Exerpt #5 from Reinventing Education, Hope, and the American Dream, from The Introduction

Most Americans are unaware of the poor showing of the American educational system when compared to other nations in the world marketplace, but there does appear to be clear evidence that our children are performing poorly when compared to the children of other nations. This is particularly true of American children in our urban communities. As a result, our public schools are facing scathing criticism as are the educators who struggle to make the system work for our children. The cry goes out that our public schools are failing us and that teachers are to blame. Such claims are, at a minimum, misguided, at their worst a travesty.

In response to mounting pressure from federal and state officials, some school districts have resorted to major housecleaning; terminating teachers and administrators in groups both large and small. In other communities, state departments of public education are placing failing schools on probation and, in some cases, are threatening to take the schools over in an attempt to improve lagging test scores. In Fort Wayne Community Schools, the system to which we will often refer throughout this book, the district gave notices to more than 300 teachers and administrators at the end of the 2010/2011 school year and required them to reapply for their jobs as part of the district’s strategy for an academic shake up.

Such actions are tantamount to blaming soldiers for a war they were asked to fight. These efforts make an insignificant impact on the problem, especially when these schools rehire the same teachers and administrators and then move them to a different building. It does not work because teachers and administrators are only a small part of the problem and, in many cases, are themselves victims of an educational system that is both misdirected and poorly designed to do what we desperately need it to do in this ever-more complicated world.

So, what is the problem with public education in the United States of America? In response to what was meant as a rhetorical question, “What is the matter with these kids?” a middle school teacher with whom I shared a table in a faculty lounge summed up the problem with public education in the United States elegantly and concisely, if not kindly, in six words: “They just don’t give a shit!” And, he spat the words out.

My first response was to laugh. After ten years of substitute teaching, it has become glaringly obvious to me that there was more than a nugget of truth in the observations of this teacher, whose name and school I cannot recall. It is anything but a laughing matter, however.

There are, indeed, students who do care and parents who do support the educational process. The reality, however, is that an alarming percentage of those parents are pulling their children out of our urban public schools and placing them in a variety of private alternatives from parochial, charter schools, or other private schools to home schooling. In many places, state governments are encouraging such transfers through the use of voucher programs that allow the use of tax dollars to subsidize such transfers. Other parents are moving their families out of cities and into suburban and rural public school districts where they believe their children will receive a better education. The sad but compelling fact is that these suburban and rural public schools, and parochial and private alternatives, are out-performing their urban public counterparts on test scores to such a degree that it is difficult to be critical of parents who make such choices. The subsequent consequences with which our urban public school students and teachers must deal as a result of such departures are scary. We will return to this subject later in this chapter. Scarier, still, is that even our better schools are under performing relative to the school systems of other developed nations.

The only places where American students are consistently performing at an exceptional level are in special schools that exist, in small numbers, along the fringes of the mainstream educational system. Readers who have viewed the documentary, Waiting for Superman , were given a glimpse of a few examples of these remarkable little schools. As exciting as their performance might appear, these special little schools are not the answer to the American educational dilemma although they do offer a glimpse of the secret to solving the problem. They are not the solution because they are too few in number and simply cannot be replicated in sufficient numbers to solve the problem for the other ninety-nine percent of our nation’s student population. More importantly, they are not the solution because we have not made the effort to fully understand the reasons for their success. Instead, we stumble along in search of answers, blinded by our assumptions.

The leaders and advocates of such special schools suggest that their success can be attributed to two key factors. The first, these advocates suggest, is that these programs enjoy the luxury of being able to recruit exemplary teachers; the proverbial cream of the crop. The second is that, because these schools exist outside of the formal educational system, they are constrained by neither the bureaucracy of the public school system nor the power of teacher unions. Absent these constraints, according to their administrators, these schools are able to develop innovative curricula and place their exemplary teachers in exceptionally conducive environments, allowing them to do extraordinary things.

The freedom to do things differently and to break away from conventional wisdom creates a tremendous advantage for these schools and their students and mainstream educational policy makers and administrators must learn from their example. What we often ignore is that the most important advantage enjoyed by these special schools, we believe, is that the student populations of these schools are made up almost entirely of children whose parents are fiercely determined to see that their sons and daughters will get the best possible education.

Whether they are black, white, rich, poor, come from intact or fractured families is inconsequential. These parents took extraordinary action to get their children into these special schools, sometimes agonizing through a lottery process before their children are even accepted, and they are fully on board as partners in the educational process. It is from this fierce passion on the part of parents that students derive a powerful motivation to learn. When motivated students are supported by a sustained and active partnership between parents and educators, truly remarkable things happen. When combined with exemplary teachers utilizing innovative curricula and instructional methodology what takes place could be described as magical.

One would think it should be glaringly obvious that committed parents and their motivated sons and daughters are an essential ingredient in successful schools, wherever we find them, but the overwhelming majority of American educators and policy makers are so caught up in their daily challenges and so blinded by their preconceptions that they fail to see it.

Things Positive Leaders Can Do, Part 6 – When you are the boss!

Accept that your people are your most important resource. However Imperfect they may seem and however many problems they may have caused they have more than enough potential to help your department succeed.

They are your people. You either select them or accepted them because they were thought to have the ability to do the job. Now they are your people and you are responsible for developing their potential. Remember that unless they are incompetent and/or unwilling, it is less expensive to remediate the problems they cause than to replace them. Place your faith and trust in them; elevate your expectations. If you are forced to conclude that your people do not have the potential your department requires, it is your responsibility to do something about it.

Let your people know what your company’s objectives are and let them know when it succeeds or fails and how you and they have contributed to that success or failure. Do not withhold data about your company’s performance. Remember that knowledge is power. Most employees have an intuitive understanding of what it takes to be profitable and, with a little help from you to teach them how to understand the numbers, you will likely be surprised at the manner of their response.

One of the best ways to do this is to give them specific information relating to the expectations of your customers.
Let you people know what your department’s job is and how it contributes to the success of the business. Also let them know how your department interacts with other departments and how these departments mutually support one another. Make certain you people understand how their jobs fit in the program and how they contribute to the success of the department and to the business as a whole. Identify the internal supply chains that exist for each department. Make sure they understand who exists to serve whom. Who are their internal customers and what are the expectations of these customers.

Whenever possible, help your people set specific goals and objectives. This does not mean setting those expectations for them. Expectations should be as high as possible as long as they are achievable and the more your employees participated in setting those expectations the more powerful they will be. Then, measure performance and publish the results. Find something to count. Celebrate all victories.

Let your people know that your job, as their supervisor, is to help them succeed and, then, do your job.
Become a strong advocate. Fight for your people and stand up for them. See that they get the credit they deserve.
Take advantage of every opportunity to give positive feedback and recognition. Feedback is not something that should occur on a schedule or on special occasions. Positive feedback should comprise a significant part of what we do, each and every day.

Establish an atmosphere that concerns itself with solving problems not fixing the blame. Allow for mistakes and for failure. Give recognition for a good try. The only people who never make mistakes are those that never accept a challenge and never extend themselves. Recall the adage that says that “unless you fall down once in a while, you are not really skiing.” Remember that mistakes are nothing more than wonderful learning opportunities.

Make a commitment to listen. Seek out the ideas and suggestions of your people and act on them. Establish a pattern of incentives that will encourage more ideas and suggestions. Let people know the outcome of their ideas and suggestions.
Manage on the move, out amongst your employees. Never underestimate the power of your physical presence and the number of opportunities your presence creates. Avoid the ivory tower image.

Operate with an open-door policy. Contrary to popular belief, an open-door policy does not weaken the chain of command. The rule of thumb is that “you can and should listen to anyone, anytime, but avoid taking action until you have heard all sides, gathered the facts, and involve all of the appropriate participants.” Schedule time when you will be available—otherwise your time will be devoured by circumstances beyond your control and the open-door policy will be a myth. Your people know how busy you are and that there are many demands for your time. When you guarantee time for them it will help them appreciate how precious your time is and how important they are that your are willing to share it with them. Remember that the best open-door policy is one in which the boss is going out among the people as well as allowing the people to come to the boss.

You will not be able to solve all of their problems but you will establish a positive atmosphere that will be a fertile ground for productivity and excellence.

Handle problems, don’t create them. Take action to resolve problem situations and to respond to problem behavior by people, face-to-face, eyeball-to-eyeball. Rather than criticize or punish people, deal with the natural consequences of behavior. Leave personalities out of it as much as possible. Solve problems at the lowest possible level.

Avoid the temptation to legislate solutions to problems. This gets the supervisor off the hook, temporarily, of having to deal with a problem. But it punishes the whole unit or department and it does not address the underlying problem. After all, behaviors are nothing more than symptoms of underlying issues. More often than not, it is the employee’s lack of commitment to the mission that is driving undesirable behavior. Do not make the majority suffer for the misdeeds of the few. In these situations, the innocent taste the bitterness of injustice and nothing destroys trust in leadership more than perceived injustice. Use the “few rules theory of leadership.”

Rules are the studs, joists, and rafters of bureaucracies. When the behavior of an individual compromises the mission or purpose of an organization, positive leaders go to the source. Positive leaders begin with the assumption that the individual wants to do a good job but has, somehow, been diverted from their purpose. Positive leaders view these events as opportunities to teach and also opportunities to build trust. They begin by reminding themselves of their purpose as a positive leader, which is to help individual men and women be successful.

“Hold on a minute!” you might say. “That is not the outcome we are seeking.”

A leader’s focus on outcomes, whether desirable or not, shifts the focus away from the individual. Imagine how differently you feel when someone accuses you of doing something wrong, compared to a simple response of surprise that the outcome of the effort was not what we wanted or expected. It changes the entire dynamics of the conversation. Positive leaders have the highest possible expectations of their people and they avoid searching for evil intent.
Inevitably, even in the career of the most positive leader, there will be men and women with the intent to work in the disinterest of their organization. Exemplary leaders are always shocked to discover people of bad character because they expect the best of everyone. When an individual to whom every consideration has been given proves him or herself to be untrustworthy, positive respond with the gavel of certain justice. These leaders respond unhesitatingly and unequivocally. At the moment when the positive leader becomes convinced that an individual can no longer be trusted, the leader’s efforts shift, immediately, from the focus on remediation to one of acting in the best interests of the organization. Rarely are the interests of an organization served by hesitation or vacillation. Positive leaders waste no time and immediately get the individual out of the organization.

Learn as many names as possible and smile at the people you encounter. Acknowledge your people as valuable human beings. Treat them with dignity and respect. People do not normally respond to embarrassment or humiliation. “KAP!” Kick Ass Privately when it is necessary to kick ass at all. Make people feel important. Have a training session for your entire management team to teach them how to make people feel important.

Your integrity and your character are your most important assets. You do not have to be right all the time nor do you need to win all of the battles.

Vent your frustrations and express your doubts only to your peers or to your boss. Even the penultimate leader feels doubt and frustration—after all they are human beings. It is okay to be human. What distinguishes positive leaders from their less effective counterparts is the recognition of their responsibility to put the interests of their organization and its people ahead of their personal interests. They vent their frustrations appropriately. Require the same of your staff. Encourage them to vent their frustrations to you. Once a policy is made by management, do not burden your staff with your disagreement or disenchantment with that policy. Carry out the policy with the same positive enthusiasm you would display if it were your pet project or idea. If you are a strong advocate, as well you should be, you will have given testimony of your opinion in the policy formation process. In dealing with your staff, encourage them to express their honest opinion about every topic until such time as the decision is made. Once the decision is made, expect them to support it enthusiastically.

Let your people know that you trust them to do their job, to produce results, to meet deadlines, to achieve objectives. Then, let them do their jobs. Don’t look over their shoulder until they have missed their deadlines. Give them honest feedback about their results. Remember that trust is one of the most important characteristics of a successful organization. Work hard to earn their trust in you.

You are the leader—so lead! Be Proactive! Be decisive! Accept responsibility! Keep an eye on the future!

Build Teamwork! Talk to your people about the role you want them to play and about its importance to the organization. See that they get recognition for their contribution and that they get to share in victories as a full member of the team. Intermix individual performance goals with team goals. If the individual’s performance holds the team back, involve the team in the resolution.

Insist on the facts! Know your department inside and out! Know what it produces and how much it costs to produce it. Don’t be afraid of the facts. They can be a powerful tool to get things done and the more you and your people know about your operation the better your outcomes.

Teach your people to accept responsibility for their jobs! When they come to you with problems or questions, use it as an opportunity to teach them how to think for themselves. Good leaders resist the temptation, when the employee is stuck on a problem, to take over and solve it. The goal is not to solve the problem and show how smart you are; the goal is to help them employee learn how to solve the problem and teach them how smart he or she can be. Ask them what they think. They may be extremely reluctant to share their ideas with you for fear of looking stupid, but ninety percent of the time they will have an idea that may lead to a solution.

Give a man a fish and you feed him for the day. Teach him how to fish and your feed him for a lifetime.
Teach your people how to be strong and independent rather than weak and dependent! Many supervisors think it necessary to keep their staff dependent on them when, in fact, this only weakens the organization. Effective supervisors are constantly working to help their staff become independent within the scope of their jobs.

Expect your people to be the best and expect your department to be the best. Make certain that your expectations are communicated to everyone. There is substantial evidence to support that most people will strive to live up to or down to the expectations of their leaders. There are very few people in the world who want to be a loser. People will follow a leader with a winning attitude. Leaders who believe their people are winners and who expect them to win, consistently produce winning teams.

When confronted with problems, take action to solve them. When you have no authority to act, prepare a plan of action and present it to someone who does have the authority. Give them enough information and sufficient options that they need only answer yes or no! There is never an excuse for inaction unless the problem is found not to be a real problem.

Deal with people in terms of their and your intelligent self-interest. Make decisions and take risks! Be patient and tolerant, set standards for others that represent their capabilities, not yours. Keep communication channels clear and rise above emotional barriers. Above all, accept responsibility for everything that happens in your department or organization. But, remember that responsibility and blame are not synonymous. In fact, forget about blame. Blame is a negative activity that contributes nothing to progress.

Set productivity goals that can be met by the majority of people in the workforce. Better yet, let your people establish their own productivity goals. The object is to set them high enough to generate pride in achievement but low enough that the majority begin to feel like winners. Publish those objectives for the world to see and post the results just as prominently. Let the results speak for themselves. With each victory, raise the level of expectations.
Begin the process of dismantling the bureaucracy. Try to find one rule per month that can be abolished. The more freedom you give to your people the more responsibility you have a right to expect. The more responsibility people have the greater their sense of ownership. Establish the ritual of inviting your people to nominate one rule per month for the scrap pile. You will also find this is an effective way to reduce your costs as each rule places and enforcement burden on the enterprise.

The list can go on and on. Build on this list! Use it as a springboard. We’ve tried to leave room with each of these strategies for your to flesh them out with greater specificity. Personalize them; tailor them to your individual tastes and preferences but, whatever, do something. Act!

Remember that anything human beings can imagine, human beings can do. Positive leaders believe in the possibilities and they believe in their people. Positive leaders communicate mission, vision, and values relentlessly.
Positive leaders strive to become totally dispensable to their organizations. They do this by empowering their people and in the process they become invaluable.

The world needs you and you can do it! You can make a difference!

Reinventing Education, Hope, and the American Dream, Excerpt #4, concluding the Preface

We suggest that business principles can make significant and meaningful contribution to the challenges we face [in public education] but we are not talking about the principles that come from the boardrooms and their focus on financial incentives, investments, and entrepreneurialism. The business principles to which we refer are things that can be learned from an operational perspective in a business environment. These principles have to do with things like focus on one’s customer, structuring an organization to serve its purpose, problem-solving, teamwork, integrating quality assessments into the learning process, and giving the people on the production line the tools and resources they need to help them do the best job of which they are capable. In education, the people on the production line are teachers, administrators, and their staff.

The application of these principles to create a blueprint for a new reality in education in America is the over-riding purpose of this book.

Our first objective will be to offer a strategy to transform our systems of education, both public and private, to one that focuses on success and that prepares our young people for the challenges that the balance of the Twenty-first Century will present. Our second objective is to gain a true understanding of the reasons why our systems of education are under-performing because these are the same forces that threaten every aspect of our way of life. Once we have gained that understanding we will be in a position to meet our ultimate objective and that is to take our newly engineered educational product to the people.

We must use our system of education to unite Americans behind a common purpose in the face of what may be the greatest challenges our nation has faced since the Civil War. Our goal is to re-infuse faith and hope in the American dream into the hearts and minds of every American parent and child. Only through this effort can we preserve our status as the richest and most powerful nation in the world as we move into an uncertain future.

Column for Fort Wayne Journal Gazette on Teacher Evaluations Results in Indiana

Published: April 14, 2014 3:00 a.m.
Honing an imperfect tool
Teacher evaluations – crafted properly – have their place

Mel Hawkins

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Whatever one feels about the reliability of the data regarding school staff performance evaluations released by the State Department of Education and reported in the April 8 Journal Gazette, just having a system of evaluation in place and reporting results to the public is a positive step for our state’s educators.

Performance evaluations in any venue are an uncertain science, but the fact that they acknowledge a responsibility to be accountable to the public is the first step in the right direction. The results are far more credible than the offhand assertions of skeptics that the “results do not provide a true and accurate assessment.”

References to what would appear to be contradictory evidence provided by the performance of students’ on ISTEP+ tests are equally nonsensical.

It has become fashionable to blame teachers for the poor performance of their students, but this should be construed as evidence that critics of our systems of public education have an oversimplistic understanding of why so many American children are performing poorly in school.

Those who advocate the use of state competency test results to punish schools and teachers are simply out of touch with reality and demonstrate, with each shouted breath, that they are clueless as to the reasons for failure in our schools.

The reasons why children fail in school are many and they are complex and can be discussed in detail at another time and place; but, let there be no doubt that far too many of our children are failing and this is, without question, one of the most important issues on the American agenda.

It is because this issue is so critical to the future of our society that it demands thoughtful examination on the part of men and women who are more concerned about understanding the dynamics of the issue than they are about assigning blame or spouting meaningless platitudes.

Blaming teachers for the problems in public education in America is like blaming soldiers for the war they were asked to fight. Teachers are as much victims of an obsolete educational process as are the students that they teach.

It is bad enough that they are asked to perform miracles without the necessary structure, support and resources; can we at least spare them the ramblings of an uninformed public?

I am not suggesting that the teaching profession is without culpability, and it certainly must bear a significant share of the responsibility for changing the reality that is education in 21st-century America. Performance evaluations can play an important role in that process, and they can be a powerful tool in driving organizations toward their objectives and in holding employees at all levels of an organization to the highest possible expectations.

Unfortunately, the quality of performance evaluations is often a function of the caliber of management in the organization. If they are to work in an educational environment, principals must be thoroughly schooled in their use. Interestingly, this is an area where school corporations and teachers’ associations could work together toward a common purpose.

Performance evaluations are also another area where schools can learn from business. While the value and functionality of performance evaluations in a business environment span the continuum from pathetic to outstanding, many industries have been engaged for decades in the development of meaningful instrumentation.

The concept of integrated performance evaluations would be one innovation that would offer great promise in an educational environment. Integrated performance management systems are designed to provide ongoing, real-time interface between worker and supervisor and are focused upon helping workers, both professional and nonprofessional, maximize their ability to provide products and services of the highest caliber.

It seems to this observer that it would be in everyone’s best interests if teacher associations would take the lead in working with their school districts to mutually develop such capability. Nothing drives innovation like the compelling need to satisfy demanding and unhappy customers, and there are few people who are happy with the state of public education in America in this second decade of a new century. If ever a time would be right, this would seem to be it.

Excerpt #3 from the Preface of Reinventing Education, Hope, and the American Dream

[Opposite the corporate reformers are] Advocates who support traditional, community-based public education and who oppose the forces of privatization, Common Core, reliance on standardized testing to hold schools and their teachers accountable, expansion of voucher programs and charter schools claim that while our schools are far from perfect, they are not failing. These advocates suggest that the quality of education being provided to American children is higher than it has ever been. They insist that poverty is the biggest problem in public education and that we should attack poverty and the disadvantages it creates for our children while protecting our educational traditions.

The purpose of this book is to show that both sides of this debate are terribly wrong and that both sides grossly misjudge the efficacy of education in America, both public and private. We suggest that both sides misinterpret the role of poverty and the other forces that contribute to the educational failure of an unacceptable number of Twenty-first Century American school children. It is the cultural equivalent of spending all of our resources on new and improved thermometers and fever reducers at the expense of attacking the cause of the elevated temperature. In the interim, the infection festers, unabated, while we poison the educational process with our intransigence.

How our nation responds to these challenges of the Twenty-first Century will determine the future of the American way of life, not to mention the American dream. Parents of children that we now refer to as baby boomers were fortunate to live in the world where there was great clarity with respect to core values, and at a time when the external forces that compete with the influence of parents and families were relatively insignificant. In each succeeding generation, parents have seen diminished clarity with respect to core values while the power and sophistication of external forces have grown, exponentially. Today, in this second decade of the Twenty-first Century, the external forces that compete for the attention of our children are unprecedented and of a power and magnitude that was unimaginable even a decade ago.

That these internal challenges come at a time when emerging economic powers, with laser-like focus, are working to challenge American economic and political supremacy places our future in grave jeopardy. It is vital that Americans understand that competition is a bad thing only for the player who has lost his or her ability to compete. Healthy competition brings out the best of all competitors. If we continue to slog down the same path, the health of our society and our ability to compete effectively will deteriorate at an accelerating pace.

The beauty of our situation as members of an ailing society, however, is that our educational system, both public and private, in addition to being the barometer with which we are able to identify and measure the severity of the crisis, also provides the most viable point of attack in quest of a solution. It is viable, however, only if we come together as one people, in all of our diversity, and work to restore our competitive advantage with the same sense of urgency that our competitors demonstrate. This crisis demands action and meaningful action requires that we challenge our fundamental assumptions and expand the boundaries of conventional wisdom.

Vignette #2 – Fort Wayne, IN – Middle School Social Studies – Substitute Teacher

The five language arts classes all had a packet of worksheets that they were to work on during class but which were not due until Monday.

For many students, the moment you say something isn’t due until the next day their first reaction is to put off working. “It’s not due today, so I’ll do it later.”

All of these classes required an initial effort to convince them to settle down but once settled they worked well for the entire period. One of the incentives I offer students when there seems to be sufficient work to keep them busy for most of the period, is to promise them five to ten minutes of free time at the end of the period, provided they cooperate. Each of these classes received some free time.

As usual, there were a number of students in each class who did not work very hard but they did, at least, make a show of doing the assignment.

After a great day, the last period was a different story. This particular middle school ends the day with a 25-minute period that is called SSR (Sustained Silent Reading). On this day the students were to finish watching the movie Shrek, which they had begun the previous day.

Problems began as soon as students began arriving.

The telephone began ringing as students arrived and while I was taking the call an argument erupted between two students. One student apparently has a history of problems as he was seated, by himself, at a small table against the front wall. He was a tall, thin youngster who wore big glasses with thick lenses. Not infrequently, students of this ilk are the target for harassment by many of the other students.

I approached the students right away and separated them. The second student was quite angry and did not want to settle down. He insisted that the other boy had thrown his calculator into the trash and he was insisting that the boy dig it out of the tall waste basket. The accused student did not deny that he had tossed the calculator rather he insisted that the incident had begun when the other boy hit him. Several times the second student would say that he was going to get the other boy kicked out of school. He said that one more referral and the boy would be suspended.

As the two would not stop arguing, I took them out in the hall way but, in spite of my efforts, the argument only got louder and more heated. Finally, I sent the second student to the office just to get them separated. I immediately went to the phone to notify the office of my action, explaining that I could not determine who was the instigator but just needed to separate the boys. What I did not explain is that my gut instincts told me that the second boy was harassing the first and that this is probably an ongoing pattern. In the meantime, students were bounding around the classroom engaged in a full menu of horseplay with only a handful seated at their desks. I then began to try to get them in their seats so I could take attendance. Another student had started the DVD player but, although the movie was playing, only a few were watching. Taking attendance was complicated by the fact that the seating chart was full of scratched out names with others inserted and there were few last names. I never did get all of the students in their seats nor did I finish attendance.

By this time one student was chasing another around the classroom. The lead student dived to the floor and the other grabbed his shoe and jerked it off of his foot and tried to throw it into the waste basket. Before I could intervene a handful of other students had joined the fray. As I was attempting to restore order, I heard the telephone ring, which given the noise level in the room was, itself, remarkable. By the time I got to the T.V., which was directly above the telephone, lowered the volume and then picked up the phone, the ruckus throughout the room had escalated.

The telephone call was from another teacher who was attempting to reach the individual for whom I was subbing.
During the call three additional students had joined the two who were chasing and wrestling each other. When I was able to separate the five students who, thankfully, were engaged in rough play rather than actually fighting in anger, I glanced at the clock and it was 2:32. The last period of the day ends at 2:35. It was then that I noticed that a full third of the students were gone. They had taken advantage of the diversion and had left early. It was then that end of the day announcements began, many of which were bus changes. The remaining students, many of whom were heading for the door, paid no attention at all to the announcements. The noise in the room was still so loud it is doubtful that they could have heard the announcements had they tried.

By the time the bell rang, only four students were still in their seats, waiting patiently. Although I was too preoccupied during the abbreviated period to notice, I have no doubt that these same four students sat quietly in their seats for the entire twenty-five minutes of the period. These four pupils are examples of the other heroes in our public school systems. They sit quietly amidst the turmoil, doing their best to follow directions and do their assignments, often unnoticed by their teacher. At the end of the period these same students go on to their next classes where they do the same thing, day after day.

Excerpt # 2 from the Preface of Reinventing Education, Hope, and the American Dream

Page 10 -12

America’s schools, both public and private, are the grounds upon which a battle is being waged for the very future of the United States and we are losing the battle. Many communities throughout the nation are perceived to have exemplary schools yet in cities across the United States the percentage of students unable to pass state competency exams ranges from twenty to over eighty percent. More often than not, the lowest passage rates are found in urban public schools. While outperforming their urban counterparts; even our best schools, whether public, private, parochial, or charter are not performing well enough to propel the U.S. into the top-twenty list of developed nations with respect to the performance in math and science. That we rank as high as 15th in language literacy is hardly cause for celebration. That China, arguably our biggest competitor in the international marketplace and also our nation’s largest creditor, ranks first in all three categories should be cause for alarm if not outright panic.

The consequence of this systemic indifference is that the number of children exiting our public schools with little in the way of marketable skills and who are functionally illiterate is growing at an untenable rate. Under the misguided belief that greatest problems with public education in America are poverty, bad schools, and bad teachers and in the wake of such federal initiatives as President George W. Bush’s “No Child Left Behind” (NCLB) legislation and President Barack Obama’s “Race to the Top” our educational leaders and policy makers are under great pressure to reverse the declining performance of American school children.

Under the leadership of what are thought to be the best and brightest minds from the world of business and public policy think tanks, and with the backing of billionaires and private foundations we are in the midst of a rush toward privatization of our schools, Common Core, charter schools, holding schools and their teachers accountable on the basis of standardized competency examinations, minimizing if not eliminating the role of teachers unions, and the expansion of voucher programs. With full support of federal and many state governments, the sentiment is that private enterprise can do a better job of educating our children than community-based school corporations.

It is even suggested that, with the application of business principles such privatization can even bring an end to poverty, which is widely believed to be the root cause of the problems of education and almost every other social problem in America.

That poverty is an outcome of the evolution of our free-market economy, along with the federal government’s ineffectual tampering, begs the question of why we would ever think privatized schools will somehow create different outcomes. The one thing we can say with certainty is that free market forces will follow the money. This will remain true whether the marketplace is producing goods and services or educating our children. We can also say with some certainty that there “ain’t no money” in the poorest neighborhoods of urban or rural America.

Opening Paragraphs from the Preface of Reinventing Education, Hope, and the American Dream

The golden age of the United States of America, the richest and most powerful nation in the history of the world, is nearing an end according to some forecasters of Twenty-first Century trends. The world is in the midst of unprecedented economic, political, cultural, technological, sociological, and ecological changes that will forever transform human society. One of the drivers of American preeminence has been our systems of public education that gave the United States the most well-educated and productive workforce on the planet. As we enter the second decade of the Twenty-first Century, the U.S. is like a professional sports franchise that has seen the quality of its player development program languish over a period of years. That our competitors in the international arena are placing the education of their children at the top of their priority list while the American educational system remains a relic of times past has tragic consequences for Americans and our way of life.

That many of these nations reject the principles of democracy only heightens the magnitude of an already alarming situation. While the American economy is under relentless attack by emerging economies, its system of core values are eroding from within. Culturally, millions of Americans either have become or are becoming disenfranchised. They have lost hope in the American dream, no longer believe they possess control over their own lives and destinies, and no longer believe their government cares what happens to them. The disenfranchised have given up on even the idea of meaningful employment; they are denied access to quality healthcare for themselves and their children; and, they have been chewed up and spit out by the American educational system.

Education, historically viewed as the ticket to the American dream, is no longer relevant to this burgeoning population of our citizens. For these men and women, education has become a ticket to nowhere. As a result, millions of American parents do not teach their children that education is important and do not infuse their children with a moral compass sufficiently strong to withstand the pressure of an ever more powerful peer group. The children of these parents show up at a school that is dreadfully unprepared for them; arrive with little or no motivation to learn; precious little preparation; and, demonstrate no commitment to cooperate with their teachers or abide by rules of behavior. Then, they repeat the cycle, all over again, when they send their own children off to school a generation later.

Excerpts from Reinventing Education, Hope, and the American Dream

Periodically, we will be using this blog to post excerpts from the book. This first excerpt is represents the first couple of paragraphs taken from the Preface.

Things Positive Leaders Can Do, Part 5 – As an Employee

This is the fifth in our series of articles about things positive leaders can do to make a difference in the world around them.

Give your best effort each and every day, all day long. Take pride in the work you do regardless of how menial or sophisticated. Focus your mind and your energies at all times on the end-customer who will derive benefit from that which you do whether that is someone outside of your organization or within. Accept as your mission the responsibility for giving that customer the best product or service possible given the resources with which you are provided.

Value your job as an opportunity to contribute something of value to society. Each and every job is part of the fabric that is our socio-economic system. As complicated and remote as it may seem, each job done well, contributes value to the system. In J. D. Salinger’s Franny and Zooey, Zooey Glass reminds his younger sister Franny of something their eldest brother Seymour said, “do it for the fat lady.”

Seymour’s “fat lady” was a symbolic representation of Jesus Christ. The point Seymour wished to make for his younger siblings was that they should always do and look their best for Christ. Doing so adds an element of beauty to the world. The universe, which is the Creator’s gift to mankind, may be vast and complicated but the contribution of individual men and women is still the primary determinant of the overall quality of life for all creatures.

Think in terms of primitive man’s early days when society was the extended family or tribe. No matter how primitive the community, a clear division of labor existed in which all participants were expected to contribute according their talents and abilities. The whole tribe derived benefit from a job well done and the whole tribe suffered if it was done poorly. Although modern society is complex, things have not changed all that much. What you do is still important to the welfare of the community and it is your responsibility to do it to the best of your ability.

Do not ask “what’s in it for me?” Do not take the attitude that I will do it only when I’m certain of the reward. Do it for the customer who will benefit, whether internal or external. Do it for the community that depends on everyone to do his or her best; do it for your own pride and self esteem. Positive leadership is both life-affirming and self-affirming.

Put your trust in your employer. Yes, there is risk that an employer may take advantage of you, that you may be exploited. There is risk in all of life. Someone has to break the cycle of mistrust, however, so why not let it be you? And, do not be afraid to ask management to put its trust in you.

Do not complain about things you don’t like or that make it more difficult to do your job. Instead, propose a positive alternative. Think through the issue and talk to other people who view the problem from a range of perspectives. Then prepare a brief but simple action proposal and submit it to the appropriate authorities. Do not worry about whether or not it will be approved. Many of your suggestions will be ignored; some, however, will be accepted. Some will be filed away for future reference and will re-surface when the time is ripe. Other proposals will be scorned; and, some will spark a germ of an idea in the mind of someone else and will be a catalyst for change.
Something else will happen, as well, as you develop a pattern of preparing action proposals. If your ideas are positive and practical you will acquire a reputation as a problem-solver, as a positive leader, and as an employee to be listened to and respected. Most important of all, the customer whom you serve will derive real benefit. As this happens you will also earn the respect of your peers who will view you as an individual who can get management to take notice. As a result, people will begin to recognize your leadership. Never under-estimate the power of committed men and women or the power of positive leadership. They can and do change the world! It happens every day, everywhere. You can too!

Talk to people and listen to them. Listen empathically. Smile at them and be friendly. Help people to learn how to do their jobs. Reach out to them. Set a good example. Don’t feel compelled to knuckle under to peer-pressure but instead, stand up for your values and principles.

Be a hero. When we were children we pretended to be heroes who would display our courage under even the most trying and dangerous circumstances. The workforce daily presents opportunities for heroism and the world needs you every bit as desperately today as in wartime. And, the benefit to be derived from your leadership is vital to our society. So go ahead! Be a hero! The worst thing that can happen to you as a result of your courage is that a few individuals with little minds and weak spines may make snide remarks. They are inconsequential. It is heroes that the world needs so earnestly.

Work hard, be honest, stay late, volunteer for the tough assignments, innovate, streamline, establish a new standard, communicate with management, demonstrate your loyalty, say what needs to be said even in the face of danger. Have strength and courage. Dedicate yourself to doing the best job you can and expect – even demand – the same from those around you. Our entire society, our way of life, is threatened by a lack of commitment and heroism; by the unwillingness of men and women to stand up for what is right and to give unselfishly of their talents and skills. You can make a difference! It is your duty to yourself, to your children, and to your children’s children. It is also your duty to your sense of honor. It is this kind of effort and courage that made America the beacon of hope for the world and it is this type of courage and effort that will revitalize and re-energize our nation, today and in the future.