Important Questions for Public School Teachers

We begin with a declaration that American public school teachers strive to do their absolute best to help all their students learn as much as they are able. The purpose of my questions is to understand whether teachers are satisfied that they can give their students a genuine opportunity to learn, given the education process within which they are asked to teach, and the resources allocated to them.

Many public school teachers and other educators are concerned about the future of their own schools, about the future of public education as a whole, about their own futures and of the teaching profession, and about the future of our nation’s children. These concerns are justified considering the extent to which public education is under attack by education reformers with their focus on privatization of schools, high-stakes testing, attacking teacher unions and associations, and minimizing the reliance on teachers through increased utilization of digital technology.

The following questions are posed to all teachers, but especially to those who work in public schools under scrutiny because of low test scores and/or who have students who struggle to keep up. Think of the education process as the manner in which teachers, classrooms, time, and resources are organized to allow you to teach your students.

(Please note that I am not asking you to share your answers with anyone, only that you answer each question, as honestly as you can, to the satisfaction of your own hearts and minds.)

1) Given your commitment to do your best to help every one of your students experience academic success, how well does the education process support your efforts to give struggling students the extra time and attention they need to learn?

2) How often is it necessary for you to move your class on to a new lesson when one or more of your students—often a significant percentage of your class—are unable to demonstrate subject mastery on end-of-chapter exams?

3) How many times in a grading period, semester, or school year do you find it necessary to record a “below-passing score” in your gradebook?

4) By the end of a school year, what percentage of your students meet the objectives that were established for them per state academic standards for their grade level?

5) What percentage of your students earn a below-passing score on one or both Math and ELA components of your state’s competency exams (high stakes testing), or are unable to meet the criteria required to be identified as “proficient” in these subject areas; not “approaching proficient?”

If your answers to these questions raise doubts in your mind about the viability of the education process and the adequacy of the resources at your disposal, I ask you to consider another way to organize and teach our nation’s children. Please take the time to examine my education model, which is available for your review on my website at http://bit.ly/2k53li3 along with a white paper that provides the logical foundation for the model. It is an education model that has been developed through the utilization of a “systems-thinking” process, the principles of organizational development and positive leadership, and a focus on purpose that, in education, is helping every child achieve academic success.

Please note that “systems-thinking,” the principles of organizational development and positive leadership, and a focus on purpose or mission are utilized routinely in the private sector to help organizations address the concerns of dissatisfied customers and engage in continuous improvement of products and services. Often, this requires positive leadership to take an organization and its production process back to the drawing board to reinvent a process to produce better products and services or, in many cases, create new products and services. Make no mistake, education reformers and their supporters are nothing more than dissatisfied customers of public education.

If, upon review, you believe that my education model might improve the odds of success of your students, I ask you to help me spread the word, put an end to the failure of so many children, and end the frustration of public school teachers, everywhere. Implementing an education model focused on success will also render irrelevant the education reform movement with its focus privatization, high-stakes testing, and diminishing the role of teachers.

Are students who fail, quitters?

It was suggested to me, recently, that there is no failure, there is only quitting. I must respectfully disagree.

No doubt the educator who suggested that failing students have quit trying is speaking from personal experience with kids in his classroom. When a student has given up, it is easy to conclude that they have just quit. Unless one has made the effort to go back and assess that student’s home environment and their academic record, beginning with his or her first day of school, such conclusions are rarely justified. I suggest that such conclusions are dangerous assumptions that have tragic, life-long consequences for millions of young people.

Certainly, there are students who do just quit because they don’t care but they are not the whole story. There are millions of students who quit because they have learned to quit in the face of difficult challenges; challenges that require extra effort. It is my belief that these kids quit because they have lost hope. They have lost hope because the education process at work in our schools, both public schools and private, has set them up for failure. Please note that I said the education process has set them up for failure, not their teachers.

The education process sets them up for failure because, repeatedly, they are not given sufficient time to master subject matter before they are pushed ahead to new lessons that often require that they apply what they were expected to learn on previous lessons. Learning from one’s mistakes is a critical part of the learning process, but it only works when we have time to utilize the lessons from those mistakes to produce successful outcomes. Time is an essential variable. If we are not given sufficient time to apply those lessons, successfully, we will not experience that “Aha!” moment when it clicks in our minds and it all makes sense.

The learning process requires success, not just one success but a series of successes, each built upon previous successes. What happens to us when we are expected to learn to perform complex functions but are told to stop before we can perform those complex functions, successfully? We become frustrated and discouraged. If we are, then, asked to learn to perform an even more complex function, one that depends on our acquired proficiency in performing pre-requisite functions, our probability of success has dropped while our frustration and discouragement have increased. Repeat this process on increasingly more complex lessons and it will not take long before people of any age will begin to give up and stop trying.

By denying someone the opportunity to experience success we are teaching them that success is improbable, and the more improbable success becomes the greater the odds that he or she will quit and stop trying. The younger the student the more fragile their self-esteem and the more likely they will be to stop trying; not because they are quitters rather because they have lost hope.

Disadvantaged kids are particularly susceptible to this phenomenon because almost all of them arrive for their first day of school behind with respect to academic standards and often with respect to some of their classmates. Academic standards are the expectations that have been established for students, teachers, schools, and school districts.

If the purpose of public education is to ensure that children learn as much as they are able at their own best speed, it would not matter whether students start from behind. The objective would be to help them advance through the syllabus that the standards represent, beginning at their unique point of embarkation and progressing as far and as fast as they are able, building on their successes.

Unfortunately for these youngsters, a disproportionate percentage of whom are black and other minorities, our public education process is structured more like a competition in which students are guided through the standards according to a predetermined schedule. Students who perform well and keep pace with the standards are labeled as “A” and “B” or “honors” students and their success is celebrated. Boys and girls who struggle to keep up are given “Cs,” “Ds”, and “Fs,” or their equivalent and rarely have an opportunity to celebrate success.

Yes, I understand that teachers work hard to give struggling students the extra time, attention, and resources they need to be successful. A teacher’s ability to provide that extra assistance, however, is compromised by the number of struggling students with whom he or she must work. It is one thing to help one, two, or three struggling students and quite another thing when 25, 50, 75 percent or more of their students need that extra attention. Teachers are under relentless pressure to keep their classes moving at a pace that is dictated not by the individual needs of children, but by state-wide expectations. They have only so much time to devote to their struggling students and, always, state competency exams that are used to hold teachers, schools, and school districts accountable, loom in the future.

Because we resent that we are required to administer competency examinations (high stakes, standardized testing), we tend to reject the results from such exams. Because we reject the results, we do not apply what can be learned from them. What those results would teach us, if we would take the time to understand them, is that what we are doing is not working and that a percentage of our students are not learning. The data should prompt us to challenge all our assumptions about what we do and why. Instead, our displeasure with the idea of competency testing and the data they produce pushes us into denial.

Children who are failing are victims of an obsolete education process that was established generations ago and that has changed little even though the world in which our nation’s children must live and learn has changed exponentially. I don’t care what you want to call it, but this is failure, pure and simple.

It is not the children who have failed even though they are the ones who suffer the consequences of that failure. Neither is it our teachers who have failed. The culpability of teachers is that they know what they are being asked to do does not work for many of their students and yet they endure the unacceptable outcomes, passively, as if they are powerless to speak out.

Our education leaders and policy makers are the ones who are failing because they have a responsibility to reject unacceptable outcomes and be powerful advocates for change on behalf of their students, teachers, and communities. Instead, far too many of them continue, resolutely, to march down the same path as if there is no other way for them to go.

How can we continue sending young men and women out into the world without meaningful choices of what to do with their lives? It is a human tragedy of incalculable scope and scale and the consequences of it are, without doubt, at the root of most our nation’s ills.

If we want better outcomes, we must go back to the drawing board and reinvent the education process to give every child an academic path tailored to their unique requirements. We must then give them whatever time, attention, and resources they need to learn from one success to another so that they leave school with meaningful choices in life.

Bringing an end to the failure requires that we “think outside the box” because the solution lies outside the boundaries of conventional wisdom. We cannot get where we need to go by making incremental changes. If we want every child to learn we must challenge all assumptions about what we do and why.

I have developed an education model that I offer as a starting point and I challenge educators, at every level, to examine the model to understand how it might work rather than looking for reasons why it might not. I believe, absolutely, that my model will work but you are invited to come up with a better approach if you can.

Please examine my model and white paper at http://bit.ly/2k53li3

Thinking “Outside the Box”

In a recent Tweet, a public school educator commented that we need to be able to teach students to “think outside the box.” Although the term, itself, has become cliché to the ears of many, the skill is a powerful tool to have at one’s disposal. The challenge in teaching our students to “think outside the box” is that we must be able to “think outside the box,” ourselves, to teach it and it is not so easy to do.

Whether “thinking outside the box,” “thinking exponentially,” looking “outside the boundaries of conventional wisdom,” or “paradigm shift,” it is an incredibly difficult skill to master. It requires that we be aware of and continually remind ourselves of the fact that the human brain works to organize what we know and learn in a neat and readily accessible order. Having what we know in a well-organized format is essential to our growth, development, and both our intellectual and emotional well-being. Without the human brain’s ability to sort and store information we need in our daily lives, we would be overwhelmed by an infinite and incessant stream of sensory stimuli.

The tradeoff we make, unconsciously for most of us, is that the more comfortable we become within the context of our brain’s unique filing and organizing system (our paradigms), the more difficult it is to be aware of and to utilize information outside of our primary frame of reference.

Some of you may be familiar with a creative-thinking exercise that uses nine dots, configured in three rows of three:

                                                        .              .               .

                                                        .              .               .

                                                        .             .               .

 

The instructions for the exercise tell the participant to place their pencil point on any one of the nine dots and, without lifting your pencil off the page and without retracing or backtracking, connect all nine dots with four straight lines.

If you are not familiar with the exercise, I would encourage you to try it out before reading any further.

Often, a significant majority of people who attempt to solve the puzzle are unsuccessful because of the phenomenon I described above in which our brain, without our conscious awareness, organizes our sensory data into a familiar order. In the case of the nine dots, our brain organizes them in our mind in one of the most common shapes with which we are all familiar, a square. As a result, the majority or people striving to solve the puzzle are constrained because their brain has identified the nine dots as a square box. Inevitably, these individuals fail, repeatedly, to solve the puzzle because the space outside the square box is invisible to them. What they cannot see does not exist, therefore they seek solutions only within the square. Observing the possibilities outside the box requires a conscious effort to seek them out.

As a consultant, working with clients to help them solve organizational or process issues, striving to get even the most highly-trained and educated individuals to expand their paradigms or frames of reference was almost always challenging. This has been true in my attempt to get public school educators to consider the education model I have developed. When I suggest that they give each student however much time they need to learn, many educators reject the idea, automatically, because there is no time. In the reality in which they strive to teach there is no time and so their minds close. It is not until they are able to challenge their assumptions and step back sufficiently far that they can observe the current education model objectively, as an integral whole, that they will be able to envision an alternate reality outside the boundaries of conventional wisdom. An alternate reality in which other possibilities abound.

The unfortunate consequence is that millions of disadvantaged kids fail, repeatedly, fall further behind, and stop trying. They no longer believe they can be successful. Educators see the data in schools serving a high percentage of disadvantaged kids, a disproportionate percentage of whom are black kids and other minorities, but they have become inured to the damage that these children must endure. Educators are constantly introducing innovative approaches, methodologies, curricula and technologies in their schools and classrooms and these work for many students. Rarely do they work in schools with a high percentage of children who are disadvantaged and who have fallen behind.

The only way to reconcile their lack of success and the ongoing failure of their disadvantaged students is to draw one or both of two conclusions. The first is that the problem is societal and systemic and is beyond the ability of public education to fix. The second is that poor kids, black kids, and/or other minority children are incapable of learning. It is sad commentary but the reality is that a disturbing percentage of Americans are content to except the idea that the poor performance of these children is the best that we can expect.

A significant majority of public school policy makers, administrators, and teachers seem unable to contemplate that their might be solutions that can only be found beyond the boundaries of their conventional wisdom (outside the box). That the education process in place in our nation’s schools, both public and private, is nothing more than a logical construct designed to produce certain outcomes seems to be beyond their scope of experience.

The good news is that any process engineered by human beings to produce desirable outcomes can be reinvented to produce better outcomes. The bad news is that discovering and implementing such processes can only happen when decision makers make a conscious effort to challenge all of their assumptions and explore the possibilities that exist “outside the box.”

I do not claim to be any more intelligent or innovative than the leaders of public education, but I have two advantages that they do not have. The first is that my entire career has prepared me to employ the principles of systems thinking that require one to challenge his or her assumptions and to step back sufficiently far that I can observe a process as an integral whole. The second advantage is that my experience, over a period of ten years, of subbing in the classrooms of a public school district was an opportunity to walk in the shoes of public school teachers. This gives me a unique perspective.

As a result, I was able to develop an education model that will enable teachers to give each student the time and attention necessary to meet their unique needs. It is a model that will eliminate the necessity of subjecting our nation’s most vulnerable children to the devastating consequences of repeated failure. The reader is invited to review my education model and an accompanying white paper that provides the logical foundation for the model. All it requires is a willingness, on the part of a reader, to open his or her heart and mind to possibilities that exist beyond their own boundaries of experience.

More Evidence that It’s Time for Public School Superintendents and Advocates for Disadvantaged Kids To Act!

If you are a public school superintendent or an advocate for black kids and other minority children who cares deeply about kids—yours or anyone else’s—if you could see what I see and hear what I hear, it would break your heart.

Every Thursday evening, I have the privilege of testing young men and women seeking to enlist in the Armed Services of the U.S. A significant majority of these young people (90+ percent) are recent high school graduates and high school seniors. They come from high schools throughout Northeast Indiana and they are seeking a place for themselves in society. They come to take the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB), which is used to demonstrate enlistment eligibility.

Eligibility for enlistment is determined by the “AFQT” score, which is a component of the ASVAB Battery made up of four of the ASVAB’s ten tests: “Arithmetic Reasoning” (arithmetic word problems); “Word Knowledge,” “Paragraph comprehension,” and “Mathematics Knowledge.” A minimum score of 31 is required for enlistment eligibility, although some branches require a higher score.

Even though a score of 31 makes them eligible for enlistment, prospects are considered “desirable candidates’ and qualify for enlistment incentives only if they achieve a score of 50 or better.

One can reasonably conclude that a young man or woman who is unable to qualify for even the most basic jobs in the military services will, similarly, be unable to qualify for even the most basic jobs in civilian society. The candidates who are eligible to enlist but fall short of the threshold that would designate them as desirable candidates, will be assigned the least desirable jobs.

Over the past year or more, I have tested approximately 700 public school students. Although I am not authorized to provide specific data, roughly 30 percent of the young high school graduates and high school seniors who took the exam were unable to achieve the minimum score of 31. Given that these are percentile scores based on the data from the millions of ASVAB exams administered during the last decade or longer, the outcomes I witness are not unexpected. Approximately 55 percent of the 700 high school graduates and high school seniors were unable to achieve an AFQT score of 50 or higher.

On a given Thursday evening, I might test anywhere from 5 to 20 young people. There is always a sense of nervous anticipation as candidates arrive for testing and I can hear excitement in their voices. From their recruiters, they have heard what the various branches have to offer, and the benefits are substantial.

Some of the questions and comments I get while checking them in for the exam are:

  • “Will I know my score, tonight?” and the answer is “Yes”
  • “Will I know what kind of jobs I will be qualified for?” I explain that their recruiter will help them understand their scores.
  • “I hope I do well because I would like to do “___________.”
  •  “Is this test hard? I really need to pass!”

 

Others will talk about how hard they have been studying in preparation for the test, not realizing how little that will help.

Teachers and other educators know how ineffective it is to cram the night before a test if students have not taken their classroom assignments seriously. We know it is impossible to make up, with a few hours of cramming, what takes most of us 12 or 13 years to learn and master.

As I monitor the candidates during the test, it is sad to see the discouragement set in as they begin to realize how poorly prepared they are for the material on which they are being tested. Their body language quickly reflects their discouragement: their shoulders begin to sag, they begin to fidget in their seats, or start looking around to see what other examinees are doing. When they begin racing through the questions, it is clear they have given up and are no longer trying; a strategy they have learned all too well.

I once had a young man raise his hand and then ask me one of the most profound questions I’ve ever been asked:

“How are we supposed to know this stuff?”

 I am not permitted to answer questions about the exam, but I would have loved to have been able to answer that question. Were they never told that learning “this stuff” was the purpose of going to school?

This high school graduate became one of the 3 to 5 percent of the examinees who achieved a single digit score, meaning they are functionally illiterate.

Over two-hundred times in the last year, as they left the testing room with score in hand, young men and women were confronted with the stone-cold reality that there are no good opportunities for them, whether in the military or in civilian life. Their faces tell the story. They are permitted to take a retest in 30 days, and again after another 30, and yet again 6 months after the 2nd retest.  It is exceedingly rare, however, for them to improve their score well enough to reach the “eligibility threshold,” let alone the “desirability threshold.”

I have been administering the ASVAB for fourteen years and have seen this story play out over 3000 times, whether testing in Fort Wayne, which is my primary testing site, or occasionally in South Bend, Gary, Muncie, Lafayette, or Kokomo, Indiana.  It is a story that is repeated in communities all over the U.S. as millions of young American men and women are leaving school without the knowledge and skills they will need to have meaningful choices in life. These young men and women come from all racial, ethnic, and demographic groups but a disproportionate percentage are young blacks; testimony to the fact that the performance gap or achievement gap between black students and their white classmates, is real.

It is unfortunate that public school superintendents and principals are not present to see their former students facing such stark realities; that they are not witnessing this tragedy up close and personal.

The roughly 55 percent of the candidates who score below 50 and are, thus, unable to qualify for enlistment incentives, are only marginally less at risk than those unable to score 31.

I ask the reader to understand that this population of young Americans represents only those who have sufficient ambition to, at least, seek out a better life for themselves. Many of the young men and women who leave school with minimal academic achievements do not even try to seek out opportunities because they have given up all hope. That many of this latter group of young Americans, black men especially, will end up in local, state, and federal correction facilities or meet an early, violent death is a national tragedy of immense proportions with staggering ramifications for the future of the American democracy.

All hope is not lost, however.

This is a tragedy that can so easily be avoided if the leaders of public education (our superintendents and policy makers) would first, acknowledge that what we are doing in our public schools does not work for disadvantaged children; and second, would accept responsibility for finding a solution.

It can be avoided if advocates for black children, Hispanic children, and other disadvantaged children would come together and demand action to address this civil rights issue of our times with the same relentless determination as the civil rights heroes of the 1950s and 60s. I can assure these advocates that the people who promote “school choice” are not their friends and do not have the best interests of disadvantaged kids in mind.

This is an American tragedy of staggering proportions and it happens only because the education process at work in our public schools is not structured to give disadvantaged children the time, care, and attention they need to overcome their disadvantages.

Many Americans are quick to blame teachers, but this is grossly unfair. Public school teachers are victims of the same flaws in our systems of public education, as are their students. Teachers are too busy trying to make a flawed education process work for as many of their students as possible.

Public school superintendents, and to a lesser extent, their principals are the professionals who have the best opportunity to bring about meaningful change. If superintendents have underperforming schools in their districts, they have a moral obligation to join forces with their colleagues and shout, loudly, that it is time to transform public education in America. I offer my education model as a starting point. Please check it out at http://www.melhawkinsandassociates.com/education-model-white-paper/

Public Schools Need Visionary, Positive Leadership!

Positive leadership in any organization or enterprise is crucial and this is especially true in venues that are being challenged by dissatisfied customers or constituents. Public school districts and public education, in general, are examples of such venues.

In public school corporations, the leader at the top of the organization is the superintendent. Like all top executives, superintendents are responsible for: conveying mission, vision, and values to their people and community; developing a leadership cadre to help create and preserve a culture of excellence in which teachers, students, and staff can be successful; driving their districts toward fulfillment of its mission; overseeing the administrative, managerial, and fiscal functions of their school  districts; and representing their districts to the community—their constituency.

 Two of the most important components of representing one’s mission to constituents are, 1) being fully attuned to the level of satisfaction of one’s customers/constituents and, 2) being able to envision innovative solutions in response to customer concerns and in anticipation of evolving wants and needs. Positive leaders must go out into the community or marketplace so they can actually listen to and be able to articulate the sentiments of their constituents.

 Assessing customer satisfaction is an area in which public school leadership is under-performing. I believe public school educators and policy makers rely too heavily on self-assessment.

 Consider the example of a chef in a restaurant. It is not sufficient for the chef to be satisfied that the food she prepares is of the highest quality. This might be adequate if she viewed herself as an artist engaged in the development of her craft for self-expression. It is insufficient, however, when the chef is working to create a product for which patrons would be willing to pay. In the latter case, quality can only be assessed by an objective measurement of customer satisfaction. Satisfaction is easy to assess in private enterprise because a business is either financially viable or not. Assessing customer satisfaction with a public school corporation presents different challenges and rarely will self-assessment be enough.

 When a superintendent announces that their district’s graduation rate has increased from 89 to 91 percent, as an example, such statements are inconsequential if those high school graduates lack meaningful choices of what to do with their lives. If high school graduates are unable to take advantage of opportunities because they cannot pass a basic academic skills tests for employment purposes, for acceptance into a college or vocational training programs, or for enlistment in the military services, their diploma is meaningless and so is a graduation rate.

 Superintendents of public school corporations must be willing to recognize and accept that the education reform movement with its focus on privatization is a symptom of wide-spread customer dissatisfaction with public schools. The diminution of the willingness to bear the cost of public schools on the part of taxpayers; the erosion of the esteem in which public school teachers are held by their communities; and, the outcries from minority communities that the needs of their children are not being met are all symptoms of pervasive customer/constituent dissatisfaction. 

 Like the “Me Too Movement” the outcry of men and women of color, with respect to the willingness of public school educators to tolerate the failure of disadvantaged kids, will no longer be silenced.

 Public education is in dire need of visionary leaders who are willing to go back to the drawing board to reinvent an education process that will meet the needs of all students, even disadvantaged kids. The goal must be that every child learns as much as they are able at their own best speed, beginning at the precise point on an academic preparedness continuum where we find them when they arrive for their first day of school. An education is not a competition to see who can learn the most, the fastest and it must not become triage where we pick and choose to whom we will offer opportunities.

 The measure of the success of our children must not be their ability to pass high stakes testing rather that they be able to utilize what they have learned in the real world. And, yes, we can teach to this standard even if we must continue standardized testing. If we succeed, it is inevitable that high-stakes testing will be rendered irrelevant.

 I urge the leaders of public education to open their hearts and minds to a new way of thinking about how we teach our children and I offer an education model as a point of embarkation. http://www.melhawkinsandassociates.com/education-model-white-paper/ You are invited to examine my education model, not is search of reasons why it will not work, rather in search of reasons why it can. If you think my model and its education process will work, then test it in one of your lowest performing elementary schools. If you think you can make it better, then do it. Just don’t think, for even a single moment, that we can fix public education by tinkering with one incremental change after another. Our nation’s children deserve better.

Black Panther, the Movie: a Call to Action!

 

To this white viewer, the movie, Black Panther, has a compelling message for all Americans, but particularly for successful men and women of color. It is a call to action with an unequivocal message that It is not acceptable to isolate oneself from the problems of society when one’s successes, discoveries, and genius can make a meaningful difference.

In the fifties and sixties, civil rights leaders had a clear and all-consuming purpose. They were driven to ensure that people of color be granted equal protection under the law. They achieved their purpose with the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and other subsequent legislation.  Now, however, 50 years later, our society remains separate and unequal with respect to black and white Americans and other minorities and that separation is being perpetuated by the performance gap between black students and their white classmates in our nation’s schools. The dream so eloquently envisioned by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and for which he and the other heroes of the civil rights movement sacrificed so much, has not been realized.

 Black Panther, the movie, is a call to action to address the civil rights issue of the 21st Century, public education. Take a moment to think about public education in America.

There are many men and women of color who have enjoyed success and accomplishment in every conceivable venue including being elected to the American presidency. Look at what so many men and women of color have achieved in the last half century. Look at your own accomplishments. Your successes did not come easily. For each of those successes you worked hard to overcome the formidable obstacles of bigotry and discrimination. How were you able to overcome discrimination?

The key was a quality education that provided you with a portfolio of the knowledge, skills, and understanding you needed to seize opportunities. You did it, also, because you were blessed to have people in your lives who helped you develop a strong self-esteem, self-discipline, and the determination needed to overcome discrimination.

Now, consider the millions of men and women of color who languish in our nation’s poor urban and rural communities, entrapped in a maelstrom of poverty and failure. These Americans have not been successful in acquiring a quality education and neither have they been able to acquire the strong self-esteem and self-discipline necessary to render themselves impervious to discrimination.  As a result, they have spent their entire lives living under a canopy of hopelessness and powerlessness, vulnerable to those who look upon them with suspicion and derision because of the color of their skin.

The sons and daughters of our nation’s poor communities, a disproportionate percentage of whom are children of color, now populate the same public schools in which their parents struggled. In poor urban and rural community school districts around the nation, the data is indisputable. An unacceptable number of these children are failing. It begins in the early grades when these boys and girls arrive for their first day of school with what I call an “academic preparedness deficiency.”

In many school districts, by the time these kids reach middle school, the percentage able to pass both the math and English language arts components of their state’s competency exams may be 20 percent or lower. The performance gap between black students and their white classmates is as wide if not wider than it has ever been.

It is vital that we understand that this lack of academic achievement is the result of an obsolete education process and not because of bad teachers and bad schools and not because disadvantaged kids cannot learn. Our public school teachers are dedicated men and women who do the best they can to make an obsolete education process work for their students.

We must also understand that the “school choice” movement with its focus on high stakes testing and privatization through the establishment of charter schools is not the answer. The performance of charter schools is often no better than the public schools they were intended to replace, and this should come as no surprise. Except in rare circumstances, these charter schools rely on the same obsolete education process as our public schools. Just moving kids to a different building with different teachers will not change outcomes. Teachers in public, private, parochial, and charter schools are all trained in the same colleges and universities.

Most public-school educators and policy makers insist that public education is better than it has ever been and that the performance gap between black and white and rich and poor kids exists because society has not been successful in addressing the issue of poverty in America. I suggest an alternate explanation.

The truth is that our nation has done something about poverty in America. Our state and federal governments, over the last century, have spent trillions of dollars building public schools in every community and hiring public school teachers trained in our nation’s finest colleges and universities. That children are still failing does not mean they cannot learn or that our teachers cannot teach. It only means that what we have been asking teachers to do, does not work for disadvantaged students.

If what we are doing does not work, it is not okay to give up and say we tried. We must keep searching for new ways to do what we do until we find something that does work.

I challenge successful men and women of color and white Americans who share my belief that diversity is and has always been our greatest strength as a democratic society, to join forces on a mission to transform public education in America. This is the civil rights issue of the 21st Century.

Based on my 40-plus years of combined experience in working with kids, in organizational leadership, as a leadership and organizational development consultant, as administrator of the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery, and as a substitute teacher in a public-school corporation, I have developed an education model that rejects failure and is focused on success.  It is a model that:

  • determines the level of a child’s academic preparedness when they arrive for their first day of school;
  • tailors an academic plan based on the unique requirements of each child;
  • creates an environment in which teachers are expected to develop close, enduring relationships with each student;
  • strives to pull parents into the process so that they can be partners sharing responsibility for the success of their sons and daughters;
  • Expects teachers to give students however much time and attention they need to learn from their mistakes and be able to demonstrate that they can use what they learned in real-life situations, including future lessons;
  • Enables teachers to use whatever innovative methodologies and technologies they deem necessary to help their students succeed; and,
  • Celebrates each student’s success so that they can gain confidence in their ability to create success for themselves.

 

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

The only justification for ignoring this call to action is if one chooses to believe that disadvantaged children and children of color are incapable of learning.

If you believe that these kids can learn, how long are we going to wait and how many children will we permit to fail before we say enough is enough? Until we refuse to allow these children to fail, the schoolhouse to jailhouse track will remain a super highway to the future for far too many young people.

Unlike the civil rights heroes of the 50s and 60s, we need not sway Congress or even state legislatures. The changes we propose will not alter anything other than the way we organize students, teachers, and classrooms and what we do inside those classrooms. We will still teach to the same academic standards and will still be subject to the same accountabilities.

We need only convince a handful of superintendents of school districts with low-performing schools to test my model in one of their struggling elementary schools. If it works as I believe it will, those superintendents will be compelled to expand the model into all their districts’ schools and other public school corporations will be compelled to follow suit.

Imagine a future in which every child leaves high school with a full menu of choices about what to do with their lives to find joy and meaning in life and provide for themselves and their families. This future can be realized if you choose to accept Black Panther’s call to action.

Most Recent Posts from February 16 through April 15

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

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

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

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

3/23:  Sacrificing Purpose for Administrative or Organizational Efficiency

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

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

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

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

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

2/21:  Learning Is an Adventure of Discovery!

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

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

 

It’s All About the Kids!!!!

 

 

Who is @melhawk46 and What Is His Agenda?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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