A First Communion to Remember

We had a wonderful celebration for our eldest granddaughter’s First Communion. It proved to be an equally wonderful peek into the culture of Mexican Americans, whom we are being told are people to fear and who place our nation at risk.

Our granddaughter is adopted and is of Mexican descent, so her mother wanted her to attend a church that has an Hispanic membership. Although it was not our first opportunity to participate in a Mass in a Hispanic community, it had been fifteen years since the last such visit.

On this special Sunday, being part of that parish community, even for one Mass, was an unforgettable experience. Just walking into the church, one could sense a joyous atmosphere.  The music was beautiful, worshippers clapped to its rhythm and participated in the liturgy with joy and enthusiasm; all in Spanish. It was the people who were special however and the love for family and friends filled the sanctuary as if it was a living, breathing thing.

The boys and girls dressed for their First Communion in beautiful white dresses and black suits were seated at the end of each pew, with their families to their right. As family members entered, even some who arrived late, they made their way to  their family’s communicant to greet him or her with hugs, kisses, and beaming, sparkling smiles. They were grandparents, aunts, uncles, siblings and cousins and they embraced each other with the same joy with which they worshipped. During the sign of peace, which is a part of the Catholic Mass, people greeted us from well beyond the pews to our front and back, stretching out with smiles and hands to shake.

We were transported back to the memories of a Catholic Mass in a small Argentine community fifteen years earlier. On that occasion, our white faces branded us as visitors. As we entered that church, just before the Mass was scheduled to commence, we were greeted with warm smiles and not once did we feel like intruders to be viewed with suspicion or mistrust.  During the sign of peace, parishioners came from every direction, not just with smiles and handshakes, but with hugs and kisses on both of our cheeks. It was a remarkably warm, welcoming, and humbling experience; one we will never forget.

As we sat in our daughter and granddaughter’s little Hispanic Catholic Church in Camden, New Jersey—one  of the nation’s poorest and reputedly most dangerous communities—we were surrounded by warm, caring people.  There was no way to tell whether they were American citizens from birth, or registered or illegal aliens, nor did it matter, but it was clear that they were people who cherished their families and the American dream. Like so many of our own ancestors, they came here to escape tyranny and persecution and in search of work so they could provide for their families, which are paramount in their lives and culture.

While those who work or attend school strive to learn English they also cling to their culture and language of birth, not wanting their children to lose their identity as a people. Often, they are harassed when speaking Spanish to one another in public. It is ironic that multi-generational Americans, particularly of European descent—a people who make little effort to become bi-lingual—are so quick to criticize their Latin-American neighbors.  

Even though many reside in communities rife with crime and violence, the overwhelming majority of these men, women, and children are not violent and are neither drug dealers nor rapists. They are hard-working people who cherish their freedom and opportunities and they live their lives with joy and generosity, never taking the American dream for granted. They pose no threat to the safety and well-being of our nation, in fact, they do just the opposite. They add to the richness of our diverse society and are neighbors whom we should be proud to welcome into our communities.

Do Alternate Pathways to Graduation Lower the Bar?

In case you’ve been wondering why my presence on Twitter has diminished, as I mentioned in an earlier post, I’ve been inundated with ASVAB testing.

Beginning with the 2018/2019 school year, the State of Indiana has approved the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB) as an alternate pathway to graduation. Students who have been unable to pass the 10th grade math and English Language Arts components of the ISTEP+ exams, which have been required for graduation, can now take the ASVAB.

To qualify for graduation from high school using the ASVAB, students must achieve a minimum percentile score of 31 out of a possible 99, on the Armed Forces Qualification Test (AFQT) which is a composite score of the two math and two English Language Arts components of the ASVAB.

Since September, I have administered 55 student test sessions in 42 different high schools in Northeast Indiana, for just over 4,500 students. With travel to and from these 55 student test sessions, I have logged over 5,100 miles. Time required for both the pre- and post-test preparation for each session is significant and it has required that my 73-year old body haul anywhere from 1 to 4 cases full of test material (as much as 50 pounds each) over that same 5,100 miles.

During this same period, I have also administered 28 enlistment tests (once per week) for roughly 200 enlistment candidates at the Fort Wayne Military Entrance Testing Site (METS). This combined testing responsibility has been a learning as well as an exhausting experience. It has siphoned off both the time and energy required to complete the work on my book-in-progress and to participate in the important support network that Twitter provides for teachers and administrators. Needless to say, I am woefully behind on my writing.

Tracking ISTEP+ scores over the last ten years has been an ongoing part of the research for my book, Reinventing Education, Hope, and the American Dream: The Challenge for Twenty-First Century America (Createspace, 2013), for my 250 plus posts on my blog, Education, Hope, and the American Dream, and for researching my book-in-progress, Reinventing Education One Success at a Time: The Hawkins Model. None of that research prepared me for the experience of looking into the eyes of and talking to over 4,500 students who cannot pass their ISTEPs.

Many of these same students who are unable to pass their ISTEPs are also unsuccessful on the ASVAB. When you see their faces, rarely smiling, it is no longer an academic exercise. These are children representing a true cross section of the diverse population of Americans in the Northeast corner of Indiana. If all Americans could have looked into the eyes of these same high school students, any stereotypical illusions about the demographics of struggling students would have been shattered.

I should have been prepared for it, based upon my experience in administering the enlistment version of the ASVAB for the past 15 years. In my presentation to the students, I describe the AFQT score as a “work-ready” score. I also explain to them that there are few things as sad as watching 18 to 22-year old men and women walking out of a testing room with a piece of paper that says they are qualified for almost nothing. After all, if one cannot qualify for the most basic jobs in the Armed Services, how may civilian jobs will they be qualified for? Being able to get a 31 on the ASVAB means a young man or woman has some choices. The higher one scores the more choices they enjoy. I encourage them, should they do poorly on the ASVAB, to identify where they are weak and use their remaining months or semesters in school to work on them.

I wish every teacher and administrator could see the dejection in the faces of these young men and women. It is sad that educators, whom I consider to be unsung American heroes, do not get to see their students struggling to make a place for themselves in the adult world. If they did, I believe they would come to understand the truth of my words and the words of others that if a student cannot utilize what they have learned in the real world, they have not learned it.

That so many young people, across all demographic categories, are unable to achieve this minimum score on the ASVAB should be more than enough evidence that the education process is flawed beyond repair, no matter how valiantly teachers work to do the best for their students. This is a reality that has devastating, adverse consequences for not only the futures of these young people but also for a society that will depend on their leadership over the next half-century.

Teachers must come to understand that it is not their fault that so many young Americans are poorly prepared but there is no group of professionals better positioned to demand an end to it. It is time for public school teachers and administrators to stop being embarrassed and defensive about the performance of so many of their students and become indignant and aggressive in shouting to the world that what they are being asked to do in their classrooms does not work for a significant percentage of their students.

The education process at work in our public schools, is no more able to meet the needs of 21st Century students than America’s 1950s highway system would be able to meet the needs of 21st Century vehicular traffic. Our education process is neither engineered nor constructed to meet current needs.

Indiana’s decision to offer the ASVAB as an alternate way to qualify for graduation could well be interpreted as lowering the bar. More than a few teachers, guidance counselors, and administrators have commented that, while not all of them are successful, their students find the ASVAB easier than the ISTEPs. Is lowering the bar what we should be doing?

Would it not be a better use of our time to discard our obsolete education process and replace it with a new model in which teaching children has been reimagined and reinvented. I offer my model as an example: https://melhawkinsandassociates.com/education-model-white-paper/

Should All Students Be Required to Learn Algebra?

Many educators and education policy makers are questioning the value of algebra. Think about how often you hear people comment that they never use algebra and think taking algebra in high school was unnecessary and did nothing more than add stress to their young lives.

Removing algebra as a requirement for graduation from high school would be a decision that requires careful analysis.

One Website offers a definition of Algebra attributed to Syracuse University. It states that Algebra is:

“a branch of mathematics that uses mathematical statements to describe relationships between things that vary overtime.” Continue reading

Another great review of my novel, Light and Transient Causes!

What a nice surprise to get from a dear friend of many years, whose lives and families have taken us in different directions:

“Mel: WOW! I just finished your novel, Light and Transient Causes. I had not been aware that you had written a novel, but caught a reference to it in a LinkedIn e-mail. I read some reviews and ordered it. I could list a million of adjectives (definitely positive ones) in describing this book, as well as the emotions it put me through. . . . Without a doubt, it gave me a lot to think about, especially when listening to the news and what is going on in our country. Anyway, congratulations on the great read! I loved it, . . .

-Carol W.”

Teachers Are Many Things All of which Are Essential!

When we greet a five- or six-year old boy or girl on their first day of school this is a point of embarkation on a twelve- to thirteen-year journey to adulthood. The mission of teachers is to help prepare these young people to be citizens of a participatory democracy. Teachers are essential to the fulfillment of that purpose and can be replaced by neither technology nor less qualified, lower paid staff.

The job of teachers is to help our students build a portfolio of knowledge and skills so they will have choices for what they want to do with their lives to find joy and meaning. We want our young people to be able to provide for and create wealth for themselves and their families and we want them to add value to society. More than anything we do, relationships will be key to our students’ success and development, in every way.

When children arrive at our door on their first day of school they may be at the single most vulnerable period of their lives. These unique little human beings are a precious creatures—truly our society’s most important asset and it will be on their backs that the future of society will be borne.

We must greet every child who arrives at our school as an individual with the potential to accomplish important things. Their welfare should be at the top of every single one of our nation’s priority lists. Possibly, one of our students may grow up to be President of the United States, become a brain surgeon, a research scientist who will find the cure to cancer, a lawyer, architect, teacher, professor, nurse, entrepreneur, public safety officer, elected official, sales professional , manager, supervisor or the best electrician, cosmetologist, auto mechanic, custodian, plumber, certified nursing assistant, or small business owner in their community. It is not for us to decide what they will grow up to be.

Our job as educators is to help them discover who they can be and then teach, coach, mentor, guide, cheer for them, sometimes push, and always support them along their unique developmental path. We must help them identify their talents, abilities, and interests so that they can begin to create their own dreams and become the best versions of themselves. During this time, we must avoid passing judgment on their choices. We must embrace the idea that every job, done well, adds an element of beauty to the world. We must refrain from making arbitrary decisions such as that all students must prepare for a four-year degree.

Public school teachers must convince their students, through our daily words, actions, the expressions on our faces, and the tone of our voices that we consider helping them develop their potential to be our mission in life. We must make them feel loved, and respected, and we must smile at them at every opportunity. Remind yourself how you feel when greeted by a warm smile from someone you know. Think of it as relentless affirmation.

We want our students to become good citizens who understand their responsibilities as members of a participatory democracy. We want them to understand the cogent issues of their time and to make thoughtful decisions. We want them to be able to think for themselves and not be swayed by charlatans, whatever their doctrine.

It is our objective that our students will become imaginative and creative adults able think exponentially, outside the boundaries of conventional wisdom (outside the box). They must understand that the world is changing at an ever-faster pace and that we all must adapt. We must help them understand that the solutions to the challenges facing society, at any given point in history, will not be found by dredging up strategies and tactics of the past, other than the lessons we have learned from them. Today’s problems are often the consequences of policies past, policies that have grown obsolete and are no longer in sync in a dynamic world. The young men and women our students will grow up to become, must be prepared to find new and innovative solutions as the 21st Century unfolds.

Our children must learn that the only way to protect their own rights is to protect the rights of others whether freedom of speech; religion; or protection from the abuses of the powerful, whether from the public or private sectors. They must understand how vital it is that they exercise their right to vote.

We want these young people to understand history in hopes that they might learn from our mistakes and successes as a society, much like we all must learn from our experiences, including classroom assignments and quizzes. We want to remind them of the adage that “if we are not falling down once in a while, we are not really skiing.” We must teach them that success is a process of doing just that, of learning from both our successful and disappointing outcomes. We all must learn how to master that process of success and a vital part of that process is not being threatened by the success of others. We must celebrate our own successes and those of the people around us. It is success that gives us the confidence to face new and bigger challenges. When our students become discouraged, as all will do, we must be there to encourage them not to give up. They must learn that the process of success is fused with persistence and determination.

When teachers get discouraged, as all will do at some point along the way, they must be able to depend on their leaders—their principals and administrators—to encourage them not to give up. Teachers must also be able to depend on one another for more than just negotiating for better deal, as important as that may be. They must be able to work together as a profession to drive change when they are confronted, daily, with a process that does not work for all their students.

We want our kids to understand the social sciences so that they might grasp at least a wisp of understanding of human nature; whether with respect to individuals or within the context of families, organizations, communities. and societies.

We want them to understand the natural sciences and that the forces of the natural world that are greater than us; that we must view such natural phenomena as climate and other environmental changes as components of an interdependent, evolving universe rather than view the natural world from within the context of narrow and shallow minds. We want them to be able to understand that a single winter storm does not refute the evidence of global warming and that a clean environment is not bad for business. Our children must learn to be stewards of all things in nature. They will need all of their creativity to find solutions for the 10 billion people with whom they will share the planet; billions for whom the policies of the past will be insufficient.

Our students must learn to appreciate and be able to express themselves through the arts, which have proven to be the signature of civilization. Arts also help us develop our imaginations and creativity and thus expand our views of the world. We want our students to learn that the ability to recognize the need for and embrace paradigm shifts is as essential to the development of the individual human mind as it is to the evolution of human society.

It is equally vital that our children have healthy lifestyles for both their minds and bodies. Helping children develop their mental and emotional health is one of the most important outcomes of an effective education process and the work of its teachers. A healthy sense of self is a function of the quality of our relationships with other people. Teachers and their personal relationship with each child are an essential variable in the growth and development of young minds, bodies, and egos.

How often have we heard that “it takes a community to raise a child?” Parenting may be the most challenging of callings, especially in times such as these. We believe the best outcomes for our nation’s children will flow from the partnership between parents and teachers. It serves no one’s interests, however, to pass judgment on parents who may be struggling to raise children and provide for their families. Even when parents are derelict in their duties, no one benefits from the neglect or victimization of innocent children?

For those of you who believe that these things about which we have spoken are, indeed, what teachers must be doing for their students, it should be obvious that the education process in place today does not render these things possible.

Our education process is an archaic structure that is designed to process children as if they are widgets being fed through a machine like commodities. It is also a process that sets both teachers and students up for failure. Because the education process has not worked for so many children for so long it leaves the American people to do what human beings have so often done; look for simple answers to complex problems and for someone to blame.

Teachers must acknowledge, both individually and collectively, that no one else can see what they see, every single day. They are the only people who can possibly understand why the system has grown dysfunctional and what we can do to fix it. What teachers cannot do, however, is view the entire education process from inside their classrooms and nor can principals view it from within their buildings any more than any of us can view our entire planet from our own back yards.

What public school educators need is a little help from an outsider like me who unknowingly found himself walking in their shoes, observing what they see. The difference is that, as I walked in their footsteps, I saw their world through lenses colored by different training and experience. I observed a dysfunctional process that is public education through the mind of one trained to apply the principles of systems thinking, organizational development, and positive leadership to replacing systems that do not an cannot work with systems that will.

What I cannot do, however, is rally teachers around a positive solution to the challenges of public education, I can only give them a positive solution around which to rally. I can only urge them to consider that the powerful advocacy of their collective will around a positive new idea will be infinitely more effective than all the complaints, protests, rally’s, and collective bargaining strategies laid end-to-end. I would ask all of you to consider that the best way to regain the respect and support of the taxpaying public is to give them a solution that works for their children. I’m not suggesting that teachers not strike, when necessary, rather that they consider that such actions are only responses to symptoms, not etiologies.

I challenge teachers to consider The Hawkins Model, an education model designed and structured to do everything teachers need to do for their students. I challenge them to abandon our decades-long tradition of teachers pushing an entire classroom of children down an arbitrary path and replace it with an education model that helps children progress along a path tailored to meet their unique needs. I also challenge their principals and administrators to join them in the implementation of an adaptive education process guided by a student’s interests, aptitudes, motivation, and achievements resulting from a progression of successes.

Please do, as some of your colleagues have done, and take the time to examine my education model not in search of reasons why it will not work rather while striving to understand what it would be like to go to work everyday in a place where you truly can make a difference in the lives of each of your students.

“Street Smart” Translates to Every other Kind of Smart!

This is the third in a series of re-published posts while I devote most of my time to the completion of my  upcoming book.  I hope you enjoy it.

When working with kids, outside of a classroom setting, their level of “street smart” is easy to recognize. What “street smart” tells us is that these kids can learn anything that is important to them. The fact that so many do not learn in school is because it is not important to them. If their families, from their own negative school experiences, do not value education, we can be certain their children will not value education. The operative question, therefore, is how do we make learning at school important to all our students?

Relationships are key to learning  but given how many people of color and other disadvantaged Americans are suspicious of teachers, especially white teachers, it is not easy to break through. This is particularly true when skeptical parents tell their kids, “don’t let the teachers treat you unfairly” and this is a common message untrusting parents give to their kids.

When I was a juvenile probation officer during the first nine years of my career, almost every parent I spoke with expressed concern that their kids would be treated unfairly at school. What I also discovered was that listening to them works better than talking. If they feel they are being interrogated, they will clam up quickly. If I was patient and just engaged in a normal dialogue with them, they would become more forthcoming with info about themselves and their families. Empathic listening skills must be a part of every educator’s portfolio.

For a white teacher with students of color, this is especially true, but I often wonder how many teachers know this. Teachers must maintain a keen awareness that they must earn the trust of students and their parents. That trust is not given, automatically. It is so easy when we are busy, however, to revert to talking rather than listening, giving instructions rather than explanations, and to interrogation rather than dialogue. When our students and their parents begin to learn that you have a genuine interest in hearing what they have to say—hearing their story—they become much more open. Nothing convinces them they are important to you better than your generous attention and empathic listening.

The way we win the parents over is by winning their kids over. When our students begin talking to parents about their teacher as being nice, a parent or guardian’s natural curiosity becomes an ally.

Especially early, as teachers work to form relationships with new students, kids will be as quick to pass judgment on their teacher as we are to pass judgment on them. It is ironic that so many teachers and parents think their children never listen to them. Whether or not they appear to be listening, I can assure you that they hear and see everything you say and do. And, when what you say does not jive with what you do, your integrity is diminished. You won’t know this, unfortunately, until you feel them pulling away from you, emotionally.

It is an oversimplification, I know, but things we are expected to teach our students are not important to them until students become convinced that they are important to us. I have also learned that as suspicious as our students may be, they hunger for closeness with adults. They will not open themselves to a teacher, however, until they begin to trust.

In the summer of 1966, in Philadelphia, I supervised a churchyard recreation program. The church sat on the border between the territories of two gangs and our purpose was to offer a sanctuary for kids—no gang recruiters allowed. All I did was play with the kids, ages 8 to 16, and listen to them, rarely offering advice, not that I had much advice to offer at age 20. My goal was to keep them coming and on any given day we would have between 15 to 30 kids on the grounds, some days even more. The only evidence that I was making a personal connection to them as individuals was 1) the fact they came every day, and 2) they began to talk about their lives.

The summer after my time in Philadelphia, I was in the Army, stationed in Maryland. I went back to Germantown Avenue for a weekend visit, not knowing whether I would even be remembered. When I walked into the churchyard, the teenagers were aloof, at first, but the young kids charged me and dragged me to the ground.

If you have ever been mauled by a litter of puppies, you can appreciate how I felt. Never had I felt more loved than I did wrestling under that pile of pre-adolescent kids. The teens quickly came around, as well.

While I choose to believe that teachers care deeply about their students, I do not believe enough of them take the time to listen to their students and then demonstrate that they care through their actions. Like anything else, we need to sell kids on our commitment to their success. When we have accomplished that, their parents become so much more accessible.

One more story, this one from my first year of subbing, and then I will get on with my point.

It had been 36 years since my summer in Philadelphia and over 20 years from my last day as a probation officer when I subbed for a 3rd grade teacher. I had only been subbing for a few weeks. After the first 20 minutes, I noticed a young black boy was following me around the classroom. When I gave a teacher a questioning glance she said, “he won’t stay in his seat. We can’t get him to listen to or do much of anything.”

For the entire day, he was my shadow. He let me help him with his assignments; read to him; and, when we marched to art class, to lunch, or recess, he held my hand. The teachers were as astonished as I was and told me he had never let anyone get close to him.

I was only at that school for one day. One of the most difficult things about subbing is that you may never see the same kids again and rarely get an opportunity to build on even the smallest foundation of the occasional connections you make.

To this day, I am ashamed to say that I did not stay in touch with that little boy, whether as a tutor, or “big brother,” or some other way. My only excuse was that, in addition to dealing with a couple of personal issues at the time, I was a rookie substitute teacher and was feeling overwhelmed by what I was experiencing, daily.  I think of that little guy, often, and wonder how he is doing. He would be in his late twenties by now.

Back when I worked closely with kids I would have responded to this child’s need for affection, instinctively. In that summer in 1966, on Germantown Avenue, and when I began work as a juvenile probation officer a few years later, I learned far more from my kids than they learned from me. The most important lesson of all was that it is all about caring.

Teachers are just people. There are times when all are distracted by personal issues. Somehow, teachers must have strength of character and a relentless commitment to their purpose, however, that they are able to set their personal issues aside when they walk into their classrooms. each morning. If teachers treat each student as if he or she is your number one priority; listen to them empathically; and convey through your words and actions that they are special, you gain a tremendous amount of leverage with respect to your ability to influence them in a positive way.

As difficult as it may be, teachers can never let up. Your students will test you almost every day, to reassure themselves that your concern for them is genuine.

The following lesson had quite an impact on me as a father and I think the lesson applies to teachers and parents, alike.

“It is every bit as important that we pass the tests our kids give us as it is that                  they pass the tests we give them.”

 

How often we pass their tests and demonstrate unconditional love and concern has a profound effect on our ability to make a difference in their lives. It is imperative that we not wait until they are 16 before we begin working to form the kind of connections that, truly, will transform lives. We need to recreate the education process so that its over-riding priority is to help teachers form close, personal bonds with their students beginning on their first day of school. The structure must be engineered to support this purpose; time must be fully allocated; the ratio of teacher to student must be adequate; and, teachers and students must be allowed to remain together for more than just one school year.

From the first day a 5 or 6-year old child arrives at school, our focus must be to treat each boy and girl as a beautiful, unique child of creation. For some children it will be easy but there are some who will test us, severely. They are the children about whom my grandmother was referring when she told me that the “child who is the hardest to love is the one who needs it the most.”

Their first few weeks of school may the most important period of a child’s academic life. Making certain they feel special and are not being pushed beyond their cusp of knowledge and understanding must be our absolute priority. Thereafter, the education process must be a place where they feel special, where they discover that learning is a process they can master and where their successes are celebrated. The powerful self-esteem that comes from feeling special, combined with the confidence that they can create success for themselves will ensure that they will have choices in life; real choices.

The way our schools and classrooms are structured today, and the misguided expectations we place on our students and teachers, do not allow us to give our students what they need most. Nothing we can do, incrementally, will be enough. The education process must be reinvented to fulfill its purpose. A process exists for no other purpose.

We can create an education model that helps us provide our students with a solid academic foundation upon which they can build a future for themselves. What we discover is “street smart” translates to every other kind of “smart.” If we accomplish this for our students, we will have also created a process that provides teachers with the sense of personal and professional fulfillment that comes when we help another human being create a life for themselves,

We have the power to create such a process. Time and children are being wasted while we tinker with this or that. Working together, educators like you and advocates like me have the power to reinvent the education process. All it takes is our imagination, courage, and determination to accept nothing less than the best for our students and nothing less than the best for ourselves.

While writing this post, back in February of 2018, @casas_jimmy tweeted:

             “Let’s not hide behind the standard line “I don’t have time.” We determine what                 we have time for & what we don’t. When something matters a great deal to us,               let’s find a way to make it happen. . . .”

It fit perfectly with the theme of this post. It helps when the structure and process are created to focus on purpose. If our purpose is that all kids learn then the process makes providing that time its priority. The proper response is not “I don’t have time” rather it is “that’s what I’m here for!”

Please take the time to examine my education model at http://bit.ly/2k53li3 not in search of reasons why it cannot or will not work rather looking with hope that it might work. Also check out some of the 250 or more articles posted on this blog.

Quadrilateral Pegs in the Round Holes of Public Education; Revisited

Author’s note: In hopes of retaining a presence on social media, while writing my new book, I am selecting a few of the most widely-read blog posts from the past. I hope you enjoy this one.

 

Participating in the dialogue between teachers, principals, superintendents, and other players in our public schools has been enlightening and inspiring on the one hand and frustrating and discouraging on the other. It is wonderful to know there are so many amazing men and women who have dedicated themselves to teach our nation’s children. It is heartbreaking, however, to see how many of these remarkable professionals seem unaware that they are being asked to do one of the most important and most challenging jobs in the world in an environment that has not been significantly altered since I began school 67 years ago. Teachers labor in an education process that has not been adapted to meet the needs of 21st Century children.

It has been a struggle to find an analogy that resonates with teachers, principals, and superintendents so they can see what it looks like to observe them at work, from afar. I know that because I have not been trained as a professional teacher, it is easy for them to discount the merit of my education model as the work of just one more outsider telling teachers how to teach.

My perspective is unique, however, and merits the attention of our nation’s public school policy makers, leaders, and classroom teachers. I am speaking as an advocate for public education and for American public-school teachers and school administrators, not as an adversary. I consider public school teachers to be unsung American heroes and I’m asking you to open your hearts and minds to a new idea. If you see merit in what you read, I am asking you to help spread the word to other educators that there is an idea worthy of consideration.

As a student, I have earned two masters’ degrees, one in psychology and the other in public management. Over a nearly fifty-year career, I have worked with kids for 9 years as a juvenile probation officer and in a volunteer capacity for nearly 20 years. I have lead organizations; taught and have written a book about positive leadership; solved problems; created new and innovative solutions; reinvented production and service delivery processes; have written four book and many articles; have done testing for the military; and, while writing books, have spent ten years working as a substitute teacher in the same public school district from which my own children graduated.  Also, I have been a student of “systems thinking” since reading Peter Senge’s book The Fifth Discipline: The Art and Practice of the Learning Organization, when it was first published in 1990.

The experience of participating in and observing what happens in public school classrooms as a substitute teacher, was an incredible opportunity to walk in the shoes of public school teachers. What I witnessed as an observer of the public schools of my community are dedicated, hard-working professional men and women, giving their hearts and souls to their students in a system and structure that does not meet the needs of a diverse population of students.

If you can imagine what our nation’s system of highways would look like—given the number of automobiles and trucks on the roads, today—if neither President Eisenhower, in 1956, nor any of his successors had envisioned America’s interstate highway system, you will have an idea of how our public school classrooms and the education process at work within those classrooms look to me, observing from afar.

We are asking good people to educate our nation’s incredibly diverse population of students in the education equivalent of Route 66. These kids will become the men and women who must lead our nation through the unprecedented and unimaginable challenges the balance of the 21st Century will present. Think about the diversity of American public-school students. They represent every color of the human rainbow, speak innumerable languages, come from families both fractured and whole, from every corner of the planet, and with a range of backgrounds with respect to relative affluence and academic preparedness that is as cavernous as America is wide.

Public school educators are striving to do their absolute best for students in an environment in which they lack the support of our federal and many of our state governments and are under attack from education reformers with their focus on “school choice.” These education reformers, policy makers, and the politicians who are influenced by them are destroying our public schools and the communities those schools were built to serve.

As I have written on so many occasions, a handful of charter schools serving a few hundred students at a time, even if they were innovative, will never meet the needs of the millions of American children on whom our nation’s future depends. These charter schools are being funded with revenue siphoned from the coffers that were meant to support our public schools and rely on the same obsolete education process used in the public schools they were intended to replace. Many of these charter schools have failed to meet expectations in community after community.

We already have school buildings in communities throughout the U.S., staffed with the best teachers our colleges and universities can produce, and filled with kids from every community in America. This is where the problem exists and where its challenges must be met. We cannot produce the results these children and their communities need, so desperately however, until we examine the current education process through the lenses of a “systems-thinking” approach. Systems thinking allows us to challenge our assumptions about what we do and why. Only when we have taken the time to understand the flaws in the underlying logic of the existing education process will we be able to alter the way we teach our nation’s most precious assets and the way we support our teachers as they go about their essential work.

There have been many innovations in public education in recent decades, but they and other incremental changes have been and will continue to be no more effective within the context of an obsolete education process than repaving the highways of the 1950s would be in meeting the transportation needs of the 21st Century.

I have been working to build an education model that I believe will put both teachers and students in a position to be successful. It is a model that was designed from scratch to be molded around the relationship between teachers and students, enabling all to perform at their optimal level. I am seeking superintendents of a public-school districts willing to test my education model in one of their underperforming elementary schools.

You, our superintendents, know what the data illustrates and you know that what you have been asking your teachers to do has not altered the bottom line with respect to student performance in any meaningful way.  Most importantly, you know the number of elementary schools in your district that are languishing no matter what you do.

Yes, I understand the data produced through standardized competency exams is a totally inappropriate way to assess the performance of our teachers and schools but let us not throw the baby out with the bath water. The results of these standardized tests do tell us one thing of inestimable value.  They tell us that the education process does not work for millions of children no matter how hard our teachers work on behalf of their students .

We often cite poverty, discrimination, and segregation as the reasons why so many of our students fail. The reality is that when we ignore the unique requirements of our students and try to push their quadrilateral pegs through the round holes of public education, we leave the most vulnerable at the mercy of discrimination.

I challenge teachers, principals, and superintendents to ask yourselves whether there is anything you have done differently, over the course of your careers, that has resulted in a significant improvement in the performance of your students, in the aggregate. Yes, you can cite examples of individual students whose lives have been altered, but what about your student body as a whole? Your underperforming elementary schools and their teachers and students are waiting for you to do something different; something that will help them be successful. How about now?

It is time to consider a novel approach in which a new education model is crafted around the important work our teachers and students must do. It is a model designed to support them as they strive to meet the unique needs of an incredibly diverse population of American children.

My education model and white paper, can be examined at my website at: https://melhawkinsandassociates.com/education-model-white-paper/ I am asking you to risk a couple of hours of your valuable time to examine the model, not seeking reasons why it will not work rather striving to imagine what it would be like to teach and learn in such an environment. Are your students and their beleaguered teachers worth the risk of a couple of  hours of your time, given that the value of the upside is incalculable?

At my website you will also find my blog, Education, Hope, and the American Dream with this and almost 250 other articles about the challenges facing public education.

Our goal must be to arm our nation’s young people with the skills and knowledge they will need to be impervious in the face of prejudice and discrimination and to ensure that they have meaningful choices. We can only accomplish this goal if we transform public education in America.

Teach to Kids, not Tests! [A Re-visit]

 

While I focus on writing my new book, rather than be a non-presence on Twitter, I will be reposting a few articles from my blog that seemed to be among the most popular. I hope you enjoy them.

In his many books, Stephen Covey often told the story about taking time to sharpen the saw and it is a good lesson for public school educators. As we work hard, cutting wood, the saw gradually loses its edge. If we don’t take time to stop and sharpen the saw, it won’t matter how hard we work; our productivity will begin to decline until we are accomplishing almost nothing.

The era of high-stakes testing has led public school policy makers and administrators to push teachers to work hard doing the wrong things when what they really need to be doing is teaching to their students and their unique requirements. Teaching to the test is nothing more than a sophisticated version of cramming with the same minimal, long-term retention.

It seems that no matter how hard dedicated teachers are urged to work toward our misconceived purpose, test scores rarely improve. When they do improve the gains are marginal.

From a child’s first day of school, at age five or six, our focus must be on identifying each child’s unique starting point. We need to know where they are on the academic preparedness continuum. Once we have identified what they know and where they are lacking, we can develop an academic path tailored to the unique needs of each child. The existing education process is not structured to facilitate such an objective, so it must be reinvented. My education model has been created for this very purpose.

Our goal is to help children lay a solid academic foundation on which they can build the future they are learning to envision for themselves. Once they have built that academic foundation, they can begin the wonderful and exciting journey of discovery of who they are, what they can be, and where they can go in life.

Their destination should not be based upon anything other than their own evolving sets of knowledge, skills, interests, and dreams. We are not teaching them to be successful in the world as we know it because that world will not exist by the time our students leave school as many as 13 years later. For our students, the pace of change in the world is accelerating faster than that which we perceive.

Think back on your own teachers. Could they have envisioned the world in which you are now asked to teach? If our deceased grandparents and educators were drop in for a visit, they would be overwhelmed by a world that is nothing like the one they knew.

Our task is to make certain our children are always moving forward from one stage of their individual development to the next, irrespective of what their classmates are doing. Our objective must not be to prepare every child for college because a two- or four-year degree is not the answer for everyone. The last thing we want to do is push them down a path on which they are likely to become discouraged, to give up, and to lose hope. We want them to be excited about their life and we must be excited to be helping them on that adventure as their teacher, guide, coach, mentor and friend. We must remind ourselves, however that it is their adventure, not ours.

If we help them acquire a solid academic foundation, they will be primed to go wherever their curiosity, interests, talents, and abilities will take them. They will be primed to thrive in a future we can barely imagine. It will be a different world where every aspect and institution in society will have had to adapt to accommodate whole new generations of motivated men and women. They will be citizens with both the hunger and wherewithal to make a difference, and with a dream to follow.

We cannot wait until kids reach middle school and have fallen so far behind that they have given up and lost hope. Certainly, we must help the students who have already reached this tragic point in their young lives, but our long-term focus must be on the success of children in grades K-5. We must shut down the pathway to hopelessness and powerlessness as surely as we must shut down the “schoolhouse to jailhouse” express.

The last chapter of my book,  Reinventing Education, Hope and the American Dream: The Challenge for Twenty-First Century America (2013) was an attempt to envision how different the future might look if we help our children develop their full potential. Envisioning that future, I wrote:

“Post-secondary educational institutions have had to virtually reinvent themselves as the demand for more advanced mathematics, science, engineering, and information technology classes has exploded. The evolution of institutions devoted to a wide range of technical and vocational educational opportunities has been similarly phenomenal.”

 

My education model has been developed to allow such a future to evolve and I encourage you to examine it with an open mind. If you are inspired by what you discover, I urge you to join the small but growing number of educators who believe my model has the potential to transform education in America. Please share the model with as many colleagues as you can and, together, imagine what it would be like to teach in such an environment. Then, approach your district’s administrators and encourage them to envision a new reality,

Will that be difficult? Of course! It is amazing, however, what positive advocacy can accomplish as opposed to the futility of complaints and protests.

You will find my model and an accompanying white paper at https://melhawkinsandassociates.com/education-model-white-paper/ 

Its purpose is to enable our students to take their place in a troubled world where their knowledge and imagination will be desperately needed.

 

In Case You’ve Missed Me!

Haven’t heard a Tweet from me in a while?

At the conclusion of a wonderful holiday visit, my four grandchildren went home after generously sharing a variety of germs and viruses. Bless their little hearts. I would make the same trade again, gladly, because they are such a joy for their Grandmother and me. The exchange does not come without consequences, however, and even had I not had other commitments, it would have taken time to get my mind and body back into the rhythm of writing.

Those other commitments have to do with administering the ASVAB (Armed Service Vocational Aptitude Battery); a subject about which I have written on many occasions.

Let me tell you what is happening in Indiana.

For the 2018/2019 school year, the State of Indiana authorized the use of the ASVAB to high school students as an alternate pathway to graduation. Students who are unable to pass their ISTEP+ exams in English language arts and math, which are required for graduation, can now take the ASVAB. Whether they believe the ASVAB might be easier for students to pass than ISTEPS—which would amount to lowering standards and expectations—or is just more student-friendly, I do not know.

If students earn a score of 31or higher on the AFQT component of the ASVAB they qualify for graduation. Coincidentally, a score of 31 is the minimum requirement for enlistment in the military. The AFQT (Armed Forces Qualification Test) is comprised of four of the eight ASVAB subtests currently offered to students: Arithmetic Reasoning, Word Knowledge, Paragraph Comprehension, and Mathematics Knowledge.

Although I have not seen data to verify that many of the students who could not pass ISTEPs are having success with the ASVAB, I do believe the AFQT score is a meaningful threshold. AFQT scores are percentile scores, which means that 30 percent of all the individuals who take the ASVAB are unable to qualify for enlistment. As I begin my fifteenth year as an ASVAB test administrator, I have come to view the AFQT score as a “world ready” benchmark. I believe it demonstrates that an individual has a basic, if minimal, academic foundation that will allow them to have choices; to find a place for themselves in society.

Students who score less than an AFQT score of “30,on the other hand, will have very few choices. Young adults who score 20 or below, and remember this is a percentile score so there are many young men and women with such scores, are functionally illiterate and innumerate.

What does it say about public education when so many schools have so many students unable to pass state competency exams that they must be provided with alternate pathways?

Yes, I agree that these large, standardized exams are a burden on students, teachers, and schools and should not be utilized to evaluate their performance. That we are using these tests inappropriately, however, does not mean these tests measure nothing of consequence. We need to learn from the results of this misguided practice.

What these tests tell us is that a significant population of students cannot demonstrate proficiency on subject matter that we have identified as essential to their future well-being. That point is corroborated by NAEP (National Assessment of Education Progress) assessments; the experience of employers who are finding it increasingly difficult to find qualified young people; and, from my own anecdotal observations of the performance of recent high-schools graduates on the enlistment version of the ASVAB.

High-stakes testing has pushed public schools to change the way they teach but rather than change the way we teach to meet the needs of students with disparate levels of academic preparation, we have changed the way we teach in ways that divert us from our mission. What is that mission? To prepare young people to make a place for themselves in society where they will have meaningful choices.

As education leaders and policy makers, we have learned the wrong lessons and we are asking our teachers to teach kids things that will not help them make a life for themselves. Teachers are being pushed to teach kids to pass a test rather than to learn and retain the knowledge and skills they will need in life.

Teachers know that what they are being asked to do does not work for some children, but many of their leaders are not listening. Some of the leaders who do listen cling to the belief that if we ask teachers to work a little bit harder and if we tried a few new techniques, things would begin to change. Such tactics will not alter anything unless we redesign the process.

When are superintendents and their school boards going to step back far enough to see that what we are doing is not working for vast numbers of the children they exist to serve? When will these leaders recognize that the biggest impact of the modifications they have implemented is that they have made teaching more challenging than it already is? Their choices are putting undue pressure on dedicated teachers in our classrooms and are driving thousands of these men and women from the profession they entered because they hoped to make a difference.

In the private sector, if providers of goods and services were to produce unacceptable outcomes, year after year, their customers would demand that they redesign the entire production or service delivery process to produce the outcomes those customers want. The truth to which all public school educators must open their hearts, minds, eyes, and ears to is that this is exactly what the “school choice” movement is striving to do: replace public schools. These reformers will not cease and desist until public schools begin to produce better outcomes. And, no, advocates of “school choice” are not ready to acknowledge that charter schools are not meeting expectations.

With respect policy makers, superintendents, and their school boards, their intransigence is placing public education at risk by refusing to challenge their assumptions about what they ask of their teachers and why. Because our society relies on public education to prepare young men and women for the responsibilities of productive citizenship, that intransigence is placing our democracy at risk.

It is the easy way out to conclude that our teachers cannot teach and that some students, disadvantaged kids in particular, are unable to learn but these conclusions are absurd.

Teachers can teach and they are committed to their students and to their profession, but they can only do what the education process allows them to do and for which it provides the structure and support. If we can craft the process around teachers everything will change.

Our students can learn if we take the time to understand and respond to their needs. Once they begin to gain confidence in their ability to learn, their motivation to learn and their pace of learning will accelerate.

Please consider an alternative approach to education. Please consider an education model engineered to meet the needs of students and their teachers by creating a process that exists to serve the important work they do rather than one that forces compliance and conformity. Check my model out at: https://melhawkinsandassociates.com/education-model-white-paper/

The impact all of this testing has had on me, personally, and has contributed to a reduction in Tweets and blog posts, is that the number of schools offering the ASVAB has more than trebled. In the past, I might have administered four to five schools a month, I am now testing three to five times a week and each test, depending on the number of students who will be taking it, requires significant pre- and post-test preparation time. This quickly erodes the amount of time I normally allocate for writing and drains my energy, particularly when my nose is dripping and I am coughing. Not counting the three enlistment test sessions I have administered in the first 10 school days of the new year, I have tested over five hundred students in six schools.

Over the balance of the month of January, which is nine school days, I am scheduled to test up to 500 more students in six schools, in addition to two more of my weekly enlistment tests. During the first few months since the start of the school year, and up until the holidays, I tested over 3000 students in twenty-four high schools in Northeast Indiana. Please note that I am only one of several test administrators who are testing in high schools both in NE Indiana and throughout the state.

Thanks for your inquiries, and I hope to be writing more, soon!

Response to [at] stampingout re: Competency Based Education (CBE)

Thank you for taking the time to comment and I appreciate the referral to Jean Robbins’ paper in The Federalist. It has taught me a lesson in semantics because what she is writing about when she refers to competency-based education (CBE) and what I am talking about are two entirely different things. I hope you will take the time to understand the difference because I believe we share the same passion for doing what is best for our nation’s children.

In the interim, I will come up with a new label for the “success-based approach to education” that I envision in the education model I have developed and which is what I have referred to as competency-based education (CBE). I hope you will take the time to review my education model. I believe it will speak to your heart.

The essence of my model is that the teacher and student relationship is an essential variable in the education equation. One of the many flaws in the current education process is that children, beginning at the tender ages of five and six, are not given enough time to form, let alone sustain, a nurturing relationship with a teacher who is going to care about them, deeply, while helping them learn. The acquisition of the knowledge, understanding, and skills they will need to have meaningful choices in life is a daunting process with which they will need patient support.

One of the other essential variables is that kids need time to learn. What we must strive to do is help them experience success in learning because it always leaves us yearning for more. Success is a process, not a destination or even an “A” in a teacher’s grade book. An “A” is nothing more than the equivalent of a “digital badge” to which Robbins refers in her paper. What students must acquire are building blocks of the knowledge, understanding, and skills they will need to build an academic foundation from which they can create a life for themselves.

So much of the focus in the current education process is on failure. We need to distinguish between mistakes and failure. Mistakes are nothing more than disappointing outcomes that can be improved if we are given enough time to learn from them. When a child does poorly on a chapter test, for example, it does not become a failure until we deprive them of the time they need to go back and learn from their mistakes. This is a fatal flaw where the current education process breaks down in the face of the relentless pressure to keep a class on schedule. Teachers do their best to help struggling students keep pace, but the larger the number the more problematic that becomes.

We know learning from mistakes takes longer for some children than it does for others. Yet, when teachers must move kids along to a next lesson, ready or not, it is likely they will never experience the “aha” moment that most of us have had when a lesson clicks in our minds and we understand. Such moments are “successes” that prepare the student for future lessons in a subject area. It is only a matter of time before students who never experience success give up on learning and stop trying.

Not all kids are not headed to the same destinations and they did not start at the same point of embarkation. Students will go to college or to some type of vocational school; others will go directly into the workforce or to the military according to their own interest, demonstrated capabilities, and achievement. Unfortunately, a great many children, particularly the disadvantaged and minorities, fall out along the way and they leave school in possession of few, if any, choices about what to do with their lives.

Yes, many school districts boast a ninety percent graduation rate, but the rates reflect the creativity in finding alternate criteria for graduation qualification on the part of administrators rather than the capabilities of the students. Sadly, few educators, witness the challenges these young men and women face when confronted with real life; when they are bereft of meaningful choices. Graduation rates are not an effective measure of success.

What employers see when these young people enter the job market and what military recruiters see when their candidates fail the ASVAB, echoes what the results of state academic competency exams and NAEP assessments are telling us. Far too many students are not learning the subject matter presented to them well enough that they can utilize it in real life situations. Because we are so quick to point the finger of blame for the results of such testing rather than take the time to understand what they are telling us, we wrongly hold schools and teachers responsible for the performance of their students. Such tests
DO NOT measure the effectiveness of schools and teachers, but THEY DO MEASURE THE SUCCESS OF THE EDUCATION PROCESS with which teachers and schools are expected to work. Yes, this sounds counter-intuitive, but if a process produces bad outcomes no matter how hard people work or how qualified they are, the process is the problem. People can only do what the process allows them to do.

The reality is that the education process does not work for millions of students and this is the real crisis in American education. I wish educators could see how poorly prepared their students are when they are unable to pass a basic assessment of their math and reading skills needed to qualify for a job or pass the ASVAB for enlistment in the Armed Forces. Thirty to thirty-five percent of recent high school graduates and high school seniors are unable to get the minimum score for enlistment eligibility, often after taking the ASVAB up to four times. The percentage of blacks and other minority candidates passing is lower, still. I cannot begin to describe the anguish on the faces of these young men and women when they walk out of a testing room with a piece of paper that says this door is closed to them.