A First Communion to Remember

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Do Alternate Pathways to Graduation Lower the Bar?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Do We have the Will to Bring About Transformative Change: A Message of Hope and a Call to Action!

We have the power, intelligence, and imagination to envision a better America and we have, in our possession, a new idea about how we can bring that vision to life. It requires that we challenge our assumptions about how we go about doing what is every society’s most important job: preparing our children for the future. Ultimately, the question is: “Do we possess the will to bring about transformative change?”

Public education need not be under attack! Public schools can be successful. Teachers need not flee the profession. Children need not fail. Teaching need not be stressful and frustrating. Learning can be fun. All kids can learn and be excited about learning. Parents can be effective partners with teachers to help their children get the best possible education. The American dream can be real for every child. People need not be poor and do not need to be entrapped in the cycle of poverty and failure, nor do they need to live under a blanket of hopelessness and powerlessness.

There is no requirement that our prisons be full. Black men and women need not be afraid of being shot by the police, white Americans need not feel threatened every time they see a black man in an unexpected place, Hispanics need not face anger and resentment when they speak Spanish to their children—besides, isn’t being bilingual something to which we should all aspire? Immigration need not be considered a threat to prosperity or democracy. Children of immigrants need not be separated from their parents. Children born in America must not be denied citizenship, whatever the status of their parents. Everyone must be free to worship according to their faith. None of the worlds great religions must be singled out for disdain or preference and their worshipers need not be subjected to prejudice.

America can, indeed, be great again, in fact, greater than it has ever been, and we need not be a divided people. The very things that divide us are, in truth, the things that keep the reality of America from matching our vision. Prejudice and bigotry impede rather than enhance the quality of life in America. We need not deprive our citizens of access to healthcare services or see the costs of healthcare become prohibitive. We need not place our environment at risk to have a strong economy or strip away regulations that were established to protect our citizens from abuses from those who would sacrifice our safety and well-being for the sake of profits.

Considering America great again does not depend on restricting the freedom of the press; questioning the integrity of our electoral process; or branding an entire race, ethnic group, or religious faith as unworthy of freedom and justice. Our greatness as a free people is not enhanced by withdrawing from the world community any more than our economy is enriched by protectionism. Like it or not, the future of the United States of America requires interdependency and the same can be said for the future of the world community.

America’s strengths and weakness are a reflection of what the American people have learned rather than a representation of who and what they could be.

All the problems facing American society and threatening the future of our participatory democracy are rooted in the historic ineffectiveness of our system of public education. Neither the interests of American society nor the world community are enhanced by ignorance, illiteracy, innumeracy, gullibility, or closed-mindedness. We need our young people to leave school with solid academic foundations, portfolios of a broad range of skills, and the ability to think exponentially (outside the box) with creativity and imagination. We need them to be able to accept the responsibilities of citizenship. We need for them to provide for themselves and their families, to understand the cogent issues of our time and to participate in their intelligent discourse. Ultimately, we need our young people—all our citizens, in fact—to be able to make thoughtful choices in the face of the extraordinary challenges that await us in balance of this 21st Century.

We cannot have citizens who are so poorly informed about critical issues that they will follow, blindly, high profile dilettantes based on jingoistic platitudes and outdated dogma on whatever side of the political spectrum they reside. We need our people to be sufficiently informed that they can distinguish between real and fake news, the latter of which is poorly disguised propaganda.

We want to create an abundance mentality in which everyone believes they can participate in the American dream because, if we work together, there is enough of everything for everyone. This is an enormous challenge, I know, but it is one that is possible if every American possesses a quality education. There are, indeed, deep prejudices in the hearts and minds of millions of Americans and we cannot legislate an end to bigotry and resentment. What we can do is ensure that all Americans, regardless of their race and/or ethnicity are able to fulfill their responsibilities as citizens, which, in turn, increases the frequency and quality of our interactions with one another. If we live and work in closer proximity with one another our similarities are magnified relative to our differences.

This can be an accurate representation of our society, but it requires that we abandon an obsolete education process that has allowed millions of our children to fail, has driven hundreds of thousands of qualified teachers from the profession, has created extraordinary anguish on the part of a significant percentage of the rest, and has left huge populations of men and women unable to participate in the American dream.

We must replace an education process that is structured like a competition to see who can learn the most the fastest. It is an education process that fails children on both ends of the academic achievement continuum. Children who had the misfortune to start from behind are pushed ahead before they are ready, placing them at an even greater disadvantage when success on subsequent lessons requires the application of knowledge and skills they were not given time to learn. This sets up children for failure, particularly disadvantaged children. A disproportionate percentage of these disadvantaged children are black or other minorities, and kids who come from homes in which English is not the mother tongue.

The incessant repetition of this practice erodes the diligence of educators and conditions them to tolerate some level of failure. It also inures teachers and educators to the tragic consequences with which their students will be forced to deal. Sadly, policy makers and government officials are so far removed from the suffering to which they contribute they are oblivious and learn nothing from it. These powerful men and women have not learned the lessons from “systems thinking” that help us understand how our own behavior contributes to the outcomes that do us harm. (Systems thinkin is a concept introduced by Peter Senge in his book, The Fifth Discipline: The Art & Practice of the Learning Organization (Doubleday, New York, 1990).

At the other end of the performance continuum, high achieving students are asked to slow down and wait for classmates to catch up. This is also tragic because when confronted with boredom and impatience, learning ceases to be fun, leaving hungry young minds to look to social media, video games, and even more harmful diversions for excitement, intellectual stimulation, and mindless distractions. When they get to high school, these students may be diverted into honors or advanced-placement programs but what happened to them in elementary school has diminished their enthusiasm for learning.

One of the dysfunctionalities of our existing education process is that it is brittle and unadaptable thus providing teachers with neither the opportunity nor the authority to differentiate between the divergent needs of their students.

As much as I admire teachers and administrators, only a minute percentage ever see the struggles faced by students, whom they proudly declared ready for graduation, when these young men and women find themselves woefully unprepared for the demands of the workplace, institutions of higher learning, or the military.

Every employer witnesses the tragedy when they turn away young men and women who lack the essential academic foundation and skills required of the jobs for which they have applied. Even those employers that offer remedial instruction to help new hires overcome their functional illiteracy and innumeracy, find these young people unmotivated to learn and unwilling to work hard. Even job candidates with impressive academic credentials are often found to be unmotivated and unimaginative. Employers are mystified when they discover that the “book smarts” of the men and women they recruit do not translate well in work situations. On the other side of the equation, these young people are frustrated to discover that what they have learned does not meet the expectations of their employers.

In many of my blog posts, I have shared stories about the difficulty young men and women have, typically recent high school graduates and second-semester seniors, when striving to pass the ASVAB (Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery) to qualify for enlistment in the military services. They may have been able to pass a test or meet some other criteria to qualify for a high school diploma but a few months later they are unable to apply what they had been expected to learn to the real-life challenge of achieving enlistment eligibility. When these enlistment candidates fail to achieve the minimum score for enlistment, they can retake the exam a second time, after a thirty-day period; a third time after another thirty-day period; and, a fourth time after an additional six months. Even with the use of study materials, few of these young adults ever achieve a passing score. Cramming for exams does not give one the mastery required to be able to utilize what one needs to know in life; mastery requires that we know it.

[to be continued]

It Is Time to Mold the Classroom Around Ts & Ss! Please Help!

We cannot afford to waste another school year. Next fall will be here before we know it and we must find superintendents who are willing to test a student-teacher-parent focused education model in one of their underperforming elementary schools. And yes, there are underperforming schools in both urban and rural school districts throughout the U.S.

Many of you reading this post are educators. We follow each other on Twitter so you have heard me make this plea, often. Please join the small but growing number of educators who have been both intrigued and excited after reading the education model I have developed. The model is based on my fifty years of experience working with kids, as an organizational leader, as a leadership and organizational development consultant, and as a substitute school teacher.

It is a model designed to support the important work of our teachers and students not impede their efforts. Please help me find a superintendent willing to test my model in one of their underperforming elementary schools next fall, for the 2019/2020 school year.

I ask you to:

  • Read my education model;
  • Follow my blog, Education, Hope and the American Dream:
  • Follow me on Twitter;
  • Share your enthusiasm for my model by “Retweeting” and “liking” my Tweets and by sharing my blog posts to the people whom you know and with whom you work;
  • Reach out to other educators, beyond Twitter, and encourage them to read the model; and, finally,
  • Implore superintendents, principals, and other administrators in your network to consider testing my model in one of their underperforming elementary schools

 

If you do, we can transform public education in America and begin repairing a nation that is becoming dangerously divided. I believe this is the only way we can preserve democracy in America for future generations.

If you take the time to read my model you will see that there is a solution to the challenges facing American schools, but it requires that we abandon a century-long tradition of employing incremental changes. These challenges demand that we go back to the drawing board to create an education process engineered to produce the results we seek.

Our children, their teachers, and our nation are in desperate need of an education process that rejects the failures of the past and put our focus on helping children learn so that they can use what they learn in the real world. Passing state standardized tests is meaningless if kids cannot use what they learn next semester, next year, and beyond. The same is true with respect to high school diplomas.

Please consider this informal analysis of students in my home state of Indiana.

ISTEP+ results in Indiana have been released, recently, and the numbers are staggering. Also understand, that Indiana is not unique. What we see in Indiana is true in school districts in virtually every state in the union and it has been true for decades.

ISTEP results for nine counties in Northeast Indiana show that there are at least 40 schools in which less that forty percent of the students in two or more grades, have passed both the English Language Arts and math components of the ISTEP. These exams are given to students in grades 3 to 8 and, again, in high school.

There are an additional 45 schools in which less than thirty percent of students, in two or more grades, pass both ELA and math components of the ISTEPs.

These schools represent both urban and rural school districts and both public, private and parochial schools. And, no, charter schools are no exception.

It is understood that we shouldn’t be testing. It is understood that many teachers and schools are under tremendous pressure to teach to the test. It is understood that high-stakes testing is the worst possible way to assess the performance of teachers. It is true that some of the tests, themselves,  may be flawed. None of these things, however, justify disregarding what the results tell us.

What the results of high-stakes testing tell us is that the education process, itself, is fundamentally flawed. It sets children up for failure. Disadvantaged kids, many of whom are children of color and/or who begin school with a low level of academic preparedness, suffer irreparable damage because of the education process.

This damage occurs despite the heroic efforts of our children’s teachers. Blaming teachers is like blaming soldiers for the wars they are asked to fight.

If that were not bad enough, there is research to show that many of the students who do well on such tests do not retain what they have been drilled to reproduce—to regurgitate—for more than a few weeks or months. As a former employer, I can attest that an alarming percentage of these young people are unable to use, in a real-world work environment, what their diplomas certify that they have learned.

The State of Indiana has begun letting students use the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB) to help qualify for graduation when they are unable to pass their ISTEPs.

As one of many individuals who administer the ASVAB, both in schools and for young men and women seeking to enlist in the military, I can attest to the fact that more than 30 percent of the high-school graduates and high school seniors seeking to enlist, are unable to get the minimum score to qualify for enlistment. The percentage of minority students who are unable to pass the ASVAB (achieve a score of at least 31 out of a possible 99), is substantially higher, over fifty percent.

This is a national tragedy that, through the balance of this 21st Century, will have devastating consequences for American society. I would also assert, that the policies of neither Republicans nor Democrats will be successful if we do not act to replace the flawed education process employed in our nation’s schools. There are no short-term fixes and we cannot return to earlier, simpler times.

It is imperative that we act now!

What School Could Be, 2018, by Ted Dintersmith

A Five Star Review by Mel Hawkins

 

If you are an educator, parent, grandparent, or are just concerned about the quality of education being provided to our nation’s children, What School Could Be: Insights and Inspiration from Teachers Across America, (WSCB) by Ted Dintersmith is a must read. It is a look at what school in America could be, juxtaposed with the reality in an overwhelming majority of American schools.

Many educators have said that reading about these “teachers and children in ordinary circumstances doing extraordinary things”  has given them hope, inspiration, and encouragement. For teachers struggling with the day-to-day challenges of “teaching to the test,” finding encouragement and inspiration is reason enough to read Ted Dintersmith’s book.

We can only hope that teachers, administrators, and policy makers are shaken and motivated by Dintersmith’s core message that “our education system is stuck in time, training students for a world that no longer exists.” His challenge to educators is that “Absent profound change in our schools, adults will keep piling up on life’s sidelines, jeopardizing the survival of civil society.”

Over the past eight years, I have been comparing the American education process to a 1950s assembly line with an obsolete quality system, producing piles of discrepant material. These piles are the allegorical equivalent of remedial classrooms full of high school students unable to pass state competency exams. We place the future of our democratic society at risk when we send these young men and women out into the world, with or without a high school diploma, unprepared for the challenges of the Twenty-first Century workplace. For young people entering adulthood with few skills and choices, the American dream quickly becomes a nightmare.

It is my hope that American teachers, administrators, and policy makers will rally around someone of Ted Dintersmith’s stature and platform and be motivated to act; with a sense of urgency. I also hope those of us with a vision for our schools can work together to bring it to life.

In WSCB, Dintersmith suggests that our schools must help students develop: PEAK (Purpose, Essentials, Agency, and Knowledge). He suggests that these things “abound in preschools, kindergartens, and Montessori schools—places where children love school, learn deeply and joyously, and master essential skills.”

How ironic is it that learning is fun until children arrive at school where such initiatives as No Child Left Behind, Race to the Top, and other policies have “shoved PEAK out of our classrooms.”

“The purpose of U.S. education. . ,” Ted Dintersmith writes, describing the current reality, “. . . is to rank human potential not develop it.” And, that “’College ready’ impedes learning and innovation in our K-12 schools.”

The journey on which WSCB takes its readers provides examples of schools, in diverse communities throughout America, that focus on “hands-on learning” where children are challenged with “real-world problems.” You will see students who are excited by learning and teachers who are fulfilled by teaching. It reveals a vision of education where students develop their unique potential and leave school with knowledge, skills, and abilities they can utilize in the real world, rather than with abstract academic concepts they may or may not be able to regurgitate on standardized tests, let alone apply in life.

One of the people Dintersmith encountered on his excursion was a chief of staff to a state governor whose attitude reflects the scope of the challenge facing those of us seeking to transform education in America. This aide said, in response to his query, “Look. I know everything I need to know about education. You don’t need to tell me anything.”

One can only wonder how anyone could ever think they know everything there is to know about anything? Breaking through this kind of resistance is the challenge educators face and if you are a teacher in a classroom, the sense of powerlessness can be overwhelming. Possibly, Ted Dintersmith and others, can give teachers hope and inspiration around which they can rally. They need not be powerless.

Teachers unions and associations were created to give teachers a voice and some sense of power over the outcomes in their professional lives. The key is for teachers and administrators to use the power of their numbers as advocates of positive ideas rather than as a forum for complaints. There are few things as powerful as a positive new idea in the hands of a community of people with a shared vision. Ted Dintersmith’s accounts of his visits around America provides his readers with real examples of things schools and teachers can do for their students.

The questions that nag at me after reading WSCB, and that have nagged at me for years, are “why do so many of the innovative programs and initiatives we read about focus on kids in high school or even middle school?” Why do we wait for children to be bored, unmotivated, and discouraged before we act? Why not begin changing the way we teach them from the moment they arrive at our door for their first day of school? Why not make learning fun and meaningful right from the start? Imagine how we would be pushed to reinvent college, high school, and even middle school if fifth grade boys and girls were successful learners prepared to take ownership of their educations.

Do not wait to read What School Could Be: Insights and Inspiration from Teachers Across America, 2018 by Ted Dintersmith. Go ahead and treat yourselves. You deserve it.

Teach to the Kids and the Tests Will Take Care of Themselves!

In his books Stephen Covey often used the story about taking time to sharpen the saw and it is a good lesson for public school educators. As we work hard, cutting wood, the saw gradually loses its edge. If we don’t take time to stop and sharpen the saw, it won’t matter how hard we work; our productivity will begin to decline until we are accomplishing almost nothing at all. It is the same concept as an athletic coach pushing his or her athletes to focus on the fundamentals.

The era of high-stakes testing has led public school policy makers and administrators to push teachers to work hard doing the wrong things when what they really need to be doing is teaching to the kids and their unique requirements and not to the test. It seems that no matter how hard our dedicated teachers work toward our misconceived purpose, the test scores rarely improve and when they do they see only gains of the slimmest of margins.

From a child’s first day of school, at age five or six, our focus needs to be on identifying each child’s unique starting point. We need to know where they are on the academic preparedness continuum. Once we have identified what they know and where they are lacking, we can develop an academic path tailored to the unique needs of each child.

Our goal is not to train them to pass state competency exams rather it is to help them lay a solid academic foundation on which they can build the future they will be learning to envision for themselves. Once they have that academic foundation they can begin the wonderful and fun journey of discovery of who they are, what they can be, and where they can go in life.

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

Think back on your own teachers. Could they have envisioned the world in which you are now asked to teach. The world has undergone such phenomenal change that if our deceased grandparents and educators were able to drop down today they would be overwhelmed by a world that is nothing like the one they knew.

Our job is to make certain our children are always moving forward from one stage of their individual development to the next, irrespective of what their classmates are doing. We must not prepare them for college because college may not be what they will someday want and need to find joy and meaning in their lives. The last thing we must do is allow them to become discouraged, to give up, and to lose hope. We want them to be excited about the adventure and we need to be excited to be their guide, coach, mentor and friend

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

We cannot wait until kids reach middle school and have become so far behind that they have given up and lost hope. Certainly, we must help the children we find at this tragic point in their young lives but it is not where our overall focus must be. Instead, we must focus on children in grades K-2 and makes sure they never fall behind because we have given them a foundation upon which they can construct their own future.

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

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

 

My education model has been developed to allow such a future to evolve and I encourage you to examine it with an open mind. If you are inspired by what you find, as a number of readers have been, I urge you to share it with as many of colleagues as you can. Imagine what it would be like to teach in such an environment. You will find my model and an accompanying white paper at https://melhawkinsandassociates.com/education-model-white-paper/ 

In a few months, I will be releasing a new book focused on the model and what it will allow us to accomplish. More important, it will focus on what we can enable our students to accomplish so they can take their place in a troubled world where their knowledge and imagination will be desperately needed.

 

Most Recent Posts from February 16 through April 15

You are invited to check out the most recent posts on my blog, Education, Hope, and the American Dream,

4/15:  Who is @melhawk46 and What Is His Agenda?

3/31:  What Are We Teaching Kids When We Repeatedly Accept Less than their Best?

3/26:  A Letter to Superintendents & Advocates for Equality in Education for Children of Color and for the Disadvantaged

3/23:  Sacrificing Purpose for Administrative or Organizational Efficiency

3/12:  Quadrilateral Pegs through the Round Holes of Public Education

3/8:  An Important Message to our Nation’s Heroes!

3/8:  The Performance Gap Between Black and White students: the Civil Rights Issue of our Time – A Refrain

3/3:  How the Littlest Thing Can Constrain One’s Ability to Do One’s Job!

2/27:  “Something Incredible is Waiting to be Known!”

2/21:  Learning Is an Adventure of Discovery!

2/18:  A Minefield of Distractions or a new Education Model

2/16:  What If We Were Starting from Scratch?

 

It’s All About the Kids!!!!

 

 

What Makes Teaching Such a Difficult Job?

Imagine any job where the people who arrive at your workplace are so lacking in the skills needed to be successful in your unit that training them seems problematic. Imagine, further that the people you work with or serve, capable or not, are unmotivated to perform the work or activity that is expected of them; are unwilling or unable to conform to acceptable standards of behavior; have families that may or not be supportive or, in some cases, may actually interfere with what you are striving to accomplish; and, that the most important influence in the lives of the people for whom you are responsible is their peer group. If they must choose who to disappoint it will be you and/or their families, not their friends.

Your education and training suggests many management and supervisory strategies that work in some settings but seem to be meaningless in others. You have also been taught that some individuals need more patient time and attention in order to learn from the mistakes they make but in far too many settings there is insufficient time to give them. Part of the problem is that you are expected to conform to arbitrary schedules that require that you reach certain checkpoints within a predetermined period of time. You are also expected to comply with arbitrary standards of performance and production that appear to have been written by someone who has never actually done your job.

These arbitrary schedules, standards, and production goals might even appear to make sense in the abstract but when applied to your assigned work space and to the unique characteristics of the people to whom you are assigned, they make no sense at all. These challenges, viewed in the aggregate, are difficult enough but imagine that your work will be inspected, routinely, as will the production results of your people. It would be one thing if these inspections and production reports were adaptive to the performance capabilities of your work group but, of course, they are not. Rather, your efforts are evaluated within the context of what we are told is an even playing field that is as arbitrary as are the schedules, standards, and objectives against which you and your people’s performance is measured.

If this was not bad enough, imagine that when your results fail to meet arbitrary expectations, you are asked to accept responsibility. When the results in your unit are particularly disparate when compared to other workplaces filled with people with a diverse range of capabilities, imagine that you are asked to bear the brunt of blame.

Finally, when you are evaluated by your leaders, imagine that they view their job not so much as a support system to help you achieve your objectives but rather as an inspector to police your performance, seeking evidence that what you are doing is wrong or insufficient.

Imagine the evaluation coming to a crushing crescendo when you are told that the problem is that you are not sufficiently engaged with your people and that you need to work harder to build relationships with them. There seems to be little, if any, recognition that building relationships with each and every one of the individuals for whom you are responsible requires that you allocate more time; time that has not been allocated to you.

Imagine that when you strive to improve your level of engagement, although a few individuals may actually respond, that some of your people, if not the majority, are far more challenging than others and not only require more time and attention than you are able to give them but actually resist your efforts.

The icing on the cake or, more appropriately the thorns in your crown, is that, at the end of an arbitrary period of time, you are assigned responsibility for a whole new group of people with which one of your colleagues has had a similar results. This requires that you start from scratch and go through the same process over and over, again, with no reason to anticipate better outcomes.

Can you imagine any way the job you are being asked to do will produce quality outcomes, given the inherent deficiencies in the process?

The challenge is that the production, assembly, or service delivery process within which you are expected to work is neither tasked, structured, nor resourced to enable you to provide your people—a group with a diverse range of personalities and capabilities—with the time and attention they require to be successful.

When you suggest to your leadership that what you are being asked to do does not work for all or part of your people you are told to “work harder.” They tell us that, “This is the reality with which we are expected to deal,” and that “we must suck it up and do our best without complaining.”

If you and your colleagues are sufficiently brave to ask the questions “What about my well-being?” and “How am I supposed to find any job satisfaction in such conditions?” imagine that your leaders look at you as if you are speaking an alien language.

Finally, when you commiserate with your colleagues in the staff lounge, over a drink in a neighborhood bar, or at your union or association meetings nothing ever changes. Oh, forget what I said about sharing a drink in a neighborhood bar. You have work to take home! There is no time for a drink however much you might feel you need it.

If you want to hear the final irony it is that this environment in which you are asked to perform miracles, mirrors the environment that your students must endure, like a parallel universe. The difference is that, unlike you and your colleagues, many of your students do not care. They feel free to take the easy way out and just stop trying. This enables them to spend their eight hours a day, five days a week looking for ways to have fun and make your lives more interesting in what they perceive to be a consequence-free environment. It will only be later in life that they will discover how wrong they were about the lack of consequences.

My recommendation to you—and, yes, I know I’m an outsider—is to go beyond pondering the absurd idea that their must surely be a better way and ask your union and association leaders help tackle the challenge of finding a new solution. I can assure you that there is always a better way but all the complaining in the world will not help you find it. You might also consider going to outsiders like me who have been paid to find solutions to other dysfunctional workplaces very much like yours.

Consultants like me have the advantage of being able to step back to a point from which we can view your work place as an integral whole and apply the principles of positive leadership, systems thinking, and organizational development to find all of the “disturbances in the force” that make production, assembly, or service-delivery processes like yours dysfunctional. Software engineers do exactly the same thing in their very specialized field working with computer applications.

As it happens, I have the added advantage of having actually walked in the shoes of public school teachers while working as a substitute teacher in a diverse, local public school district. In fact, I have already applied my 45+ years of expertise and experience, along with two master’s degrees, to examine the education process I observed and to reinvent it to achieve the outcomes we are seeking.

I can tell you with absolute confidence that the education process I have developed, if implemented as an integral system, will work to create an environment in which your students can actually learn and in which teachers can find job satisfaction and take pride in their work. I will also tell you, with absolute confidence, that mine is not the only solution; there is always another way. The advantage of my re-invented education process is that the work is already done and needs only a little tweaking.

I suggest that you use the education model I have developed as a point of embarkation. Use it as a tool to help you challenge the fundamental logic and assumptions of the existing education process and begin to view it objectively as just that, a complex organizational process with which we are expected to teach our nation’s children.

Maybe you will discover your own solution and maybe you will come to believe that my model will work. At least you will be moving forward rather being stuck in complaint mode, where nothing ever changes. Beware of the temptation to take the easy route, however, and drift away from systemic solutions and opt for incremental reforms with new strategies and technologies. The latter are probably good ideas but I can assure you they will not work within the context of an obsolete education process.

In an earlier piece I used the parable of “new wine in old wineskins” to illustrate that the new ideas and technologies, however inventive, will not work within the context of an obsolete process. This is the reality you have today and you know in your heart that not only does what you are asked to do not work, you know that it cannot work. Even in some of our highest performing public schools there are students we cannot seem to reach.

You can visit my website at www.melhawkinsandassociates.com where you can examine my education model and an accompanying white paper, as well as my blog, Education, Hope and the American Dream with more than 150 articles about the challenges in public education and about the false promise of current education reforms.

You will also have access to my books, the most appropriate of which will be The Difference is You: Power of Positive Leadership, based on my many years of organizational leadership and consulting experience and my book on education, Reinventing Education, Hope, and the American Dream: The Challenge For Twenty-First Century America (REHAD). While the book has much to offer and I would never discourage anyone from reading REHAD, please know that I am now writing a follow-up book as I have learned a great deal from all of you over the 5-year period sense the REHAD was published. An expanded version of this blog post is one of the chapters in my new book.

Thank you, educators, for the heroic work you do and please cling to the hope that better days will come if you reach out for them. Here is a simple test of whether or not there is reason to hope. Do believe children are capable of learning? Do you believe you are capable of teaching? If you believe both are true then the reason your students are not learning has to do with the process, not the people. Fix the process so that it supports learning and teaching in every conceivable way and both you and your students will be successful and you will have the job you envisioned when you chose to enter the profession.

An Open Letter to Jason Riley at The Wall Street Journal

Thank you for your column in the Wall Street Journal, “Do Black Students Need White Peers?” There are several issues in your column to which I want to respond.

The direct answer to your question is, “No, But.”

Black students do not need to have white children in their schools and classrooms in order to learn and I will elaborate on this point, below. The “But” part, however, is that all children benefit from being in in schools and classrooms with a diverse population of children. I believe diversity benefits every human being, whatever their age or venue.

The second point to address is the “Choice” movement with its focus on charters schools and vouchers. While I have nothing against charter schools, it is a myth that they always perform at a higher level than public schools. The data shows that while there are many successful charter schools, there are many that underperform when compared to the public schools they were intended to replace.

My biggest problem with the education reform movement focused on “choice” is that it is suggested that this is the solution to improving the quality of education in America; that it will end the performance gap between black and white children; or, that it will improve our nation’s ability to compete in the world marketplace. None of these assertions are true.

Having the best product or service in the world means nothing unless you are able to deliver it to customers. Any solution must be logistically feasible and it is simply not feasible to believe that we can solve the issue of the quality of American education with a handful of charters schools scattered in communities throughout the U.S. It would take us generations to create a sufficient number of charters schools to meet the needs of millions of American children and we cannot wait that long.

Besides, we already have school buildings in every community in the nation, all staffed with qualified teachers, trained in the same colleges and universities in which most charter school teachers were educated. The problem with both private and public education in America is that the education process that is utilized to teach our children has been obsolete for most of our lifetimes.

It is not the school building that makes the difference and it is not the teachers that are the problem. The only thing that makes a difference is what we do in our classrooms–what we ask of our teacher–wherever it is located. The sad but undeniable truth is that the education process in place in American public schools has not changed, materially, for as long as anyone can remember while the world into which our children are born has changed exponentially. The education process does not work for disadvantaged children and I believe the current education process does a disservice to even students on the upper end of the performance continuum.

The failure of the education process is not because teachers are incompetent and not because they do not care. The vast majority of American public school teachers are unsung heroes striving to do a difficult job under nearly impossible circumstances. My only complaint of teachers is that they have been blamed for the problems in our schools for so long that they have grown defensive when they should be banging on the table and yelling that what they are being asked to do does not work.

The real problem in our schools is that education leaders whether principals, superintendents, college professors, or policy makers are not under the same pressure, as their counterparts in a business environment, to relentlessly challenge their assumptions and to question whether they are meeting the needs of their customers.

The longer we delay fixing this obsolete education process the more young Americans will be forced to endure failure. We cannot afford to waste a single child and neither can our nation afford the incalculable opportunity cost that these children represent. Public education is the civil rights issue of our time and is at the root of all of our nation’s social and political problems. That so many people are so poorly educated that they are unable to bear the responsibilities of citizenship is why so many other Americans have grown bitter and resentful. The bitterness and resentment in the hearts of people for whom the American Dream is not real burns every bit as deeply.

The irony is that reinventing the education process to meet the needs of every American child is a relatively easy thing to do if education leaders, advocates, and policy makers would simply open their minds and hearts to the idea that their might be a better way.

As I have written, so often, the education process is no different than a production, assembly, or service-delivery process in the business world. Neither is it different than an application software. It is simply a logical process designed by human beings to produce a desired outcome. Such processes are altered, reinvented, and re-engineered with regularity in the private sector because businesses must respond to the dissatisfaction of their customers and to the dynamic changes in the expectations of those customers. Reinventing a process to produce a better outcome is a routine necessity in the private sector. In public education, and in many other public venues, such reinventions seem to be beyond the imagination of our leaders.

There is an axiom in operations management that 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 must be replaced. We must go back to the drawing board. Just as in any other venue, a process must be focused on its purpose to such a degree that every single activity must be judged on the basis of how well it serves that purpose and how well it supports the people on whom one relies to do the job. The same is true for teaching kids.

In her book, The Flat World and Education: How America’s Commitment to Equity Will Determine Our Future, Linda Darling-Hammond makes the same point when she wrote:

“A business world maxim holds that ‘every organization is perfectly structured to get the results that it gets.’ A corollary is that substantially different results require organizational redesign, not just incentives for staff to try harder with traditional constraints.”

In American public education we have not reinvented the education process in generations, and no, just providing new and more sophisticated tools is not sufficient. The education process is not focused on the needs of students and it sets them up for failure and humiliation.

When young children show up for their first day of school the disparity in terms of their academic preparedness is cavernous. Yet teachers are expected to move kids along, from year to year, marching to the beat of a given state’s academic standards—common core or not—at relatively the same pace. As children begin to fall behind because they need more time to learn a given lesson, they are pushed ahead, ready or not. The teacher records a low or failing score in their gradebook and it’s off to the next lesson. In many subject areas, the child’s ability to learn a new lesson requires that he or she be able to apply what they have learned on previous lessons. As a result, the probability that a child who has fallen behind will fail, yet again, increases.

If you examine state competency scores in any state you will find that by the third grade, only about a third of disadvantaged students can pass both the English Language Arts and mathematics components of those exams. By the time those students reach middle school the percentage of those same kids who are able to pass both ELA and math exams has dropped to 25 percent or less. What we are teaching these kids is how to fail. School districts may boast of high graduation rates but an unacceptable number of those diplomas are worthless pieces of paper.

As it happens, I administer the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB) to young men and women who wish to enlist in the military. Most of these young people who take the ASVAB for enlistment purposes are recent high school grads or high school seniors. The minimum score for enlistment eligibility in the Army, for example, is a percentile score of 31, meaning that 30 percent of the candidates are not eligible for enlistment. (Some services have higher eligibility requirements).

ASVAB scores for blacks and other minorities mirrors the performance of middle school students on state competency exams that I referenced above. If one is unable to qualify for even the least desirable jobs in the military, for how many civilian jobs will they be qualified? So much for 80 to 90 percent graduation rates. It’s not the diploma that matters it is how one can apply in the real world that which they learned in school.

The sad but compelling truth is that this has been going on for more than a half century and, as a result, our poor urban and rural communities throughout America are filled with multiple generations of men and women who have always been poor and who all failed in school, diplomas notwithstanding. Many are dependent on their government, to the great resentment of other Americans. Why, because the education process has never been designed with the same rigorous focus on the needs of its students or to support teachers in meeting those needs.

It doesn’t need to be this way but no one wants to listen. We can alter this reality for all time as easily as we can alter a production process at a manufacturing facility or re-engineer the software of a computer application.

I invite you to check out my website where you will find an education model I have developed at https://melhawkinsandassociates.com/education-model-white-paper/

I, also, invite you to check out my blog, “Education, Hope, and the American Dream” where I have posted over 150 articles on the subject of public education and the challenge of meeting the needs of disadvantaged students, a disproportionate percentage of whom are black and other children of color.

For nearly 5 years I have been seeking a public school corporation willing to test my education model in just one of its underperforming elementary schools to demonstrate that we can teach every child to be successful and insure that no child fails. I have had no takers.

Since it takes 13 years to get a new Kindergarten student through high school, every year we delay creates a whole new generation of young Americans with no choices of what to do with their lives to find joy, to support a family, or to participate in their own governance as a well-informed citizen of a democratic society.

How long are we willing to accept an avoidable tragedy that destroys millions of young lives and that jeopardizes the future of our society?

No Quick Fixes or Simpler Times

One mass shooting after another has our nation reeling in grief and disbelief, prompting people to call out for action. “We need to fix this!” some people shout. “It’s time for action!” others proclaim.

Listen carefully!

There are no quick fixes and there will never be a return to simpler times.

The problems of our nation are fundamental and have evolved over many generations. They are rooted in the deep economic, cultural, sociological, emotional, ecological, and political issues that divide us as a people.

These differences that divide us as a people result from a huge population of Americans who are embittered and angry because the American dream is not and has never been real for the vast majority of their children. It results from black Americans for whom the promise of the Emancipation Proclamation and the Civil Rights Acts of the 1960s and beyond have not been kept.

These difference also result from a huge population of Americans who are angry and embittered because they are being asked to support millions of dependent Americans whom they view, rightly or wrongly, as unwilling to support themselves. It results from the propensity of so many Americans to feel their prejudices are justified.

These differences have damaged some individuals spiritually and psychologically to the point that they seem compelled to strike out in futile anger at the world and at innocent men, women, and children; with mass shootings having become their fashion of our times

People want to return to simpler times when values were clear; when it was clear who was in charge; when most of us looked alike, at least with the color of our skin; and when the political issues of the day were such that republicans and democrats were able to come together and find solutions with which both sides could live.

Times will never be simpler than they are today and our society will never be less diverse. It is only a matter of a few short decades when white Americans will be a minority population. The combination of our nation’s poor who depend on our government for economic support and the baby-boomer population that is rushing into retirement will place unprecedented pressure on those who work to keep our economy productive.

The complexity of the world marketplace, political jigsaw puzzle, growing world population, and the changing environment are of an unprecedented breadth and scope and will not respond to the policies and ideologies of the 20th Century. We are now in the 21st Century and we have only gotten a glimpse of the changes on the political, economic, social, cultural, and ecological horizon as this 21st Century unfolds before us. What we need are fresh solutions, new and innovative ideas, open minds and imaginations, and a new appreciation that we are all in this together.

No matter how hard we think we are working to find solutions to the issues of this new century nothing we will do can possibly work unless they meet the needs of every single one of us. There can no longer be a “we” and “them,” republicans and democrats, liberals and conservatives, “free-marketers” and socialists. There are just too many of us and every action any of us take, unilaterally, will cause a series of reactions that will reverberate across the sea of our world’s population; not like ripples on a pool rather like a series of tsunamis across the oceans of the planet.

We must start by addressing the fundamental issues of American society within the context of a democracy in which everyone counts or no one counts. It must begin with the way we educate our children.

We can no longer accept an education process that lumps our children together and pushes them along an academic path that expects them all to arrive at the same place at the same time.

We can no longer tolerate and education process that is structured to support the convenience of educators while ignoring the unique needs of a diverse population of our nation’s children.

We can no longer permit an education process that ignores the reality that all young children need a rich and nurturing environment in which their relationships are more important than what we do with them. We must understand that it is only through our relationships with them that we can give them that which is important.

We can no longer ignore the fact that the world-wide-web has made peer influence more powerful than it has ever been at any time in the history of mankind and that has become more powerful than the influence of either family or our schools, working independently. The only hope we have of remaining the most powerful influence in the lives of our children is for families and schools to work together as partners.

We must no longer be willing to forgive educators for sending one class of our nation’s children after another out into the world so inadequately prepared for the responsibilities of citizenship and so poorly equipped to support their families and to compete in the economic marketplace.

Neither can we continue to place the blame for the problems of our systems of public education on the shoulders of the men and women who are asked to teach our children in the midst of an education process that works for neither the teacher nor the child. Our public school teachers are heroes but they must be challenged to break out of their encapsulation and change their paradigms.

However distasteful it may seem to some Americans, we must find an economic solution that can feed, provide power, house, educate, and provide for the health of not only a burgeoning and more diverse population of Americans but also what will soon be the ten or more billions of people on this planet. How are we going to respond to the next great plague that will erupt across the world and devastate a population of people with no immunity to protect them?

I challenge all of you to consider the following as an analogy for every aspect of human life on the planet Earth: “how do we feed ten billion or more people on free-range chickens?”

These problems are too big for there to be any quick fixes and we can only control that which is within our power to control.

For the United States of America, it must begin with the way we educate our children and it must begin in our public schools. Surely it must be as obvious for public school teachers to see that what they are doing is not working as it is obvious that charter schools cannot provide a quality education for our nation’s fifty million children between the ages of 6 and 17 years of age.

I offer an education model that is designed to give our nation’s children what they need so that each and every one of them learns as much as they can as quickly as they are able and in which no level of failure can be tolerated. Our system of public education must not be structured as if it is a competition but rather as a training camp to prepare our children to complete once they leave school and enter society as adults. I urge you to examine my model with an open mind looking for reasons to hope that it might work rather than searching for reasons why it will not.

You will find the model at https://melhawkinsandassociates.com/education-model-white-paper/

I do not suggest that this the only education model that will work. If you don’t like what you read you are challenged to develop a better education model.

What you must not do is think for a single moment that you can fix that which is broken in our society by protests or by hoping that somehow we can legislate a change in the hearts of humanity. What you must not do is think that we can solve our problems by continuing to do what we have done it the past. Where we are today is a function of all that we have done in the past.

I understand how powerless many of us feel but we are powerless for only as long as we work alone. If we want solutions we must latch on to a positive idea and do everything within our power to put wings on that dream.

The only thing that we can do, unilaterally, is to pray that we will be granted the wisdom to find a path to the future that unites us as a people rather than divide us any further than we are already divided. We can pray that we will all rally around a positive idea. The only way to improve the future is to improve the way we prepare our children.

It’s all about the kids!