Frustration with and Blaming Public Education
The frustration with the disappointing academic achievement of students has been building, over the last several decades, and the evidence of the academic struggles of millions of American children is pervasive and compelling. The assumption of many is that the problem exists in public schools but data from each of the states and from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) suggest publicly funded charter schools struggle just as much if not more. Even faith-based schools that typically outperform their public-school counterparts, still have far too many children who fall short of expectations.
The temptation is for educators to blame Covid but although the pandemic contributed to a signficant drop in test scores, student performance was already unacceptably low, as NAEP data from 2019 will illustrate, below. What Covid has done is blessed us with an opportunity to abandon the obsession of policy makers with keeping students moving at the same pace, from one lesson to the next. Test scores have, effectively, been scattered by the wind and to return to that objective will be futile.
Since the first version of my model was introduced in 2013, I have been encouraging educators to shift the focus to steady progress by individual students, from one success to the next, wherever we find them on the academic success or preparedness continuums. Covid has provided the perfect opportunity to implement The Hawkins Model©, nation-wide.
We believe the standard against which students should be measured is “proficient” which was introduced by the NAEP as one of the “achievement levels” in which students fall. They are “Basic.” “Proficient,” and Advanced. Proficient is defined as:
“Having a demonstrated competency over challenging subject matter, including subject matter knowledge, application of such knowledge to real world situations, and analytical skills appropriate to subject matter.”
Please note, the highlighting is mine. You will note, throughout this work, we will use “subject matter mastery” and “proficiency” interchangeably.
We believe helping students achieve and be able to demonstrate proficiency is the appropriate goal of education. Many states have adopted modified versions of the NAEP’s achievement levels. Some have added “approaching proficient” or “approaching grade level” to the list of achievement levels. Unfortunately, many students who assess as approaching proficient from one year to the next, never seem to reach a point where they can demonstrate proficiency. This suggests such test results are false positives.
Let us post our biases so everyone can see. Teachers are not the problem with education in America; just the opposite is true. All the positive outcomes of students for the last half century or more are because of the help of teachers, despite the inefficacy of the education process. Teachers are an essential variable in the education equation and the glue that holds it all together. My model and yet-to-be-published book will be dedicated to schoolteachers everywhere.
The response of leaders of business and industry, government officials, and education policy makers has been to point fingers and to assign blame, rather than initiate a problem-solving methodology to understand why the outcomes of so many students are not meeting expectations. One of the many fundamental assertions and assumptions on which this work is based is, “it is only when we stop blaming others and accept responsibility for our problems that we begin to acquire the power to fix them.” Blaming serves only to distract us from addressing the challenges facing education in the U.S.
Our challenge in the development of The Hawkins Model© has come down to the application of the principles of systems thinking, organizational design and development, and the principles of positive leadership that I introduced in my book, The Difference Is You, Power Through Positive Leadership, published in 2013. Given the axiom that every organization is structured to produce the outcomes it gets, if we want something better, we must determine what it is we genuinely want and then design and structure a process to produce those outcomes. This is the challenge we have undertaken in this work. We offer this model as gift to our nation’s teachers and to their students.
Dispute the Assertions on Both Sides
One of the objectives of this work, as we strive to lay the foundation for our new model, is to dispute the assertions of those on both sides of the debate about the state of education in America. It is our assertion the forces driving the disappointing academic achievement of so many of our students are not community public schools, their teachers, or teachers’ unions, and neither is it correct to conclude that many of our students are unable to learn. While children of color, who are poor, come from homes in which English is not spoken struggle the most, the problems in education transcend race, ethnicity, language of birth, and relative affluence, which the data illustrates unequivocally.
We also take exception to the claims of many advocates who insist our public schools are better than they have ever been. This author is an advocate for public education but even if those schools are better than they have ever been, it does not mean they are as good as we need them to be. Better is a relative term. There is zero justification for contentment with the outcomes of education in America. It is our assertion that, given the proper structure and support, all children are capable of learning and teachers are perfectly capable of teaching. The performance of students in our nation’s schools is a consequence of the failure of an education process that is having a devastating impact on the lives of far too many children and their teachers. The education process is the way delivery of education services to children has been designed and structured.
We will offer an overview of what neuroscience has learned about the human brain, including the brains of children, the essence of which is that a child’s brain is programmed to learn whatever is available to it. These remarkable brains soak up the world around it but can only learn what they have an opportunity to learn. If we are not satisfied with how much they have learned, it is time to re-examine the quality of the opportunities we have provided.
System, People and Process
Before we can provide specific evidence to exonerate teachers and other educators of the blame for the unacceptable outcomes of our nation’s students, we must distinguish between the system, its people, and the education process. We will show that the problem is not the structure of state departments of education and community public school districts, although we must hold the leaders of those entities to a higher standard. We need quality leadership from people who are focused on adapting their organizations to the dynamic world around them; always seeking new and better solutions. These people must be powerful positive leaders, not just administrators.
Neither are the problems the result of school buildings or the names above their doors, nor is it the teachers and administrators who do the work in those buildings. The problem in education has everything to do, however, with what happens in those schools and what our teachers are tasked to do in their classrooms.
As are their students, our teachers and schools are victims of the quality of the education process with and within which they are asked to work. Our focus must be on the structure, the nature of the environment we provide, and the way work is laid out.
An effective process must provide:
- Clarity of purpose,
- Tools, methodologies, and resources of the highest quality,
- It must enable teachers to forge nurturing relationships with their students,
- It must organize teachers and students in their classrooms so they can achieve optimal effectiveness,
- The expectations and priorities we set out for them must align with mission and purpose,
- It must establish time as a variable resource available in whatever quantity teachers and students require; and,
- It must assess the quality of student outcomes and delineate how the results of those assessments will be utilized and documented—how we keep score.
Each of these interdependent components exists to enable teachers to teach and children to learn.
Virtually every adult human being has experienced situations where they have been asked to perform challenging jobs or tasks with the wrong tools, tools that are in a state of disrepair, or do not work and this has long been the shared experience of our nation’s teachers. We can only accomplish what the tools we are given enable us to do.
Asking teachers to work harder is never enough. It is our assertion that blaming teachers for the problems in our schools is like blaming soldiers for the wars they are asked to fight. We also suggest that unless one has spent time in the classrooms of our public schools and has walked in the shoes of public-school teachers, they have no idea how much of themselves teachers give, willingly, every day.
There is a simple lesson to be learned from operations management. When a process continues to produce unacceptable outcomes no matter how hard people work or how qualified they are, the problem lies with the process. The solution is not asking people to work harder, it is giving them the proper tools and maintaining their focus on mission and purpose. They must not be distracted by activity that is disconnected from that purpose. In education, the purpose is helping kids learn as much as they are able at their own best pace.
We want to provide students with a portfolio of knowledge, skills, and experience they will need to pursue whatever aspirations they will choose for themselves. We want them to be honorable, ethical, trustworthy, trusting, courageous, determined, generous, and kind. We must instruct the whole child. Providing teachers with tools that work requires that the existing education process be replaced or reimagined. Reimagination of the process is the purpose for which this book was written.
Let there be no misunderstanding, the existing education process at work in public schools is the same process in use in charter, faith-based, and many private schools. This process has been in place for as long as any of us can remember. Over the last three-quarters of a century, while the world and society have changed exponentially, the education process has been changed incrementally, and only minimally by comparison. During that span of decades, if we are speaking in terms of time, or generations, if we are speaking in terms of people, the education process has become disconnected from its purpose. It has become dysfunctional to the point of obsolescence.
Within the existing process, education is structured like a competition in which some student win and others lose. The education process with which teachers are expected to teach and students are expected to learn is focused more on compliance, conformance, and testing than on helping children learn as much as they are able at their own best pace. It asks teachers to feed children through a process that requires students to adapt to its arbitrary components rather than expecting the process, and its teachers, to adapt to the unique requirements of students. It is our assertion the existing process does a disservice to children across the whole spectrum of academic achievement, not just the disadvantaged.
We submit that the good outcomes of our students, in any of our nation’s schools, is a consequence of the extraordinary efforts of teachers who do their best in the context of an education process that impedes those efforts far more than it supports them.
Evidence of non-performance
Although we wish not to dwell on providing evidence to show how many of our students struggle, we cannot fix something until we know what is broken, how badly, and why. We will examine the traditional evidence to substantiate our claim that the academic achievement of our students is unacceptable, evidence we believe to be substantial and compelling.
We examine the data even though we believe it to be the least meaningful evidence of the inefficacy of the education process. The data is compelling, however, and cannot be dismissed. We will examine education from the perspective of disparate outcomes much like the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission examines discriminatory employment practices. As with discriminatory employers, our education process has been producing disparate outcomes for students across all demographic categories, and in all venues for at least three-quarters of a century. We will examine the widespread dissatisfaction of the customers of public education, with a particular focus on “school choice;” and what we can learn from the Armed Service Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB). We will also present what we believe to be the most important evidence of all, which is what teachers see in their classrooms.
What teachers see in their classrooms
What we can observe taking place in our classrooms, daily, provides the most compelling evidence of all. What we will discover is that much of what we ask teachers and students to do works at cross purposes with our mission and purpose. That mission is to help students learn as much as they can at their own best pace beginning at the unique point on an academic preparedness continuum where we find them when they arrive for their first day of school, at age 5 or 6.
We will show how, every step of the way, teachers and students must overcome obstacles that impede the ability of teachers to teach and children to learn. Teachers are so immersed in what the education process requires them to do, daily, they rarely have the time or the perspective to contemplate the logic of what they are asked to do. What they know is that no matter how hard they work, the outcomes for many students never seem to improve. When they question the process, the answer is always the same. “Work a little harder.” Teachers feel the same discouragement their students feel when no matter how hard they work, they fall further behind.
The belief of policy makers has seemed to be that a focus on conformance and compliance assures accountability when, in fact, it has created bureaucratic intractability. In response to a steady stream of disappointing outcomes, rather than questioning what we have been asking teachers and students to do, their leaders and policymakers keep asking them to do the same things they have always done, but to do them better. When those “same things” are the wrong things, we have set children up for failure and teachers up for blame.
What we have done in this work is identify the specific features and components of the current education process that are disconnected from its purpose. We have, then, examined each of these flaws to figure out what we can do differently so there are no acceptable levels of failure—only accelerating levels of success. How to achieve the outcomes we seek and that our children, our teachers, and society need, is the purpose for which The Hawkins Model© was conceived.
We must also be certain we are asking the correct questions. We have spent too much time asking why so many children fail. As important as that question may be, we must also ask how is it that so many children are successful despite the disadvantages they must overcome. What is it that contributes to their success? We submit it is the participation of family members who refuse to let their children fail. These family members convince their sons and daughters how special they are and how much of a difference an education will make in their lives. These parents, grandparents, or other caregivers check and help with schoolwork, daily, always praising and encouraging. They also partner with the teachers of their children, sharing responsibility for their student’s success. We also credit the teachers of these youngsters. who set high expectations and treat students as if they are special as, indeed, they are.
The operative question is how do we replicate activity that contributes to the success of so many children of color, children who are poor, or who do not speak English at home?
The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) has been assessing students for over fifty years and exists for no other reason than to provide meaningful data to support education in the U.S. The achievement of students is assessed in the fourth, eighth, and twelfth grades annually, in math, reading, and science. It also assesses student performance in other subject areas, periodically. Each of our states assess their students annually, typically in grades three to eight in math and English language arts (ELA) and high school in math, ELA, and biology. Overall, the data from the states validates the findings of the NAEP. They tell the same story—that too many kids struggle.
In 2019, the most recent year in which the NAEP has reported data for twelfth grade students, at the time this book was being written, the percentage of public-school twelfth grade students in Math, Reading, and Science who were able to assess at or above “proficient” were 24, 36, and 22 percent, respectively. If we flip those numbers, they reveal that 75 percent, or more, of American twelfth grade students, across the full demographic spectrum, were unable to demonstrate proficiency in math and science, and more than two-thirds were unable to demonstrate proficiency in reading.
As disappointing as those numbers are, in public charter schools the results were even less impressive. In twelfth grade math, reading, and science the percentage of students able to demonstrate proficiency in public charter schools were 13, 27, and 14 percent, respectively, begging the question about the efficacy of “school choice.”
The conclusions we draw from the data for grades three through five is that there are thousands of elementary schools throughout the U.S. in which less than ten percent of the students demonstrate proficiency or perform at grade level in math and English language arts. If that is not stunning enough, we can estimate there are tens of thousands of elementary schools throughout the nation in which less than thirty percent of students are able to meet academic expectations. We view this to be catastrophic and believe it has ominous implications for the future of our nation and its democracy.
The most obvious evidence of customer dissatisfaction with public education is that government officials and education policy makers are yielding to the pressure from advocates of “school choice” to make it easier for parents to choose to move their children from a community public school to a charter or other private or faith-based schools. Because they have lost confidence in public schools, parents of thousands of students are taking advantage of these opportunities to choose alternatives to public education. As evidenced by NAEP data and data from our states, many of these charter schools are not performing as well as the public schools they were created to replace.
Many teachers are as frustrated as are the parents of their students. They are frustrated their concerns are not being addressed and that they are being asked to shoulder the blame for the problems in our public schools. A consequence of this frustration is that many teachers are opting to leave the profession they chose with such high hopes and expectations, because they are losing faith that the leaders of public education will ever make the changes necessary to fix what is broken. Young adults planning their futures are moving teaching to the bottom of their list of career choices.
How can the leaders of public education look at the performance and disparate outcomes of their students, the dissatisfaction of the communities they exist to serve, and the departure of so many teachers and not feel compelled to act?
What We See Happening Around Us
When we look around at what is taking place in our nation and its communities, is anyone happy with what we see? It is my assertion that, because of an obsolete education process, our schools are sending millions of young men and women out into society with insufficient knowledge about the world in which they live and the people with whom they share it to give them meaningful choices. Far too many of these young men and women are unable to provide for themselves and their families. They are poorly prepared to accept the responsibilities of citizenship, which requires them to participate in their own governance by making informed choices about the cogent issues of our time. So many Americans understand their rights, as citizens of a democratic form of government, but how many understand, that for a democracy to work, rights must be balanced by responsibility?
What we must understand is that “we are what we have learned to be and if we want a better America we must teach more and better.” How confident can we be, given what we see happening around us, that our society is prepared for the unprecedented challenges the balance of this 21st Century will present?
The reality in present day America is that the past for which so many people yearn was never as great as they remember it to be and, for many of our citizens, it was and remains replete with inequity and injustice. Albert Einstein is reported to have said it best, “we cannot solve our problems with the thinking that created them.”
Key Features of The Hawkins Model©
What is it about the existing education process that contributes to so many unacceptable outcomes?
Let us take a quick inventory of the existing education process and why it fails to meet the needs of so many of its students. It is our assertion this process is failing to meet the needs of even the students who appear to be doing well. We believe they are not learning as much as they need to know as well as they need to know it.
What is it about the existing process that is disconnected from its purpose. We begin with the assertion that our children are our society’s most valuable assets and that the relationships between teachers and their students are the most essential variable in the education equation. This is always the company line, but the majority of the relationships teachers establish with students do not rise to the level teachers are thinking of when they recall their favorites. Neither are they the equivalent of what adult Americans are describing when they reflect on their favorite teachers. We are not expecting perfection, but we must strive for it, nevertheless.
Developing such relationships is one of the objectives of utilizing a team of three teachers in a classroom of forty-five students or fewer. We want our students to be looking forward to being greeted by their teacher’s smiling face rather than hoping they can sneak into the classroom, unnoticed.
Partnership between teachers and parents are also essential but these are not relationships over which we have much control. Some parents seek it out, but others must be won over by gaining their trust and confidence. The only way to gain that special honor is by demonstrating what a difference we are making with their children.
The other essential variables of the education equation that we believe to be crucial are giving students adequate time to learn and gain the pre-requisite knowledge necessary for future lessons and for life, combined with a refusal to accept anything less than a student’s best. Success is also an essential variable as is the celebration of it. Success is a powerful motivational force and the more we experience success the more we want.
We believe neuroscience is teaching us that all children can learn if their remarkable brains are given the care and attention they need, and this is what The Hawkins Model© has been engineered to do. We believe the heart is the portal to the mind. If we want to optimize the potential of our children, we must capture their hearts. And, if we capture their hearts and minds, the opportunities to engage parents as partners is improved, remarkably.
The following are illustrations of how the flaws in our traditional education/instruction process impede the efforts of teachers and students to assure comprehension, which is the true measure of success:
- Schools often find it necessary to fill classrooms with more students for which any one teacher should be expected to provide proper attention. This inhibits a teacher’s ability of to forge the kind of nurturing relationships with students we consider to be the most essential variable in the education equation. Thus our students, whom we claim to be our nation’s most important assets and the key to the future of our society, are not getting the support that is essential to their academic success and emotional development.
- An additional flaw in the process is the utilization of time, not as a variable asset available to students in whatever quantities they require to learn, but as a constraint to assure teachers conform to the calendars and schedules embedded in the academic standards or syllabus. This suggests that keeping pace with arbitrary schedules is given a higher priority than helping our students learn and comprehend.
- As a class moves from lesson to lesson in each subject area, students are given instruction, time to practice and learn, followed by tests and quizzes that are designed to gage whether they have achieved an acceptable level of comprehension in each subject area.
- Success is measured against the performance of other students rather than against each student’s own past achievements.
- The results of quizzes and exams are utilized to assign grades for our teachers’ gradebooks rather than to signal academic distress and direct our next steps to help individual students who struggle with subject matter .
- Rather than give the students who do not yet comprehend more time, instruction, practice, and opportunities to retest, while successful students move ahead, the existing process requires that all students move on to the next lesson, ready or not.
- The education process requires teachers to tell students to stop working, and to record the grade each student earned, thus formally accepting less than the best many students can do. This choice creates adverse consequences for students who have not yet achieved an acceptable level of understanding of the subject matter:
- The most significant consequence is that these students are moved onto a next lesson without the pre-requisite knowledge the preceding lesson was intended to impart.
- This reduces the probability of success for struggling students,
- Deprives them of not only the opportunity to experience and celebrate success but also of the motivation success engenders,
- It establishes a formal record of grades of Cs, Ds, and Fs,
- These grades influence our perception of these students as slow learners or failing students, which, in turn, could have an adverse influence the quality of the teacher/student relationship.
- Such grades also color the perception of these youngsters as below average learners in the minds of both family and peers,
- It diminishes the student’s self-esteem as they begin to view themselves as slow learners or as a failing student,
- It introduces the possibility this will become a pattern of performance that could endure for a few lessons or for the rest of a student’s life.
- Most remarkable of all, at the end of every school year, we sever the few relationships teachers have been successful in forming with students and assign most students to new teachers in the new school year and then repeat the pattern each year thereafter.
Students must have an opportunity to learn more than subject matter, in school. Many learn how to succeed, but a great many others learn how to fail. In the latter case, these youngsters are at risk of being sent out into adult society lacking much of the knowledge and many of the skills they will need to have meaningful choices in life and to fulfill the responsibilities of citizenship.
Rather than take time to examine this process, thoroughly, far too many critics of public education opt to take the easy path by pointing fingers. They choose to blame public schools, public school teachers, and their unions, oblivious to the reality that our teachers are victims of a dysfunctional education process every bit as much as are their students.
The American education process is disconnected from its purpose, and we will continue to get unacceptable outcomes until we go back to the drawing board and reimagine education in America. This is what I have endeavored to do with the development of The Hawkins Model©. In this challenging world in which we live, time is of the essence and if we wait too long to transform education, it may be too late.
The crucial point the reader needs to consider is these are all easy things to fix but it will require that we invest in increasing the number of teachers. This necessitates a significant investment for school districts and their communities, but it is an investment in their future. It is, also, an investment that will only be necessary if the model proves capable of delivering the outcomes we expect.
If those first few waves of students begin showing substantial improvement in test scores, each year, there will be little or no second-guessing. The return on each district’s investment will be substantial. As more school districts sign on, it is reasonable to expect widespread support and implementation in the public, charter, and parochial schools of most communities. We believe it will be transformational and reverberate throughout our society. Here is how we will proceed.
Implementing the model.
We propose that the model be implemented in grades K – 2 in the lowest performing elementary school in each of five or more school districts. We will target schools in which less than ten to twenty percent of students are meeting academic expectations, whether determined by performing at or above “Proficient” or “at or above grade level.”
This new model will utilize the primacy of relationships between teachers and students, students and classmates, and teachers and parents as the focus of everything we do. One of our underlying assertions is that the quality of our lives is a function of the quality of our relationships with the people who are important to us. This proves to be particularly important in helping children learn as much as they are able at their own best pace. We want them to feel what most of us do when we think back on a favorite teacher or two and know, immediately, what an important part they played in our lives.
Our priority is to develop strategies that facilitate the forging of enduring, nurturing relationships between teachers and students. The first strategy is having teachers work in teams of three in a classroom of no more than forty-five students. If a school lacks individual classrooms of sufficient size, they can utilize contiguous or adjacent classrooms.
The model also requires that we keep teachers and students together for an extended period by eliminating all references to grades kindergarten through fifth grade. When we work hard to develop the nurturing relationships kids need, the last thing we want to do is sever those relationships to comply with an arbitrary calendar. We are seeking sustained relationships just like we seek sustained learning. We also know the more time available to cement enduring relationships with kids the more likely we will be successful in forming quality relationships with their parents. It is a simple choice. Are there any benefits from moving elementary school students from one teacher to the another, every year?
As we noted, this will require additional teachers. Evaluating the model in just one grade level—we will use Kindergarten as an example—in schools with three classrooms each with one teacher and thirty students will require adding three teacher positions. This will enable us to have two classrooms, each, with a three-member teaching team working with no more than forty-five students per classroom. Within those classrooms, our teams of teachers must be tasked and supported in their effort to facilitate positive relationships between students in the classroom. Our objective with classmates is to develop quality relationships in which students help and support the success of all and then share in the celebration of those successes.
These relationships must, however, remain secondary to the primacy of relationships between teachers and students, between students and their parents, and between teachers and parents working in partnership with their children. We understand how powerful peer relationships can be. The ultimate test, however, is that teachers and parents become and remain the people our students least want to disappoint. This is the true measure of the quality of relationships between kids and the adults in their lives.
Although we will teach to the same academic standards, we choose to be unconcerned about the schedules and calendars imbedded in those standards. It takes some children longer to learn than others and if we attempt to move all students along at the same pace it proves to be too fast for some and too slow for others. The only thing that matters is that kids learn and once they learn and can demonstrate proficiency in the utilization of that subject matter, how long it took to learn becomes inconsequential. Learning is the only thing that counts.
No longer will schools have two semesters to prepare kindergarteners for first grade. Instead, we have twelve semesters to prepare newly arrived kindergarten students for middle school and another fourteen semesters to prepare them for the rest of their lives.
We not only acknowledge the disparity in the levels of academic preparedness and emotional development when children arrive at our door for their first day of school, we make it a priority to identify the specific levels of each, for every student. Once we identify what they know and can do, as well as where they need extra attention, that becomes our point of embarkation for that student.
We then tailor an academic plan to meet the unique requirements of each student. Although each child is on a personalized academic plan there will be students with comparable levels of progress who can be organized into small work groups on parallel if not identical paths. This will enable teachers to allocate their time and attention effectively, as their students progress on their respective tailored pathways. Our objective will be to optimize the time of teachers—not for convenience but for effectiveness in serving the needs of their students.
It will not matter that other kids are further ahead or that some are progressing more slowly because it is progress for which we strive. Our students are not in competition with one another. There are no shortcuts to achieving success. What we see in any venue where new knowledge and skills are taught, when things begin to fall into place for learners—when it clicks in their brains—their pace of progress and their motivation for success will accelerate.
One of the other significant changes our model introduces is the conversion of time from a constant or fixed asset to a variable asset, available to each student in whatever quantities he or she requires. Time has no value as a constraint. Time is like everything else in life the value of which is a function of its utility to people. This allows teachers to give students as much time as they require to practice and learn. If they are unable to demonstrate a level of comprehension that is the equivalent of 85 percent when presented with quizzes and tests, we will no longer think of that as a grade such as C, D, or F. We will view their performance as a signal a student has not yet achieved subject mastery or proficiency, thus the work of teachers and students is not finished with respect to that lesson or subject. What they require is more time, assistance, practice, and “do-over” opportunities.
We must accept nothing less than the best each student can do, and we never push them ahead to new lessons until they have acquired the necessary pre-requisite knowledge. The needs of students and the judgment of teachers determine the utilization of time, not arbitrary schedules.
Never will we ask other students to wait for classmates to catch up. As noted earlier, what we see happening throughout our society are consequences of millions of young people pushed out into the world without the prerequisite knowledge they need for life.
Letter grades will have no value in our new model as what we seek is subject mastery. What we record in our gradebooks will be the accumulation of successful mastery assessments and a record of their celebration. What we expect to see will be an increase in levels of both a student’s motivation and confidence.
One could make an argument that even students who earn a B on a quiz or exam, should be given more time to gain a higher level of subject-matter mastery. Do we want all students to do the best they can do or is a little less than their best good enough. Which option is in the best interests of both the students and of society?
What we ask teachers and administrators to understand is when we alter the logic and flow of any process, things that were formerly impossible become probabilities.
Success is a powerful motivating force and the more success we experience the more we want, and it is the same for children in the classroom. There are many students, today, who rarely experience success and the only experience they have with celebrating success is when they see celebrations of the success of other students. Success is an essential variable in the education equation, and nothing less than full comprehension gives students the success they both need and deserve.
Kids must also learn that success is neither an event nor a destination. Success is a process of solving problems by applying what we have learned from experience—the good and the bad. By mastering the process of success, students acquire the ability to create success for themselves and to control many of the outcomes in their lives. The more confidence we have in our ability to control the outcomes in our life, the more powerful is our self-esteem. Sending students out into the world as young men and women with a strong self-esteem is far more important than the diploma we hand to each of them as they walk across a stage.
Think about the number of young people today, who take a transcript full of Cs, Ds, and Fs out into a dynamic and competitive environment in which they are unprepared for the challenges they will surely face. These young men and women have minimal ability to help their communities and their society prepare for and deal with the unprecedented challenges the 21st Century will present.
Is it any wonder American society is struggling with so many issues with which its citizens and their elected representatives appear unable to deal in meaningful and productive ways? We have multiple generations of people bickering with one another, refusing to collaborate with one another, unable to find common ground and mutual interests so we can fix the problems that plague us. Everything these people do is driven not by an acceptable level of knowledge about the world and its people but by their fears and prejudices and the need to find someone to blame.
State competency exams will exist until they have been proven irrelevant. Neither teachers nor students should spend so much as a moment of concern about them. We must understand that, in the existing education process, students able to earn only Cs, Ds, and Fs on coursework will be unable to demonstrate proficiency on competency examinations no matter how much they cram or how much pressure we feel. Students who have moved more slowly than others may not have covered as much subject matter as their classmates but at what they have covered they will be proficient. It is a simple decision. Do we want our children to learn fewer things well or more things less than well?
Under our new model, for students who approach every lesson with the prerequisite knowledge necessary for success, state competency exams will be little more than a real-life opportunity to demonstrate proficiency. It will also be an unfortunate interruption in their efforts to strive for their goals and aspirations. Because their success on such exams will be assured when we give them time to gain proficiency over subject matter, it is only a matter of time until such exams are rendered irrelevant.
It is our expectation that, as The Hawkins Model© is implemented successfully, other schools in the district will clamor for inclusion. As the news travels, no district will want to be the last to provide their students with the newest and best solution.
It is our prediction that as the model is embraced by districts everywhere, our middle schools and high schools, and all post-secondary institutions of higher learning will be forced to reinvent themselves or they, too, will be rendered irrelevant. New students will be arriving in their classrooms with an unprecedented level of preparation and will require advanced learning opportunities.
Our choices moving forward will be simple and straightforward. Failure will no longer be an option as each student will learn as much as they are able to learn at their own best pace, as they strive for whatever futures they have envisioned for themselves. The more they learn the more they will be able to learn, and we will see something rarely seen in present times. We will see young men and women who will begin to approach their potential. Just as every question we answer raises a whole new set of questions, however, every step we take toward fulfillment of our potential pushes the cusp of learning ever farther out. And this increases the realm of possibilities, exponentially.
One of the other changes this new model will ignite will be to make our classrooms innovative environments. Teachers must be provided with the time and opportunity to develop and practice their craft and they must be given latitude to differentiate and innovate. In recent years there have been many exciting developments in education in isolated schools, but few of them have been replicated across the whole landscape of education. Unlike today’s environment in which such innovations require that exceptions be carved out of traditional practices, innovation will become an expectation, not an exception in The Hawkins Model©.
This model will not only change the academic outcomes of our nation’s children, but it will also alter the teaching profession from one where teachers are burning out and abandoning the profession they chose with such hope and promise. These departures require administrators to seek replacements from a diminishing pool of candidates. Our model will create a reality in which all teachers would be assured of the success of their students and in which public-school teaching jobs will, once again, become a desirable career choice.
How do we find the funds for these additional teachers? At first, we may need to rob Peter to pay Paula. Like so many things in life, we find a way to accomplish what we deem most important. Some schools may need grants to find the initial funding. Once The Hawkins Model© begins to prove itself in the classroom, however, our states and communities must be willing to invest in something that works for their children. If they truly are our most important asset, we must be willing to invest in them and their futures.
We submit that, if the State of Indiana can invest over $241 million to subsidize tuition so parents can send their kids to charter schools that struggle every bit as much as the public school they are being enticed to abandon, we can afford to invest enough to test a new model that will produce true academic achievement, rather than the illusion of it.
We must sell Americans on the idea that an education is our society’s intellectual infrastructure and every dollar we invest restores, strengthens, and protects that infrastructure. Dollars paid to teachers go right back to the communities where teachers and their families live, spend, and pay taxes.
Finally, the leaders of education must be willing to abandon their loyalty to an education process that has failed to meet the needs of millions of American children for as long as any of us can remember. From where we sit, today, we cannot even imagine the challenges the balance of this 21st Century will present. What we can predict is that the solutions to those challenges will be found outside the boundaries of conventional wisdom and this is where our citizens and leaders must be prepared to go. Getting us there is what The Hawkins Model© has been created to do but it will require the help and support of parents, educators, advocacy groups, and leaders of the business and professional communities. For those of you who are reading these words, this work is a request for your support.
Our challenges, and the purposes for which this book was written is to, first, invite teachers and their unions and associations to be proactive supporters of an original approach to education designed to address the root causes of the concerns of the collective body of professional teachers.
A co-objective is to seek the support of school superintendents and their associations, along with members of the boards of local community school districts, to take the lead in support of a proactive solution to the challenges their districts, teachers, schools, and students face. We will ask them to help identify a few first-adapters from among the community of superintendents in districts with struggling elementary schools. We need superintendents and board members who would be excited to put our model to the test in the K-2 classrooms of a targeted elementary school in their districts.
We want to elicit the support of school principals, also, particularly the principals of elementary schools whose teachers and students struggle daily with an education process unable to adapt to their needs.
And, finally, we want to solicit the support of advocacy groups who represent the interests of the populations who suffer most egregiously from the academic distress of their children.
Imagine what would happen if the schools evaluating The Hawkins Model© were to show dramatic improvement in the achievement of their students, which is exactly what we predict will happen. This is an opportunity to be on the leading edge of something that has the potential to be truly special. Once the dominoes begin to fall who’s to say how far it can spread.
The leaders of such organizations are encouraged to consider that positive advocacy for a new idea or solution is a far more effective means of driving positive change than complaints and protests. The latter are like fireworks. They are exciting, stimulating, and even inspiring, but when the last echoes fade into the night sky and the smoke has dissipated, they are quickly forgotten. Only ideas and solutions, promoted through the advocacy of positive leaders working together, have an opportunity to become real and have a lasting impact on the world.
 Senge, Peter, The Fifth Discipline . . . . .
 Hawkins, Mel, The Difference is You: Power Through Positive Leadership, Amazon CreateSpace, 2013