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.

Sacrificing Purpose For Administrative Convenience or Organizational Efficiency

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How Do We Reinvent the Education Process to Provide Every Child with the Highest Possible Quality Education?

Educators understand that our students deserve the absolute best that their teachers have to give and also that teachers deserve the gratification that comes from our students’ success. Similarly, many of you recognize that giving kids the time and attention they deserve is often made difficult by the existing education process. You also know that in this environment, made toxic by high-stakes testing, it is hard for teachers to feel appreciated when test results are used, not as a diagnostic tool to help us do a better job, rather to justify blaming teachers and our public schools for the problems in public education

Teachers who have been around for a while know that the teaching profession has been under-appreciated for decades and they have seen many colleagues burn out and leave the profession they entered with such high hopes, expectations, and dedication.

The fact is that the world has changed exponentially over the last half century while the education process has remained relatively static. Certainly, new tools, techniques and technologies have been introduced but not all have made a teacher’s job easier. Many do not work the way they were envisioned in every teaching environment or for all students. Incremental reforms have been going on throughout the lifetimes of most of us and the best measure of their lack of success is the dread teachers feel in the anticipation of a new wave of education reforms.

I urge teachers to consider that there is an entire field of knowledge with respect to organizations and the processes utilized to serve each organization’s mission and purpose and to achieve their objectives. One of the things organizational leaders and specialists come to understand is that a process that continues to produce unacceptable outcomes, no matter how hard people work or how qualified they may be, cannot be patched, jury-rigged, or duct taped to fix that which is broken. Neither can new tools and technologies be utilized to fix an obsolete process any more than we can adapt a 747 for a trip to the moon. Elsewhere I have used the parable of new wine in old wineskins to illustrate why we haven’t been successful in fixing public education for every student through the introduction of new methodologies and technologies.

Systems are complex logical processes where the internal mechanisms that have been designed to serve the organization’s mission and purpose are integrated and interdependent. Like complex software, when we mess with the internal logic without understanding the whole, our changes will reverberate through the process creating an adverse impact on our outcomes and for our customers. Such patchwork solutions also make the work more difficult for every organization’s most valuable resource; its people. Even the best processes will degrade over time, no matter what we do.

The process utilized to reinvent an obsolete process can be replicated in almost any venue. It begins with:

• A re-clarification of an organization’s mission and purpose;

• Listening to and understanding our customer’s ever-changing requirements;

• Challenging all of our assumptions about what we do and why;

• Listening, also, to the people on whom we depend to produce our goods and services and who see flaws of the underperforming process in real time;

• Research to makes sure we are using state-of-the-art tools and technology;

• Creating a process designed to produce the outcomes we seek and that supports all of the people and resources engaged in that effort;

• A performance management system to solicit feedback and measure outcomes against expectations, not to fix blame but to help us learn from mistakes;

• To problem-solve disparate outcomes in a relentless pursuit of excellence; and, finally,

• Research and development to anticipate changes in the dynamic environment and marketplace in which we live and work.

I encourage the reader to examine the education model I have developed as each of the above components have either been completed or are in the process of completion. You can find my education model at my website at http://www.melhawkinsandassociates.com/education-model-white-paper/ along with an accompanying white paper written to introduce the education model’s logical foundation. You will also find my blog, Education, Hope, and the American Dream, with over 150 posts on the challenges facing public schools, their teachers, and students.

The education model is based upon my 40 years of organizational leadership and consulting experience; my experience working with kids, which began in 1966 and included nine years as a juvenile probation officer and supervisor, as a board member of a Montessori School, and as a co-founder of a Boys and Girls Club; two masters degrees, an MSEd in Psychology; and an MPA in public management; my own research and writing in the areas of the principles of positive leadership, organizational development, and systems thinking; and, my experience in the classroom over a ten-year period from 2002 through 2011, during which I walked in the shoes of public school teachers as a substitute in a diverse urban, public school district.

Although I have great confidence that my model will work to produce the outcomes we seek, I have and offer no illusions that it is the only possible solution. Also, I can assure the reader that it is and will always be a work in process. The reader is challenged to use my education model as a starting point to help you understand so that you can offer suggestions to improve my model or develop a better solution, if you can. You are advised, however, to relinquish any and all beliefs that the existing model can be modified, incrementally, to meet the needs of all of our nation’s children. Incremental changes to the current process is what got us where we are today and can only complicate things more than they already are.

Finally, I challenge the reader to understand that all the complaining and talk in the world will not fix the problems in public education. Neither will our complaints deter the efforts of the powerful men and women promoting what they call “Choice.” To stop them we must render them irrelevant and the only thing that works to solve such real-life challenges is applying the imagination of human beings working together for a common purpose.

Whether my model or yours, I challenge all of you to rally behind a solution as a united group of professional men and women dedicated to providing the highest possible quality of education for the children of our nation. It public education on which the futures of our nation’s children depends and it is our children on whom our nation’s future depend.

Please share this article, education model and white paper with everyone you know and ask them to join you in a crusade to transform public education in America. It may be the most important thing you will ever be asked to do for your country or for society, as a whole.

What Makes Teaching Such a Difficult Job?

Imagine any job where the people who arrive at your workplace are so lacking in the skills needed to be successful in your unit that training them seems problematic. Imagine, further that the people you work with or serve, capable or not, are unmotivated to perform the work or activity that is expected of them; are unwilling or unable to conform to acceptable standards of behavior; have families that may or not be supportive or, in some cases, may actually interfere with what you are striving to accomplish; and, that the most important influence in the lives of the people for whom you are responsible is their peer group. If they must choose who to disappoint it will be you and/or their families, not their friends.

Your education and training suggests many management and supervisory strategies that work in some settings but seem to be meaningless in others. You have also been taught that some individuals need more patient time and attention in order to learn from the mistakes they make but in far too many settings there is insufficient time to give them. Part of the problem is that you are expected to conform to arbitrary schedules that require that you reach certain checkpoints within a predetermined period of time. You are also expected to comply with arbitrary standards of performance and production that appear to have been written by someone who has never actually done your job.

These arbitrary schedules, standards, and production goals might even appear to make sense in the abstract but when applied to your assigned work space and to the unique characteristics of the people to whom you are assigned, they make no sense at all. These challenges, viewed in the aggregate, are difficult enough but imagine that your work will be inspected, routinely, as will the production results of your people. It would be one thing if these inspections and production reports were adaptive to the performance capabilities of your work group but, of course, they are not. Rather, your efforts are evaluated within the context of what we are told is an even playing field that is as arbitrary as are the schedules, standards, and objectives against which you and your people’s performance is measured.

If this was not bad enough, imagine that when your results fail to meet arbitrary expectations, you are asked to accept responsibility. When the results in your unit are particularly disparate when compared to other workplaces filled with people with a diverse range of capabilities, imagine that you are asked to bear the brunt of blame.

Finally, when you are evaluated by your leaders, imagine that they view their job not so much as a support system to help you achieve your objectives but rather as an inspector to police your performance, seeking evidence that what you are doing is wrong or insufficient.

Imagine the evaluation coming to a crushing crescendo when you are told that the problem is that you are not sufficiently engaged with your people and that you need to work harder to build relationships with them. There seems to be little, if any, recognition that building relationships with each and every one of the individuals for whom you are responsible requires that you allocate more time; time that has not been allocated to you.

Imagine that when you strive to improve your level of engagement, although a few individuals may actually respond, that some of your people, if not the majority, are far more challenging than others and not only require more time and attention than you are able to give them but actually resist your efforts.

The icing on the cake or, more appropriately the thorns in your crown, is that, at the end of an arbitrary period of time, you are assigned responsibility for a whole new group of people with which one of your colleagues has had a similar results. This requires that you start from scratch and go through the same process over and over, again, with no reason to anticipate better outcomes.

Can you imagine any way the job you are being asked to do will produce quality outcomes, given the inherent deficiencies in the process?

The challenge is that the production, assembly, or service delivery process within which you are expected to work is neither tasked, structured, nor resourced to enable you to provide your people—a group with a diverse range of personalities and capabilities—with the time and attention they require to be successful.

When you suggest to your leadership that what you are being asked to do does not work for all or part of your people you are told to “work harder.” They tell us that, “This is the reality with which we are expected to deal,” and that “we must suck it up and do our best without complaining.”

If you and your colleagues are sufficiently brave to ask the questions “What about my well-being?” and “How am I supposed to find any job satisfaction in such conditions?” imagine that your leaders look at you as if you are speaking an alien language.

Finally, when you commiserate with your colleagues in the staff lounge, over a drink in a neighborhood bar, or at your union or association meetings nothing ever changes. Oh, forget what I said about sharing a drink in a neighborhood bar. You have work to take home! There is no time for a drink however much you might feel you need it.

If you want to hear the final irony it is that this environment in which you are asked to perform miracles, mirrors the environment that your students must endure, like a parallel universe. The difference is that, unlike you and your colleagues, many of your students do not care. They feel free to take the easy way out and just stop trying. This enables them to spend their eight hours a day, five days a week looking for ways to have fun and make your lives more interesting in what they perceive to be a consequence-free environment. It will only be later in life that they will discover how wrong they were about the lack of consequences.

My recommendation to you—and, yes, I know I’m an outsider—is to go beyond pondering the absurd idea that their must surely be a better way and ask your union and association leaders help tackle the challenge of finding a new solution. I can assure you that there is always a better way but all the complaining in the world will not help you find it. You might also consider going to outsiders like me who have been paid to find solutions to other dysfunctional workplaces very much like yours.

Consultants like me have the advantage of being able to step back to a point from which we can view your work place as an integral whole and apply the principles of positive leadership, systems thinking, and organizational development to find all of the “disturbances in the force” that make production, assembly, or service-delivery processes like yours dysfunctional. Software engineers do exactly the same thing in their very specialized field working with computer applications.

As it happens, I have the added advantage of having actually walked in the shoes of public school teachers while working as a substitute teacher in a diverse, local public school district. In fact, I have already applied my 45+ years of expertise and experience, along with two master’s degrees, to examine the education process I observed and to reinvent it to achieve the outcomes we are seeking.

I can tell you with absolute confidence that the education process I have developed, if implemented as an integral system, will work to create an environment in which your students can actually learn and in which teachers can find job satisfaction and take pride in their work. I will also tell you, with absolute confidence, that mine is not the only solution; there is always another way. The advantage of my re-invented education process is that the work is already done and needs only a little tweaking.

I suggest that you use the education model I have developed as a point of embarkation. Use it as a tool to help you challenge the fundamental logic and assumptions of the existing education process and begin to view it objectively as just that, a complex organizational process with which we are expected to teach our nation’s children.

Maybe you will discover your own solution and maybe you will come to believe that my model will work. At least you will be moving forward rather being stuck in complaint mode, where nothing ever changes. Beware of the temptation to take the easy route, however, and drift away from systemic solutions and opt for incremental reforms with new strategies and technologies. The latter are probably good ideas but I can assure you they will not work within the context of an obsolete education process.

In an earlier piece I used the parable of “new wine in old wineskins” to illustrate that the new ideas and technologies, however inventive, will not work within the context of an obsolete process. This is the reality you have today and you know in your heart that not only does what you are asked to do not work, you know that it cannot work. Even in some of our highest performing public schools there are students we cannot seem to reach.

You can visit my website at www.melhawkinsandassociates.com where you can examine my education model and an accompanying white paper, as well as my blog, Education, Hope and the American Dream with more than 150 articles about the challenges in public education and about the false promise of current education reforms.

You will also have access to my books, the most appropriate of which will be The Difference is You: Power of Positive Leadership, based on my many years of organizational leadership and consulting experience and my book on education, Reinventing Education, Hope, and the American Dream: The Challenge For Twenty-First Century America (REHAD). While the book has much to offer and I would never discourage anyone from reading REHAD, please know that I am now writing a follow-up book as I have learned a great deal from all of you over the 5-year period sense the REHAD was published. An expanded version of this blog post is one of the chapters in my new book.

Thank you, educators, for the heroic work you do and please cling to the hope that better days will come if you reach out for them. Here is a simple test of whether or not there is reason to hope. Do believe children are capable of learning? Do you believe you are capable of teaching? If you believe both are true then the reason your students are not learning has to do with the process, not the people. Fix the process so that it supports learning and teaching in every conceivable way and both you and your students will be successful and you will have the job you envisioned when you chose to enter the profession.

An Open Letter to Jason Riley at The Wall Street Journal

Thank you for your column in the Wall Street Journal, “Do Black Students Need White Peers?” There are several issues in your column to which I want to respond.

The direct answer to your question is, “No, But.”

Black students do not need to have white children in their schools and classrooms in order to learn and I will elaborate on this point, below. The “But” part, however, is that all children benefit from being in in schools and classrooms with a diverse population of children. I believe diversity benefits every human being, whatever their age or venue.

The second point to address is the “Choice” movement with its focus on charters schools and vouchers. While I have nothing against charter schools, it is a myth that they always perform at a higher level than public schools. The data shows that while there are many successful charter schools, there are many that underperform when compared to the public schools they were intended to replace.

My biggest problem with the education reform movement focused on “choice” is that it is suggested that this is the solution to improving the quality of education in America; that it will end the performance gap between black and white children; or, that it will improve our nation’s ability to compete in the world marketplace. None of these assertions are true.

Having the best product or service in the world means nothing unless you are able to deliver it to customers. Any solution must be logistically feasible and it is simply not feasible to believe that we can solve the issue of the quality of American education with a handful of charters schools scattered in communities throughout the U.S. It would take us generations to create a sufficient number of charters schools to meet the needs of millions of American children and we cannot wait that long.

Besides, we already have school buildings in every community in the nation, all staffed with qualified teachers, trained in the same colleges and universities in which most charter school teachers were educated. The problem with both private and public education in America is that the education process that is utilized to teach our children has been obsolete for most of our lifetimes.

It is not the school building that makes the difference and it is not the teachers that are the problem. The only thing that makes a difference is what we do in our classrooms–what we ask of our teacher–wherever it is located. The sad but undeniable truth is that the education process in place in American public schools has not changed, materially, for as long as anyone can remember while the world into which our children are born has changed exponentially. The education process does not work for disadvantaged children and I believe the current education process does a disservice to even students on the upper end of the performance continuum.

The failure of the education process is not because teachers are incompetent and not because they do not care. The vast majority of American public school teachers are unsung heroes striving to do a difficult job under nearly impossible circumstances. My only complaint of teachers is that they have been blamed for the problems in our schools for so long that they have grown defensive when they should be banging on the table and yelling that what they are being asked to do does not work.

The real problem in our schools is that education leaders whether principals, superintendents, college professors, or policy makers are not under the same pressure, as their counterparts in a business environment, to relentlessly challenge their assumptions and to question whether they are meeting the needs of their customers.

The longer we delay fixing this obsolete education process the more young Americans will be forced to endure failure. We cannot afford to waste a single child and neither can our nation afford the incalculable opportunity cost that these children represent. Public education is the civil rights issue of our time and is at the root of all of our nation’s social and political problems. That so many people are so poorly educated that they are unable to bear the responsibilities of citizenship is why so many other Americans have grown bitter and resentful. The bitterness and resentment in the hearts of people for whom the American Dream is not real burns every bit as deeply.

The irony is that reinventing the education process to meet the needs of every American child is a relatively easy thing to do if education leaders, advocates, and policy makers would simply open their minds and hearts to the idea that their might be a better way.

As I have written, so often, the education process is no different than a production, assembly, or service-delivery process in the business world. Neither is it different than an application software. It is simply a logical process designed by human beings to produce a desired outcome. Such processes are altered, reinvented, and re-engineered with regularity in the private sector because businesses must respond to the dissatisfaction of their customers and to the dynamic changes in the expectations of those customers. Reinventing a process to produce a better outcome is a routine necessity in the private sector. In public education, and in many other public venues, such reinventions seem to be beyond the imagination of our leaders.

There is an axiom in operations management that if a process continues to produce unacceptable outcomes no matter how hard people work or how qualified they are then the process is flawed and must be replaced. We must go back to the drawing board. Just as in any other venue, a process must be focused on its purpose to such a degree that every single activity must be judged on the basis of how well it serves that purpose and how well it supports the people on whom one relies to do the job. The same is true for teaching kids.

In her book, The Flat World and Education: How America’s Commitment to Equity Will Determine Our Future, Linda Darling-Hammond makes the same point when she wrote:

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

In American public education we have not reinvented the education process in generations, and no, just providing new and more sophisticated tools is not sufficient. The education process is not focused on the needs of students and it sets them up for failure and humiliation.

When young children show up for their first day of school the disparity in terms of their academic preparedness is cavernous. Yet teachers are expected to move kids along, from year to year, marching to the beat of a given state’s academic standards—common core or not—at relatively the same pace. As children begin to fall behind because they need more time to learn a given lesson, they are pushed ahead, ready or not. The teacher records a low or failing score in their gradebook and it’s off to the next lesson. In many subject areas, the child’s ability to learn a new lesson requires that he or she be able to apply what they have learned on previous lessons. As a result, the probability that a child who has fallen behind will fail, yet again, increases.

If you examine state competency scores in any state you will find that by the third grade, only about a third of disadvantaged students can pass both the English Language Arts and mathematics components of those exams. By the time those students reach middle school the percentage of those same kids who are able to pass both ELA and math exams has dropped to 25 percent or less. What we are teaching these kids is how to fail. School districts may boast of high graduation rates but an unacceptable number of those diplomas are worthless pieces of paper.

As it happens, I administer the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB) to young men and women who wish to enlist in the military. Most of these young people who take the ASVAB for enlistment purposes are recent high school grads or high school seniors. The minimum score for enlistment eligibility in the Army, for example, is a percentile score of 31, meaning that 30 percent of the candidates are not eligible for enlistment. (Some services have higher eligibility requirements).

ASVAB scores for blacks and other minorities mirrors the performance of middle school students on state competency exams that I referenced above. If one is unable to qualify for even the least desirable jobs in the military, for how many civilian jobs will they be qualified? So much for 80 to 90 percent graduation rates. It’s not the diploma that matters it is how one can apply in the real world that which they learned in school.

The sad but compelling truth is that this has been going on for more than a half century and, as a result, our poor urban and rural communities throughout America are filled with multiple generations of men and women who have always been poor and who all failed in school, diplomas notwithstanding. Many are dependent on their government, to the great resentment of other Americans. Why, because the education process has never been designed with the same rigorous focus on the needs of its students or to support teachers in meeting those needs.

It doesn’t need to be this way but no one wants to listen. We can alter this reality for all time as easily as we can alter a production process at a manufacturing facility or re-engineer the software of a computer application.

I invite you to check out my website where you will find an education model I have developed at http://www.melhawkinsandassociates.com/education-model-white-paper/

I, also, invite you to check out my blog, “Education, Hope, and the American Dream” where I have posted over 150 articles on the subject of public education and the challenge of meeting the needs of disadvantaged students, a disproportionate percentage of whom are black and other children of color.

For nearly 5 years I have been seeking a public school corporation willing to test my education model in just one of its underperforming elementary schools to demonstrate that we can teach every child to be successful and insure that no child fails. I have had no takers.

Since it takes 13 years to get a new Kindergarten student through high school, every year we delay creates a whole new generation of young Americans with no choices of what to do with their lives to find joy, to support a family, or to participate in their own governance as a well-informed citizen of a democratic society.

How long are we willing to accept an avoidable tragedy that destroys millions of young lives and that jeopardizes the future of our society?