More Questions for Administrators, Policy Makers, and Teachers

It is not unusual to hear public school teachers express concern that all the recognition and celebration is directed to “high-achieving students.” Rarely is attention paid to the students who worked hard to receive a lesser grade and many teachers question why the effort of the latter group is not acknowledged and celebrated.

It is a tragedy that so many children go through school without ever having their accomplishments celebrated; the last thing they need, however, is a “participation trophy.” The tragedy is not that we never celebrate the accomplishments of low-performing students rather that they rarely have accomplishments worthy of celebration.

This raises the question, why are we content to preserve an education process that produces such disparate results?

Just because a student does not understand a lesson the first time through, does not mean they are incapable of learning and understanding. It just means they need more time and they need an education process that allows teachers to adapt what they do to respond to a student’s unique needs. Rarely do we give kids an opportunity to keep working until they learn. On the few occasions that we find a way to give kids the extra time to learn, it is because we found a way to circumvent the education process not because the malleability of the process gave us the freedom to innovate.

The current education process is structured like a competition that assumes that all kids are on a level playing field. It rewards the students who learn the most the fastest. Even worse, it requires that we grade kids on how much they have learned in an arbitrary timeframe and then record that score next to their name. Worst of all, we push the students onward without the prerequisite knowledge they will need to be successful on subsequent lessons, not to mention as adult citizens of a participatory democracy.

We go to great lengths to help a student qualify for graduation even though they are unable to perform at the level expected of them with reference to academic standards. It is as if having a piece of parchment that says they qualify for graduation will excuse them when they are unable to qualify for or do a job; when they apply for college admission or seek enlistment in the Armed Services.

What does a young man or woman do when they are unable to obtain and keep a decent job or pursue other meaningful opportunities because they lack the basic skills required to make a place for themselves in mainstream society? If these young adults are black or other minorities the challenges they face are often insurmountable and they are left at the mercy of discrimination. We wonder why so many find themselves in prison or are the victims of an early, violent death. We wonder why so many of them live in poverty and produce new generations of children with needs for which our education process is unequipped to meet.

We shake our heads in bewilderment when so many American voters seem willing to believe anything said by the leaders of whatever political point of view to which they are loyal. Do we not see the connection that we have sent millions of young men and women out into society without the knowledge and skills necessary to evaluate the critical issues of the day and to think independently?

Public school educators seem unable to understand that the motivation of education reformers, as poorly conceived as their solutions might be, is a result of their dissatisfaction with public education and the quality of high school graduates. They are dissatisfied customers seeking to replace their supplier.

The existing education process restricts our teachers’ ability to give students the close personal relationships they need to be healthy, both emotionally and intellectually. The process does not permit teachers to formally assess each student’s level of academic preparedness and, then, design a learning path to meet their unique needs. It does not allow teachers to give students the time and attention they need to learn. It does not give kids however many attempts they need to be able to demonstrate that they understand. The education process is not set up to help kids learn as much as they are able at their own best pace. It does not help them learn well enough that they can apply what they have learned in real-life situations.

Rather than seeking ways to help teachers deal with the stress and frustration of teaching a classroom of kids who have lost hope, have stopped trying, and have begun acting out, why don’t we address the root causes of both the frustration of our teachers and our students’ lost hope. We do not because it is difficult if not impossible for people to stop and look at the big picture when they are immersed in what they are doing; when they are, as the old saying goes, “up to their necks in a swamp full of alligators.”

Low-performing students, particularly the disadvantaged, have become a norm in public education, particularly in racially and economically diverse communities. While I believe most public school teachers and administrators believe that these kids can learn, one must wonder how many teachers and administrators have come to believe this is the best we can expect.

What educators must do is find a vantage point from which they can see the entire education process, as an integral whole, and then ask themselves whether they are doing what they should be doing. The fact that our classrooms, grade-levels, and the way we organize teachers and students has been in place for generations does not mean it is the only way to do what we do.

We should be asking:

• “Does the education process exist to drive our purpose or should our mission drive the education process?”

• “Does the education process exist to serve children and their teachers or are teachers and their students expected to sacrifice their wants, needs, personalities, and unique capabilities in conformance with the structure or process?” and, finally;

• “Are academic standards a representative guideline of what we think kids need to know in order to have meaningful choices in life, or is it both a road map and time table of how students should get from point A to Z, no matter what their individual potential, capabilities, and interests?”

My challenge to public school teachers, administrators, and policy makers is to believe that designing and creating an education model that can be molded around teachers and students is a simple human-engineering project no different than designing any other production process. All it requires is that we open our hearts and minds to the belief that there is a better way to do what we do and the faith and hope that it can be found just beyond the boundaries of conventional wisdom.

I offer my education model, as an example, of an education process that enables teachers to develop and master their craft for the sole purpose of helping every child develop their God-given potential.

A Minefield of Distractions or a New Education Model

In a recent exchange on Twitter, I made a comment that “Relationships put teachers in position to teach but too often the process gets in the way. [The] Process can be designed to clear the way, so teachers are always able to seize those moments. The existing education process is a minefield of distractions.”

A good athlete or team will put themselves in a position where they can win a game. That doesn’t mean they win every time, but they give themselves a chance to win. There are no certainties in athletic competitions just as there are no certainties in classroom teaching. In many ways, teaching is like the practice of medicine. Public school teachers and physicians are craftspeople working to apply an uncertain science to help people. Good teachers, like good physicians, are always working to develop their craft and they never run out of things to learn and new things to try.

What I want to spend a few paragraphs discussing is the last part of the sentence, “relationships put teachers in a position to teach but, too often, the process gets in the way.”

For going on six years I have been striving to make the point to public school teachers that the education process within which they work gets in their way. The existing process truly is a minefield of distractions. I have yet to find the correct words to explain myself in a way that resonates with teachers, however.

Public school teachers have been teaching within the same structure and education process for their whole careers. It’s the same education process within which their own teachers had to work and the same one within which their teachers’ teachers had to work. The current education process and structure have become an “unalterable given” in the minds of public school educators and it does not put them in a position to win/teach very often. When it does put them in position, teachers must often make an extraordinary effort to accomplish their objective with a student or class. It is an extraordinary effort of the type that only the most dedicated teachers are inclined to make.

Think about how an operating room is constructed to serve every need of the surgeon. It has been engineered to assure the surgeon has whatever he or she needs, within easy reach. It is designed around the way a surgeon works and thinks and the way they have been trained to react to unexpected events and crises.

One can even see this process of “designing to specifications” on state-of-the-art assembly lines in a manufacturing venue; even to the detail that when the worker needs a cap screw or nut, all they do is turn and reach, knowing it will be there. It is applied ergonomics where the environment and all physical resources are designed and organized to optimize the capability of the physician or production worker.

Why would we not want to create the same work environment for teachers? Is there any job in society more important than teaching? Is there anything in society more important than our children? How would our children grow up to be doctors, scientists, engineers, teachers or other professionals if were not for our teachers?

Teachers work with a population of students that is diverse to the extreme; each student has a unique set of needs and abilities to which the teacher must respond; and each subject area offers multiple strategies to convey content and concepts to their students. Teachers must, however, practice their extraordinarily complex craft within the context of a brittle structure, regimented to the nth degree, following an inflexible set of academic standards, while working within the confines of an arbitrary schedule.

We all understand how important it is for teachers to form close, nurturing relationships with their students, but the education process is not designed in a way that supports teachers and students through that relationship-building activity. There are too many kids for too few teachers with too little time, and no backup systems to help teachers spend extra time with the children with whom it is the most difficult to connect. Then, whatever progress is made in forming those relationships is scrapped at the end of a school year when kids move on to the next grade where they will start, anew, with another teacher with whom they may or may not be able to bond.

We all understand how important it is to pull parents into the process as partners, sharing responsibility for the education of their sons and daughters, but there is no well-developed strategy integrated within the daily activities of teaching for accomplishing this objective.

We all know kids arrive for their first day of school with cavernous disparity with respect to academic preparedness and motivation to learn, but we make no formal effort to assess their state of readiness, so we can formulate a strategy that optimizes our ability to attend to their unique requirements.

We all believe that every child needs time to learn and that the best way for most children to learn is to get concentrated help to understand their mistakes and then have an opportunity to try again and apply the lessons learned. We do our best, of course, but the age-old process very quickly prompts us to move the class on to a new lesson, knowing that there are any number of students who are not ready. We don’t like it, but this is the way the process is designed to work and we all feel the burden of competency examinations looming in the future. We are asked to conform to the arbitrary structure, process, and schedule rather than expecting these things to conform to the needs of our students and teachers. How does this improve academic preparedness and motivation to learn?

It is just common sense that when we stop a lesson before a child understands, because time is up, that they will be that much less prepared to succeed on the next lesson, which may well require that they apply what they have already learned. Kids cannot effectively apply knowledge they’ve been unable to gain because an arbitrary schedule was the priority.

Almost everyone understands that it is through our successes, and the celebration of them, that we gain confidence in ourselves, thus improving the odds for a student’s successful mastery of future lessons.

When we record a failing grade, the research has long concluded that this has a labeling effect that colors their teachers’ perception of a child’s ability to learn, diminishes the student’s self-esteem, and makes it easy for them to believe what they hear when their classmates refer to them as one of the dumb kids.

How many more examples do we need to offer before educators begin to see that the existing education process has grown obsolete and truly is a minefield of distractions from their purpose. It is not created to make their job easy or to make learning easy and fun for students, or to help them develop a powerful motivation to learn. The process is not teacher/student focused.

Why don’t educators and education policy makers go back to the drawing board and start from scratch to create an education process that utilizes applied ergonomics to help teachers bond with their students; pull parents in as partners; makes sure every child is able to start from the exact point on the academic preparedness continuum where they were when they arrived at our door; that is structured in a way that helps us tailor an academic path to meet the unique requirements of each child; that gives each student however much time they need to learn a given lesson because a teacher’s job is not done unless the child can utilize what they have learned.

From about the middle of 2006 until late in 2013, creating such a teaching/learning environment has been my focus. I started by striving to make sense of what I had witnessed as a substitute teacher from 2002 through 2012. I had retired from my positive leadership and organizational development consulting business to pursue my lifelong dream of writing books and chose to sub to earn some extra income. As I began to observe the challenges faced by both teachers and students, it seemed natural to begin applying my experience in positive leadership and organizational development consulting to address a process that was clearly dysfunctional.

One of my specialties was evaluating the production and service-delivery processes of clients who were frustrated that their outcomes were unacceptable. My job was to analyze the process and then modify it to produce better outcomes or, far more often, reinvent the process to produce the desired outcomes. It was simply a process of making sure the internal logic and activity of the process were perfectly aligned to serve its purpose. It involved organizing the activity of the people doing the work to make sure they remained focused on that purpose and ensure that the process was engineered in a way that every action and resource existed to support the work people were asked to do; to help them do their jobs to the highest standards of quality.

The result of my work on the education process was reported, first, in my book Reinventing Education, Hope, and the American Dream: the Challenge For Twenty-First Century America, which includes the initial version of a new education model. After the book’s publication, in 2013, I continued to work to refine the process and published those results on my blog, first in a white paper that was written to lay the foundation for the education model and then present the model, itself. During this time, I also published over 150 articles on the challenges facing teachers and students in the public-school districts of America. They were written to challenge teachers to break out of their conventional boundaries and undergo a paradigm shift.

My intention was to create a system much like what I outlined above; an education process molded around the relationship between teachers and their students, putting teachers in a position to teach and children in a position to learn. And, then defining purpose and objectives, creating a structure to support the efforts of people, and the other components of an effective service delivery process. I continue to revise the model as I learn things from you, the professional educators with whom I interact on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Email, and through my blog.

I invite you to look at https://melhawkinsandassociates.com/education-model-white-paper/. What do you have to lose? Imagine what it would be to work in an environment that was conceived and constructed to support you in your work in every conceivable way.

Time: An Essential Variable in the Education Equation

In recent posts we have talked much about the critical role relationships play in learning. Strong, nurturing, enduring relationships between teachers and students is one of the essential variables of the education equation. If parents can be pulled into the relationship as partners, sharing responsibility for the education of their children, the students’ probability of success will soar.

One of the other essential variables in the education equation is time. Not just time by itself, but time and our patient attention. In most school settings; whether public schools, private, parochial, or charter schools; the education process is structured around arbitrary schedules of time. This is not surprising because everything human beings do is done within the context of time. Not all things are meant to be on a predetermined schedule, however.

If you have ever been a part of a child’s life from birth to adulthood, you know that each child is unique and learns at their own pace. The human brain, particularly a child’s brain, is a remarkable thing, possibly the most remarkable thing in all creation. A child’s brain is programmed to learn; it is like a sponge that soaks up the world around it. While science has determined that there is a clear developmental path through which children grow and mature, the variance in rates of childhood development can be great. If your eldest child walks at 12 months and speaks in sentences by 18 months, there is no reason to be concerned when you second child takes a first step at 13 months and says only a few words at one-and-a-half. The only thing that matters is that the important bases are touched and that once a skill is acquired the child can utilize it, effectively.

When children arrive for their first day of school, we see much the same pattern. Some are already reading by that monumental first day but many of their new classmates are not. Some know their letters and numbers, others may know colors and shapes. Where they fall with respect to an academic preparedness continuum is determined by the unique characteristics of their individual lives and genetic capability. Not only do they have varying starting points, some learn more quickly than others and their manner of learning may differ. Just like early childhood development, however, the bottom line is that they all can and will learn. The question is: How can we best help them learn?

Everything else changes beginning on that first day of school. No longer is the pace and direction of a child’s development determined by nature or a child’s interests and talents. Pace and direction are now guided by academic standards that are essentially an arbitrary determination of things educators believe children must learn if they are to enter adulthood with choices. When I suggest that the standards are arbitrary, I am not suggesting they have been poorly researched, rather that there is an underlying assumption that the standards and their accompanying timelines are appropriate for all “non-special needs students.” This assumption has a powerful influence on the academic success and failure of our students.

No longer is learning a natural and fun process that progresses at the child’s own pace. The first change with which children are confronted is that specific learning objectives have been identified and prioritized. The second change is that the specific learning objectives have also been correlated to a schedule that provides guidelines for the pace of learning. The expectation of teachers is that they guide their students down an academic path, as outlined by state standards and at a pace that conforms to what has been determined to be an acceptable rate of progress. Teachers have some latitude to help if the number of students who are getting off to a slow start is small. The larger the population of students who struggle and the older they get, however, the more problematic it becomes for teachers.

To gage how well students have progressed through the outline of academic standards, competency assessments have been developed. It turns out that the performance of students, on these assessments, has been determined to be an effective way to hold schools and teachers accountable for the performance of their students. Therefore, the process has come to be known as high-stakes testing.

The process begins to break down when individual students are unable to keep pace and we can be certain that learning is no longer fun for these children.

As it turns out, the two most essential variables of the education equation; which I have suggested are enduring relationships between teachers and students (not to mention parents) and that children are given however much time and patient attention they need to learn at their unique pace, are difficult to provide within the context of the current education process. The education process is comprised of two essential components. The first are the academic standards and schedules and their accompanying competency assessments; and, the second is the way teachers, classrooms, students, and resources are organized to achieve their purpose.

Think about the current education process as a conveyor belt designed to move kids along the path outlined by academic standards and that the speed with which it moves is an arbitrary schedule intended to correspond to the benchmarks placed along the path. The way we have organized teachers is that they ride along with their students as the conveyor belt moves toward its destination.

When we place a diverse population of children on that belt it appears to work well for many of our students. Other students, however, lack the skills (academic preparedness and pace of learning) that enable them to remain secure in their seats. Gradually, these children begin to fall off the belt and they lack the ability to climb back on, unassisted. Their teachers reach out to them and retrieve as many as they can, while others fall quickly out of reach. The students who have been retrieved still lack the skill necessary to hang on, however, so they fall off again and again.

Never are teachers able to retrieve all students who have fallen behind and the population of children who are failing at school grows, unrelentingly. These young people have fallen off the conveyor belt and they have no where to go other than to be swallowed up by a maelstrom of poverty and failure that plagues our society.

Until we abandon the conveyor belt as obsolete and replace it with an education process that is engineered to meet each child’s unique requirements, students will continue to fail no matter how hard our teachers work; even with innovative and sophisticated tools and methodologies that are being developed.

If, however, we utilize our imaginations, in combination with our education and experience, to design and construct a process around the way children learn, and that empowers both teachers and students, we can help each child receive the best education of which they are capable. A nice bonus will be the discovery that, in the right environment, most of our innovations with which we have been struggling will work.

Once again, I urge you to take time to review my white paper and education model to see one way we can create a teacher/student-centered education process. Please read it not in search of reasons why it will not or cannot work, rather in hope that it might work. The model, which will be available for public school systems to use, free of charge, is available for your review at https://melhawkinsandassociates.com/education-model-white-paper/ You are also invited to peruse the other 150 plus articles posted on this blog, Education, Hope, and the American Dream.

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

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

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

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


Ladies and gentlemen, this is one of those occasions.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Please take time to read my White Paper and Education Model at https://melhawkinsandassociates.com/education-model-white-paper/ Please read it, not in search of reasons why it will not work, rather in hope that it might. Utilize it as a spark to ignite your own imagination.

Educators are as justified in their opposition as Indiana’s new pathway to graduation is essential!

I understand the point of view of teachers and other educators who have spoken out against Indiana’s proposed pathway to graduation. They are as justified in their opposition as the new pathway is necessary for the State of Indiana.

“How can this be?” you ask. “How can such divergent points of view have validity?

From the perspective of employers, our colleges and universities, and even our Armed Forces, a new and more rigorous graduation requirements are essential. The lack of academic preparedness of an unacceptable number of high school graduates is, well, unacceptable.

I saw it as a juvenile probation officer during the first nine years of my career; as an employer, beginning nearly 40 years ago, I saw it as a substitute teacher for ten years, and I see it now as a test administrator for the Department of Defense, responsible for administering the ASVAB (Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery) for young men and women seeking to enlist in the military. I have also spoken to professors, who teach freshmen and sophomores in our colleges and universities, who are frustrated at the lack of academic preparedness and motivation of students.

In previous posts I have written about the ASVAB and how many high school graduates and seniors are unable to achieve a score of 31, which is the minimum score for enlistment eligibility. I have written how the performance of black and other minorities, on the ASVAB, mirrors what we see on state competency exams, and on data from NAEP (National Assessment of Education Progress). It is interesting that achieving a score of 31 on the ASVAB is being proposed as one of the additional requirements for graduation under the new pathway but did you know that although a 31 is the minimum score for enlistment eligibility, that enlistment incentives are offered only to candidates who score 50 or higher. A score of 31 might make a prospective enlistee eligible but it does not make them desirable candidates.

The bottom line is that far too many of the young people graduating, today, are poorly prepared or motivated to be successful on the job, in the military, or in a university classroom. Certainly there are many students who graduate with excellent records of achievement but they are far from a majority. There are comparable percentages of students at the bottom of the academic performance continuum who are virtually illiterate and innumerate. Most disconcerting is that the large group of graduates in the middle of the continuum are not qualified to do the jobs that society requires of them if we are to compete in a global marketplace.

The impressive sounding graduation rates about which so many public school districts boast are essentially meaningless. An official looking piece of parchment is meaningless if the bearer cannot compete in the mainstream society. Being unable to compete means that these young men and women have very few choices available to them as adults and often end up being dependent upon government support rather than being contributors.

As disturbing as is the data, it pales in comparison to the disturbing nature of the denial on the part of public school educators. American public school teachers and administrators seem oblivious to the level of dissatisfaction that exists in the communities they serve and in the nation at large. They seem disconnected from the dissatisfaction of their customers and seem not to understand that education reforms are motivated by this dissatisfaction and not by the greed of corporate executives.

This is tragic because education reformers evidence no understanding of the challenges of teaching children and their reform initiatives do more harm than good. We cannot solve the problems in public education until public school teachers and administrators accept responsibility for the problem; and please note, I said responsibility, not blame.

I consider myself to be an ardent advocate for public schools and teachers. I view all public school teachers as unsung American heroes especially the ones who teach in diverse or segregated public school districts. They are being asked to do the impossible. They are being asked to provide a high quality education to our nation’s most vulnerable children within the context of an education process that was already obsolete 65 years ago when I arrived for my first day of Kindergarten.

I am saddened that so many of the educators whom I respect and admire will stop reading about now because they do not wish to hear what I have to say. They are seemingly unwilling and/or unable to pull their heads out of the sand and acknowledge that what they are being asked to do does not work. I understand the trepidation of high school teachers in Indiana when they feel overwhelmed by what these new graduation requirements will demand of them when they are already overwhelmed by the enormity of what we ask them to do under the current requirements.

As necessary as more rigorous graduation requirements might be to the welfare of society, it is outrageous to expect public school educators to meet these expectations unless we are prepared to fix an obsolete education process that allows kids to arrive for their first day of the ninth grade as unprepared for the demands of high school as our twelfth graders are unprepared for the demands of the work force, of university classrooms, and military entrance requirements.

American society is as disconnected from what transpires in our nation’s most challenged public schools as our public school teachers and administrators are out-of-touch with the level of dissatisfaction of their customers.

Yes, I know that there are many of our nation’s finest school districts that will insist that they are doing an exemplary job with their students and that those young men and women leave high school well-prepared for life after high school. They too are wrong. They are wrong not because they are doing anything wrong and not because their students are incapable, rather because the education process, itself, impedes the ability of even our best students to strive for, let alone reach, their full potential.

The problems in public education are so huge and so pervasive that it is easy for us to feel overwhelmed in the face of its challenges. This is true only because educators are so immersed in the education process that they cannot view it as an integral whole.

The way we have structured our schools and classrooms and the way we have designed our instructional methodologies and the way we have organized our curricula, and the way we have allocated our resources are nothing more than components of a logical process. Like any other process, whether production, assembly, service delivery, or software application the education process at work in our schools, both public and private, can be reinvented, re-engineered, re-designed, re-tasked to do anything we want it to do, even things we have not yet imagined to be possible. It is time for us to step back and rethink what it is we do and why.

Is there anything more important for the future of our society in the uncertain times that are unfolding before us, than the way we prepare the children on whom that future depends?

It is time to take a few step back and examine the education process in place in our schools from a systems-thinking perspective. It is time to challenge each and every assumption we have made about what we do and why. It is time to redefine our purpose and then reinvent the education process to give our teachers the direction, structure, time and resources they require to give each and every one of our students the patient time and attention they need to learn every single lesson.

It is not enough to teach lessons, however, and we must do so much more. We must teach our children how to get along with one another; we must teach them how to question why we do what we do as a people; we must teach them how to think creatively and how to utilize their imaginations to find new and innovative solutions to the challenges we face in this ever-more complicated world; we must teach them to understand history not so that we can yearn to return to a simpler time because there will never be a simpler time. We must teach them history so that they can learn from our mistakes just like we want to help them learn from their own mistakes.

We must teach them how to be successful and I am not talking about being rich and famous. We must teach them that success is a process of learning from our mistakes, building on what we know, striving for ever-higher expectations, and learning the most important truths in life. The first of those truths is that there is no such thing as failure; there are only disappointing outcomes from which we can learn and grow. The second of those truths is that people are more important than things and that the value of everything in life is measured in terms of its utility to people. The third truth is that what got us where we are today will not take us to where we want and need to be tomorrow. Our success in meeting the challenges of tomorrow will come from the wisdom we have gained from the mistakes we have made and learning that there are no final answers. Every question answered raises a whole new set of questions, Our questions are the energy that powers our imagination and ingenuity.

Every problem facing American society today is rooted in the manner and success with which we educate our children. That makes public education the most important issue on the American agenda and the civil rights issue of our time.

I challenge teachers to believe that both you and your students deserve better. I challenge you to have the courage to accept responsibility for the problems in our schools and in the education process with which you are expected to work. I challenge you to shout out at the top of your voices when what you are being asked to do does not work and to draw upon your collective power to demand support for changing the reality of public education in America.

Raising expectations is a good thing only when we give ourselves the tools necessary to meet them. Our educators do not have the tools they need to meet current requirements, let alone the new ones, however much needed they may be. We must give them these tools.

“Say it ain’t so, Joe!”

These words were shouted at the great Shoeless Joe Jackson when news of the 1919 Black Sox scandal hit the press. Shoeless Joe’s fans did not want to believe that their star could have been involved in throwing the 1919 World Series between Jackson’s Chicago White Sox and the Cincinnati Reds.

As we prepare for the 2017/2018 school year it is business as usual for both private and public schools throughout the U.S. Having made no substantive changes in the education process, we can expect the same disappointing outcomes that we have seen in previous years, for as long as any of us can recall. Sure, there are many schools where kids do well and this lulls us into a false sense of security that all is well with public education. However, in schools serving large populations of disadvantaged kids, a disproportionate percentage of whom are black or other minorities, are failing in great numbers. This is an American tragedy of historic proportions and as a fan of public school teachers, I do not want to believe that they will permit this American tragedy to continue. These are children who will suffer their whole lives because we are not willing to change what we do and how we teach.

“Say it ain’t so, teachers!”

Beginning now and over the next several weeks, a whole new class of five and six year-olds will be starting Kindergarten just as others have done in the past. Wherever their public schools may be, they will be greeted by professional teachers who will give their best effort on behalf of their students—our nation’s children. The fact that there is a cavernous disparity in terms of the academic preparedness of the children who will be arriving for their first day of school will not alter the teaching plans that have been developed and approved to help prepare these boys and girls for the first grade.

People underestimate how much of an adverse impact this disparity has on the academic performance of these children. Some of the more advanced students are already reading, can count and maybe do some basic arithmetic. Students on the other end of the academic preparedness continuum may not know or be able to recognize the letters of the alphabet and may not know numbers, colors, or shapes. The challenge to get such a diverse population of students ready to move on to first grade by the end of the school year is formidable. Fortunately, in most states, teachers need not yet worry about high stakes testing, which adds greatly to the pressure to move kids quickly.

Kindergarten teachers do their best to prepare their students for first grade but giving each and every student the time and attention they need in order to learn is neither a priority nor an expectation against which teacher performance will be evaluated. In classrooms where all students are relatively well-prepared, the year will go smoothly. In classrooms where few, if any, are well-prepared things will not be so easy and teachers will struggle to give each child the attention they require. There are just too many of them. When they do move on to first grade, this latter population of students will be as ill-prepared to meet first-grade expectations as they were when they began Kindergarten.

By the third grade when high stakes testing rears its ugly head, the number of students who are struggling will have grown and the results of their first competency exams will reflect that lack of preparedness. Already, there will be many students who are beginning to give up on themselves because they are not learning to succeed, they are learning to fail.

Three years later, when these kids arrive at middle school, the majority will have already stopped trying and will have lost hope. Don’t take my word for it. Pull up the websites of any state’s department of education and you will find that in poor urban and rural school districts, roughly 75 percent of black, middle school students will have been unable to pass both math and English language arts components of that state’s competency exams. In those same schools you will often see that as many as 50 percent of white kids are unable to pass both math and English language arts components.

What you will find in these schools is a cultural disdain for education that transcends both racial and economic boundaries. By the time these kids move from middle school to high school the one lesson they have learned best is that they are unable to learn and that learning is not worth the effort. Let me rephrase that statement. This is not a lesson they have learned on their own, it is the lesson they have been taught simply because the education process has allowed them to fail. We allowed it because teachers were unable to give these kids the time and attention they require and because those same teachers were unwilling to shout out at the tops of their lungs that what they are being asked to do does not work for disadvantaged kids.

Is it any wonder that education reformers are essentially abandoning public schools in our nation’s distressed communities in favor of charter schools? It is unfortunate that reformers lack the insight to recognize that they are making the same mistakes as those made by the leaders of underperforming public schools. At present, charter schools are no more successful in meeting the needs of disadvantaged kids than any other school.

Now, ask yourself how we can go from 25 to 50 percent of middle school students unable to pass state competency exams in math and English language arts to 90+ percent graduation rates from the high schools to which these middle school students will be going. If you think we were able, somehow, to turn these students around during four years of high school, then think again. It would take an extraordinary effort on the part of teachers and students, with the full support of parents, to make up in four years what these kids were unsuccessful at learning during their first nine years of school. Most teachers would be willing to make that effort but that is not what they are being asked to do; it is not the way the education process has been designed to work.

Ninety percent of these young men and women will leave high school, after four years, with a diploma in hand but, for many, it is a meaningless piece of paper. The real world in which these young adults must now make their way is unforgiving and intolerant of shoddy effort and performance. These young people will be confronted with the stark realization that they are unqualified for all but the most menial jobs and they will find this to be true whether they seek work in civilian life, or seek to enlist in the Armed Services.

And, we wonder why education reformers have lost faith in our nation’s public schools. As long as public school superintendents, principals, teachers, and advocates are unwilling to open their eyes, hearts, and minds to the reality that is happening around them, reformers will continue to work, with great zeal, to put public schools out of business. If we allow that to happen the tragedies that the poor and minorities endure, today, will pale in comparison to the consequences of a world in which a quality education is not even available to them. Ours will have become an elitist society and there will be precious little any of us can do about.

Say it ain’t so, Joe!

Relationships Are an Indispensable Variable in the Education Equation!

Recently, I have heard many very smart people trash such ideas as “personalized learning” and “digital learning.” While I have great respect for all of you, I ask you to consider the question, “what if you are wrong?”

Just because “Education Reformers” who are attacking public education are misusing these concepts does not mean they are bad ideas! Clearly, education reformers are wrong to think that the future of public education will be realized by kids working independently on computers, going their own way, and not needing the help of teachers. Anyone who thinks that would be a good thing and would increase the quality of education our children receive does not know much about working with children.

Those of us who have worked closely with children, especially kids as young as 5 and 6, know that relationships matter more than anything. And make no mistake, relationships are every bit as important to preteens and teenagers. Think back on the kids with whom you had the most success and it will almost always be the students with whom you had the best relationships. Also, think back on those times when you were successful in your own endeavors. More often than not, in those special times in our lives, we were working closely with a favorite teacher, boss, or mentor.

When working with children of any age, not only do relationships matter, they are paramount. Relationships are an indispensable variable in the education equation.

“De-personalized learning” is what kids are getting, now, and it is tragic.

Every year, young children who arrive for their first day of school and who are starting at a disadvantage are placed in a race with other students in their classroom. It is a race in which these children are totally unprepared to compete. When they begin falling behind, we act surprised when they give up on themselves, stop trying, begin acting out, and maybe even drop out of school before graduating.

In the hands of qualified teachers whose minds and hearts are open to new ideas, “personalized learning” can be a powerful strategy. When a child is beginning from his or her own unique starting point on an “academic preparedness continuum” and is being given the time he or she needs, the child will begin to learn and will progress at his or her own best speed. As kids begin to discover that they can learn, they will gain confidence and gradually increase the pace at which they learn. Once kids discover that they can learn, successfully, learning becomes fun!

It is my belief what children need is learning of the most “personalized” kind, from capable and qualified teachers with whom they feel a close, personal connection and who have at their disposal the most sophisticated tools and resources.

Dissing “digital learning” is another example of educators reacting with Pavlovian predictability to neutral names and labels that have become pejorative words and phrases. Just because reformers over-value digital tools does not reduce their potential as tools for capable teachers. And, the fact that they undervalue teachers and the relationships between teachers and students creates a real opportunity for those of us who are against high-stakes testing, privatization, charter schools and vouchers.

It creates an opportunity to demonstrate how effective public schools will be when they employ an education process or model that:

• Optimizes the power of positive relationships between teachers and students;

• Pulls parents into the equation as partners in the education of their sons and daughters;

• Identifies an appropriate starting point for students based upon where they are on an academic preparedness continuum when they arrive at our door for their first day of school;

• Tailors an academic plan to meet the unique requirements of each student, in conjunction with academic standards;

• Expects students to learn as much as they are able at their own best speed;

• Expects teachers to give each child the time and attention they need to learn as much as they are able;

• Expects teachers to help kids learn from mistakes even when it takes multiple attempts and then celebrate each success like the special achievement it is.

• Equips teachers and students with the best tools and resources available, including cutting edge digital tools and learning technology; and,

• Expects students to achieve a sufficient level of mastery of subject matter that they can apply what they have learned in the real world and where nothing less is acceptable.

With such a model, public schools will outperform charter schools and other experimental classrooms at every level.

Champions and heroes of public education, at every level, are asked to take a step back so that your passion does not overshadow your wisdom. The job of public school educators is not to blame poverty and segregation for the failure of so many of our disadvantaged children. Rather it is to accept responsibility by acknowledging that what we are doing does not work for everyone and not giving up until we find a solution that will work.

Public school educators have been blamed for so long for the problems in public education that they will not listen to just anyone. It is for that reason that the champions of public education whom teachers have come to admire and respect are in the best position to influence public school educators at every level. Having the respect of teachers comes with certain responsibilities the most important of which is to provide positive leadership.

I have applied all that I have learned from over thirty years of organizational development and leadership experience to examine and strive to understand all that I witnessed during the 10 years in which I worked as a substitute teacher for an urban public school district. My objective, initially, was to understand why so many children are failing and I very quickly realized that I also needed to understand why some children manage to succeed in spite of all of the disadvantages they face. Once I felt I had a solid understanding, I began applying the skills I developed while working with my clients as an organizational development and leadership consultant.

I was guided by an axiom from operations management that said “if a process continues to produce unacceptable outcomes no matter how hard people work or how qualified they are, then the process is flawed and should be replaced or reinvented. In almost every instance, giving hard working people a process that works proved to be empowering and led to unprecedented success.

In every project the objective and methodology was the same. Apply the principles of systems’ thinking, organizational development, and positive leadership to clearly identify mission and purpose and then design a process that is tasked, structured, and resourced to produce the outcomes my clients were seeking. The outcome of my effort with respect to education was a process or model designed to empower teachers and meet the needs of all students, even the disadvantaged children.

I invite you to examine the model and accompanying white paper at
https://melhawkinsandassociates.com/education-model-white-paper/. I then ask for your help in finding at least one superintendent and school district willing to test my model in one of its lowest performing elementary schools.

It’s all about the kids!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For an overview of my book and its recommendations, I invite the reader to check out my blog post of October 26, 2015, which is a white paper entitled, “Breaking Down the Cycles of Failure and Poverty:
Making Public Education Work for All Students Irrespective of Relative Affluence or the Color of Their Skin.”

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

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

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

Submitted by: Mel Hawkins, BA, MSEd, MPA

April 18, 2016

Discarding the Past

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

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

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

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

Step 1 – Clarifying Mission and Purpose

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

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

Step 2 – Objectives and Expectations

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

It is our expectation that:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Children Need:

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

• A close personal relationship with one or more teachers;

• Our patient time and attention;

• A stable and safe environment for the long term;

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

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

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

• An academic plan tailored to their unique requirements.

• The involvement and support of their parents or guardians.


Step 4 – Where do we begin?

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

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

Step 5 – Organization and structure

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

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

• Middle School Phase (formerly grades 6 through 8)

• Secondary Phase (formerly grades 9 through 12)

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

Step 6- Teaching teams

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

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

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

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

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

Step 7 – Duration and stability

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

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

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

Step 8 – Reaching out to Parents

Reaching out to parents must be a high priority.

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

Step 9 – Assessment and tailored academic plan

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

Step 10 – The learning process

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

• Lesson presentation

• Practice

• Review

• Mastery Quiz (MQ)

• Verification Master Quiz (VMQ)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Step 12 – No Failure and No waiting

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

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

Step 13 – Verify and document mastery

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

Step 14 – High Stakes Testing

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

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

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

Or,

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

I think we all know the answer.

Step 15 – the Arts and Exercise

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

• Develop relationships with other teachers;

• Exercise their young bodies; and,

• Learn to appreciate and to express themselves through art.

Step 16 – Stability and adaptability

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

Step 17 – Relentless, non-negotiable commitment

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

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

Step 18 – Special Needs

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

Summary and Conclusions:

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

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

Racism Places our Future at Risk!

The more diverse a population the more important it is that people learn, play, work, and live in an integrated environment. Racism is a horrible and complicated aspect of American society and it threatens the very principles of democracy. One of the great certainties of the 21st Century is that our population will become increasingly more diverse. If we are going to preserve our liberty, we must find a way to set aside our prejudices and work together. Diversity is our nation’s greatest strength. The danger occurs when we do not embrace it as such. The best way to promote diversity and end racism is through public education.

The differences in skin color are there for all to see and when all of the white kids live over here and all of the black kids live over there, it is we versus them. Rarely do the two worlds come together. Simply by changing their physical proximity between us, we create opportunities to get to know one another, up close and personal. The differences still exist and are every bit as problematic, but when we are close enough to see the whites of each other’s eyes (a characteristic that is shared by human beings everywhere) we also begin to see the similarities. This is the great value of integrated public schools.

As important as it is, however, integration in our schools, public or private, is not a magic elixir that will eradicate the performance gap between white students and minority students and bring an end to racism.

Fort Wayne Community Schools provides a perfect example. This school corporation is the largest in the state of Indiana, has a highly respected black superintendent, and three of the other seven senior leadership positions are filled by black men and women. The district’s student population is 53 percent non-white and there are many minority teachers and principals throughout the district. Just as importantly, most of the schools, particularly at the middle school or high school level, have a diverse population of students. They are integrated but in spite of all of the good things this district and its professional educators do, performance gap issues remain one of its great challenges.

If academic parity is our objective, then we must do more than strive for integrated schools and classrooms. We must make accommodations for students with an “academic-preparedness disadvantage” much like we do for those who have physical, visual, hearing or emotional impairments.

We do not, for example, bring students with physical, visual, or hearing impairments into a school and expect them to find their way around like their unimpaired classmates. We find ways to make accommodations so that these children can take full advantage of their opportunity to strive for a quality education.

Why is it, then, that we bring academically disadvantaged children into our schools along with children who have no such disadvantages and hold the former to the same standards of academic performance as the latter?

It is one thing to establish academic standards that outline all of the things we want our students to learn before they graduate from high school. If we want all of our students to learn the same things and we want them all to be successful we must recognize that they are not all beginning at the same point on the academic preparedness continuum.

What we can reasonably hope to accomplish and what our objective must be is that every student arrives at the best possible destination with respect to his or her unique talents and capabilities. This is a realistic goal if we treat all children as unique individuals and place them on an academic path that is right for them and is tailored to their unique strengths and weaknesses. In every other learning environment with which I am familiar, the speed with which learning takes place is the least important factor. What is important is that children do learn.

If given sufficient time and attention, most children who start off from behind will begin to catch up. If, however, we push them along a common path with no accommodation for their “academic preparedness disadvantage,” they will begin to experience failure. Over time, the failures will begin to accumulate and each failure gnaws at a child’s self-esteem. This, we cannot allow.

The biggest problems with current educational reforms and their focus on standardized testing, charter schools, and vouchers is that they are creating more separation between various demographic groups. This may or may not be the intent of the proponents of such reforms but it is clearly the outcomes that flow from such reforms and it can only increase disparity. It is the disparity in opportunities to live the American dream that keeps us separate and apart and that keeps racism alive.

Preserving public schools that bring all components of society together is critical to the future of our democratic way of life but racism will not yield to our will, easily. We must challenge our conventional wisdom at every opportunity, every step along the way. We must also rid ourselves of our obsession with the idea that poverty is the problem. Every time we blame poverty there is a part of our mind that shuts down and we tell ourselves that there is nothing we can do about poverty.

We have spent fifty years blaming poverty and declaring war on it and what has it gotten us? No one disputes that poverty creates tremendous disadvantages for men, women, and children but being poor does not keep human beings from pursuing a dream. What keeps people (parents and their children) from pursuing a dream is the hopelessness and powerlessness that so often accompanies poverty; it is when they have given up and no longer dream of a better life for themselves or for their children.

Individuals may not be able to do anything about poverty but we can attack hopelessness and powerlessness one child, one family, one teacher, one classroom, and one school at a time. To do so we must shake ourselves out of our lethargy and latch onto that which is in our power to do.

One last word about segregated schools. Many of our nation’s most challenged public schools are segregated on the basis of race and each year they perform poorly on state competency exams. We tend to look at these schools and brand both the schools and their teachers as subpar, as failures. This is a gross misjudgement. Many of the teachers at these unfortunate schools are remarkable men and women who are committed to doing the absolute best for the students in their classrooms.

Unlike many of their former colleagues, who ran out of these schools screaming and hollering, these public school teachers return every fall and arrive for work every day to make a difference in the lives of as many of their students as possible, even if it only a handful. These men and women deserve our thanks and appreciation as they are true American heroes. Even more than our thanks and appreciation, these teachers need our help. They need us to stop blaming them for the problems in their classrooms, in their schools, and in the neighborhoods they serve. They need us to support them in what they do rather attacking them and stripping away the limited resources with which they strive to do their important work.