What If We Were Starting from Scratch?

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

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

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

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

And,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Black or White They’re Just Kids: They Need Us & We Need Them; a refrain!

The original version of this article was written two-and-half years ago but events in the intervening months suggest to me that it needs repeated; with a few updates. It will be followed by a related article on bullying and peer pressure.

It is incredibly difficult for a white person to understand what it is like to be black. Sadly, most white people are perfectly content to know as little as possible about such things. For others like my white daughter and son-in-law who are parents of a black son, it is imperative that we understand as much as we possibly can.

My wife and I have now have four grandchildren. The eldest is a little girl who was adopted by that same daughter and son-in-law. She is of Mexican descent with beautiful, thick black hair, brown eyes, and golden brown skin. The second is a little boy whose skin is a beautiful, rich brown with eyes to match and who came out of his birth mother’s womb with a natural Afro. Our youngest two grandkids are the biological offspring of my youngest daughter and her husband. The eldest (and our third) is the palest of whites, bordering on pink, and her hair is as red as her father’s beard. Our fourth, now 18 months of age, has skin not quite as pale as his big sister’s but hair every bit as red.

Each of them have magnificent smiles that light up our lives even more than the lights of the holiday season and laughter that warms us during the coldest of times. Their smiles have reminded me that throughout my whole life, whenever I have been blessed to see a child smile, I am blind to any of the other features, that for reasons that are difficult to fathom, cause some human beings to pass derisive judgment. For me the smile of any child is a source of incalculable joy that is as common to the shared universal human experience as anything else in life.

These children represent our family’s beautiful rainbow and like all grandparents we love them so much that it hurts.

When our daughter announced that they were adopting a black infant we knew he would face challenges but we did not yet grasp the whole of it. In the four-and-a-half years since the birth of this sweet child, our nation has been rocked by racial violence and hatred. We have known that the American people have been divided, politically, for decades but could we ever have imagined that the President of the United States, through his words and actions, could model such rhetoric and enmity?

It is bad enough that so many citizens could interpret our President’s words and actions as a license for the public expression of embittered hatred but are we truly so divided, ideologically, that good men and women would choose to tolerate such enmity out of hope that this President can “make America great, again.”

Is there any reason to believe that a man who builds walls, figuratively and literally; who condemns one of the world’s great religions for the radical violence of a few (as if Christians have never done a despicable deed); who provokes confrontations; calls people names; who brands the free press as liars; who challenges the legitimacy of our election process; ignores and ridicules the advice of his diplomatic, intelligence and law enforcement advisors; who rejects the research of the overwhelming majority of the world’s scientists; and, who blames others when things go wrong can be the kind of leader who will unite a culturally diverse nation? Can a bully provide the kind of inspirational, positive leadership we need, so desperately?

Through the escalation of the violence and hatred over the last four-and-a-half years we have become painfully aware of the dangers our sweet and beautiful little guy will face; not because of anything he has done but only because of the way the color of his skin will affect the attitudes of a huge population of Americans.

I have spent my entire lifetime striving to understand why our world is so full of hatred over issues as insignificant as the color of one’s skin. I still struggle to understand why differences in eye or hair color are perceived as different shades of beauty while differences in skin color produce such extremes of bitter passion.

I was blessed to be born to parents who taught that we are all children of Creation and that we were blessed to live in a country in which we are all considered to be equal under the Constitution.

I was equally fortunate to live in a neighborhood and attend an elementary school where I learned to be friends and playmates of my black classmates before I ever learned of the existence of bigotry and racism. Somehow, I never noticed that when I was playing with my black friends that my white friends were off doing something else and vice versa.

When I first witnessed the hatred that my white friends had for my black friends, I was devastated. Innocence was forever lost but I never lost my perception of diversity as something to be cherished as beautiful.

Later, at the age of 20, I was privileged to spend a summer working in a churchyard in Philadelphia, providing a place for young children to gather and play, safe from the reaches of the gangs whose territories sandwiched our little oasis. All but one of these kids were black. While I was responsible for the boys and girls between the ages of 8 and 16 who came to play in our churchyard and game room, I played with them far more than I supervised. While my job was to keep them safe, I must confess that these youngsters taught me far more than I ever could have taught them.

For the first nine years after college and the military, I worked as a juvenile probation officer where I supervised a multi-racial group of boys and girls between the ages of 9 and 17 and worked with their families. Later, I was one of the founders of a local Boys and Girls Club where, once again, I was privileged to be around and play with a diverse group of children. Later, when I decided to focus on my life-long dream of writing books, I worked part-time as a substitute teachers for my local public school district and glimpsed, first hand, the challenges that both students and teachers face.

What I learned about children during these significant chunks of my life was that whether black, white, or shades of brown; rich or poor; male or female they are all just kids.

They all laugh when they play or act silly; cry and bleed red when they get hurt; get mad when they lose; celebrate when they win; get embarrassed when they are made fun of; yawn when they get sleepy; respond to warmth and affection with warmth and affection; and, suffer egregiously when abused by their parents or society or when bullied.

These boys and girls all have the ability to learn; they are all curious about the world around them; and, they all get discouraged and feel humiliated when they fail. They all suffer great loss of self-esteem when they give up on themselves after repeated failure and no longer believe in their ability to compete.

They all deserve our respect not only as individual human beings but also as members of their unique cultural traditions. The only difference, once they arrive at school, is their level of preparation and motivation. They all deserve the best we have to offer and the very fact that so many children fail provides irrefutable evidence that what we are doing does not work for everyone.

I truly believe that, in spite of the heroic effort of our teachers, it is here, in our elementary schools that we will find the roots of the problems that beleaguer us as a nation and society. Whether we are teachers, administrators, policy-makers, or deans and professors of schools of education, educators must be willing to pull our heads from the sand and stop defending the indefensible.

The fact that so many children are failing, particularly minorities and the poor, is not a predisposition of birth or a fact of nature. That children are failing is nothing more than an outcome of a flawed system of human design. The performance gap between black and white children and other minority classmates is an outcome our traditional educational process is structured to produce. Like any other production- or service-delivery process it can be reinvented to produce the outcomes we want and need.

This flawed system is not the fault of teachers and other professional educators. Rather, the culpability of educators is that they are the people in the best position to identify the failure of this flawed educational process but they hold back as if they are afraid to act. It is critical that we understand that this lack of action is not because they are bad people or incompetent professionals rather it is because they have learned to perceive themselves as powerless.

Teachers must be challenged to accept that powerlessness and hopelessness are functions of choice.

The over-riding truth as we move deeper into this exponentially complex 21st Century is that we need each and every one of these boys and girls just as desperately as they need us. Our ability to compete in the world marketplace will require the absolute best of every single American and if we do not pull together as one beautifully diverse nation of people—the proverbial melting pot—the results will be tragic for all of our grandchildren and great-grandchildren, black or white or any of the colors of the rainbow. What we see happening, today, is a preview of the rest of this 21st Century unless we choose to act.

It is only when we have gained an understanding of the forces that impede the education of our children and accept responsibility for our outcomes that we begin to acquire the power to implement meaningful changes in policy and practice. This is what positive leadership is all about.

I invite the reader to check out my Education Model and White Paper to see one way we can reinvent the education process to produce the outcomes we need.

An Open Letter to Public School Superintendents

Below is a letter being sent to superintendents of public school districts in the U.S.

The solution to the problems in public education is so simple, conceptually, that most educators seem unable to see it. The over-riding objective is: “Don’t let kids fail!”

How we keep children from failing is by restructuring the educational process in such a way that every child is given as much time as they need to learn a given lesson. This model is constructed on the premise that education is not a race to see who learns the most the fastest and where how they finish becomes part of their permanent record and the basis on which future expectations are set. Rather, it is a process by which students learn as much as they are able at their own best speed and where performance is a function of their progress along their own unique path.

Here is a letter mailed to the first group of superintendents:

Dear Superintendent:

It is frustrating when whatever you do, the performance of schools serving disadvantaged kids seems intractable. Please consider the possibility that the educational process in public education is poorly designed to meet the needs of these kids. In operations management there is an axiom that if a process produces unacceptable outcomes no matter how hard people work, the process is flawed. The only way to get the outcomes we want and need is to replace or reinvent the process.

I am seeking at least one public school superintendent who is open to the idea that kids should not have to fail. Just one man or woman who is willing to believe there is a solution for disadvantaged kids and who is searching for a new idea that might work.

I am a writer and former leadership and organizational development consultant who, in 2002, gave up consulting to fulfill my lifelong dream of writing books. During the 10-year period from 2002 to 2012, in which I wrote 3 books, I worked, part-time, as a substitute teacher for Fort Wayne Community Schools. This turned out to be a wonderful opportunity to walk in the shoes of public school teachers.

That experience has given me a unique perspective in that I have witnessed and experienced the challenges teachers face but am able to evaluate what I felt and saw from the point of view of an independent consultant. As a consultant, my job was to help clients examine their business processes to understand why they were getting disappointing outcomes and then guide them toward a solution. Invariably, this required that their processes be re-engineered. What I also learned is that there is always a solution if one can look outside the boundaries of conventional thinking.

Although the overwhelming majority of public school teachers are dedicated professionals doing the best they can within what I describe as a flawed process, they have been blamed for the problems in public education so vehemently that they are, understandably, defensive. This is unfortunate because teachers are perfectly positioned to translate what they see in their classrooms into meaningful advocacy. Teachers know the educational process is flawed every time a student shows up in their classrooms so far behind that he or she has stopped trying. They know the process is broken each time they must move a class on to the next lesson, knowing there are students who are not ready. They know something is wrong whenever they must record an “F” in their gradebook or are asked to help a student qualify for graduation when that student has made minimal effort over a four-year period.

I urge you to take time to review the educational model I have developed and the accompanying white paper that provides an overview of the logic behind the model as well as the findings and conclusions offered in my book, Reinventing Education, Hope, and the American Dream: The Challenge For Twenty-First Century America. You can find the model and white paper at http://www.melhawkinsandassociates.com/education-model-white-paper/.

I am seeking a public school corporation willing to test my model in one of its lowest performing elementary schools. In school districts throughout the U.S. there are elementary schools where students perform well below their counterparts in other schools in their community and around the state, as measured by standardized competency exams. This is not a new phenomenon and has, in fact, been a pattern that can be traced back to the beginning of high-stakes testing and before. By the time these students reach middle school, their performance drops, suggesting that the further along they move through their K-12 academic career, the further behind they fall. By the time these students reach high school, many have given up and have stopped trying. Our teachers and principals see this, routinely. It need not be this way!

Would it not be worthwhile, and in the best interests of students, to examine a new idea? Imagine being the first school district to lead the nation in meaningful educational reform that actually changes the lives of American students?

I look forward to the opportunity meet with you to discuss my model and white paper and invite you to contact me at (260) 740-8285. We still have time to implement my model in the fall semester of the 2017/2018 school year.

Most public school educators have found it difficult to envision any other way to do what they do. Surely there is someone out there who can.

Sincerely,

Mel Hawkins, BA, MSEd, MPA

Public Schools and Teachers Must Heed Customers!

Public school teachers are not to blame for the problems in public education but they must accept responsibility for responding to the customer dissatisfaction and doing something to fix it.

I once heard a public school teacher making a presentation who said that “it was not his job to train students to work for someone’s corporation.” His comment brought an immediate cheer from the audience of other public school teachers. At the time, I accepted his comment as true. It was only later that I decided this was not right!

It is the job of our teachers and schools, both public and private, to help their students gain sufficient knowledge and skills to give them choices about what to do with their lives. One of the choices a young man or woman may make is to go to work for “someone’s corporation.” In fact, they all need to find some way to make a living for themselves and their families. If a young person lacks the skills and knowledge necessary to be successful at such a job then our public schools have not done its job. Performance must always be judged against the results produced and this applies to private, parochial and charter schools, as well.

This past week, The Fort Wayne Journal Gazette, printed an article in which improved graduation rates in our area’s schools were touted. What those educators who were celebrating their success do not seem to understand is that, to the communities those school serve, graduation rates are meaningless statistics if these young graduates are unable to use what they have learned on the job, in the military, at a college or university, or as a responsible citizen of their communities. When many of those graduates return to their communities and gravitate to gangs, drugs, crime, violence, incarceration, or an early violent death, they don’t choose such a life because of its glamorous appeal, they choose it because they are not qualified for much of anything else. Clearly the interests of neither the community nor these young people are well-served.

When our private and public schools are meeting the needs of neither their students nor their communities then something is horribly wrong and it doesn’t matter whether we blame poverty and segregation, or unmotivated and unsupportive parents. When something does not work it is the responsibility of the people who produce that “something” to keep trying new approaches until they find something that will work. It is not sufficient for public school educators to say they are doing their best. Customer dissatisfaction is never acceptable even in a community with poverty and segregation.

What educators must come to accept is that it is dissatisfaction with the results produced by public schools that is the motivating force driving education reformers to use high stakes testing to document those unacceptable outcomes. It is such failures that are the motivating force behind the privatization of schools through the creation of charter schools and voucher programs. These reformers did not wake up one morning and decide that charter schools might prove to be a profitable enterprise. They were motivated by what they have witnessed with respect to the qualifications and work ethic of young people entering the job market and by their belief that they can do a better job. It does not matter whether we agree with this logic but it is the reality behind the reform movement.

Unfortunately, these business men and women did not apply the same rigorous problem-solving methodologies that they would have used to replace an under-performing production process in one of their operations. They did not take the time to understand why public schools are not performing up to their expectations and then use that knowledge to design a more effective education process. Rather, they decided that if they just move kids to a private school setting; pick teachers who are not members of a union; recruit students whose parents are motivated to move their child to a better school; and, then manage those schools the same way they manage their businesses, everything will be better.

Today, we are seeing that many of the charter schools that have been thus created are not performing any better than the public schools they were intended to replace. Instead they are teaching kids the same way public schools have been teaching for as long as any of us can remember and they are getting the same outcomes.

If we want better outcomes, we must take the time to understand why the existing educational process is not working and re-invent that process to do what we need it to do. We need an educational process that gives each and every child the time and resources they need in order to learn and that gives teachers the time, support, and resources they need to help their students along, each and every step of the way. We need an education model that works.

The education model I have introduced in my book, Reinventing Education, Hope, and the American Dream: The Challenge for Twenty-First Century America is a model that is designed to give teachers what they need in order to teach and give kids what they need in order to learn. The reader is encouraged to check out both my model and a white paper that summarizes the findings and conclusions of my book at http://www.melhawkinsandassociates.com/education-model-white-paper/

If They Fail We All Fail!

Over the last 150 years, the educational process at work in our schools, both public and private, has evolved slowly through a steady stream of incremental reforms. During those same 150 years, American society has changed exponentially. A combination of a growing population; increasing diversity; immigration, both legal and not; advancements in technology that would have seemed unimaginable even two decades ago; a crumbling infrastructure; a more competitive world marketplace; a fragile ecosystem; and, a far more complex political environment place great pressure on a democratic form of government.

Democracy depends upon our public schools to prepare young people for the responsibilities of citizenship and to be productive members of society. In the dynamic world in which we live, the current American educational process is ill-equipped to meet the needs of an incredibly diverse population of children, a significant percentage of whom are disadvantaged. If we were creating an educational process from scratch, given what we now know that process would look much different than it does today. It would be structured to produce the outcomes we want.

In order to alter this reality, we must start by clarifying the purpose of public education in America. As simply as we can state that purpose, it is to prepare our nation’s children for the responsibilities of citizenship and to help them develop the knowledge and skills they will need to become productive citizens. We must work to help each child maximize their talents and abilities so they will be able to enter adulthood with a menu of choices for what they want to do with their lives in order to find happiness and meaning. We also want them to be able to create value and add wealth to society. Of equal importance is that they be able to carry out their civic responsibilities as members of a participatory democracy. This requires that they have sufficient understanding of the complex issues facing our society to make thoughtful decisions.

We want their education to be well-rounded to include language arts and mathematics skills; a solid understanding of the natural world (science); a grasp of history in hopes that they can learn from our mistakes; and, finally, a full appreciation of the diverse cultures of humanity as expressed through the arts and social sciences. We need to teach them that diversity is our greatest strength as a nation.

During the balance of this Twenty-first Century, the world will continue to undergo unprecedented changes that will challenge the ability of our planet’s diverse population to live together in peace. We must address the issues of hunger, health, and economic welfare while protecting our natural habitat. We must do all of these things in the midst of the hatred some people have for others and in spite of the horrible violence people do to one another.

As a nation, we cannot be successful bickering among ourselves and neither can we meet our objectives if we must continue to support an ever-larger segment of people who live in poverty. Add caring for the steadily aging baby boomer generation and the burden will soon be overwhelming.

A significant emphasis of conservative right Americans is that it is time to cut off those who depend on government assistance. The problem, of course, is that these millions of Americans who are dependent are not going to slip away into oblivion and let the rest of the population do their own thing.

We must also recognize that there will be a shift in political power over the balance of this century. According to the projections of the U.S. Census Bureau, by 2060, the population of non-Hispanic whites is projected to decline from 62 percent, today, to an estimated 44 percent of the total US population. Any illusions white Americans have that they will continue to rule the roost into the latter half of this century are pure fantasy, which may explain, at least in part, the vehement demands that refugees be barred from entry and that illegals be returned to their home nations.

If we are committed to the preservation of the great American democracy, we must invite the poor and the non-white to become full and equal partners. Somehow, we must close the gap between white students and their black and other minority classmates. This requires that we make the reinvention of public education in America our highest priority.

If we continue to allow these children to fail, we all fail.

Donald Trump Right for Once, But Just as Wrong As Ever?: An open letter to Hillary Clinton

As dangerous as his candidacy may be and as absurd as is most of what he says, there is a recent statement about which Donald Trump is simultaneously wrong and right. It is absurd to call Hillary Clinton a bigot given all that she has done on behalf of the American people during a lifetime of public service, however we might feel about policy.

Donald Trump is absolutely correct, however, when he suggests that the policies proposed by Hillary Clinton and the Democratic Party offer nothing new for the black community, for race relations, or to the American poor, in general. Not surprisingly, Donald Trump offers only ambiguous promises while claiming that he has the answers for everything.

Due to the current situation in the U.S. with respect to both race relations and public education, there is a tremendous opportunity for Hillary Clinton and her party to capture the support of a huge proportion of the American people with a truly new solution to the problems of blacks, the poor, and other minorities. Given that Trump’s running mate, Mike Pence, has alienated teachers throughout Indiana and promotes charter schools and vouchers while virtually abandoning our most challenged public schools, now is an opportunity to draw clear distinctions. These schools serve our most vulnerable children, their teachers and communities.

Contrary to conventional wisdom, the problems in our poorest urban and rural communities, which are disproportionately African-American, are not a consequence of poverty and discrimination. In our racist society, there will always be white Americans who judge African-Americans and others on the basis of the color of their skin. And, in spite of the accomplishments of so many African-American men and women, across so many venues, poverty and discrimination persist because millions of other black Americans lack the knowledge and skills necessary to compete for their rightful place among mainstream Americans.

Whether educated African-Americans in business and professional venues, or blacks in professional athletics or entertainment, they clearly demonstrate that African-Americans can be successful in any venue in which they are in possession of the requisite skills and knowledge. The operative question, then, is: Why do so many poor blacks lack the essential skills and knowledge necessary to compete in mainstream American society? The answer, of course, is public education. And it is here that Hillary Clinton could endorse a plan to reinvent the educational process and alter, forever, public education in America.

Black children and other poor or minority children lack those essential tools of success not because they are incapable of learning and not because they are plagued with bad teachers and schools. They lack the essential tools because the educational process at work in American public schools is neither tasked, structured, nor resourced to meet the unique needs of disadvantaged children. While this flawed educational process has done a gross disservice to all disadvantaged children; African-Americans are impacted disproportionately. As a result, our poor urban and rural black communities are populated by multiple generations of men, women, and children who have nowhere else to go.

That the performance gap between black students and their white classmates exists is an indisputable fact. What is also indisputable is that poor black students arrive for their first day of school burdened by enormous disadvantages. That the majority of these children fail, just like their parents failed, provides compelling evidence that our educational process does an unacceptable job of helping disadvantaged students overcome their disadvantages. That we accept this failure as if we are powerless to alter it is unfathomable.

Education reformers, like Mike Pence, attack teachers and schools for this intolerable failure and are working hard to replace our most challenged schools and their teachers with private charter schools that have not proven to have significantly better success in helping disadvantaged students than the public schools they are intended to replace. This is in spite of the millions of tax dollars paid to these charter schools through voucher programs. What these schools do best is filter out the least motivated parents and still some of these charter schools fall short of expectations.

Neither the education reformers nor public school teachers and administrators are taking the time to understand why so many of these children fail. Instead, they charge forth on the basis of their outdated assumptions while millions of our most vulnerable children find themselves on the “schoolhouse to jailhouse track.”

People, in any venue, who are required to work with obsolete tools, systems, and processes cannot improve the quality of their work just by working harder and teachers are no exception. My biggest criticism of public school teachers, the majority of whom are unsung American heroes, is that they do not convert what they witness in their classrooms into meaningful advocacy. What we desperately need from teachers is that they stand united and shout out at the top of their voices that what they are being asked to do does not work for disadvantaged students.

We have been teaching children the same way for so long that we have become immersed in the educational process and inured to the harm it does to the disadvantaged. We know these children need parental support but we make minimal effort to overcome the mistrust of parents. We know these kids need close, nurturing relationships with their teachers but every year we pass students on to new teachers whom they do not know and may have never met. Only a few are able to begin anew and build the kind of special relationships the rest of us recall when we think back on our favorite teachers.

We know these kids are unprepared, academically, yet we make no effort to identify the breadth and scope of their disadvantages so that we can create an academic plan tailored to their unique needs. We know these kids need more time to master their lessons but as much as teachers strive to give them that extra time, the educational process demands that we push them ahead with their classmates, ready or not. Rather than a system in which every child learns as much as they are able at their best speed, public education is structured as a competition in which some kids excel and others fail. Why would we ever be willing to accept the failure of a child.

We know these children need to experience success before they can master the process of success and yet we record their Ds and Fs in our grade books even though we know those grades begin to have a labeling effect. We accept these Ds and Fs even though they demonstrate, with great clarity, that these kids are unprepared to move on. We also know kids can take only so much failure before they give up on themselves, stop trying, and begin acting out. Why are we surprised when these young people leave school unprepared to participate in the American dream?

These tragic outcomes that we produce, so routinely, and that sentence young people to a life of poverty and second-class citizenship, are not inevitable facts of life for the poor and the non-white rather they are the inevitable consequences of a flawed educational process. It is a process that can be changed as easily as changing our choice of textbooks.

The changes required to correct these deficiencies in the educational process are simple and straightforward but they cannot be envisioned until we think beyond the boundaries of conventional wisdom; until we think exponentially (outside the box). Neither can we implement these simple changes incrementally. Old habits are too difficult to break and it is too easy to slip back into the ways of the past. For these simple changes to be implemented, successfully, there must be an irrevocable break from past educational practices.

The reader is urged to check out the following, in any order or combination, to learn how the above reality can be changed, irrevocably:

• My white paper entitled, Breaking Down the Cycles of Failure and Poverty: Making Public Education Work for All Students Irrespective of Relative Affluence or the Color of Their Skin;

• My implementation plan entitled: Implementation Outline for Educational Model in Which there is Only Success and No Failure;

• My book, entitle, Reinventing Education, Hope, and the American Dream: The Challenge for Twenty-First Century America; or

• My blog: Education, Hope, and the American Dream.

Commentary on Mike Pence and His Destructive Public Education Policies

On Saturday, July 16th, Indiana teacher and young adult author, Shane Phipps, posted an article about Mike Pence, the now official running mate for Republican Presidential candidate, Donald Trump. The article was titled “Why Mike Pence Terrifies Me,” and was posted on Shane’s blog, Rambling Fractaled Musings: Welcoming You Inside My Random, Pattern Seeking Mind, and was then shared on Facebook. In the article, Shane shares what the overwhelming majority of Indiana public school teachers believe to be the destructive public education policies of Governor Mike Pence and his predecessor, Mitch Daniels. It is a great read and I will post a link to the blog post at the end of this article. No doubt, Donald Trump will buy into the Pence/Daniels education reform agenda.

The following paragraph, which was taken from the article, is an accurate reflection of the public education policies of both Mike Pence and Mitch Daniels, and seems to reflect the theme of the education reforms that are sweeping the country with their emphasis on privatization and high stakes standardized tests:

“. . .[Mitch Daniels and Mike Pence] implemented a plan that pitted high income schools against low income schools and judged them based on an A to F grading scale. These grades were given on the basis of scores on standardized tests where every school was judged on the same test which required all students to “clear the same bar” regardless of their starting point. This resulted in an (sic) predictable gap in achievement where the affluent school districts “out performed” the high poverty districts. As a result of the Daniels program, the lower performing districts got less funding than the higher performing districts.”

I have taken the liberty of modifying Shane’s paragraph to represent what I believe to be the fundamental flaw in public education in America and in the education reform initiatives. Simply substitute the quoted paragraph, written by Shane Phipps, with the one I added below. It is a flaw that has tragic consequences for our nation’s most vulnerable and disadvantaged students:

Public Education pits high income and middle income students against low income, disadvantaged students and judges them based on an A to F grading scale. These grades are given on the basis of scores on subject matter where every student is graded on the same tests which require all students to “clear the same bar” regardless of their starting point. This has resulted in a predictable gap in achievement where the affluent students out-perform the disadvantaged students. As a result, the lower performing students get less opportunities than higher performing students.

As I have pointed out in my book, Reinventing Education, Hope, and the American Dream: The Challenge for Twenty-First Century America, and countless posts on my blog, Education, Hope, and the American Dream, this is a flaw that can be fixed, easily, by redefining the fundamental purpose of public education and then re-inventing the educational process at work in virtually every public school in America. The same educational process is at work in most private, parochial, and charter schools, as well.

Implementing such a change requires no state or federal legislation and is within the statutory powers of local public school districts. By making the changes that I recommend, we alter the equation that has allowed multiple generations of Americans to be swept into the maelstrom that I call the “cycles of poverty and failure.”

When we alter that equation, we give choices and opportunities to every young adult who completes their education. Today, the default decision for these young people is a life of poverty, hopelessness, and powerlessness. It is a default decision that contributes to what many are calling the “schoolhouse to jailhouse track,” on which many African-Americans find themselves.

What we will ultimately discover is that the poverty that pervades so many urban and rural American communities is the consequence of the problems in public education rather than the cause.

The link for Shane Phipps blog post: https://shanephipps.wordpress.com/category/mike-pence/

The links for my blog posts that provide an overview of my book, Reinventing Education, Hope, and the American Dream and for an outline of an implementation plan for the educational model I propose are:

http://www.melhawkinsandassociates.com/breaking-down-the-cycles-of-failure-and-poverty/

And,

http://www.melhawkinsandassociates.com/implementation-outline-for-educational-model-in-which-there-is-only-success-and-no-failure/

Separate and Apart – Again and Again

What happened in Dallas will happen again. These acts are symptomatic of the degree of separation between us. Although interactions between police and African-Americans bring the matter into the sharpest focus, these acts represent only the surface of the deep, dark place where racism resides in the collective consciousness of the American people. It is just one of the divisive issues that creates sufficient anger, resentment, and mistrust that so many Americans want more authoritarian leadership and are willing to support Donald Trump for President. It is an American tragedy.

We have also witnessed, in Dallas, an expression of grief that is shared by well-meaning Americans of every race, color and creed. We saw protesters from each side of an issue reaching out to embrace and comfort one another. This is a sign of hope. For healing to occur we, first, must grieve but we cannot legislate an end to the racism that exists in the hearts of man and neither can we wish it away. If we want a future in which all are truly equal, we must address the conditions, other than the color of our skin, that separate us as a people and that lead to police and African-American confrontations.

More often than at any time in our history, white Americans see well-educated African-Americans move into their neighborhoods and rub elbows with them on the job. Coming in contact with these black neighbors and co-workers begins to produce subtle shifts in the attitudes and perceptions of white Americans. We also see more inter-racial friendships and dating. It is hard to be prejudiced against a people who look like someone you have loved.

For many white Americans, however, their core values do not change. Instead, they carve out space in their mental view for the exceptions that these neighbors and co-workers represent. Yes, “he’s black but he’s a good worker or a good neighbor.” When these same white Americans see stories about drive-by shootings, black men arrested and sent to prison, or even when they pass judgment on the contents of a welfare mother’s grocery cart, all of their deeply-rooted stereotypes are re-confirmed.

We must challenge our fundamental assumptions about our society and about the way we educate our children. Poor people do not choose to live in economically depressed neighborhoods in America; they live there because it is the only place they can afford to live. They lack the knowledge and skills needed to qualify for good jobs and that give them choices of where and how to live. Poor Americans, whatever the color of their skin, lack such choices because the educational process at work in American public schools is neither structured, tasked, nor equipped to teach disadvantage kids.

We are not powerless to alter this reality. Solving the problems of poverty and academic failure are possible but only if we are able to imagine a different reality. They are simple human engineering problems that will yield to the fertile imagination of the human mind.

People will remain poor for as long as we continue to defend a system of public education that consistently fails the poor and the disadvantaged, with African-American children affected the most. In spite of all the talk about education reform in the U.S., we do nothing to help disadvantaged kids but try to entice families away from our most challenged public schools with charter schools and vouchers or we tinker with a flawed educational process with one meaningless, education reform after another. We fail to see that incrementalism has the same destructive power as erosion and that it is subverting the very purpose of public education.

If we cannot address the problems in our public schools, the social crises these problems create will continue to prompt people to reach out for a more authoritarian leadership and Donald Trump for President might be the least of our fears. The problems in our society are functions of the choices we make and if we want better outcomes we must be prepared to make better choices. Those choices must begin with how our public schools respond to the challenge of disadvantaged kids.

A Square Peg in the Round Hole of Public Education

A single failure by a single student in a public school is evidence of a flawed educational process. Rarely, if ever, is there a single failure, however. In almost every public school in the U.S. there are multiple failures and in many public school districts in America there are hundreds or even thousands of students who fail. Multiply either of those numbers by the number of public school districts in the America and we are talking about an unacceptable number of children who are failing in school.

Would we accept that many deaths in a hospital emergency ward? Would we accept that many deaths or serious injuries because of a flaw in a major component of a make of automobile? Would we continue to dine at a restaurant if 30 percent or more of the meals we order were inedible? Teachers may well have done everything they can for their students within the context of the educational process employed by American public schools but since when have Americans been constrained from fixing something that is broken?

When a child arrives at school with a hearing or vision impairment we are required, by law, to take whatever steps are necessary to accommodate the child’s disability. The same is true if the child has some physical impairment or has been found to be mentally or emotionally impaired. These are not choices we make, these actions are required by law.

Within in the context of an socio/political environment governed by such laws as the American Disabilities Act, et al, how can we continue to deny such accommodations to children who, through no fault of their own, arrive for their first day of school with some level of “academic preparedness deficiency?” Making accommodations for children who are burdened with disadvantages resulting from insufficient academic preparedness is not nearly as costly as making our buildings handicap accessible or as burdensome as other extraordinary measures.

All we must do to meet the needs of children with “academic preparedness deficiencies” is to acknowledge what the evidence has been telling us for the last half century or more: “the educational process employed by American public schools does not work for children with these types of disadvantages.” These children both need and deserve meaningful accommodations. They desperately need us to take the time to understand how far behind they are and in what ways and then design an academic plan that gives them the time, attention, and support they need to be successful.

That educators have failed to recognize that the current educational process does not work for these children is one of the great mysteries of the last 100 years and it will be unforgiveable if we continue to ignore the needs of these youngsters. The only possible justification for perpetuating this gross injustice is if we truly believe poor children, children or color, or children for whom English is a second language are incapable of learning.

We like to blame poverty, discrimination, and segregation as the reasons why these children fail because that belief, we think, absolves us of responsibility. The truth is that discrimination is the only reason why so many of these children fail and why so many leave school as young adults with little if any of the knowledge and skills they will need to make a place for themselves in mainstream America.

The horrible and uncomfortable truth is that these children fail because the public educational process in America, and the professional educators who are loyal to that process, discriminate against these children. We discriminate against them because we ignore their unique requirements and insist on trying to push their quadrilateral peg through the round hole of public education and the educational process on which it relies.

Trying to force these boys and girls through the proverbial round hole has not worked for the last seventy years and it will not work for the next seventy years. The irony is that in seventy years it won’t matter, anymore, because the U.S. will be so far behind the rest of the world that it will be the United States of America that needs an accommodation.

An Urgent Plea to Teachers for Social Justice

This blog post is an urgent plea to our nation’s public school teachers and particularly to those who refer to themselves as Teachers for Social Justice. I wonder if you realize how perfectly positioned you are to do more for social justice than any other group in America.

Teachers have one of the most important jobs in America but throughout the last few decades, during which teachers have been under attack because of the problems in public education, far too much effort has been placed on defending the job teachers do. It is as if teachers feel that in order to defend their own hard work and dedication they must defend a system of public education that fails and inordinate number of our nation’s most vulnerable children. When you chose to be a teacher you did so because you wanted to teach children and because you wanted to make a difference in the lives of your students and in your communities.

Right now, at this point in the history of the United States of America, your students need you more than ever. They need you to stand up for them and proclaim that something is terribly wrong when so many children fall through the cracks no matter how hard you work and no matter how much you care. Your students desperately need you to step back and think about what you see in your classrooms on a daily basis.

As a teacher in urban or poor rural schools, you know there is something wrong with the system when kids show up in your classrooms who are so far behind that they have stopped trying. You know the system is broken when you are required to move on to a new lesson knowing that many of your students are not ready. You know things are not as they should be every time you sit down to record the failing grades of far too many children. Unless you have become totally burned out, you agonize over the fact that these kids are failing and there seems to be nothing you can do about it. Teachers know the system is flawed when, at the end of the school year, many of your students are less prepared for the next grade level than they were for the preceding level. High school teachers know the system is flawed when you are asked to find a way to help a student qualify for graduation when that student has done nothing for an entire semester.

The majority of Americans who are victims of social injustice are people who are poor and people of color. Another characteristic of these victims is that the overwhelming majority of them attended public schools. They are members of multi-generational families that have always been poor and have always failed in school. Each year these parents and guardians send their own children off to school with little reason to hope that an education will provide a way out for their sons and daughters. It did not work for them so why would they think school will work for their children.

The facts are indisputable. Year after year, in poor urban and rural school districts throughout the U.S., children are failing their classes and failing state competency exams, in huge numbers. Even in school districts that have a few high performing schools you will find elementary and middle schools in which less than fifty percent of the students are able to pass state competency exams. In many cases the percentages are as low as ten to twenty percent. The percentage of high school students who are able to pass what some states call “end of class assessments” in English, Algebra, and Biology are about the same. That graduation rates in some of these school districts are on the rise is more the result of the creative use of waivers than true academic achievement.

When they walk out on their last day of school, many of these young Americans are virtually illiterate and innumerate and they quickly become entrapped in the cycles of poverty and failure. Many, young black males in particular, become statistics in what some are calling the “schoolhouse to jailhouse track.” As teachers, don’t you agonize when you read about one of your former students who is killed in the streets or sentenced to prison after killing another of your former students?

Public education and the educational process it employs works well for many children so why does it produce such tragic outcomes for disadvantaged students? Is it because the children of color or children who are poor are incapable of learning? Is it because teachers are incompetent? I think we all reject both of those explanations, categorically.

It is my assertion that there another possibility? The reason why so many of these young people fail is because the educational process at work in public schools throughout America is neither tasked, structured, nor resourced to meet the unique needs of disadvantaged kids? These kid are behind when they arrive for their first day of school and there is never enough time to see that they catch up.

The purpose of this blog post is to challenge Teachers for Social Justice to consider a principle in operations management that suggests that if a process or operation is not producing acceptable outcomes, no matter how hard people are working, then it is the process or operation that is suspect.

Successful business leaders routinely discover that the solution is as simple as replacing or reinventing a process to produce the outcomes we want. Positive leaders in the world of business believe that people want to do good work if only someone would give them the opportunity. These leaders accept responsibility for making sure their employees have the tools and resources they need to achieve excellence and their people respond by producing quality products and services. Would not teachers respond in similar fashion if only we gave them the tools and resources they need to help their disadvantaged students?

How have things gotten so far out of hand that so many parents are unwilling to trust that teachers want what is best for their children. Parents in our nation’s poorest communities cannot look into the hearts of their children’s teachers and see their effort and dedication. These parents can only see that far too many of their children are failing just as they did. These men and women are powerless to alter the reality in which their sons and daughters must live but teachers are not powerless. All that is required is that teachers stand united behind the idea that the educational process, itself, is flawed and then set about the important task of fixing that which is broken.

If you do not stand up for your students is there anyone else who will? Is there anyone else who can?

Re-inventing the educational process to one that is tasked, structured, and resourced to meet the needs of students, wherever they fall on the academic preparedness continuum, is nothing more than a human engineering challenge that will yield to the creativity and ingenuity of the human mind.

You must understand, however, that tinkering with the existing educational process with incremental changes will be no more effective in the future than it has been over the last half century. Old traditions and patterns of behavior are too deeply ingrained in our psyches and are like a powerful gravitational force that pulls us back into our comfort zones.

We must re-define the mission of public education; we must identify clear expectations that are focused on success, not failure; we must create a structure to support teachers and students in the important work they do; and, finally, we must move heaven and earth to make sure professional educators and their students have the resources they need to enjoy success in learning as much as they can as fast as they are able.

My book, Reinventing Education, Hope, and the American Dream: The Challenge for Twenty-First Century America offers a 33 specific action strategies to transform public education in America. I have also written a white paper to provide readers with a quick overview of the recommendations in the book and a model implementation plan to illustrate just how simple it would be to make these transformational changes. The white paper is entitled, Breaking Down the Cycles of Failure and Poverty: Making Public Education Work for All Students Irrespective of Relative Affluence or the Color of Their Skin. Both the white paper and implementation plan can be found in recent posts on my blog, Education, Hope, and the American Dream (October 26, 2015, and June 27, 2016, respectively).

The best thing we can do to promote social justice in America is to give poor children and children of color the kind of education that will allow them to walk out of high school at the end of their senior year with meaningful choices. Giving children the ability to control most of the outcomes in their lives is one of the foundations of a powerful self-esteem.

All of these things are well within our power to do but only if teachers are willing to be relentless advocates for transformational changes to public education in America.