An Open Letter to the Educators of and Advocates for, Children of Color

If you do not stop the failure of disadvantaged students, a disproportionate percentage of whom are children of color, who will?

In the movie Deja Vu, Denzel Washington’s character asks a young woman:

“What if you had to tell someone the most important thing in the world, but you knew they’d never believe you?”

Ladies and gentlemen, this is one of those occasions.

Many public school educators and policy makers have convinced themselves that they are powerless to do anything about the failure of these children until society addresses poverty and segregation.

If you are reading these words, please believe me when I tell you that you are not powerless! These children are capable of learning if we place them in an environment that takes into consideration any academic preparedness disadvantages they bring with them on their first day of school.

If we make the effort to discover what they know and help them begin building on that foundation, one success at a time, it is only a matter of our patient time and attention until a motivation to learn takes root. From that point on, with the help of caring teachers and parents working together, there will be no stopping them.

Imagine a future in which every child who graduates from high school has the knowledge, skills, confidence, and determination to create a positive future for themselves and their families.

It takes thirteen years to help a child progress from Kindergarten to the moment they walk off a stage with a diploma that is more than just a meaningless piece of paper, so we must start now! We cannot afford to squander another day, let alone waste another child.

That millions of disadvantaged students, many of whom are black and other minorities, are failing in school is an indisputable fact of life in America. Because this has been going on for generations, urban and rural communities throughout the U.S. are full of multiple generations of men and women who have always failed in school and have always been poor. Consider the possibility that this is not an inevitable outcome of poverty and segregation.

I suggest an alternate reality in which poverty and segregation exist because so many children have been failing for so long. It is a chicken versus the egg conundrum, I know. The reality is that the failure of so many children and the poverty and segregation within which they live, are like a Gordian knot; intertwined, interdependent, and seemingly impenetrable.

Disadvantaged students fail not because they are incapable of learning and not because our teachers are incompetent rather because these kids arrive for their first day of school with an academic preparedness deficiency. They start from behind and are expected to keep up with more “advantaged” class mates and with academic standards and expectations that make no allowance or accommodation for their disadvantages. As these children are pushed ahead before they are ready, they begin to fall behind.

What do any of us do when we discover that we are unable to compete and begin to lose/fail repeatedly? When we fail, again and again, we get discouraged and if the pattern continues, we give up and stop trying. If we are a child in a classroom, we begin to act out.

Our teachers, who have worked hard to help us, begin to perceive us as slow learners and begin to accept our failure as inevitable. Our classmates begin to perceive us as dumb and this affects the way they interact with and think about us. This reality makes it easy for them to target us, first for teasing, then insults, and then bullying.

Worst of all, we begin to view ourselves as unequal and it damages our self-esteem. When this happens anytime, especially at an early age, the impact on our self-esteem and our view of our place in the world can be altered for the rest or our lives. We begin to think of ourselves as separate and apart.

This is tragic because it is so unnecessary. We can begin altering this reality, immediately, if educators would simply open their eyes to the reality, on the one hand, that this is not our fault, and on the other, that we have the power to change the reality and end the failure.

All these kids need is the time and the patient attention of one or more teachers who care about them. For 5 and 6-year old children warm, nurturing relationships that allow the children to feel loved and safe are as essential to their well-being as the air they breathe. Such relationships are an essential variable in the education equation. This is true for all kids, even those with loving parents. For children who do not feel loved and safe at home, such relationships may be the only deterrent to the schoolhouse to jailhouse track.

This latter group of children pose a significant challenge because many of them have learned not to trust.

For this reason, schools must make forming such relationships their overriding priority. That means not only making the formation of such relationships a primary expectation for teachers but also crafting an environment that fosters and sustains such relationships. Because of the background of these youngsters, great care must be taken to ensure that these relationships, once formed, endure. One of the best ways to ensure that they endure is to give the child more than one teacher with whom they can bond and by keeping them together for an extended period of time.

The next step in the creation of a no-failure zone is to do a comprehensive assessment of each new student’s level of academic preparedness and then tailor an academic plan to give them the unique support they require to be successful. Student’s must be given however much time they need to begin learning and then building on what they know, one success at a time. Each success must be celebrated. Celebrating an individual’s successes and even their nice tries, is a powerful form of affirmation that helps them develop a strong and resilient self-esteem. There is nothing that ignites a motivation to learn in the hearts and minds of children more than learning that they can create their own success.

Interestingly, teachers who have never experienced success in reaching these most challenging students will be on a parallel path in their own career development. They are also learning that they can be successful with even their most challenging students.

Children discover that success is not an event, it is a process that often includes a few stumbles along the way. If we teach them that each stumble is nothing more than a mistake and that we all make mistakes, kids begin to view their stumbles as learning opportunities and as an inherent part of the process of success.

Because of the way the current, obsolete education process has evolved, many teachers have become disconnected from their purpose. They have come to view themselves as scorekeepers and passers of judgment.

What we want all teachers and administrators to understand it that we have only one purpose and that is to help children learn. Starting from their first day of school, and over the next thirteen years or so, our purpose is to help them gain the knowledge, skill, wisdom, and understanding they will need to make a life for themselves and their families. Our job is to ensure that they have a wide menu of choices determined by their unique talents and interests. We want them to be able to participate in their own governance and in the American dream.

For children of color, we must help them develop the powerful self-esteem that will make them impervious to the ravages of discrimination and bigotry. However much we might want to legislate an end to the racism in the hearts of man, it is not within our power to do. The best we can do is to make sure not a single child is left defenseless. Every successful man or woman of color has faced the pain and heartache of discrimination in their lives but because they were not defenseless, they have been able to create incredible achievements for themselves, their families, and for society.

One young child even grew up to be President of the United States. Who knows, there might be a boy or girl in your class who has, within him or her, the makings of a future President. Our challenge as educators is to make sure each boy and girl gets the opportunity to develop their unique potential.

Imagine a future in which every young man or woman of color, or who was once disadvantaged, leaves high school with the skills, knowledge, wisdom, talent, and motivation to become a full-fledged player in the American enterprise; to partake fully in the American dream. This is the dream that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. envisioned and for which the heroes of the civil rights movement sacrificed so much.

Please take time to read my White Paper and Education Model at Please read it, not in search of reasons why it will not work, rather in hope that it might. Utilize it as a spark to ignite your own imagination.

Like An Old Pair of Shoes!

Recently, I described the American education process as being like an old pair of shoes that you feel comfortable wearing, but don’t dare run in, at least not too fast. In other articles, I have used the parable of storing new wine in old wineskins to compare the process with which we teach our children in most private, parochial and public schools in America.

Public school teachers and administrators have long grown comfortable with the current education process, but it does not always produce the outcomes they seek. Teachers do their best and in some classrooms, in some schools, nothing seems amiss. Those teachers feel good about what they do. In other classrooms, sometimes in the same school, and certainly in many other schools, things do not go so well. Not every student is successful and some who eventually achieve success, do so only after an extraordinary effort on the part of teachers and parents. Most teachers have at least one student who represents a challenge and requires that level of effort.

In other public schools and classrooms, most students struggle and in some, all but a few, struggle. For many students, success rarely happens. Are these teachers not as good? Is their something wrong with the school building? We know the students attending such schools present a different challenge but is that the only reason why outcomes are so disparate?

What if you were asked to trade students with a colleague who has a challenging class? Would the performance of that teacher’s students turn around, remarkably, once they spent time with you or would you likely face the same difficulty as your colleague? How would the students from your classroom perform with the other teacher?

If you are one of the fortunate teachers to have only one struggling student, imagine what it would be like if more than half of your students presented such challenges. What if the exception in your classroom was one student who is successful? How different would your experience be? How good would you feel about your students, classroom, and school?

The problem is not just the students and it is neither the teachers nor the school buildings. Rather, the problem is a brittle and inflexible education process that has been in place longer than many of you have lived? It seems to work okay for some children but the evidence that it does not work for all children is compelling and irrefutable.

There are millions of children who struggle in our nation’s most challenging public schools. If your classes are performing well, does that mean that you need not concern yourself with the challenges that other teachers face? Most often, the teachers in these low performing schools are just as capable as you; work just as hard, received the same education and training. Some of them might even be former classmates of yours.

If teachers in high performing schools choose to ignore the challenges of their colleagues is it okay? Is it okay for you to turn your head and be thankful that you are in a better place? Or, is that leaving your colleagues hanging out to dry. Do not all teachers and all students deserve better? Are you not comrades-in-arms in a noble profession?

If the only thing that is different between your high performing classroom and the low-performing classroom of your colleagues is the academic preparedness, motivation to learn, and parental support, what does that tell us about the effectiveness of the education process. If the process is incapable of adapting to the unique needs of its students, how can it serve the best interests of the American people and their sons and daughters?

The wonderful news is, “it need not be this way!” We can reinvent the education process to support every single teacher, in every single classroom, for every single student. And, no, it does not matter that all will not succeed at the same level. What our expectation can and must be is that we help each child learn how to be successful so they can be the best that they can be. We can ask no more of our children, their parents, or their teachers. We want every teacher to be the best of which they are capable, and we want each of your students to grow up to be the best men and women they can be.

The education process in place in our public schools and in most of our private and parochial schools is not capable of meeting the needs of a diverse population of children, no matter how capable their teachers, no matter how innovative their methodologies, and regardless of the level of sophistication of our tools. When taxed beyond its limits the education process will break down just as will that old pair of comfortable shoes. It does not allow teachers to adapt to the unique needs of their students and this is unacceptable and unnecessary. How can our nation compete in an ever-more challenging global marketplace and political arena if our children do not rise to their potential?

Once again, unless you have already done so, I ask that you review my education model at Examine it not in search of reasons why it will not or cannot work rather in hopes that it might.

The Recurring Theme of Obsolescence!

It is a recurring theme, I know, but the existing education process, which has been in place for most of our lifetimes, is neither tasked, structured, nor resourced to give our students what so many of you consider to be the essential variables in the education equation.

Whether it is making certain our students feel important, cared about, and confident that their teachers are one hundred percent committed to their success because relationships are an essential variable. Relationships are everything and all the knowledge, talent, and achievements in life pale in comparison to the importance of the people in our lives; people who care about us unconditionally. We must understand that it is only through our relationships with our students that we can compete with the power of the peer group.

Whether it is the belief that we must, somehow pull parents into the process as partners sharing responsibility for the education of their children.

Whether it is knowing that children are more than just test scores and that high-stakes testing forces us to teach to the test.

Whether it is knowing that teachers need to be guided and supported by visionary, positive leaders who exist to help us be the best teachers that we can be rather than search for what we do wrong. Just like our students, we need help to learn from our mistakes. This is what positive leaders do.

Whether it is wanting each child to be given the opportunity to learn from mistakes even if it takes more than one or two attempts. We know, from infancy, learning is all about making small adjustments based upon the mistakes they make and that all kids are on a unique time table. A child’s brain is programmed to learn, relentlessly; to soak up the world around them. How is it that somewhere along the line we throw obstacles in their path that cause them to stop trying, convince them that learning is anything but fun, and dampens if not destroys their motivation to learn.

Whether it is the belief that each child has inherent, if unknown, potential and that the job of our public schools and teachers is to help them discover who they are and who they can become, if given the chance; to help them create their own unique futures. Who knows, there may be a child in your classroom who could grow up to be President of the United States, if only we were able to help them through the, often, challenging learning process. Whether or not they will become a real President and not a pretender may well be up to you.

Whether it is believing that we must make the effort to understand the unique level of academic preparedness of each child when they arrive at our door for their first day of school because it is only when we understand what they know and where they lag that we can chart out a unique academic path and truly provide personalized learning.

Whether it is believing that we need to be open to and free to explore all the innovative ideas, personalized learning, digital learning, and other approaches, tools, and methodologies until we find what works for each child; recognizing that what works for one boy or girl may not work for another.

Whether it is knowing that we must teach the whole child and not just fill their heads with facts, numbers, and knowledge. Understanding that we must help them learn how to think creatively and critically; help them learn how the world really works so they can be contributing members of society and make informed choices about the critical issues of their time. Or, helping them be wise to the false promises, jingoistic dogma, or confidence schemes with which they will be showered.

Whether it is being convinced that we must help them understand history so that they can learn from mistakes of the past and make certain they understand the principles of democracy and the form and functions of a participatory democracy.

Whether it is a commitment to make sure that our students learn to understand and appreciate the diverse cultural fabric of humanity through the arts and social sciences. We want them to learn to be tolerant, understanding, and have empathy. And, we want them to learn to express themselves through literature, oral communication, art, and music.

Most of you believe that these are all essential variables in the education equation and vital to a child’s motivation to learn; that it is these things, rather than charter schools and vouchers, that will save public education in America.

If we are truly committed to the teaching profession, we want young people to leave our public schools with a portfolio of knowledge, skills, and understanding that will give them choices about what to do with their lives to find joy and meaning, provide for their families, and participate in their own governance. We want them to have the healthy self-esteem that comes from being able to control as many of the outcomes in their lives as possible.

As a former employer, I have always been surprised that so many public school teachers and other educators think corporations want our schools to produce automatons who will become replacement parts for their machinery. Some educators do not seem to understand that the frustration of the business community that feeds the “choice” education reform movement is that candidates for employment seem unwilling to work and unable to think creatively, accept responsibility for outcomes, and strive for excellence.

The only way to shut down education reformers with their platform of “choice” and their focus on high-stakes testing, charter schools and vouchers is to render them irrelevant; to make our public schools the “preference of choice.” This cannot be accomplished with the obsolete education process we have today. We must have an education model that frees teachers to give each of their students what they need and we can have this if we are willing to open our hearts and minds to a new idea.

This is exactly what my education model is designed to do. Don’t reject it without taking the time to understand it and, once you understand it, don’t hesitate to improve it so that it will truly help you meet the needs of each one of your students. Please learn about it at:

Brainstorming Session!

How many times throughout your lifetime have you heard other people say “Well, that’s the way we’ve always done it!”

The way you are asked to teach your students, today in 2018, is because someone, many decades ago, sat down and designed an education system in a way they thought would make it easy to teach kids. In present times, we continue that tradition of one teacher per classroom of 35 or fewer children.

Now, imagine that you and the other teachers at your school decided to create an opportunity to spend a day brainstorming, without the participation of administrators telling you what you can and cannot do. Imagine that the challenge you were given was to create an education model from scratch that would enable you to do all the things you have always wanted but were unable to do with and for your students. Would it look anything like the education process in which you work today?

Go ahead and try it! Plan a brainstorming session some weekend and see what happens. What do you have to lose?

Like seeds, ideas germinate the easiest when planted in fertile soil so, to kick it off and get everyone in an “exponential-thinking mindset” so you can all think outside the box. Someone told me recently that “think outside the box” has become cliché. The phrase might be cliché but the process of getting outside of one’s frame of reference is an essential tool of creative thinking.

Suggest to your colleagues that they review my education model before arriving for your brainstorming session at just to get a glimpse of what might exist beyond the boundaries of conventional wisdom. Then, set both my model and “the way you have always done it” aside and have at it. Start with a clean whiteboard and no constraints. There is no such thing as an idea too crazy to consider.

Start by going around the room and asking every participant, one after another, to identify anything and everything they can think of that children need in order to learn. Do not stop until there are no more ideas. Then, work together to try to consolidate and prioritize that list, but do not erase anything. Remember, you want to teach the whole child and even the smallest things might make an enormous difference. Once you have completed this step then start back around and begin to suggest ways you could organize yourselves to ensure that every child has every one of his or her needs, met.

Remind yourself that the existing education process was designed a century ago and things have changed since then; in fact, everything has changed since then, many times over. Educators have experimented with modifications and there have been many innovative approaches, tools, and methodologies over the decades, but the original model is still at work in public schools, as well as private and parochial school, all over the U.S.

The reason these ideas have not proven successful is not because they were bad ideas and not because teachers are incapable. The innovative approaches, tools, and methodologies have been disappointing because we tried to force them into an outmoded and brittle process. As I have written, before, it is like the parable of storing new wine in old wineskins that leak and turn sour the wine we had worked so hard to produce.

Today, you are teaching in an archaic structure and process only because that’s the way we’ve always done it. This would be okay if the way we teach worked for everyone. But, of course, we know it does not.

Some of you might be thinking, “it works in my school” but if there is a single failing grade in even one teacher’s gradebook, then a child has failed. There are many schools where it we be difficult to count all the failing grades that have been recorded in the gradebooks of all the teachers in a given school over the course of a semester.

We have been conditioned to think this is the best we can do and that the responsibility for the failure of children who live in poverty, a disproportionate percentage of whom are also children of color, must be borne by society, not our public schools.

As education reformers and other critics of public education have become more aggressive and are now offering alternatives to traditional public schools, it is only natural that public school teachers have grown defensive. That it is why it is vital that public school teachers, administrators, and policymakers step back and challenge their fundamental assumptions about what they do and why. It is my belief that teachers are in the best position to take responsibility for this process because they are close to the problems. Teachers live with the challenges of teaching every day and they witness the struggles and failure of children.

Consider one last chilling thought. We have noted that educators suggest that it is up to society to address the problems of poverty before teachers can be expected to teach millions of our nation’s disadvantaged students. Guess what? Society has done something to address the issues of poverty that make it so difficult to meet the needs of all our nation’s children; needs that are often extraordinary.

Over the past fifty years, American society has spent trillions of dollars building school buildings in communities all over the U.S. and have staffed them with the most qualified teachers our colleges and universities can produce. Society has been waiting on you, the best teachers we can produce, to find a solution because the American people don’t have a clue. You, America’s teachers—unsung heroes all—are the only Americans who truly understand the needs of the children with whom you work every single day.

America needs each of you to put your heads together and come up with a new way of teaching that will allow every child to learn and be successful in the classroom and that will refuse to let a single child fail. You know better than anyone that your students do not start off from the same point with respect to academic preparedness and with reference to your state’s academic standards; you know that they do not all have supportive parents; you know they do not all learn at the same pace; and you even know that there is no expectation that they will all arrive at the same destination. You also know that they are children and that they need us to like them, to be patient with them, to support them in every conceivable way.

You also know that our nation’s disadvantaged students, are the most vulnerable. They need us to tailor an academic process to their unique requirements and they are also the students who need us the most no matter how challenging it might be to teach them. Remember, the child who is hardest to love is the one who needs it the most.

What you may not have considered is that American society needs these kids every bit as much as they need us. We can no longer afford the enormous cost of caring for a growing population of Americans who lack the academic skills to support themselves and their families. We can no longer afford the incalculable opportunity cost that these generations of children represent if we are to rise to the unprecedented challenges the balance of this Twenty-first Century will present.

Finally, we all need to understand that we cannot legislate an end to the prejudices in the hearts of the American people. Neither can we legislate an end to the resentment, bitterness, and anger in the hearts of Americans who are frustrated that they are asked to pay taxes to support people whom they perceive to be unwilling to support themselves. What we can do, gradually, is to reduce the population of Americans who have become entrapped in a maelstrom of poverty, failure, hopelessness, and powerless; thus, leaving others to find something else to be angry and embittered about.

This is not something that can be done in a day. After all, it takes eighteen years to raise a child and it takes thirteen years in school to help them acquire the skills, knowledge, and understanding they will need to have choices about what to do with their lives to find joy and meaning when they leave high school. They must, also, be able to accept the responsibilities of citizenship in a participatory democracy.

Teachers, I urge you not to wait for someone else to fix the problems in our nation’s public schools. And do not forget that education reformers are working hard and spending huge sums of money to take that responsibility away from you. Scariest of all, these reformers haven’t taken the time to understand the real challenges in our public schools and are oblivious to the harm they do. You, our teachers, are the only ones who can stop the reformers and the only way to stop them is to render them irrelevant.

Embrace Change If You Want Something Better

This morning I retweeted and responded to three people whom I follow and respect who were independently talking about the same thing: changing what we do to get better results.

It began with Jimmy Casas @casas_jimmy who tweeted:

“Thought for the day: We need to stop saying educators hate change. Not true for most. They hate not having support, resources, & most importantly, time! Provide these three things & you’ll see most will embrace it. #culture”

My comment in my retweet was:

“They’re scarce because the current #educationprocess isn’t set up to provide them. Why not embrace #CHANGE to a model created [specifically] to give support, resources, & time for teachers and kids. These precious commodities don’t fall from the sky. We must reach for them.”

Within seconds, a tweet popped up on my screen from Bruce Van Horn @BruceVH who posted a great Meme saying:

“You must be willing to do something you have never done before to get to where you have never been before.”

And, again, seconds later, another tweet appeared, by Burton Brown, Sr. @BurtonBrown:

“Be Brave! Take off your clothes and put on some new ones. @DonnaReiners #quote”

The first thing that “popped” into my mind was my favorite motivational speaker of all time, Zig Ziglar, who once said:

“If you keep doin’ what you’ve been doin’ you’ll keep gettin’ what you’ve been gettin’!”

The most important issue on the American agenda is public education and the achievement gap between black students and their white classmates is the civil rights issue of our time, as is the achievement gap between white children and other disadvantaged students, many of whom are also minorities.

These children are failing by the millions and, contrary to the claims of education reformers, they are failing in spite of the heroic efforts of public school teachers.

Why is it so hard to recognize that we must change and put an end to a flawed education process that has produced multiple generations of American men and women who have always failed in school and have always been poor. These Americans produce whole new generations of children and send them off to school with little, if any, expectations that an education will provide a way out of the cycle of poverty and failure. These Americans have no reason to believe that the school experiences of their children will be any different than their own. For so many of these men and women, the American dream is a false promise; an illusion. It is the civil rights movement, unrealized.

Make no mistake, the burden of supporting this population of the poor and dependent, and especially black Americans, is the basis of the ever-deepening bitterness of millions of other Americans who resent having to support them. This generation’s-old pattern, they believe, justifies their prejudices and bigotry and, as much as anything else in American society, explains why so many people are so upset with life in America that they elected Donald Trump to be President of the United States.

Yes, I know how incredibly difficult it must be for the teachers in our most challenged public schools to stand up and proclaim that what they are being asked to do does not work when they know they are being blamed for the failures. We must move past talking about blame and begin talking about who will accept responsibility for change. If we wait for others do it for us, we may wait forever.

I also understand why so many teachers who teach in higher-performing schools feel the need to defend themselves against the attacks by reformers and resist their focus on “choice,” charter schools and vouchers.

Deep down in their hearts, many public school teachers know there is something horribly wrong when outcomes never seem to change no matter how hard they work or how many new ideas, methodologies and approaches they are asked to try. They also know that “choice,” charter schools, and vouchers are not the answer just as they know prejudices and bigotry are not the answer to our nation’s future.

If teachers and advocates for public education would only step back a few steps and look at the education process as an integral whole, they would see that it is a process that has grown obsolete. It is a process that not only fails to support teachers and students as they go about their important work, it impedes their efforts; it forces them to overcome one obstacle after another.

As has been so eloquently pointed out by Bruce Van Horn, Burton Brown, Sr., and Donna Reiner, the answer to your question, Jimmy Casas, is that the only way we can give teachers and students, especially disadvantaged students, the “support, resources, & most importantly, time” is to change the way we teach.

Michael J. Fox posted a meme some time ago, to which I have referred, often, and which many of you have communicated in your own words:

“If a child can’t learn the way we teach, maybe we should teach the way they learn.”

Please, please, please take the time to read my Education Model and accompanying white paper at

Teachers say all the time that “kids are more than test scores” and that an education must be more than teaching to a test; that we must teach creative thinking. The first and most important aspect of creative thinking or “thinking outside the box,” which I prefer to call “exponential thinking,” is to force ourselves to step back, far enough, that we can examine a system or process as an integral whole, challenge our fundamental assumptions about what we do and why, and begin to think about other ways we could go about doing whatever it is that we do. So that we are not just teaching to a test and can show that our kids are more than test scores.

I am not so arrogant that I believe that my education model is the only way we can change public education, no matter how confident I may be, but I do believe it will help educators undergo a paradigm shift and see the education process—the logical process through which we deliver a service to our nation’s children—in a new light. It will show you one way we could begin to do things differently and end the failure of so many of our nation’s precious children. If nothing, else, it should provide a catalyst that will #ignite your own imagination.

I also challenge black Americans and other minorities, and their advocates, to seize this opportunity to bring MLK Jr’s dream to life and make it part of a real American dream.

The Education Process Should Support and Empower not Constrain!

So many schools and teachers are doing wonderful things with their students and yet million of children fail, particularly disadvantaged kids. That teachers continue to work hard is a testament to their commitment and to how much they care.

Employing innovative ideas, methods, and approaches should not require extraordinary effort on the part of teachers. Why should teachers be forced to jump through hoops and overcome obstacles to give each student the unique amount of time and attention they need to learn and grow; to experience success in the classroom? No matter how hard they work, the current education process is not structured to allow teachers to meet the needs of each child and this is especially true in public school districts that serve a diverse population of children, including many disadvantaged kids.

The current education process in place in American private and public schools, has not changed materially in decades while the world in which we live has changed exponentially. An effective education process would be engineered to enable, facilitate, and empower teachers to go, virtually, to unlimited lengths on behalf of their students with full confidence that the education process would support them at every step along the way.

It helps to consider that the education process on which we rely was not created by educators striving to find a way to optimize a teacher’s ability to teach and a student’s ability to learn. The education process has evolved over a period many generations and is based more on tradition than functionality. The education process is like a software application that has been subjected to so many minor modifications and fixes that it has degraded over time and no longer performs the tasks and functions for which it was created.

The education process has grown obsolete and no amount of tinkering will make it work the way our children and their teachers need it to. Neither will incremental improvements allow the education process to meet the needs of 21st Century America. The process we have today is, in fact, a consequence innumerable incremental changes, jury-rigged fixes, and being stretched and pulled in every possible direction to accommodate new methodologies and approaches that never quite seem to fit. It is time to think about how we would construct an education process, today, if we were starting from scratch.

So many great educators tell their stories on Twitter; inspirational stories about their successes in the classroom. I love the messages about the importance of connecting with our students on a personal level, responding to their needs for supportive care, safety, and affection. So many of you talk about how important it is that our students do not give up and stop trying; that making mistakes or falling down are not failure. You talk about how important it is that children learn how to be successful and gain confidence in themselves.

The education process, however, is not structured to facilitate the efforts of teachers to make our students feel special nor does it permit teachers to give students however much time and attention they need to learn each lesson. Often, teachers must go above and beyond to achieve these things. The process is not designed to treat each child as a unique individual. Teachers might be told that this is the expectation but the expectation against which their performance is measured is something else, entirely. The “real” expectation is a function of the evolution of high-stakes testing.

States do need academic standards and they must rigorous. Where we go wrong is that the focus is on moving an entire classroom full of 20 to 35 students down a path, as a unit, in conformance to state academic standards. Teachers know there is great disparity in the level of academic preparedness of the students who arrive in their classrooms on the first day of the school year, especially in schools serving a high percentage of “disadvantaged students.” They understand that students do not start from the same place on an academic preparedness continuum nor do they learn at the same pace. We do not even expect them to arrive at the same destination.

Think about how the process deals with student performance. We give our students tests on each lesson and record both passing and failing grades in our gradebooks before moving on to a new lesson. Teachers might find time to give extra help to a small number of students who struggle but when failing students represent 25, 50, 75 percent, or more of the class there is not enough time.

If the process was structured to help each child down their unique path, our students would not be pushed on to a new lesson for which they are unprepared. Rather, the expectation would be that we let each student move on to a new lesson when they are ready and that teachers take however much time is needed to help them get ready; to help them understand. Student’s should not be expected to keep up with classmates and neither should students be asked to slow down until others catch up.

Students must be able to experience success and they must learn that they possess the ability to create their own success. They must learn that success is a process and we must help them master that process. When students give up and stop trying it is because they no longer view success as possible; as something that is within their power to achieve. Whenever we accept failure—and that is what we do when we record a failing grade—and tell students time is up and, then, push them ahead, we are depriving them of the opportunity to experience and master the process of success.

It does not matter if our leaders tell us that we are dedicated to the success of each child. As in everything else in life, what matters is not what we say, it is what we do. What matters is what happens to kids within the context of an obsolete education process. What matters is the degree to which that process constrains teachers and children and how it impedes our important work. What matters is how we keep score.

Think, also, about how well the process helps teachers form warm, nurturing relationships with each of their students. Teachers have one school year to bond with anywhere from 20 to 35 children. For some kids it happens quickly, for others it may take the entire school year, and for some it may never happen. At the end of the school year those bonds we worked so hard to form are severed as kids move on to the next grade in another classroom with another teacher and start all over. At least the kids with whom we have bonded will be able to hope that their new teacher will like them. What will be the expectations of the students with whom we were unable to bond? Some children have no idea what it would be like to have a special relationship with a teacher because it has never happened to them.

There are many kids who progress all the way through elementary school who never experience the kinds of special relationships that can change their lives and it is not for lack of effort on the part of teachers. The education process is structured in such a way that forming special relationships is a hope but not an expectation.

When our students perform poorly on state competency exams it is the teachers who receive the blame. No one even considers that it is the education process that is the problem. Because we never give such consideration, nothing is ever done to address the reality that the process has become obsolete. Most teachers have not even noticed that the process is obsolete but they do know it doesn’t help them do what needs to be done; they have a sense that things are not as they should or could be.

So many of your twitter, Facebook, and blog posts say that we need to teach the way children learn. Why don’t we start now?

Over the last ten years I have worked to develop an education model that I believe is teacher/student centered. It was developed through the application of 45 years of experience: working with kids; providing and teaching organizational leadership; reinventing production and service-delivery processes that produce unacceptable outcomes; and, walking in the shoes of public school teachers while working as a substitute teacher, part-time, over a period of ten years. The model is also as result of the application of the principles of positive leadership, organizational development, and systems thinking.

You will find the model at along with an accompanying white paper.

I also encourage you to browse the 150+ articles on this blog, Education, Hope, and the American Dream.

For those teachers who work in high-performing schools and who have confidence that what you are doing works for your students, consider that what you are doing does not work in every school or for every student. Also think back on your experience and recall those occasions when you thought, “if only we could do this, or that.”

For those of you teaching in schools where many of your students struggle, consider that it doesn’t have to be this way. Think about how nice it would be if you could give your students the time, support, and attention they deserve. Think about how nice it would be if you could go home and feel good about what you have accomplished, every day. Consider that both you and your students deserve better.

Ask yourself, “if we could go back to the drawing board and create, from scratch, an education model that applied everything we have learned over the last half century or more, what would it look like?” Also, ask: “what would our nation be like if every high school graduate walked off the graduation stage with sufficient knowledge and skills to give them a whole list of choices of what to do with lives?”

Let’s not waste any more time. I know that most of the men and women reading these words are not happy with the way things are going in America.

Did you know that you are among the very few people who can actually do something about it?


In a recent exchange of Tweets, I saw that Stella Pollard (@Stella_Pollard) had started a blog she is calling Voyage of Inquiry at 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 . 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,