challenge, is that the “population of children” who perform poorly, beginning in third grade all the way through eighth grade is comprised of the same boys and girls as they move from grade to grade.

What does it say about the education process if the same children who fall short of expectations beginning in the first round of competency assessments, administered when they are eight and nine years old, are the exact same children who perform poorly every year thereafter? What does it say when there is a decline in the performance of this population of students after they reach middle school?

If, indeed, we have these huge populations of children who perform poorly all the way through elementary and middle school, what does it say about our focus on the purpose of public education? What does it say about our strategy. Does it work?

My answer to these questions is that it is time to re-evaluate our assumptions, our purpose, our strategy, and our practices.

It is my assertion that this phenomenon exists because the education process—what educators are asked to do and how—is not consistent with our purpose or mission. Rather than focus on making sure each child is ready for middle school by the time they reach the age of 11 or 12; for high school by the time they reach the ages of 14 and 15, and ready for the responsibilities of citizenship by the time they reach the age of 18, teachers are expected to move students from point to point on the outline delineating the academic standards adopted by a given State as a group, whether they are ready or not.

What the results of competency examinations tell me is not only is our focus misdirected, it is also uncompromising. The education process demands that teachers permit students to fail because giving them the time they need to learn each lesson is not even a consideration, let alone an expectation. Certainly, many teachers strive to give extra help but, depending on the number of struggling students in a teacher’s classroom, rarely is there sufficient time.

We instruct our teachers to record, in their grade books, the results of each lesson in each subject area before moving on to a new lesson. The natural consequences of this practice are students who are increasing less prepared to be successful as they move from lesson to lesson and grade to grade.

Now, step back a moment, and let’s think about what we know about the children who arrive for their first day of school, at age 5 or 6:

• We know that the disparity in their level of academic preparedness runs the full range of the continuum;

• We know that the pace at which they learn is equally disparate;

• We know many are away from their mothers and other family members for the first time; and, therefore, need to connect quickly with a caring adult;

• We know that there are some children who have few adults who care about them, if any at all; and,

• We know that many are unprepared for most of the new experiences they will face.

Now, think about our purpose but do not rush to answer.

What is our objective with these children? Think hard about what it is that their community will, someday, need from our children?

As simply as we can state them, their community needs each child to grow into:

• A well-educated young man or woman who is prepared to accept the responsibilities of citizenship in a participatory democracy;

• Who has sufficient knowledge, skills, and understanding of the world to give them choices about what to do with their lives to find joy and meaning; and,

• Who can provide for themselves and their families.

What is the best way to accomplish these objectives?

Is it to push them along so they move from lesson to lesson, grade to grade, with their classmates, ready or not?

Or,

Is it to help them progress; from where they are intellectually and emotionally on that first day of school to become the best version of themselves that they can be and to learn how to create success for themselves?

If it is the latter, what we do today is not what children need and, clearly, it does not work. The data is indisputable.

Someday, we might be able to eliminate high-stakes testing, but that is not within our power, today. The best we can do is figure how to utilize the process to our best advantage and for the best advantage of our students. The same is true for the grading process in use in our classrooms. The purpose both types of assessments must not be to pass judgment on our students and teachers rather to gage our progress so that we can determine next steps, as we strive to fulfill our purpose.

Our primary goal is to prepare children for life after completion of their formal primary and secondary education. Our intermediate goals are to help them get there, one step at a time. We want to start at the exact point where we find them on their unique developmental path and begin to lay a foundation for intellectual and emotional growth and development. Once we have laid that foundation, our purpose is to help them master, one successful step at a time, the knowledge, skills, self-discipline, and understanding they will need in life. We are concerned about the whole child:

• We want them to have the healthy self-esteem they will need to control most of the outcomes in their lives;

• We want them to be able to develop healthy relationships with the people in their lives;

• We want them to be able to express themselves through all forms of human communication and interaction;

• We want them to understand and appreciate the diverse cultures of humanity as expressed through the arts and social sciences;

• We want them to understand history so that they can apply what we as a people have learned from our mistakes throughout the millennia;

• We want them to have sufficient understanding, through science, of the complexity of the world in which they live, so they can make thoughtful decisions about issues facing society;

• We want them to be able to create value for themselves, their families, communities, and society; and, finally,

• We want them to have a sufficient understanding of the role and principles of government so that they can participate in their own governance.

We cannot help children develop these crucial things by lumping them with a group of other children; by assigning them to teachers in such a way that forming close personal relationships is problematic; by imposing arbitrary time frames, or by allowing them to fail. Kids learn from their mistakes. Mistakes are not failures, they are opportunities to learn. Failure is when we say to them, “I’m sorry but we cannot justify spending any more time with you on this subject matter; we have more important things to do.”

We can reinvent the education process to give our nation’s children the quality education they deserve if we are willing to challenge our fundamental assumptions about the way we teach our children and then open our hearts and minds to a new way of doing what we do. My education model, which is designed to do just that, is available for your examination at http://www.melhawkinsandassociates.com/education-model-white-paper/ I encourage you to read it not in search of reasons why it will not or cannot work rather in hopes that it might.

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An Open Letter to the Educators of and Advocates for, Children of Color

If you do not stop the failure of disadvantaged students, a disproportionate percentage of whom are children of color, who will?

In the movie Deja Vu, Denzel Washington’s character asks a young woman:

“What if you had to tell someone the most important thing in the world, but you knew they’d never believe you?”


Ladies and gentlemen, this is one of those occasions.

Many public school educators and policy makers have convinced themselves that they are powerless to do anything about the failure of these children until society addresses poverty and segregation.

If you are reading these words, please believe me when I tell you that you are not powerless! These children are capable of learning if we place them in an environment that takes into consideration any academic preparedness disadvantages they bring with them on their first day of school.

If we make the effort to discover what they know and help them begin building on that foundation, one success at a time, it is only a matter of our patient time and attention until a motivation to learn takes root. From that point on, with the help of caring teachers and parents working together, there will be no stopping them.

Imagine a future in which every child who graduates from high school has the knowledge, skills, confidence, and determination to create a positive future for themselves and their families.

It takes thirteen years to help a child progress from Kindergarten to the moment they walk off a stage with a diploma that is more than just a meaningless piece of paper, so we must start now! We cannot afford to squander another day, let alone waste another child.

That millions of disadvantaged students, many of whom are black and other minorities, are failing in school is an indisputable fact of life in America. Because this has been going on for generations, urban and rural communities throughout the U.S. are full of multiple generations of men and women who have always failed in school and have always been poor. Consider the possibility that this is not an inevitable outcome of poverty and segregation.

I suggest an alternate reality in which poverty and segregation exist because so many children have been failing for so long. It is a chicken versus the egg conundrum, I know. The reality is that the failure of so many children and the poverty and segregation within which they live, are like a Gordian knot; intertwined, interdependent, and seemingly impenetrable.

Disadvantaged students fail not because they are incapable of learning and not because our teachers are incompetent rather because these kids arrive for their first day of school with an academic preparedness deficiency. They start from behind and are expected to keep up with more “advantaged” class mates and with academic standards and expectations that make no allowance or accommodation for their disadvantages. As these children are pushed ahead before they are ready, they begin to fall behind.

What do any of us do when we discover that we are unable to compete and begin to lose/fail repeatedly? When we fail, again and again, we get discouraged and if the pattern continues, we give up and stop trying. If we are a child in a classroom, we begin to act out.

Our teachers, who have worked hard to help us, begin to perceive us as slow learners and begin to accept our failure as inevitable. Our classmates begin to perceive us as dumb and this affects the way they interact with and think about us. This reality makes it easy for them to target us, first for teasing, then insults, and then bullying.

Worst of all, we begin to view ourselves as unequal and it damages our self-esteem. When this happens anytime, especially at an early age, the impact on our self-esteem and our view of our place in the world can be altered for the rest or our lives. We begin to think of ourselves as separate and apart.

This is tragic because it is so unnecessary. We can begin altering this reality, immediately, if educators would simply open their eyes to the reality, on the one hand, that this is not our fault, and on the other, that we have the power to change the reality and end the failure.

All these kids need is the time and the patient attention of one or more teachers who care about them. For 5 and 6-year old children warm, nurturing relationships that allow the children to feel loved and safe are as essential to their well-being as the air they breathe. Such relationships are an essential variable in the education equation. This is true for all kids, even those with loving parents. For children who do not feel loved and safe at home, such relationships may be the only deterrent to the schoolhouse to jailhouse track.

This latter group of children pose a significant challenge because many of them have learned not to trust.

For this reason, schools must make forming such relationships their overriding priority. That means not only making the formation of such relationships a primary expectation for teachers but also crafting an environment that fosters and sustains such relationships. Because of the background of these youngsters, great care must be taken to ensure that these relationships, once formed, endure. One of the best ways to ensure that they endure is to give the child more than one teacher with whom they can bond and by keeping them together for an extended period of time.

The next step in the creation of a no-failure zone is to do a comprehensive assessment of each new student’s level of academic preparedness and then tailor an academic plan to give them the unique support they require to be successful. Student’s must be given however much time they need to begin learning and then building on what they know, one success at a time. Each success must be celebrated. Celebrating an individual’s successes and even their nice tries, is a powerful form of affirmation that helps them develop a strong and resilient self-esteem. There is nothing that ignites a motivation to learn in the hearts and minds of children more than learning that they can create their own success.

Interestingly, teachers who have never experienced success in reaching these most challenging students will be on a parallel path in their own career development. They are also learning that they can be successful with even their most challenging students.

Children discover that success is not an event, it is a process that often includes a few stumbles along the way. If we teach them that each stumble is nothing more than a mistake and that we all make mistakes, kids begin to view their stumbles as learning opportunities and as an inherent part of the process of success.

Because of the way the current, obsolete education process has evolved, many teachers have become disconnected from their purpose. They have come to view themselves as scorekeepers and passers of judgment.

What we want all teachers and administrators to understand it that we have only one purpose and that is to help children learn. Starting from their first day of school, and over the next thirteen years or so, our purpose is to help them gain the knowledge, skill, wisdom, and understanding they will need to make a life for themselves and their families. Our job is to ensure that they have a wide menu of choices determined by their unique talents and interests. We want them to be able to participate in their own governance and in the American dream.

For children of color, we must help them develop the powerful self-esteem that will make them impervious to the ravages of discrimination and bigotry. However much we might want to legislate an end to the racism in the hearts of man, it is not within our power to do. The best we can do is to make sure not a single child is left defenseless. Every successful man or woman of color has faced the pain and heartache of discrimination in their lives but because they were not defenseless, they have been able to create incredible achievements for themselves, their families, and for society.

One young child even grew up to be President of the United States. Who knows, there might be a boy or girl in your class who has, within him or her, the makings of a future President. Our challenge as educators is to make sure each boy and girl gets the opportunity to develop their unique potential.

Imagine a future in which every young man or woman of color, or who was once disadvantaged, leaves high school with the skills, knowledge, wisdom, talent, and motivation to become a full-fledged player in the American enterprise; to partake fully in the American dream. This is the dream that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. envisioned and for which the heroes of the civil rights movement sacrificed so much.

Please take time to read my White Paper and Education Model at http://www.melhawkinsandassociates.com/education-model-white-paper/ Please read it, not in search of reasons why it will not work, rather in hope that it might. Utilize it as a spark to ignite your own imagination.

Like An Old Pair of Shoes!

Recently, I described the American education process as being like an old pair of shoes that you feel comfortable wearing, but don’t dare run in, at least not too fast. In other articles, I have used the parable of storing new wine in old wineskins to compare the process with which we teach our children in most private, parochial and public schools in America.

Public school teachers and administrators have long grown comfortable with the current education process, but it does not always produce the outcomes they seek. Teachers do their best and in some classrooms, in some schools, nothing seems amiss. Those teachers feel good about what they do. In other classrooms, sometimes in the same school, and certainly in many other schools, things do not go so well. Not every student is successful and some who eventually achieve success, do so only after an extraordinary effort on the part of teachers and parents. Most teachers have at least one student who represents a challenge and requires that level of effort.

In other public schools and classrooms, most students struggle and in some, all but a few, struggle. For many students, success rarely happens. Are these teachers not as good? Is their something wrong with the school building? We know the students attending such schools present a different challenge but is that the only reason why outcomes are so disparate?

What if you were asked to trade students with a colleague who has a challenging class? Would the performance of that teacher’s students turn around, remarkably, once they spent time with you or would you likely face the same difficulty as your colleague? How would the students from your classroom perform with the other teacher?

If you are one of the fortunate teachers to have only one struggling student, imagine what it would be like if more than half of your students presented such challenges. What if the exception in your classroom was one student who is successful? How different would your experience be? How good would you feel about your students, classroom, and school?

The problem is not just the students and it is neither the teachers nor the school buildings. Rather, the problem is a brittle and inflexible education process that has been in place longer than many of you have lived? It seems to work okay for some children but the evidence that it does not work for all children is compelling and irrefutable.

There are millions of children who struggle in our nation’s most challenging public schools. If your classes are performing well, does that mean that you need not concern yourself with the challenges that other teachers face? Most often, the teachers in these low performing schools are just as capable as you; work just as hard, received the same education and training. Some of them might even be former classmates of yours.

If teachers in high performing schools choose to ignore the challenges of their colleagues is it okay? Is it okay for you to turn your head and be thankful that you are in a better place? Or, is that leaving your colleagues hanging out to dry. Do not all teachers and all students deserve better? Are you not comrades-in-arms in a noble profession?

If the only thing that is different between your high performing classroom and the low-performing classroom of your colleagues is the academic preparedness, motivation to learn, and parental support, what does that tell us about the effectiveness of the education process. If the process is incapable of adapting to the unique needs of its students, how can it serve the best interests of the American people and their sons and daughters?

The wonderful news is, “it need not be this way!” We can reinvent the education process to support every single teacher, in every single classroom, for every single student. And, no, it does not matter that all will not succeed at the same level. What our expectation can and must be is that we help each child learn how to be successful so they can be the best that they can be. We can ask no more of our children, their parents, or their teachers. We want every teacher to be the best of which they are capable, and we want each of your students to grow up to be the best men and women they can be.

The education process in place in our public schools and in most of our private and parochial schools is not capable of meeting the needs of a diverse population of children, no matter how capable their teachers, no matter how innovative their methodologies, and regardless of the level of sophistication of our tools. When taxed beyond its limits the education process will break down just as will that old pair of comfortable shoes. It does not allow teachers to adapt to the unique needs of their students and this is unacceptable and unnecessary. How can our nation compete in an ever-more challenging global marketplace and political arena if our children do not rise to their potential?

Once again, unless you have already done so, I ask that you review my education model at http://www.melhawkinsandassociates.com/education-model-white-paper/ Examine it not in search of reasons why it will not or cannot work rather in hopes that it might.

The Recurring Theme of Obsolescence!

It is a recurring theme, I know, but the existing education process, which has been in place for most of our lifetimes, is neither tasked, structured, nor resourced to give our students what so many of you consider to be the essential variables in the education equation.

Whether it is making certain our students feel important, cared about, and confident that their teachers are one hundred percent committed to their success because relationships are an essential variable. Relationships are everything and all the knowledge, talent, and achievements in life pale in comparison to the importance of the people in our lives; people who care about us unconditionally. We must understand that it is only through our relationships with our students that we can compete with the power of the peer group.

Whether it is the belief that we must, somehow pull parents into the process as partners sharing responsibility for the education of their children.

Whether it is knowing that children are more than just test scores and that high-stakes testing forces us to teach to the test.

Whether it is knowing that teachers need to be guided and supported by visionary, positive leaders who exist to help us be the best teachers that we can be rather than search for what we do wrong. Just like our students, we need help to learn from our mistakes. This is what positive leaders do.

Whether it is wanting each child to be given the opportunity to learn from mistakes even if it takes more than one or two attempts. We know, from infancy, learning is all about making small adjustments based upon the mistakes they make and that all kids are on a unique time table. A child’s brain is programmed to learn, relentlessly; to soak up the world around them. How is it that somewhere along the line we throw obstacles in their path that cause them to stop trying, convince them that learning is anything but fun, and dampens if not destroys their motivation to learn.

Whether it is the belief that each child has inherent, if unknown, potential and that the job of our public schools and teachers is to help them discover who they are and who they can become, if given the chance; to help them create their own unique futures. Who knows, there may be a child in your classroom who could grow up to be President of the United States, if only we were able to help them through the, often, challenging learning process. Whether or not they will become a real President and not a pretender may well be up to you.

Whether it is believing that we must make the effort to understand the unique level of academic preparedness of each child when they arrive at our door for their first day of school because it is only when we understand what they know and where they lag that we can chart out a unique academic path and truly provide personalized learning.

Whether it is believing that we need to be open to and free to explore all the innovative ideas, personalized learning, digital learning, and other approaches, tools, and methodologies until we find what works for each child; recognizing that what works for one boy or girl may not work for another.

Whether it is knowing that we must teach the whole child and not just fill their heads with facts, numbers, and knowledge. Understanding that we must help them learn how to think creatively and critically; help them learn how the world really works so they can be contributing members of society and make informed choices about the critical issues of their time. Or, helping them be wise to the false promises, jingoistic dogma, or confidence schemes with which they will be showered.

Whether it is being convinced that we must help them understand history so that they can learn from mistakes of the past and make certain they understand the principles of democracy and the form and functions of a participatory democracy.

Whether it is a commitment to make sure that our students learn to understand and appreciate the diverse cultural fabric of humanity through the arts and social sciences. We want them to learn to be tolerant, understanding, and have empathy. And, we want them to learn to express themselves through literature, oral communication, art, and music.

Most of you believe that these are all essential variables in the education equation and vital to a child’s motivation to learn; that it is these things, rather than charter schools and vouchers, that will save public education in America.

If we are truly committed to the teaching profession, we want young people to leave our public schools with a portfolio of knowledge, skills, and understanding that will give them choices about what to do with their lives to find joy and meaning, provide for their families, and participate in their own governance. We want them to have the healthy self-esteem that comes from being able to control as many of the outcomes in their lives as possible.

As a former employer, I have always been surprised that so many public school teachers and other educators think corporations want our schools to produce automatons who will become replacement parts for their machinery. Some educators do not seem to understand that the frustration of the business community that feeds the “choice” education reform movement is that candidates for employment seem unwilling to work and unable to think creatively, accept responsibility for outcomes, and strive for excellence.

The only way to shut down education reformers with their platform of “choice” and their focus on high-stakes testing, charter schools and vouchers is to render them irrelevant; to make our public schools the “preference of choice.” This cannot be accomplished with the obsolete education process we have today. We must have an education model that frees teachers to give each of their students what they need and we can have this if we are willing to open our hearts and minds to a new idea.

This is exactly what my education model is designed to do. Don’t reject it without taking the time to understand it and, once you understand it, don’t hesitate to improve it so that it will truly help you meet the needs of each one of your students. Please learn about it at: http://www.melhawkinsandassociates.com/education-model-white-paper/

Brainstorming Session!

How many times throughout your lifetime have you heard other people say “Well, that’s the way we’ve always done it!”

The way you are asked to teach your students, today in 2018, is because someone, many decades ago, sat down and designed an education system in a way they thought would make it easy to teach kids. In present times, we continue that tradition of one teacher per classroom of 35 or fewer children.

Now, imagine that you and the other teachers at your school decided to create an opportunity to spend a day brainstorming, without the participation of administrators telling you what you can and cannot do. Imagine that the challenge you were given was to create an education model from scratch that would enable you to do all the things you have always wanted but were unable to do with and for your students. Would it look anything like the education process in which you work today?

Go ahead and try it! Plan a brainstorming session some weekend and see what happens. What do you have to lose?

Like seeds, ideas germinate the easiest when planted in fertile soil so, to kick it off and get everyone in an “exponential-thinking mindset” so you can all think outside the box. Someone told me recently that “think outside the box” has become cliché. The phrase might be cliché but the process of getting outside of one’s frame of reference is an essential tool of creative thinking.

Suggest to your colleagues that they review my education model before arriving for your brainstorming session at http://www.melhawkinsandassociates.com/education-model-white-paper/ just to get a glimpse of what might exist beyond the boundaries of conventional wisdom. Then, set both my model and “the way you have always done it” aside and have at it. Start with a clean whiteboard and no constraints. There is no such thing as an idea too crazy to consider.

Start by going around the room and asking every participant, one after another, to identify anything and everything they can think of that children need in order to learn. Do not stop until there are no more ideas. Then, work together to try to consolidate and prioritize that list, but do not erase anything. Remember, you want to teach the whole child and even the smallest things might make an enormous difference. Once you have completed this step then start back around and begin to suggest ways you could organize yourselves to ensure that every child has every one of his or her needs, met.

Remind yourself that the existing education process was designed a century ago and things have changed since then; in fact, everything has changed since then, many times over. Educators have experimented with modifications and there have been many innovative approaches, tools, and methodologies over the decades, but the original model is still at work in public schools, as well as private and parochial school, all over the U.S.

The reason these ideas have not proven successful is not because they were bad ideas and not because teachers are incapable. The innovative approaches, tools, and methodologies have been disappointing because we tried to force them into an outmoded and brittle process. As I have written, before, it is like the parable of storing new wine in old wineskins that leak and turn sour the wine we had worked so hard to produce.

Today, you are teaching in an archaic structure and process only because that’s the way we’ve always done it. This would be okay if the way we teach worked for everyone. But, of course, we know it does not.

Some of you might be thinking, “it works in my school” but if there is a single failing grade in even one teacher’s gradebook, then a child has failed. There are many schools where it we be difficult to count all the failing grades that have been recorded in the gradebooks of all the teachers in a given school over the course of a semester.

We have been conditioned to think this is the best we can do and that the responsibility for the failure of children who live in poverty, a disproportionate percentage of whom are also children of color, must be borne by society, not our public schools.

As education reformers and other critics of public education have become more aggressive and are now offering alternatives to traditional public schools, it is only natural that public school teachers have grown defensive. That it is why it is vital that public school teachers, administrators, and policymakers step back and challenge their fundamental assumptions about what they do and why. It is my belief that teachers are in the best position to take responsibility for this process because they are close to the problems. Teachers live with the challenges of teaching every day and they witness the struggles and failure of children.

Consider one last chilling thought. We have noted that educators suggest that it is up to society to address the problems of poverty before teachers can be expected to teach millions of our nation’s disadvantaged students. Guess what? Society has done something to address the issues of poverty that make it so difficult to meet the needs of all our nation’s children; needs that are often extraordinary.

Over the past fifty years, American society has spent trillions of dollars building school buildings in communities all over the U.S. and have staffed them with the most qualified teachers our colleges and universities can produce. Society has been waiting on you, the best teachers we can produce, to find a solution because the American people don’t have a clue. You, America’s teachers—unsung heroes all—are the only Americans who truly understand the needs of the children with whom you work every single day.

America needs each of you to put your heads together and come up with a new way of teaching that will allow every child to learn and be successful in the classroom and that will refuse to let a single child fail. You know better than anyone that your students do not start off from the same point with respect to academic preparedness and with reference to your state’s academic standards; you know that they do not all have supportive parents; you know they do not all learn at the same pace; and you even know that there is no expectation that they will all arrive at the same destination. You also know that they are children and that they need us to like them, to be patient with them, to support them in every conceivable way.

You also know that our nation’s disadvantaged students, are the most vulnerable. They need us to tailor an academic process to their unique requirements and they are also the students who need us the most no matter how challenging it might be to teach them. Remember, the child who is hardest to love is the one who needs it the most.

What you may not have considered is that American society needs these kids every bit as much as they need us. We can no longer afford the enormous cost of caring for a growing population of Americans who lack the academic skills to support themselves and their families. We can no longer afford the incalculable opportunity cost that these generations of children represent if we are to rise to the unprecedented challenges the balance of this Twenty-first Century will present.

Finally, we all need to understand that we cannot legislate an end to the prejudices in the hearts of the American people. Neither can we legislate an end to the resentment, bitterness, and anger in the hearts of Americans who are frustrated that they are asked to pay taxes to support people whom they perceive to be unwilling to support themselves. What we can do, gradually, is to reduce the population of Americans who have become entrapped in a maelstrom of poverty, failure, hopelessness, and powerless; thus, leaving others to find something else to be angry and embittered about.

This is not something that can be done in a day. After all, it takes eighteen years to raise a child and it takes thirteen years in school to help them acquire the skills, knowledge, and understanding they will need to have choices about what to do with their lives to find joy and meaning when they leave high school. They must, also, be able to accept the responsibilities of citizenship in a participatory democracy.

Teachers, I urge you not to wait for someone else to fix the problems in our nation’s public schools. And do not forget that education reformers are working hard and spending huge sums of money to take that responsibility away from you. Scariest of all, these reformers haven’t taken the time to understand the real challenges in our public schools and are oblivious to the harm they do. You, our teachers, are the only ones who can stop the reformers and the only way to stop them is to render them irrelevant.

Embrace Change If You Want Something Better

This morning I retweeted and responded to three people whom I follow and respect who were independently talking about the same thing: changing what we do to get better results.

It began with Jimmy Casas @casas_jimmy who tweeted:

“Thought for the day: We need to stop saying educators hate change. Not true for most. They hate not having support, resources, & most importantly, time! Provide these three things & you’ll see most will embrace it. #culture”

My comment in my retweet was:

“They’re scarce because the current #educationprocess isn’t set up to provide them. Why not embrace #CHANGE to a model created [specifically] to give support, resources, & time for teachers and kids. These precious commodities don’t fall from the sky. We must reach for them.”

Within seconds, a tweet popped up on my screen from Bruce Van Horn @BruceVH who posted a great Meme saying:

“You must be willing to do something you have never done before to get to where you have never been before.”

And, again, seconds later, another tweet appeared, by Burton Brown, Sr. @BurtonBrown:

“Be Brave! Take off your clothes and put on some new ones. @DonnaReiners #quote”

The first thing that “popped” into my mind was my favorite motivational speaker of all time, Zig Ziglar, who once said:

“If you keep doin’ what you’ve been doin’ you’ll keep gettin’ what you’ve been gettin’!”

The most important issue on the American agenda is public education and the achievement gap between black students and their white classmates is the civil rights issue of our time, as is the achievement gap between white children and other disadvantaged students, many of whom are also minorities.

These children are failing by the millions and, contrary to the claims of education reformers, they are failing in spite of the heroic efforts of public school teachers.

Why is it so hard to recognize that we must change and put an end to a flawed education process that has produced multiple generations of American men and women who have always failed in school and have always been poor. These Americans produce whole new generations of children and send them off to school with little, if any, expectations that an education will provide a way out of the cycle of poverty and failure. These Americans have no reason to believe that the school experiences of their children will be any different than their own. For so many of these men and women, the American dream is a false promise; an illusion. It is the civil rights movement, unrealized.

Make no mistake, the burden of supporting this population of the poor and dependent, and especially black Americans, is the basis of the ever-deepening bitterness of millions of other Americans who resent having to support them. This generation’s-old pattern, they believe, justifies their prejudices and bigotry and, as much as anything else in American society, explains why so many people are so upset with life in America that they elected Donald Trump to be President of the United States.

Yes, I know how incredibly difficult it must be for the teachers in our most challenged public schools to stand up and proclaim that what they are being asked to do does not work when they know they are being blamed for the failures. We must move past talking about blame and begin talking about who will accept responsibility for change. If we wait for others do it for us, we may wait forever.

I also understand why so many teachers who teach in higher-performing schools feel the need to defend themselves against the attacks by reformers and resist their focus on “choice,” charter schools and vouchers.

Deep down in their hearts, many public school teachers know there is something horribly wrong when outcomes never seem to change no matter how hard they work or how many new ideas, methodologies and approaches they are asked to try. They also know that “choice,” charter schools, and vouchers are not the answer just as they know prejudices and bigotry are not the answer to our nation’s future.

If teachers and advocates for public education would only step back a few steps and look at the education process as an integral whole, they would see that it is a process that has grown obsolete. It is a process that not only fails to support teachers and students as they go about their important work, it impedes their efforts; it forces them to overcome one obstacle after another.

As has been so eloquently pointed out by Bruce Van Horn, Burton Brown, Sr., and Donna Reiner, the answer to your question, Jimmy Casas, is that the only way we can give teachers and students, especially disadvantaged students, the “support, resources, & most importantly, time” is to change the way we teach.

Michael J. Fox posted a meme some time ago, to which I have referred, often, and which many of you have communicated in your own words:

“If a child can’t learn the way we teach, maybe we should teach the way they learn.”

Please, please, please take the time to read my Education Model and accompanying white paper at http://www.melhawkinsandassociates.com/education-model-white-paper/

Teachers say all the time that “kids are more than test scores” and that an education must be more than teaching to a test; that we must teach creative thinking. The first and most important aspect of creative thinking or “thinking outside the box,” which I prefer to call “exponential thinking,” is to force ourselves to step back, far enough, that we can examine a system or process as an integral whole, challenge our fundamental assumptions about what we do and why, and begin to think about other ways we could go about doing whatever it is that we do. So that we are not just teaching to a test and can show that our kids are more than test scores.

I am not so arrogant that I believe that my education model is the only way we can change public education, no matter how confident I may be, but I do believe it will help educators undergo a paradigm shift and see the education process—the logical process through which we deliver a service to our nation’s children—in a new light. It will show you one way we could begin to do things differently and end the failure of so many of our nation’s precious children. If nothing, else, it should provide a catalyst that will #ignite your own imagination.

I also challenge black Americans and other minorities, and their advocates, to seize this opportunity to bring MLK Jr’s dream to life and make it part of a real American dream.