“Something Incredible is Waiting to be Known!”

Recently, Chuck Canady (@chuckcanady) tweeted a quote from Carl Sagan, who said, “Somewhere, something incredible is waiting to be known.”

I believe something incredible is waiting to be known and it will happen within the next 10 to 13 years. The incredible event we will witness, will be that every single student who walks across a stage to collect their high school diploma, will have received: a quality education; will have a portfolio of skills that will enable them to have choices about how to find joy and meaning in their lives and to provide for their families; will have sufficient knowledge and understanding to participate in their own governance as citizens of a democratic society; and, will have gained a sufficient understanding of the important issues facing our planet and its people to make informed choices. They will also be able to add value to our society rather than be dependent on it.

If we began this fall, implementing an education model focused on success, relationships, giving kids time to learn, and eliminating even the idea of failure, in thirteen years every one of that first group of five and six-year-olds would be ready to graduate. I believe these young people will alter the job market by injecting millions of people, who formerly were destined to be poor, into the market to become taxpayers and strengthen the economic health of society. This will create revenues that will help society address the issues of replacing our nation’s crumbling infrastructure, end our dependence on fossil fuels, and address the consequences of climate change. We can only hope that this new group of young Americans will help us narrow the differences between us so that we can work together.

If we start, this fall with all K-5 kids, we will immediately begin to see magic happen in the classroom as relationships blossom and little brains begin to work. The older students in this group will present a challenge, but we will begin to see a real difference when they graduate in the next 7 to 12 years. From that point on, every single child will have never known anything other than a school environment in which they can be as successful as any of their classmates. And, no, we are not saying everyone will learn as much and advance as far because all of us have different potentials. What it will mean is that more people will fulfill their potential which almost always results in the discovery that they have far more potential than they ever imagined.

These young Americans will be the most diverse group of American citizens in the history of our nation and will begin to erode the deeply-entrenched racism that has plagued our nation for generations? We see it all the time. The attitudes of people who have never known a person from another race, religion, or nationality will gradually begin to change when they find themselves working side-by-side with them. The more diverse our neighborhoods, the more children of diverse backgrounds will play together in their neighborhoods and sit next to one another in a classroom.

I believe these new generations who will spill out of our systems of private and public schools, year after year, will have grown more tolerant of the differences between human beings. They will have learned that, like the color of our hair and eyes, the color of our skin is nothing more than a different shade of beauty. They will have seen more mixed-racial and multi-cultural relationships and families, more multi-racial children, more alternate lifestyles. This will help us move closer to a reality in which everyone can be accepted for who they are.

Because citizens will be growing more tolerant of the differences in people they will be learning that what we see on the surface of the people in our lives, like the color of our skin, is not the measure of a man or woman. Our hope is that they will become less afraid of people who look, talk, and worship differently than themselves. Because they will feel less threatened, they will be less prone to resort to violence to settle disputes between people, nations, and religions.

We cannot legislate an end to the prejudices in the hearts of mankind, but we can begin to transform a society to one in which minorities are no longer defenseless against discrimination and in which it is more difficult for others to justify those prejudices. It will be more difficult to justify their prejudices because they know these people. We will no longer be separate and apart.

They will be the generation, who because of their education and employability, will witness the shrinking and eventual elimination of poverty and illiteracy in this country.

They will have sufficient knowledge, understanding and wisdom to see that the policies of the past—whether conservative or liberal, democrat or republican—are not able to provide solutions to the new and yet unimagined challenges of the future. They will know that, as we progress into the mid to late decades of this 21st Century, that we will be challenged to seek new solutions that work for every man, woman, or child in every conceivable corner of the planet Earth.

All these incredible things will have happened because we will have replaced an obsolete education process with a new model for teaching children. It will be a model that focuses on building and sustaining positive relationships between teachers and students, teachers and parents, and between students and their peers.

It will be model that recognizes the extraordinary diversity of people and thus will be prepared to deal with what will, initially, be great disparity with respect to academic preparedness, motivation to learn, and parental support. It will be a model that gives every student that special relationship with a teacher that many of us recall with such fondness when we think back on our favorite teacher. Unlike the rest of us, this new generation will have enjoyed the security and benefit of such relationships for more than a single school year.

Through this recognition, the model will enable us to treat every student as a unique individual with a different starting point on the academic preparedness continuum, with a different pace of learning, with unique skills and talents, and with different dreams to fulfill. Each child will be on a tailored academic path that will give them more time to learn if they need it and more freedom to burst ahead to ever higher levels of academic exploration when they feel inspired; even if it means teachers must rush to keep up. No child will be judged against the performance of his or her classmates.

It will be an education model that recognizes that the power of the peer group, in this world of almost unlimited access to social media, will be stronger than ever. The structure of the model will create small communities of children who will remain together for a sufficient length of time that they will bond with one another and look out for one another. We will be working to create an environment in which, if they must disappoint someone, our children will choose to disappoint their peers rather than their teachers and parents with whom they feel closer than ever. They will be developing the strength of character to be the best version of themselves, regardless of what others think.

Because the relationships between students, teachers and parents will be stronger and long-lasting, we will be able to focus on the whole child; helping them develop their unique talents and interests, learn the self-discipline that is necessary to enjoy success; and develop a healthy self-esteem strong enough to endure the challenges of an increasingly more complex world where the rate of change will out pace anything adults of present day have experienced.

Finally, our children will learn that success is a process where learning from mistakes and building on one success after another, and will eliminate even the idea of failure. Our children will be internalizing the idea that success is a process in which there are only different velocities of learning. Gaining this understanding also helps human beings develop an abundance mentality and learn that win-win solutions and outcomes are by far the best solutions and outcomes.

Children will be learning that losing a competition in which they have given their best effort is only a loss within the context of such competitions and does nothing to diminish their self-esteem, their worth as a child of creation, or the meaning in their lives. None of us will win every time no matter how talented or brilliant we may be. We will be learning, instead, that because we strive to do our best we are winners in life, no matter the outcomes in small episodes of life. We will view those disappointing outcomes as wonderful opportunities to learn and grow.

This vision is every bit as achievable as exploration of space or phenomenal advances in science and technology. All it requires is a willingness on the part of educators and policy makers to open their hearts and minds to a new way of thinking about how we teach our children, and to challenge their assumptions about how we organize, structure and support teachers and students within our schools and classrooms. If a process does not allow an optimal level of learning, growth and development, then it is time for change.

I ask you to examine my education model and white paper because they offer a first step toward the future I have described http://www.melhawkinsandassociates.com/education-model-white-paper/ I hope it is a vision that we can all share.

The elegance of the model is that it is just a point of embarkation; that it empowers teachers and administrators to be continually reinventing the education process to meet the ever-changing needs of their students, communities and society. Who knows where the future may take us but if we remain focused on putting teachers in a position to teach and students in a position to learn it will be a great adventure of discovery.

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/

Ignite!

In a recent exchange of Tweets, I saw that Stella Pollard (@Stella_Pollard) had started a blog she is calling Voyage of Inquiry at www.voyageofinquiry.blogspot.com/ in which she announced that she has chosen the word “Ignite” as her #OneWord for 2018.

I’m not that familiar with the One Word Challenge but I love the word “Ignite” because it denotes action that will spark an explosion of new ideas and a new level of commitment; to revitalize something—in this case—public education in America. We must ignite a movement to stop the failure of disadvantaged kids a disproportionate percentage of whom are black or other minorities

For those of you who do not know, I am a former organizational management and leadership consultant who opted to close out my consulting practice to pursue my life-long dream of writing books. It wasn’t long before I realized that I still needed to keep some revenue flowing. A family member suggested that I try substitute teaching.

Over the next ten years (2002 to 2011) during which I wrote four books, I subbed part time for my local public school district. This proved to be a marvelous opportunity to walk in the shoes of public school teachers. The public school district in my community serves an urban community that is diverse by almost every conceivable measure. Once I overcame the shock of being immersed in the challenges with which public school teachers and their students must deal, I began to look at what was happening around me much like I would examine a production or service-delivery process for one of my consulting clients. My clients were primarily small, privately owned businesses or not-for-profit organizations who were struggling to produce the outcomes that were acceptable to their customers.

Once I decided to step back and strive to understand what was happening around me as an integral system, it was immediately apparent that something was not right. This led to an in-depth assessment of public education as a process, just like any production or service-delivery process, and ultimately to the release of the last of my four books, Reinventing Education, Hope, and the American Dream: The Challenge For Twenty-First Century America (2013).

Although the overwhelming majority of the public school teachers for whom I subbed were dedicated professionals working to give their students a high quality education, it was apparent that this was not only a difficult thing to do but also that the way teachers, students, and classrooms were organized and the way they have traditionally gone about the work of teaching children made it seem an almost impossible job, no matter how hard teachers worked. Even in the highest performing classrooms, in this diverse school district, it appeared to me that the education process was more of an impediment to the important work of teachers and students than an enabling and empowering force.

It would have been easy to conclude, as education reformers with their focus on “choice,” that the poor performance in so many of the classrooms in which I subbed was the result of bad teachers and bad schools. It seemed clear to me that education reformers who are so critical of our publics school teachers and schools have not spent time in our classrooms nor have they made an effort to understand why so many schools and students are struggling.

There are many things that influence the academic performance of students in our public schools. These factors of influence include poor academic preparation; low motivation to learn; a lack of parental support; the consequences of poverty; and, once in a great while, a teacher who seemed to be in the midst of a burnout. I can assure the reader that although some teachers surely are at risk of burning out, they are at risk because they do care. It is the difficulty of what we ask them to do, and how, that is driving so many good men and women out of teaching.

One of the other contributing factors is the quality of leadership being provided by principals and superintendents. Before reacting to this statement please understand that the overwhelming majority of our principals and superintendents are every bit as dedicated to serving the best interests of our nation’s children as are their teachers. It is my assertion that issues with respect to quality of leadership have to do with the fact that our school administrators are trained to be, well, administrators and that very little of their formal education is devoted to teaching them how to be powerful positive leaders. Graduate schools of education that do not offer leadership courses are remiss.

Some people have a natural and intuitive understanding of the principles of positive leadership and many of the teachers who are fortunate to work with such people are nodding their heads as they read these words. Most of the other administrators, good men and women all, are neither natural-born leaders nor have they been taught. Leadership, particularly positive leadership, is a set of skills that most of us must learn. All organizations, including schools, reflect the quality of leadership being provided. Effective positive leaders view their role as a champion and supporter of their people and judge their own performance by how effectively they are able to help their people be successful. Most other administrators preside over their organizations, rather than lead them, and spend most of their time enforcing rules and looking for things to criticize rather than striving to help people be successful.

The biggest failure of leadership in education and in any other venue—and this is not the fault of individuals—is that one of the most important roles of leadership is to make sure their people have a structure and process that is designed to serve the needs of both their people and their customers. Like other educators, many principals and superintendents are so immersed in the traditional view of education that they fail to recognize that the education process at work in schools, both public and private, has grown obsolete. An obsolete process does not allow teachers and their students to perform at their optimal level. The process constrains—it has become an archaic mechanism that regiments—rather than a process that liberates teachers to adapt to the unique requirements of every single student. Students who arrive for their first day of school with a level of disparity that is cavernous, re: academic preparedness and motivation to learn, is one of the biggest challenges teachers face.

I challenge all educators to rally around our colleague Stella Pollards #oneword and “ignite” a conflagration—a wildfire that will challenge all of our assumptions about public education in America and transform, from within, that which reformers are attempting to destroy.

I offer my education model as a starting point and challenge educators to read it not in search of reasons why it will not work but as a tool to expand, exponentially, our paradigms so that we can view the American education process as an integral system http://www.melhawkinsandassociates.com/education-model-white-paper/ . Only then can we reinvent it to produce the outcomes that our children and society need, so desperately.

Such an “ignition” would be the perfect way to begin 2018,

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.

Inequality and Education are Interdependent: Can’t fix one without the other!

Check out the video at Inequality and Education – Part 1, the video

Public Education is the civil rights issue of our time. Affirmative action programs are assessed not on the basis of what management says they do rather on the disparate impact it creates. The performance gap between white and black proves that our current education process has been failing for generations.

The time for talk is over. It is time for action. The reader is encouraged to share this video with every one you know and ask them to join us in this crusade to transform public education in America.

It is the single most important thing many of us will be asked to do for our country.

Please help this crusade go viral.

Here is the text of the video message in the event you are unable to pull up the video”

“Hello!

I’m Mel Hawkins, with a word about how inequality and education are affected by each other.

Inequality is ugly fact of life in America and is at the root of all of our nation’s problems.

It divides us as a people and threatens the very principles of democracy.

Is this really who we want to be?

Public schools were intended to be the great equalizer, yet the performance gap between black and white kids proves the education process has failed for generations.

It entraps young people in a cycle of poverty and hopelessness and sets them up for failure.

It, also, weakens our nation from within.

It doesn’t have to be that way.

We can address inequality simply by helping public education keep its promise to America, that everyone gets a quality education.

Reformers say our schools are failing while educators insist those same schools are better than ever.

They can’t both be right, but they can both be wrong.

When given an opportunity to walk in the shoes of public school teachers, I got a glimpse of the truth.

I saw students struggle in spite of the tremendous efforts of dedicated teachers and,

I witnessed an education process that is flawed beyond repair.

When systems like this break down and stop working, we must go back to the drawing board and reinvent it to produce the outcomes we want.

By applying my nearly fifty years of experience working with kids, providing leadership, solving problems for clients, and teaching; I created an innovative new model for education, focused on success.

It’s designed to help teachers give each and every child the unique attention they need to be successful, starting at the moment they arrive at our door.

By teaching to success, not failure, students will walk away with a quality education and the healthy self-esteem they will need to overcome challenges, even discrimination.

Charter schools serving a few kids are not the answer for the masses.

We have schools, everywhere, staffed with teachers and filled with kids.

This is where the challenge exists and where it must be met!

Black kids and other minorities suffer the most.

For that reason public education has become the civil rights issue of our time.

We must rally black America around this cause just like the civil rights movement in the 50s and 60s?

It’s time to make the dream come true for everyone.

When we all join in, we will be a powerful force for change.

Our kids are the future and we need every last one of them.

We cannot afford to waste a single child.

Please open your mind and examine my education model and white paper, at melhawkinsandassociates.com.

Share this video with everyone you know and ask them to join our crusade to transform public education.

This may be the most important thing you will ever be asked to do for your country so don’t just sit there!

Millions of kids are counting on you to do something.

Why not help our crusade go viral?

Is there a better gift for America’s kids than an education focused on success?

Remember, “It’s All About the Kids!”

All Kids Can Learn but Many Are Sure to Fail If We Fail to Help Them

Every day that we delay addressing the problems of public education in America more kids give up on themselves because they have fallen so far behind their classmates that they have no hope that they will ever catch up.

I see these young men and women as seniors in high school or shortly after they finish high school when they show up to take the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB). They are hoping to find a way to make a life for themselves by enlisting in the Armed Services. At the end of the test session, they walk out of the room with an envelope in their hands and their heads hanging low. In the envelope are the results of their ASVAB that show they have scored below the minimum score of 31 out of a possible 99, which is the threshold for enlistment eligibility.

So far this year, 25 percent of the candidates to whom I have administered ASVAB have scored below 31, and half of those score below 20. A score of less than 20 indicates a high probability that individuals are functionally illiterate and innumerate. Two-thirds of the young people who scored below 31 were African-American. Not only do these young American men and women not qualify for enlistment, they will also fail to qualify for all but the most menial and lowest-paying jobs in their community. In all likelihood, the young African-American men will return to their poor urban or rural communities where many will to turn to gangs, crime, and or drugs. Some will be killed during commission of a crime or as a result of black on black violence. Far too many will end up in a state penitentiary. The young woman will most likely get pregnant and begin raising their own children in the same cycle of failure and poverty in which they were reared.

All of the young men and women who scored below 31 are victims of flawed educational process in which they started out behind and found it impossible to catch up with their classmates. The sad truth is that they never had a chance and they are left with very few choices in life. There are millions of other young children in public schools all over the U.S. who are destined to the same fate.

Our systems of public education are like any other system that has lost focus on its purpose and has been allowed to deteriorate over time. Somewhere along the line, as the society-at-large became exponentially more complex, our systems of public education began to view accelerating levels of failure as normal and acceptable.

We must stop blaming poverty and recognize that poverty is a consequence of our flawed educational process not the cause of it. We must stop blaming our teachers and schools that are doing the best they can under a flawed educational process that is neither structured nor tasked to help children who show up for school with a range of “academic preparedness deficiencies.” It is a system that allows an unacceptable percentage of students to fail while contributing to the burnout of a growing population of teachers; men and women who have lost faith in the profession they chose with youthful enthusiasm and lofty purpose.

We must stop educational reformers who have no clue about the damage they do when they siphon off tax dollars of which our most challenged schools, teachers, and students are in desperate need. We must not allow them to further weaken the ties between our public schools and the communities they exist to serve, while destroying the hope of students and teachers, alike.

In their defensive postures, professional educators like to scoff at the results of the Nation’s Report Card, presented by the National Assessment of Educational Performance (NAEP), which provides documented evidence that public education in America is in a state of unacceptable crisis.

The irony is that professional educators would be well-advised to embrace the findings of the Nation’s Report Card as verifiable proof that the educational process, with which teachers are asked to do their important work, is fatally thawed.

Here is a quick summary of the NAEP’s findings for 20131, showing the percentage of American students whose performance is measured to be below or above “Proficient.” The Achievement Levels identified by the NAEP are “Basic,” “Proficient,” and “Advanced.

NAEP defines “Basic” as: “denoting partial mastery of prerequisite knowledge and skills that are fundamental for proficient work at each grade assessed.”

NAEP defines “Proficient” as: “representing solid academic performance for each grade assessed. Students reaching this level have demonstrated competency over challenging subject matter, including subject-matter knowledge, application of such knowledge to real-world situations, and analytical skills appropriate to the subject matter.”

1 The italics are mine. NAEP data can be accessed at http://nces.ed.gov/programs/stateprofiles/sresult.asp?mode=full&displaycat=7&s1=18

Average Scale Scores
8th grade math: 67% Below Proficient; 33 Proficient +
8th grade reading: 71% Below Proficient; 29% Proficient +
8th grade science: 73% Below Proficient; 27% Proficient +
8th grade writing: 69% Below Proficient; 31% Proficient +

For purposes of this article, the author identifies “Proficient” as the minimum acceptable level of achievement for our students for the simple reason that if a student has achieved only partial mastery of the subject matter and is unable to apply what they have learned to real-world situations they our job is not finished.

Clearly, the goal of education must be that students be able to “demonstrate competency” over the subject matter and they must also be able to apply what they have learned in “real-world situations,” which would include subsequent lessons within a subject area.

How long do we allow roughly 70 percent of American students, a disproportionate percentage of which are black and other minorities, to be less than “proficient” before we say this in unacceptable? How long can we allow public school educators to claim that American public education is better than ever? How long can we allow the educational reform movement’s focus on privatization and standardized testing to abandon our nation’s most vulnerable students and school districts and hurt these kids, their teachers, and their communities?

It does not have to be this way! Through a straightforward application of “systems thinking” and organizational principles we can alter this reality for all time.

For an overview of my book and its recommendations, I invite the reader to check out my blog post of October 26, 2015, which is a 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.”

At the end of this post, I have provided an implementation outline that will show just how simple it would be reinvent the educational process at work in American public schools. It is a model that requires no legislative action and can be implemented by local school districts, acting on their own authority.

Finally, the reader is also encouraged to check out my book, Reinventing Education, Hope, and the American Dream: The Challenge for Twenty-First Century America and my blog, Education, Hope, and the American Dream.

Implementation Outline for Educational Model in Which There Is Only Success and No Failure

Submitted by: Mel Hawkins, BA, MSEd, MPA

April 18, 2016

Discarding the Past

We commence this implementation process by rejecting our current educational process in which some level of failure is tolerated. We reject failure, absolutely.

It understood that most public school teachers and schools believe they work hard to make sure that every child learns and that no child gets left behind. The reality, however, is that each year children are moved from grade to grade who are behind their classmates. Each and every year thereafter they fall a little further behind until they lose all hope that they can ever catch up.

That this occurs is not the fault of teachers rather it is a flaw in a structure that does not provide each teacher with the time and resources they need to teach and does not provide each and every child with the time and support they need to learn. We cannot alter those unfortunate outcomes until we alter the internal logic of the educational process and also the structure that exists to support that process.

What we offer is a new reality that can benefit every child in America and that can transform public education.

Step 1 – Clarifying Mission and Purpose

The purpose of an education is to prepare children to be responsible and productive citizens who have a wide menu of choices for what they want to do with their lives in order to find joy and meaning. As citizens of a democracy, we want them to participate in their own governance, and be able to make informed choices with respect to the important issues of the day.

Note: An education must teach children more than facts and knowledge, it must teach them that success is a process. Success and winning are not accomplishments rather they are a life-long process of getting the most out of one’s life.

Step 2 – Objectives and Expectations

Our objective as educators is to help children learn as much as they are able, as fast as they are able, beginning at that point on the learning preparedness continuum where we find them when they arrive at our door. Our schools must be a “No Failure Zone!”

It is our expectation that:

• Every child will be given whatever time and attention they need to learn each and every lesson;

• We teach children that success is a process that must be learned and that all of our students can be successful;

• That success will be measured against a child’s own past performance and not the performance of other children;

• That we will strive for subject mastery and that the threshold for mastery is a score of 85 percent or better on mastery assessments;

• That students will learn well enough that they can apply what they have learned in real life situations

• That there are no arbitrary schedules or time limits and that all students are on their own unique schedule.

Note: Education is not a race to see who can learn the most, the fastest and there is no such thing as an acceptable level of failure. Our task is to create a model of an educational process that rejects failure and where the only thing that matters is that children learn.

Step 3 – What do children need In order to truly learn?

Children Need:

• To start at the exact point on the academic preparedness continuum where we find them when they arrive at our door;

• A close personal relationship with one or more teachers;

• Our patient time and attention;

• A stable and safe environment for the long term;

• To learn that mistakes are wonderful learning opportunities that come only when we extend ourselves beyond our zones of comfort;

• To learn how to be successful and they need to know that success and winning are nothing more than a process of striving toward one’s goal and making adjustments along the way on the basis of what they learn from their mistakes.

• To experience success and winning and to celebrate every success and every win:

• An academic plan tailored to their unique requirements.

• The involvement and support of their parents or guardians.


Step 4 – Where do we begin?

We begin by selecting the lowest performing elementary schools in any of our targeted districts and use them as a test case.

Note: Our primary agenda is to focus on children who are starting kindergarten and all of the action items are presented with that assumption. If a school district’s commitment to this model is sufficiently high, however, there is no reason why we could not, similarly, organize students in the higher elementary grades in the same manner. Doing so creates additional challenges because the farther along children have been pushed, the further behind they will be. If we commence with these older children, it still requires that we know where they are in terms of their academic development in each subject area, and then that we tailor a plan to begin the process of starting over with that unique student. Teachers will have less time to help these kids play catch up but, clearly, these students will need all the help they can get before they move on to the middle school phase.

Step 5 – Organization and structure

We will eliminate references to grades k through 12 as well as any other arbitrary schedules in the educational process and replace those grades with three phases of a child’s primary and secondary education:

• Elementary/or Primary Phase (formerly grades K through 5)

• Middle School Phase (formerly grades 6 through 8)

• Secondary Phase (formerly grades 9 through 12)

Note: We chose Kindergarten rather than first grade for our starting point because the sooner we intervene in the lives of our students, the better. Part of the problem in disadvantaged communities is that children live in an environment in which intellectual and emotional enrichment opportunities are few in number. The longer a child is left in such an environment the further behind they will be.

Step 6- Teaching teams

We will rely on teams of 3 teachers with a teacher to student ratio no greater than 1:15

Note: Teams have proven beneficial in business and industry for a long time and they have a clear record of high levels of productivity and excellence. Even in strong union environments in manufacturing venues, teams often prove more effective in dealing with subpar performance or commitment than management. In large work groups, marginal performers and those with low levels of commitment are able to hide in the crowd. Within a team setting, there is no place to hide and each person his held accountable by the team.

Teaching teams have the added advantage that if one teacher is having difficulty with any individual student, another member of the team can step in. Teams will also make it easier to develop a rapport with parents.

Teams also provide much more stability. If one team member is off due to illness or other reasons, the team is still able to maintain its equilibrium, even given the insertion of a substitute.

If a school has teacher aide slots for this age group, we will recommend that the funds allocated for such positions be redirected to paying for additional teachers. Striving to optimize teacher resources is a top priority and if we are utilizing the proper tools, aides will not serve our purpose.

Step 7 – Duration and stability

Students will remain together as a group and will be assigned to the same teaching team throughout their full elementary/primary academic phase.

Note: Close personal relations with teachers and other students, in a safe environment, can best be accomplished by keeping them together over a period of years. Why would we want to break up relationships between teachers and students because the calendar changes. Sometimes it takes teachers most of the year to bond with some of their most challenging students only to have it brought to a halt at the end of a school year.

This type of long-term relationships also enhances the likelihood that parents can be pulled into the educational process as partners with their children’s teachers.

Step 8 – Reaching out to Parents

Reaching out to parents must be a high priority.

Note: We know that students do better when they are supported by their parents and when parents and teachers are working together as a partners behind a united front. We also know that when we form close relationships with parents we also get to know their families. This creates a real opportunity to intervene if there are younger children in the home to help insure that they enjoy improved enrichment opportunities.

Step 9 – Assessment and tailored academic plan

Select an appropriate assessment tool and utilize it to determine the level of academic preparedness of each child when they arrive at our door for their first day of school. We will then utilize what we learn from that assessment to create a tailored academic plan for each and every student based on where they are and pursuant to the academic standards established in that state.

Step 10 – The learning process

From their unique starting point, we will begin moving our students along their tailored academic plan, one lesson module per subject at a time. The learning process will be:

• Lesson presentation

• Practice

• Review

• Mastery Quiz (MQ)

• Verification Master Quiz (VMQ)

Note: Teachers can spend as much time as necessary on any of the steps in the process and can even go back to re-present a lesson using other methods and resources. Each review gives teachers the opportunity to help children learn from the mistakes they made on practice assignments and on unsuccessful quizzes. When the student’s success on practice assignments suggests they are ready, they can move on to the MQ. If the student scores 85 percent or better, their success can be celebrated and they are ready to move on to the next lesson. If not, the teacher can recycle back through all or part of the learning process until the student is able to demonstrate mastery.

Step 11 – State-of-the-Art tools of success

Provide each student and teacher with a personal tablet with which to work.

Utilize technology to help teachers teach, and kids learn with the Khan Academy’s program as but one example. The tool must also help the teacher manage the process as they will have students working at multiple levels. Students are all on a unique path even though they may often be parallel paths. Software must be able to:

Keep attendance records,
Manage various subject areas,
Help teachers and students through lesson presentations,
Generate practice assignments and grade them if they are quantitative,
Permit teacher to enter qualitative results generated by them,
Identify areas that need review and more practice,
Signal readiness for MQ,
Grade and record results of quiz and direct student on to next lesson module or back for more work on current module,
Celebrate success much like a video game,
Signal the teachers at every step of the way,
Recommend when it is time for VMQ, and
Document Mastery achievements as verified by VMQ as part of the student’s permanent record.

Note: The purpose of the software is to empower teachers so their time can be devoted to meaningful interaction with each and every student as they proceed on their tailored academic journey. Meaningful interaction will include coaching, mentoring, consoling, encouraging, nurturing, playing, and celebration. That interaction may also include time spent with students’ parents.

Whenever it is deemed advantageous, we believe there is also great value in group learning sessions, projects and interaction.

Step 12 – No Failure and No waiting

No student is to be pushed to the next lesson until they have mastered the current lesson as success on one lesson dramatically improves the readiness for success on subsequent lessons. Similarly, no student who has demonstrated that they are ready to move on will be asked to wait for classmates to catch up. Every student moves forward at the best speed of which they are capable.

The beauty of this approach is that students can progress at their own speed, even if that means charging ahead with teachers rushing to keep up. It also means that no student will feel pressured to move faster than they are able nor will they experience the humiliation of failure.

Step 13 – Verify and document mastery

The Verification Master Quiz (VMQ) will occur a few lessons later as the purpose is to assure that the child has retained what they have learned and are able to utilize it on future lessons. Ultimately, if the child cannot utilize what they have learned in real-life situations they have not learned it and, therefore, our job on that lesson is not completed. Once verified, mastery is documented as part of the student’s permanent record.

Step 14 – High Stakes Testing

High stakes testing using state competency exams will not disappear until they have been proven to be obsolete. Teachers and students should spend no time worrying about them or preparing for them. If students are truly learning, their ability to utilize what they have learned will be reflected in competency exam results. Such exams are, after all, nothing more than a real-life opportunity to apply what one has learned.

Note: Ask yourself “Who would we predict to perform better on a competency exam given in the second semester of what we currently refer to as the 5th grade?

The child who has fallen further and further behind with each passing semester and simply has not learned a significant portion of the subject matter on which they will be tested?

Or,

The child who may or may not be on schedule as determined by state academic standards but has actually mastered the material they have covered and who are demonstrating an accelerating pace of learning?

I think we all know the answer.

Step 15 – the Arts and Exercise

We also consider the arts and physical exercise to be essential components of a quality education. Student must still be given the opportunities to go to art, music, and gym classes where they will:

• Develop relationships with other teachers;

• Exercise their young bodies; and,

• Learn to appreciate and to express themselves through art.

Step 16 – Stability and adaptability

We will not concern ourselves with arrival of new students or the departure of students during the process or with teachers who may need to be replaced for whatever reason. These things will happen and we will deal with them when necessary. These inevitable events must not be allowed to divert us from our purpose. We must keep in mind that there are no perfect systems but the best and most successful systems are the ones that allow us to adapt to the peculiar and the unexpected.

Step 17 – Relentless, non-negotiable commitment

Finally, we must stress that winning organizations are driven by operating systems in which every single event or activity serves the mission. When we tinker with bits and pieces of an operation out of context with the system and its purpose, we end up with a system that looks very much like the educational process we have today. It will be a system that simply cannot deliver the outcomes that we want because there are components that work at cross purposes with the mission.

Note: We are creating an environment in which the fact that some children need additional time to master the material is considered to be inconsequential in the long run and in the big picture, much like it is inconsequential if it takes a child longer to learn how to ride a bicycle than his or her playmates. Once they learn to ride they all derive equal benefit and joy from bicycling.

Step 18 – Special Needs

Anywhere along the way, from initial assessment and beyond, if a child is determined to have special needs they will be offered additional resources, much as happens in our schools, today.

Summary and Conclusions:

All children can learn if given the opportunity and if they feel safe and secure. The fact that we have clung for so long to an ineffectual educational process that sets kids up for failure and humiliation is unfathomable. If we refuse to seize an opportunity to alter this tragic reality it is inexcusable.

Once a school district becomes satisfied that this new model produces the outcomes we want, the model can be implemented in each and every school in the district.

Relationship between teacher and student trumps everything!

“I wish my teacher knew that I love her with all my heart!” was how one third grader in Colorado completed the assignment reported on ABC’s World News Tonight with David Muir.

If we want all American school children to get the quality education they deserve, and that our society so desperately needs them to achieve, we must give them what they need to be successful. We can identify four things that are not only essential but they trump everything else. What we need our political leaders to come to understand, whether here in Indiana or anywhere throughout the U.S. is that standardized testing is not one of these four things.

The first thing children need is to be treated as individuals on a dedicated learning path that is tailored to their unique starting point. As every professional educator will attest, the level of preparation and motivation children bring with them on their very first day of school is as diverse as the population of parents who gave birth to them. Beginning with such a focus not only puts a child on a path on which they can be successful, it sends a subtle but powerful message that they are special and that they are valued. Nothing gives the child the absolute best opportunity to be successful and nothing helps a child develop a healthy self-esteem more than being accepted for who they are; not how they stack up to their classmates.

The second most critical component of educational success is that each child is placed in an environment in which they can enjoy a nurturing, positive, life-affirming relationship with a teacher who will love them and care for them unconditionally. We want every child to experience the joy of the special relationship that most of us recall when we think back on our favorite teacher. While this component might be second on our list, it is second only because of chronology. Creating an environment that fosters such caring relationships between teacher and child is, overwhelmingly, the most important thing we can do to assure that the child receives the highest quality education of which they are capable. Yes, I understand that some children are easier to love than others but the universal truth is that “the child who is hardest to love is the one who needs it the most.”

The third thing the child needs is the assurance that they will get off to a good start and this requires that they begin learning how to be successful, from the very outset. This can be accomplished by creating a situation in which a child is not permitted to fail. Because we have placed them on a unique learning curve, it does not matter how a given child compares to other members of his or her class. We need to create an environment in which each and every child is given the time they need to learn each and every lesson, every step along the way. We simply must not permit them to fail. One of the things our current educational process does most successfully is to teach children how to fail. If we can, instead, begin teaching them that they can and will succeed it is amazing how success replicates itself every step along the way. It changes the equation to one in which the child’s success is a given.

The fourth essential component is that we need to engage parents as partners in the education of their sons and daughters. If we can pull the parents into the special relationship we strive to create between a child and his or her teacher we create an environment in which anything is possible and where every obstacle can be overcome. A warm, nurturing, and positive triumvirate between parents, children, and their teachers creates the most powerful motivational force in the world.

Many public school teachers will read this list and nod their head that these are important but will then go back to what they have been doing, whether or not it has been successful. The problem is that these four components are so far from the reality from most public school classrooms, particularly those in our most challenging schools and communities, that they are viewed as unreal; as abstractions.

What every professional educator must be challenged to believe at the very core of their being is that these components are not abstractions. They are real, and they can be created in each and every public school classroom in America, if only we step back and examine not only the way we do everything and why, but also the way we structure the process that supports and facilitates what we do. Each of these components is achievable and manageable; they are attainable solutions to a human engineering problem that requires only that we structure the educational process to support our most critical objectives.

In my book, Reinventing Education, Hope, and the American Dream: The Challenge For Twenty-First Century America, I offer a blueprint for an educational process that relies on these components as a foundation for everything else it does.

I can imagine nothing that would validate a teacher’s existence more than hearing one their students say, “I wish my teacher knew that I love her with all my heart.”

Attacking the Performance Gap between Black and White Students

As we have said so often, the performance gap that exists between white students and their black classmates is the single-most glaring fact in all of public education. Our ability to close the gap will be driven not by more standardized testing, not by blaming teachers for their inability to help their students raise test scores, not by the creation of more charter schools with voucher programs to pay for them, not by closing the so-called “failing public schools,” and certainly not by severing the vital relationships between our public schools and the communities they exist to serve.

We must understand why so many black kids fail. What we will discover is that the high rate of failure among poor urban black students is not the result of some genetic deficiency that makes it difficult for them to learn as well as their white classmates. There are far too many examples of accomplished African-Americans, many of whom grew up in poverty in our most challenging neighborhoods, who rose to prominence in virtually every profession in American Society. A black President of the United States is just one of many examples.

The reason why so many African-American students fail is not because they are poor, although being poor creates enormous challenges. The problem is that our focus on poverty, which we feel powerless to control, distracts from actions that are within our power to do.

We all know of examples where poor children have succeeded academically, irrespective of race or family structure. What we need to do is make the effort to understand what distinguishes poor kids who enjoy academic success from poor kids that fail.

While there can be any number of things that come into play in contributing to a child’s success in school, with a special teacher one of the most obvious, the overwhelming majority of such successes flow from a commitment of a parent or guardian who somehow clings to the hope that an quality education offers a way out for their child. It is when parents have lost hope that an education can make a difference that their sons and daughters arrive for their first day of school poorly prepared for academic success and with precious little motivation to learn.

Many of these families have lost faith in American public education and have lost both faith and hope in the American dream. I suggest to you that these are realities over which we have a great deal of control if only we would accept responsibility and try.

The following story taken from my book, Reinventing Education, Hope and the American Dream: The Challenge for Twenty-First Century America, is true:

“While subbing in an alternative high school classroom (alternative school within the Fort Wayne Community Schools district is where middle and high school students are sent when they are suspended from their regular school), I had a conversation with a young African-American student. He would not work on the worksheet I had given to the class.

“You need to get busy on the assignment,” I said to him.

“I don’t do worksheets,” was his response.

“If you don’t understand the lesson, I’ll be happy to help you with it,” was my answer.

He looked at me and very calmly responded, “I didn’t say I don’t know how to do it, cuz. I said I don’t do worksheets.”

With full-fledged naiveté I asked, “You don’t think you need to learn this material?”

“It’s a complete waste of my time, cuz!” was his answer.

“You don’t think it’s necessary for you to read and write well? How will you get a job to support yourself?”

At no time did he show any emotion during this conversation.

“Cuz, you don’t know nothin’ about what I need to support myself in the hood. You need to back off, Cuz! I don’t need none of what you got!”

As I pointed out in my book, this was not a dumb kid and, in fact, if evaluated within the context of the world in which he exists he would be judged to be highly intelligent. It is also true that this young man was not an exception to the rule but rather one of many in his community. The difference is that these intelligent young kids, irrespective of race, learn what they consider to be important in their lives. The things we teach in our schools are just not on the list of the things that are important to a huge number of our youngsters.

What teachers and members of the community can do, working together in partnership, is begin to change the value placed on education by these youngsters and their parents or guardians.

If you are reading these words, is there any doubt in your mind that teacher and parent working together can be successful in helping a child see the value in an education and develop a motivation to learn? There are no guarantees, of course, and the earlier those partnerships can be formed along the timeline that represents the developmental years of a child, the higher the probability that a child can succeed. Not only will they succeed but they will rise to ever-higher expectations as identified by their teacher and parent. And, what is true for black children is true for all of our nation’s at-risk children.

The next, question, of course, is “but what can we do?”

The Movie “Selma” Could Not Have Been Released at a More Opportune Time

Given the issues that affect African-Americans, specifically, and other minorities and the poor in general, the release of the movie Selma could not have been timelier. Selma is a movie that is more than just a work of historical significance, it offers a prescription for addressing the challenges of Twenty-first century America.

The focus of African-Americans has been directed to the two most recent incidents in a long history of violence against black males on the part of law enforcement officers. In the midst of the violence that erupted in Ferguson, Missouri and elsewhere and the impassioned plea for justice, many African-American men and women, including many in positions of prominence, adopted the symbolic gesture of raised hands. It was a brilliant move that not only symbolizes the unity of the black community and its supporters on this issue but also provides a visible reminder to African-Americans and others to make good decisions when stopped by a police officer.

I will continue to believe that the overwhelming majority of our nation’s law enforcement officers are dedicated professionals who do their best to keep the peace in every sense of the word. The problem, of course, is that young people who encounter the police in the community or on the streets are no more able to differentiate between good cops and bad than a police officer can distinguish between a young black person who is up to no good and those who are minding their own business.

What we need from both sides is restraint. Sadly, recent attacks against police officers only puts them all on edge, making restraint more difficult to sustain and that much more necessary.

Prior to the two most recent incidents of violence against young blacks by the police, citizens have been coming together and are engaged in an effort to bring an end to the violence that pervades so many American cities. Often, the violence such communities are forced to endure are violence of gang- and crime-related attacks of blacks on blacks or Hispanics on Hispanics, etc.

If the African-American community can capitalize on the unity and cohesiveness created by the issues cited above and channel the anger, they could apply the lessons learned from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the hundreds of other civil rights leaders who changed American society.

One of the goals of the civil rights movement, beyond campaigning for laws against discrimination, was to make the American dream a reality for all children including blacks and other minorities. The fact that this movement changed America is an example of just how powerful such grass-roots movements can be.

Now, a half-century after the height of the civil rights movement, a significant population of African-Americans and other minorities are not participating in the American dream and neither are millions of poor white Americans. Let’s seize this opportunity to shout out a call to action to make the American dream a reality for all American children.

Once the laws of the nation were rewritten to insure that all Americans must treated equally under the law, the key to realizing the American dream for those not born into affluence has been a quality education.

Many American parents have lost trust and faith in both our systems of public education and the American dream much as they have lost faith and hope in our justice system. Because public education failed them, at least in their own minds, they do not teach their children that an education is the key to better opportunities and to a life out of poverty. They do not stress the importance of working hard in school to their children. The children of these parents arrive at school poorly prepared to succeed, academically, and with little or no motivation to learn.

Because of the level of distrust that exists for these parents, when their children have problems at school, they rush to the defense of their children. They do this because they do not believe the teachers have their children’s best interests in mind.

Many African-Americans and others believe that the schools discriminate against their children. There is a strong sense that the entire system of public education is racist. This is a belief that must be put to rest, permanently. Our public schools are not rife with institutional racism in which minorities have no chance and Fort Wayne Community Schools provides a perfect example. FWCS is led by an African-American superintendent, and is populated by African-American administrators, principals, and teachers.

Yes, racist teachers exist just as the U.S. is populated by many citizens who are racist. The overwhelming majority of public school teachers, however, are dedicated professionals who want all of their students to be successful just like the overwhelming majority of African-American men and women are law-abiding citizens and the majority of police officers want to serve the interests of justice.

As we speak, led by the corporate community and the federal government, Indiana and other states are aggressively pursuing strategies to not only weaken the bonds between communities and their schools, but are also weakening our public schools. These forces are attacking public school teachers and are blaming them for the problems in public education. It is clear that these are not strategies designed to address the problem of our poorest communities and our most challenged public schools.

This scenario creates a unique opportunity for minority communities to link forces with the public schools in their communities and with the teachers of those schools. In my next post I will propose a number of specific strategies. These strategies will be constructed on the lessons we have learned from the civil rights movement of the fifties and sixties.

The essence of that message is that if people want to change the world around them they need to accept responsibility for bringing about those changes rather than wait for someone else to do it for us. Many of these strategies have been detailed in my book, Reinventing Education, Hope, and the American Dream: The Challenge for Twenty-First Century America.

They Are Destroying Public Education Just When We Need It the Most!

The events in Ferguson Missouri illustrate just how far apart we have drifted as a people. Somehow, we must find a way to repair the damage that has been done and the trust that has been lost and begin closing the gap between the white community and the communities of African-Americans and other minorities, between the rich and poor, the sick and the healthy, and the hopeful and the hopeless.

If we have learned anything from the last sixty years it is that we cannot legislate a change of heart. The only thing we can do is see that every American child; irrespective of race, religion, creed, color, sexual preference, or relative affluence has an opportunity for a quality education. It is only through education that a young man or woman can emerge from childhood with sufficient skill and knowledge to make a place for themselves in the world; to be able to choose from an array of meaningful opportunities; to be able to exert control over their own lives and destinies; and, have sufficient strength of character to persevere through life’s hardships and disappointments.

The federal government, corporate reformers, and state governments across the land are engaged in a relentless attack against public schools, community control of education, and the public school teachers. Now they are even attacking programs for our nation’s special needs children. These powerful men and women are no more qualified to fix public education in America because of their success in business than they are to perform surgery at a local hospital. As for our elected and appointed government officials, maybe they should fix our executive and legislative branches of government before they try to tackle something they know even less about.

It is, however, understandable that these reformers feel compelled to act because our professional educators have not stepped up to acknowledge the deficiencies in our educational process; deficiencies that only they are qualified to address.

The would-be reformers of public education have not taken the time to understand that the problems with education in America exist in spite of the valiant efforts of our public school teachers and not because of them. The reformers aggressively promote standardized testing, a process that distracts educators from what is important, and they drain resources from our most vulnerable community school corporations with vouchers to encourage parents to send their kids to a small number of unproven charter schools and to other parochial and private schools that cannot begin to meet the needs of every child in their communities. To offer what they believe to be a lifeline to parents who want the best for their children is a cruel strategy, indeed, if it can bear the weight of only a small percentage of the families of our communities.

These corporate reformers have not spent time in our public school classrooms so that they can witness, first hand, the deplorable lack of motivation to learn on the part of children across the spectrum of our student populations and they have not made the effort to investigate the absence of parental support in so many of our public schools.

If they did they would discover that many of the parents of our most vulnerable children are themselves victims of an outdated educational process and have no more trust in our systems of education, public or private, than they do in our systems of justice. These reformers would also discover that far too many of these men and women have lost hope and faith in the American dream.

Our systems of public school corporations and the obsolete educational process that functions within may be need a transformation but they provide the only hope to begin narrowing the breach that divides this nation and that we observed so graphically, this week, in an American community. The misguided policies of our corporate and government reformers of education can only divide us even more than we are divided today.

It is time for our professional educators who teach in or manage our public school corporations to step forth and acknowledge that our systems of public education are struggling and to accept responsibility for leading us to a new reality. A new reality in which every child is given the opportunity and the time to learn under the tutelage of qualified teachers, in an environment in which they are evaluated against their own performance rather than against the performance of their classmates.

Creating such a reality is our only hope for a future in which our aggregate dreams can be realized.