Should not our Schools Be Set Up On the Basis of How Children Learn?

One of the principles of Positive Leadership is to challenge people to re-think their underlying assumptions about why we do what we do. Education in America provides a perfect example of a system or education process that demands a complete re-examination.

Think about how children learn to walk or ride a bike. Children learn these things very much the same way they learn almost everything else. We provide lots of encouragement and many opportunities to practice whatever it is they are striving to learn. We understand that some children learn more quickly than others and, when we are teaching them to walk or ride a bike, we do not push them to learn any more quickly than they are able. We know that the only thing that matters is that they do learn.

When children make a mistake while learning to walk or ride a bike, they fall down. When that happens, we pick them up, we comfort them, give them a hug or a kiss, dust them off, and we encourage them to try again. When they finally get it, we celebrate their accomplishment just like we celebrate all victories. Victory is just another word for success.

What we don’t do is tally the number of times they fall, nor do we diminish the degree to which we celebrate their ultimate success based on the number of mistakes they made along the way. We also do not push them ahead before they are ready.

If we are helping two children learn how to ride a bike, simultaneously, and one child catches on more quickly, we do not stop working with the child who is struggling and tell them time is up. Neither do we push the second child to take off in pursuit. We certainly do not start teaching both children more advanced skills, rather, we give each the attention they need appropriate to their progress.

We continue to work with the child who struggles and we do so patiently, providing lots of support and encouragement. Once both children are riding proficiently, we do not remind the latter child that their counterpart learned more quickly, nor do we celebrate the quicker child’s success more lavishly. The reality is that, once both have learned, one rides every bit as good as the other and has just as much fun. Once one masters a skill, it no longer matters, in the least, that one student took longer to learn than another.

Now, think about how we teach children in many of our schools. We present a lesson to the entire class and we encourage them to practice, both at school and at home. We call it homework, not practice. The next day, we gather up all the homework and we review the most common mistakes that students make to help them learn from their mistakes. We, then, require our teachers to do one or more of three things that are incomprehensible when you think about it.

The first is that we do not, routinely, give struggling students whatever extra time they need to understand their mistakes. If they are to acquire a sufficient level of mastery of the subject matter to demonstrate to us that they understand and can use the knowledge or skill, proficiently, they must have time to learn from all their mistakes, even the uncommon ones.

Secondly, teachers will either record the grades of their students’ practice assignments or give or withhold credit for those assignments. They, then, factor a students’ scores/credits into their final grade at the end of the grading period, which often influences their grades at the end of a semester or school year.

The third unfathomable thing teachers are expected to do is require struggling students to move on to the next lesson in a textbook or syllabus, ready or not. It is as if the designers of the education process did not consider that for students to understand many lessons, they must be able to apply what they have learned on previous lessons. Teachers are expected to let their students advance without the prerequisite knowledge and understanding they will need.

The fact that one or more of our students is poorly prepared for the next lesson might trouble us, but the expectation of the education process and entire American educational system is that we move everyone along to make sure we cover, within arbitrary time frames, all of the material identified by the educational standards that drive our curricula and our competency testing process.

It was not always this way. When we first began teaching children, in a classroom setting, the only thing that mattered was whether each child learned as much as they were able at their own best speed. How, along the way from the early days of public schools until now, did we gravitate away from a focus on individual student achievement to an environment where we judge schools and teachers based on whether their classrooms are on an acceptable pace with respect to academic standards?

We also label the students who learned more quickly and successfully as “A”  or “B” students or “honor” students and, we label the slower kids as “C”, “D”, or even “F” students. We may or may not feel some sense of concern that these labels may follow our students well into the future, but that is what is expected of teachers. We ask teachers to shove aside their reticence and plunge ahead.

If we look closely and carefully, we will probably be able to tell that the kids we have labeled as “A” or “B” students seem to be having more fun and demonstrate more enthusiasm for learning than their “C, D, or F” classmates. Certainly they enjoy more success. In fact, it does not take long before it becomes clear that the latter group of children is having no fun at all and are demonstrating a diminished enthusiasm for learning. Oh, well, as the saying goes, “it is what it is!”

We observe this fully understanding that it is as much fun to learn successfully as it is demoralizing to fail repeatedly. How often do we refuse to play a game at which we habitually lose? How can one learn how to be successful without experiencing success?

If we were to examine this practice from a positive leadership perspective, what an educator, school principal, school superintendent, or educational policy maker would do would be to step back and begin to question what we are doing and why. These positive leaders would begin to challenge some of their assumptions.

The truth is that every time we push a child on to a next lesson before they are ready we are setting him or her up for failure. It is this practice, as much as anything else we do, that leads to an unhealthy focus on failure throughout our entire system of education.

If you are reading this post, you are challenged to begin questioning the fundamental assumptions of your leaders and policy makers.

You are also invited to examine an education model in which all these issues have been examined and where the way we have structured teachers and classrooms, and the way we  teach kids, has been re-envisioned. The result is an environment where we give our students the time and attention they need to learn every lesson and we evaluate teachers on how well they focus on that priority. It is amazing how, when we expand our paradigms, the possibilities multiply.

Is The Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Dream Complete?

In advance of an appearance by his son, Martin Luther King III, an editorial about the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., appeared in Sunday, June 2nd’s, Fort Wayne Journal Gazette. The headline: “A dream left incomplete.” In addition to asking the son to provide personal insights about his father, the column pondered, “But what did King really accomplish? What would MLK Jr say is still left undone?”

 Although MLK, Jr. is the acknowledged leader of the civil rights movement he was only one of the many heroes who labored to bring an end to discrimination in America. Had it not been for their courage and sacrifices,  the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and 1968, the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and other civil rights legislation might have been long in coming.

MLK III, is quoted as saying, “No one possibly could have projected that we would be going backward instead of forward,” referencing “the turmoil over immigration and political discourse that encourages hostility and racism and distorts the truth.”

The challenge for America, today, is to address the question, “why has so little progress been made to make black Americans and other minorities full and equal partners in American society, whether economically or politically?” The question demands  a frank an unapologetic examination.

The answer, this author believes, is that the protests and sacrifices of the civil rights movement and the subsequent civil rights legislation over the past 55 years have given black and other minority Americans the right to equal opportunity but not the means to take full advantage of those opportunities.

How does one acquire the means to take advantage of opportunities? The answer is education.

It is time to stop playing the blame game and acknowledge, once and for all, that the education process that has been in place in our schools has failed to serve the interests of disadvantaged children for as long as any of us can remember.  Over the generations, we have become inured to the failure of black and other minority children and have been willing to take the easy path by blaming poverty, segregation, public schools, and teachers. When are we going to acknowledge the obvious, that what we are asking our teachers and schools to do does not work for all?

We must also acknowledge that there are some Americans who are content to believe that the documented performance of the disadvantaged is the best that we can expect from these whole populations of children. This is an outrageous assertion that must be put behind us, permanently.

Similarly, we must stop blaming teachers and our public schools. Teachers cannot make an obsolete education process work for every child any more than you or I can quickly and efficiently mow an acre of overgrown grass with an unmotorized push mower from the early 1950s. That so many children have received a good education, notwithstanding the flawed education process within which our teachers have had to work, is an extraordinary accomplishment.

That our education leaders, policy makers, and elected officials have allowed so many children to languish  over multiple generations cannot be undone. Neither can we turn back the clock and absolve millions of teachers of the blame we have been so willing to heap on their shoulders and reputations. What we can and must do is bring this tragedy to a halt, now!

Continuing to rely on a brittle and antiquated education process that does not work for millions of our nation’s children—our most precious assets—is as irresponsible as it would have been to allow hundreds of Boeing 737s to continue flying after we discovered the existence of a fatal flaw in their systems. Unlike those Boeing737s, however, we can not change out a software application to correct the problems of education in America.

Can you think of any other venue where we have been so willing to endure products and services of such unacceptable quality? If an automaker produced vehicles that broke down as often as students fail in our schools would we keep buying their cars? If a restaurant in our neighborhood consistently produced bad breakfasts, lunches, and, dinners would we keep going back?

To fix the fatal flaws of America’s schools and give teachers an  education process that will provide every single one of our nation’s children with the means to take advantage of the opportunities to which they have an equal right, we must be willing to reinvent the education process from scratch. It must be reconstructed to serve its essential purpose, not in a few special schools but in every school, serving every community in America.

We must begin by changing the question we ask ourselves. Rather than ask “Why do so many children fail?” the question we must begin to ask is “Why do some children excel despite the disadvantages they face?”

What are the lessons to be learned from the exceptions to the norm? Could it be that, given the right circumstances, even disadvantaged kids can achieve at a high academic level? The challenge is to figure out how to replicate those “right circumstances” in every classroom, for every student.

The dream of which Dr, Martin Luther King, Jr, spoke with such eloquence is not complete and will not be complete until every child receives the quality education to which they are entitled.  Giving them that education requires that we abandon our obsolete education process and go back to the drawing board to create a process that works for all.

Creating such a process is what I have labored to do since I had the opportunity to see, first-hand, the challenges with which our teachers and students must deal. I witnessed those challenges while walking in the shoes of public school teachers as a substitute teacher. The outcome of my efforts is an education model designed to focus on its essential purpose, which is to insure that every student receives the unique time and attention they need to learn as much as they are able at their own best speed. This is the what teachers must be tasked to do and my model is crafted to support teachers and students in fulfillment of that essential purpose. Please check out my model at https://melhawkinsandassociates.com/education-model-white-paper/

It is on the public education that the future of our nation’s children depends, and it is on our children that the future of America depends.

Differentiation: An Essential Variable in the Education Equation

One of the essential variables that is missing from the education equation in America is differentiation.

When they begin school, we do not treat each five- or six-year-old boy and girl as unique little people with respect to their characteristics, challenges, and potential. Neither do we adapt the academic standards to which we teach nor the individual lesson plans with which teachers must work to serve each child. Instead, the education process often impedes the ability of teachers to attend to children, individually.

Teachers go to great lengths to help their students negotiate the challenging academic pathway along which all of them are directed but there is only so much they can do, particularly if they teach in schools that are attended by disadvantaged children.

In addition to a host of disparities that exist, their personality impacts the ability of children to form nurturing and enduring relationships with their teachers and the likelihood that they will find their place within the community of students in their classrooms. What kind of social skills do they possess? Is there anything about them that stands out and attracts either the positive or negative attention of their classmates? Are they among that population of children who are the most difficult to love but who need it the most? Children who are different in some obvious way need the help of their teacher to negotiate not only the complex academic pathways but also the social minefields that exist in even Kindergarten classrooms.

Having a sense of belonging can change the course of a child’s entire life. Teachers who are overwhelmed by challenging classrooms will find it difficult if not impossible to attend to the needs of these vulnerable boys and girls. And no, it is not enough that teachers bond with a few of their students.

It is one of the great ironies of the human condition that children think learning is fun until they begin their formal education. It is the first few years of school that will determine how many of these young lives will be lost to society. Make no mistake, the unmotivated and disruptive students we meet in middle school and high school lost their way during their first few years of school, if not their first few months. These are the children with whom teachers were unable to form enduring relationships in Kindergarten and first grade. These are the children who were the hardest to love but who needed it the most.

Somehow, we must shake education leaders and policy makers of education in America with enough force that they see the folly of the learning environments they create for their students and teachers. For every child that we lose in their first few months of school there will be consequences, both for the children and society. There is also an incalculable opportunity cost associated with each child who falls off the conveyor belt that is education in America. The boys and girls who will someday end up in prison, on drugs, or who will suffer early, violent deaths might have had the potential to achieve greatness had we created an education model and learning environment crafted to meet their unique requirements.

How many more young lives can we afford to squander and how long are we willing to let this tragedy to continue? How many teachers are we willing let flee the profession because they are unable to give kids what they need?

When children arrive for their very first day of school, they are at one of the most vulnerable points of their lives. They need to feel safe, loved, and important. These are the things that allow the development of a healthy self-esteem. It is insufficient that teachers strive to identify and respond to the unique needs of each of their students—and indeed they do—the education process and the way teachers, students, and classrooms are organized must be crafted to support that essential variable of a child’s education: differentiation. We are not just teaching children to pass annual competency examinations, we are preparing them to be responsible citizens of a participatory democracy.

What we teach and how we teach it must, also, differentiate with respect to the reality that our children do not all learn the same way and are not all preparing for the same futures. Some will be going on to college, some to vocational schools, others to the military or directly into the work force. In some cases, they are preparing for careers and endeavors that do not exist, today, and that we cannot envision. Our job, as education leaders and teachers is to help them acquire an academic foundation that, as their unique talents and abilities are revealed, will allow them to choose their own destinations; to strike out in any direction.

If we are helping them learn the things they will need to develop their unique potential; to discover their special talents and abilities; to formulate and begin to pursue their dreams for the future; to fulfill the responsibilities of citizenship in a participatory democracy; and to be able to control most of the outcomes in their lives, a healthy self-esteem will prove to be more important than what they know. With a solid academic foundation, a healthy self-esteem, and active imaginations they will be able to learn whatever they need to know.

This tragedy need not continue. We can go back to the drawing board and reinvent the education process to produce the outcomes we seek. This is what I have striven to accomplish in the development of my education model and I urge you to take time to read it, not seeking reasons why it won’t work rather striving to imagine what it would be like to teach in such an environment. My model is available for your review at https://melhawkinsandassociates.com/education-model-white-paper/

What If We Change the Way We Keep Score for Both Teachers and Students?

In this last segment of our series of articles in examination of the performance gap we will shift our focus to taking action.

A year or so ago, actor Michael J. Fox put out a poster that challenged educators. It said:

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

We do not like to think of our classrooms as hostile environments, as envisioned by legal scholar Randall Robinson (see Part 1 of this series). Teachers work hard to make their classrooms as welcoming and interesting as possible.

The hostility Robinson describes is a function of a competitive environment in which we expect children, who arrive with any number of disadvantages, to compete on equal terms with children who have been primed for academic competition. We start all students off from the same point of departure even though the level of readiness of the students can only be described as cavernous.

That this disparity has a significant impact on the ability of some students to keep pace with others is a fact that we all know, intuitively, but are programmed to ignore.

Recall “5 Things Well-Meaning White Educators Should Consider If They Really Want to Close the Achievement Gap,” by Jamie Utt, published at his website at www.changefromwithin.org (see part 1).

The fifth thing Utt suggested that must be done, which we have modified, is:

“Envision and Create Schools Where People of Color are Centered (And Whiteness Is Not) and Where All Children Are Centered for Who They Are As Unique Individuals, Irrespective of Color, Language of Birth, Religious Tradition, Relative Affluence, or Sexual Orientation.”

This is far and away the most vital of the “5 Things” because this is one that is well within our power to control whether we are a school superintendent, school principal, or even a single teacher in a classroom.

One of the easiest ways this can be accomplished is by changing our expectations of teachers and the things for which they are held accountable. Rather than evaluate teachers on the percentage of children who achieve passing scores on annual standardized competency examinations, what if we were to evaluate them on the percentage of students who score 85 percent or better on short mastery quizzes following individual lesson plans?

The goal is that 100 percent of each teacher’s students achieve 85% or better on mastery quizzes following every individual lesson plan they are given. It does not matter whether every student earned 85% or better the first time they took a quiz or even the second or third. What matters is that they achieved mastery, that the student’s accomplishment is celebrated and rewarded, and that the teachers’ efforts are formally acknowledged.

Neither does it matter if some students, within a given grading period or semester, achieved mastery on two, five, ten or more lesson plans. What matters is that a student is not permitted to move on to a new lesson within a given area of subject matter until they have mastered the preceding lesson. Each lesson mastered is a success and each success is tallied and valued equally with every other success.

The single most powerful driver of the number of lessons a student is able to master is the level of confidence they have gained through repeated success, absent even the hint of failure.

Even within the current educational process, where we move everyone along the same path and test them on the same material each year, we have learned that by the time they finish the 12th grade they will all be at different levels of accomplishment. Some are off to college, some leave school illiterate or barely literate and are destined to a life of poverty or crime—probably both—and also a life of virtual disenfranchisement, and the rest fall somewhere in between.

Whatever their destination, what distinguishes graduates from one another is the strength of the foundation upon which their charted destinations are constructed.

What is better? Is it a student who was given 1000 lessons but failed 80 percent of them and is proficient in only 10 percent? Or, is it that they are proficient in each of the lessons they were given whether 100, 200, 500 or a thousand?

Even though we want to downplay the value of standardized testing as much as possible, NAEP (National Assessment of Educational Process) definitions bring the matter into brilliant focus. The NAEP defines “proficient level of academic performance” as:

“. . . 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 subject matter.” (The emphasis is mine.)

The crucial variable is that kids must be able to apply “such knowledge to real world situations. . . .” Ultimately their ability to utilize what they have learned is the only thing that matters. If they cannot use it effectively, they haven’t really learned it.

It is when students are unable to apply the knowledge and skills we strove to teach during 12 years of school that they are doomed to a life separate and apart from mainstream America. We like to blame poverty for this separation but poverty is the inescapable outcome that burdens adults who were unsuccessful in acquiring the skills necessary for life as a productive American citizen.

The fact that most of these kids and the adults they ultimately become are poor, black, or other minorities is not a coincidence. Neither is it a coincidence that many of these are folks for whom English is a second language or are illegal immigrants. The educational process is poorly designed to meet the needs of this fastest-growing population of American children.

The glaring and tragic truth is that these young people are set up to fail. It is bad enough that they are victims of a flawed educational process. Worse is the fact that the teachers into the hands of which these kids are entrusted are inadequately prepared, under-resourced, poorly supervised, and are held accountable for outcomes that are counter to the best interests of their students.

This is a reality that must be altered before it is too late. It is already too late for millions of Americans who were the victims of a dysfunctional system and every day we delay, more kids are lost.

All that we need to in order to change this reality for all time is to step back and evaluate the American educational process as an integral whole, re-examine our purpose and assumptions, and make a few structural changes in what we do on a daily basis the most important of which is nothing more than changing the way a game is scored.

As soon as we change the way we score success, players and coaches (teachers and principals) will begin developing strategies and structural designs to support the new objectives. There is nothing magical or mystical about this process. It is simply the way systems function within the context of organizations.

What stands in our way of bringing about such transformational change to education in America, whether public or private? Other than our intransigence, not one damn thing!

The reader is invited to read my book Reinventing Education, Hope, and the American Dream: The Challenge for Twenty-First Century America, where I offer a blueprint for bringing about the systemic changes we have discussed. The reader is also invited to check out the rest of this blog, Education, Hope, and the American Dream for a full discussion of how we can overcome the challenges of public education in America. I am not suggesting that the reader will find all of the right answers in my book and blog but they will find many of the right questions.

Both the blog and book can be found on my website at www.melhawkinsandassociates.com.

Part 2 of the Action component of our Strategic Action Plan to Reinvent Public Education – Engaging Parents and the Community

 

As we shift our focus to the community we must call on our political leaders for leadership, resell the American dream, and to educate all Americans on the paramount role of parents in improving the motivation to learn.

 

It would be so easy to stop at this point, thinking that our job is finished but, in reality, it has just begun. Education is simply a tool to help us prepare each new generation for the challenges our nation will face in an ever-more competitive world marketplace. It is a marketplace in which it will be impossible for us to compete, effectively, if we do not have the full participation of our entire citizenry. We simply must bring them on board.

 

As challenging and overwhelming as this may seem it is nothing more than an enormous marketing and advertising campaign to repackage and resell the American Dream. For all of the progress other economies have made with respect to their ability to compete with the U.S. we are still the unparalleled leader in marketing and advertising and we need to capitalize on this strength to re-engage every American to join their fellow citizens in rising to the challenges facing our nation. It is a perfect opportunity for African-Americans and other minorities to assume their rightful place as full partners in the American enterprise and in American society. We simply need to sell them on the idea that the time and the opportunities are prime.

 

The beauty of education is that nothing we do as a nation reaches into as many homes and as many families as our systems of education and it provides the perfect opportunity to not only transform public education but also to transform American society. It is an initiative in which the leaders of our school districts throughout the nation will be the point persons carrying the message of our political leadership. It is an initiative where our school superintendents and principals will be supported by leaders from government, professional athletics, entertainment, and the full spectrum of businesses. It is an initiative in which every single American man and woman will have a meaningful role to play.

 

What follows is the blueprint for action in the form of our final fourteen (14) action items.

 

 Action Item #20 – Our Presidents, present and future, must initiate and sustain a movement to re-sanctify the American dream, calling on leaders at every level of governments and business, and men and women in every community to believe in the American dream with their words and deeds and to ask American parents to accept responsibility for the education of their children. Further, that every American mother and father work hand-in-hand with their children’s teachers as full partners in the educational process. This is the categorical imperative of our time.

 

 Action Item #21 – Leaders at every level are challenged to ask parents everywhere, irrespective of race or economic circumstances: “Is your son or daughter a future President of the United States?  Is he or she a future CEO, physician, attorney, teacher, engineer, school superintendent, or other professional?” And then, those parents must be challenged to help their children achieve the best success of which they are capable.

 

  Action Item #22 – Educators accept that the over-riding objective must be to improve the motivation of students and that this requires the active partnership of the parents of those children. Toward this end, school boards need to re-establish expectations for their superintendents and principals to work toward this objective and determine how performance against those expectations will be evaluated.

 

  Action Item #23 – School Corporations must first target those segments of their community that are the lowest performing but no segment is to be overlooked.

 

  Action Item #24 – Educators must hit the streets using all available means to draw parents into their children’s schools and to engage those parents in the educational process. They must also work to enlist the assistance of community leaders toward that end and must hold themselves and their staffs accountable for the outcomes.

 

  Action Item #25 – Educational leaders must engage the creative energies of the entire community, including charitable foundations, for the purpose of developing and evaluating programs to help pull parents in as partners and to help them learn how to be effective in supporting the academic efforts of their children.

 

  In order to accomplish these objectives our school corporations must re-establish the expectations and priorities of principals and administrators.

 

 

  Action Item #26 – Superintendents must remove the administrative burdens from the shoulders of their principals, freeing them to devote their time and energy to their primary objective, even if it means employing more administrative support. Districts must create the expectations that principals and administrators spend 75 percent of their time in direct contact with parents, students, teachers, and staff.

 

  Action Item #27 – School Corporations must place a premium on positive leadership: Relying on positive leadership skills as the criteria for selection of principals and administrators and making real investments in ongoing leadership development for those principals and administrators.

 

  Finally, we must identify the communities with the greatest needs and we must use every tool and resource at our disposal to engage those communities and their leaders and to enlist their commitment to make education of our children the over-riding priority of every citizen. We must then replicate that process in each and every community in the nation.

 

 

 Action Item #28 – We need to call upon our presidents, present and future, to challenge celebrities from every venue, large and small, to make a commitment to public education by reaching out to their fan bases, asking them to accept responsibility for the education of their children. This challenge must be extended to every adult American, asking them to do whatever is within their power in order to make a difference.

 

  Action Item #29 – Initiate a cultural transformation using the African-America community as a model, on both a national and local front, in which black Americans, as a community:

  • Accept responsibility for their futures with no reliance on “The Man” to solve their problems for them;
  • Stop blaming the white people for the plight of blacks, whatever one’s opinion about the culpability of white society, simply because blaming others is a debilitating strategy;
  • Place a premium on education;
  • Raise expectations of black children in the classroom and relentlessly encourage our children to exceed those expectations;
  • Work as partners with our local school systems, both public and private, to support the teachers of our children.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 Action Item #30 – Local superintendents should encourage head start and other preschool programs in their school districts to redouble their efforts to pull parents into the process so that our children can continue at home the important work they do at their school.

 

 

 

 Action Item #31 – Superintendents of each district should establish a community advisory organization with representation from key members of each high school’s community: parents, churches, social and community organizations, neighborhood associations, and businesses. As noted earlier, these specific examples are specifically targeted at the African-American community because this is where the most glaring deficiencies can be found but they can easily be modified and local advisory organizations will tailor their activities to the unique requirements of their community. Examples of activities for which this organization will be responsible include:

 

 

 

  •          Reaching out to the community to solicit broad-based participation and support of the community;
  •          Asking all leaders of the African-American community to carry President Obama’s challenge into the homes of their community and to engage the community in the process of creating a new culture; one that challenges black children to assume their rightful place as players in the business and professional playing fields much as they have done in the world of professional athletics and entertainment;
  •          Brainstorming with people from across the spectrum of the community for innovative programs that will create the support systems necessary to facilitate this objective;
  •          Recruiting volunteers from among the ranks of professionals, business executives, craftsmen, tradesmen, athletes, and artists to reach out into the communities with which they have a connection and to connect with parents and students;
  •          Invite each school’s population of parents to a free lunch with their children, once per month;
  •          Using the same creative marketing techniques we use in promoting fundraising ventures, we can invite parents to workshops in the evenings or on Saturdays, to teach them how to help their children with homework;
  •          We can solicit parents to volunteer at their son or daughter’s school and, where necessary, we can enlist some of them to provide babysitting for those who have young children still at home;
  •         We can ask churches, neighborhood library branches, Boys and Girls Clubs, Big Brothers-Big Sisters, scout troops, and many other community programs to provide organized study, reading, and writing groups and to recruit tutors from among their ranks;
  •          We can find more creative ways to develop mentoring programs to bring young people into direct contact with men and women who demonstrate each and every day of their lives that success and achievement are within our power; and,
  • ·         We can ask families and neighbors of parents with school age children to support these parents in this process in every conceivable way.

 

 

 

 Action Item #32 – Successful men and women of each community should be challenged to reach back to their communities: to support the efforts of educators to pull parents in as partners in the educational process and/or to mentor to a child in need until there are not enough children to go around.

 

 

 

 Action Item #33 – Urge all Americans to give support and encouragement to the children in their lives: grandchildren, nieces and nephews, our children’s friends, kids from our neighborhood, even our own children. Let them know how important it is that they do their best and that we are rooting for them.

 

 

 

Conclusion

 

Fixing public education must be the categorical imperative of our time and the process will require the participation of the entire community. It is essential that parents be full partners in the educational process because these are the men and women who have the best chance of bringing a child to their first day of school, motivated to learn even in the face of the obstacles with which they will surely be confronted. If the child has wandered off the path, teachers and parents working together offer the best hope that these children can be redirected.

 

Improving the motivation to learn on the part of students and increasing their level of preparedness when they arrive for their first day of school must be the ultimate objective of every single thing we do and we must evaluate the efficacy of every program and investment on the basis of how well it services this purpose. We cannot afford to waste a single moment or dollar on things that do

 

We must also step back as educators, at all levels, to view our system of public education as an integral whole. We must apply a systems-thinking approach that will allow educators and policymakers to challenge their fundamental assumptions about public education; to understand how what we do contributes to the problem; and, ultimately, to re-engineer the system to do what we need it to do to optimize the power of a child’s motivation to learn. It must be a system focused on success that will help each child progress along their unique path at the best speed of which he or she is capable.

 

The entire educational community must reach out also to the current and future Presidents of the United States, urging them to fire the starter’s gun and lay down the challenge to every mother and father to accept responsibility for the education of their children and for partnering with their teachers and principals.

 

These things must be accomplished with an unprecedented urgency because the very future of our way of life is in jeopardy. If we fail to seize up this opportunity then the outcomes we will experience in the coming years will be decidedly unpleasant and we will have no one to blame but ourselves.

 

 

 

 

 

A Case for Action: Countering Misguided Reform Initiatives with a Plan to Transform Education in America!

Educational reform initiatives that have evolved since President George W. Bush’s “No Child Left Behind” Legislation have been gaining momentum and seem to be driven by the belief that public education in the U.S. is in a state of unprecedented crisis. These reformers insist that this crisis results, primarily, from of bad teachers and bad schools, all under the administrative control of local school districts that are poorly managed and unable to respond to the growing challenges for public education in Twenty-first Century America. Further, that even in school districts blessed with capable leadership, the efforts of these professionals are thwarted by teacher unions that make it difficult to respond to the performance issues of classroom teachers.

We believe that these reformers are wrong about everything except the existence of a crisis in public education, but it is a crisis of which these reformers seem to understand neither its nature nor its genesis. But still, they wield a big stick and the impact of the strategies and reforms initiated by these powerful leaders continue to reverberate throughout public-school classrooms, corridors, faculty lounges, and district board rooms; all driven by the mystifying assumption that if only we would run our schools as effectively as we run our businesses, quality education would prevail and expectations, everywhere, would rise.

What the actions of these reformers demonstrate, at least to this observer, is a minimal level of understanding of the forces that contribute to academic success and failure and a blatant lack of insight into the consequences of their actions.

On the other side of the conflict we have professional educators and administrators, men and women who have devoted their lifetimes to public education, who have responded to the legions of reformers by choosing to defend the honor of public education in America. Even the most renown and articulate spokespersons for professional educators have chosen to respond by defending the record of education in America, citing the progress that has been made over the last couple of decades. In this they are wrong, as the evidence will demonstrate.

These ardent advocates insist that the quality of education in America is better than it has ever been and that our students are learning more than they have ever learned. They argue that reformers grossly undervalue the critical role that poverty and racial segregation play in driving down the academic performance of America’s underprivileged children.

The warning that is shouted out by these advocates, is that the actions of the reformers threaten to destroy the very systems of education they have vowed to transform. The strategy of choice of the advocates of education in the U.S. is to complain loudly, voicing their predictions of the havoc being wreaked on our nation’s most vulnerable students and their schools.

 

Analysis and Recommendations

 

The reform initiatives of the government and corporate reformers of education are a runaway train that does, indeed, threaten to destroy our system of public education and our schools in communities all over the nation, to the great disadvantage of American children.

The reformers are correct, however, that public education in the U.S. is in a state of crisis that has ominous implications for the future of our nation.

It is the conclusion of this observer that the combined impact of this unprecedented crisis in public education in America and the misguided actions of the self-ordained reformers of education will be catastrophic for our children and for the American way of life, the future of which will soon rest upon the shoulders of these same children. We also suggest that the progression of this catastrophe is aided and abetted by the intransigence of our professional educators.

It is this author’s belief that our only hope for viable future for the United States of America, the richest and most powerful nation in the history of the world, is for the professional educators throughout these United States to stop complaining and take action. Complaints are the useless weapons of the weak and the unimaginative. The principles of positive leadership suggest that, rather than complain, powerful leaders offer constructive alternatives.

It is imperative that professional educators unite behind an alternate plan of action designed to fix the real problems with public education and work relentlessly to sell it to the American people.

Our next post will be focused on three objectives;

1)      We will examine evidence proving that the crisis in education is real;

2)      We will demonstrate how the professional educators working in our public schools are as much victims of a dysfunctional system as are the children whom they teach; and,

3)      We will identify the specific components of our systems of public education, and the educational process that works within the system, that compel us to action.

In subsequent posts we will begin, item by item, to outline the specific action strategies that, if implemented and properly executed, will transform public education in the U.S. These action strategies were first introduced in my book, Reinventing Education, Hope, and the American Dream: The Challenge for Twenty-First Century America. As is always the case in a dynamic environment, I have learned much since the book was published a year ago and the strategic action plan we will be presenting will benefit from the wisdom and knowledge that has been gained.

That process of learning and adapting is relentless and self-perpetuating and the plan will continue to evolve as our teachers and principals come on board and begin adding their own wisdom and knowledge to the equation. Strategic action plans are very much like organizations and human systems in that they are living, breathing entities that evolve, incessantly.

Excerpt #10 – Reinventing Education, Hope, and the American Dream – Part I, The Educational Process

The gasoline combustion engine that powers our automobiles offers a perfect analogy for education in America. On the one hand, we have an engine that was designed more than a century ago that, simply, is unable to meet the demands and specifications of the Twenty-first Century. Even in perfect condition, however, the engine’s performance is dependent on the quality of the fuel that powers it. No matter how much we might tinker with the engine, it will sputter and fail if the quality of fuel is poor. The fuel that powers education in America is the level of motivation of children to learn and the commitment of their parents to the educational process. In the current reality, as we face the unprecedented challenges of the Twenty-first Century, we are dependent on an obsolete engine powered by what may be the lowest level of motivation to learn in the history of education in America.

 

Given the challenges presented by the dynamic international marketplace of this new century, we need to elevate both the engine that represents the educational system and fuel that powers it. If we hope to seriously compete with China, India, Europe, and the other developing economies we need a ferocious commitment from parents and an equally ferocious level of motivation on the part of our children. We also need to reinvent an educational system utilizing state-of-the-art technology that can unleash the full power of that fuel, with optimal efficiency, and without the nasty by-products of failure and humiliation for our children and burn out for our teachers. The outcome we are seeking is a system in which teaching is as much fun for teachers as learning will be for our children.

 

We begin our recommendations for reinventing education, hope, and the American dream with the educational process. In Part II, we will make our argument that the greatest problems with education in the U.S. is a growing cultural disdain for education manifested by minimal motivation to learn on the part of far too many children and a corresponding lack of commitment to the importance of education on the part of the parents of those children. That being said, addressing the issue of a cultural devaluation of education is a monumental challenge that will require that we take the time to lay down a philosophical foundation for our point of view. In the interim, the educational process, itself, is fundamentally flawed and until we fix it, nothing else we say or do will be believed by those who are disenfranchised.

 

We choose to start with the educational process partly because it is the lesser of the two challenges. Fixing the educational process is a formidable challenge but, clearly, policy makers and legislators have the power to bring about any and all of the changes that we will be recommending. The things that make this particular challenge so difficult are not the issues themselves but the fact that it requires that we change the way we think about education. We must ask people to challenge their basic assumptions about the way we educate our children. The changes that need to be made are structural and systemic and they cannot be accomplished through incremental change. We will walk the reader through the logical framework behind these proposals and then will introduce the specific proposals in the form of action items that require only that policy makers and decision makers make a commitment to act.

 

 

 

Reinventing Education, Hope, and the American Dream, Excerpt #4, concluding the Preface

We suggest that business principles can make significant and meaningful contribution to the challenges we face [in public education] but we are not talking about the principles that come from the boardrooms and their focus on financial incentives, investments, and entrepreneurialism. The business principles to which we refer are things that can be learned from an operational perspective in a business environment. These principles have to do with things like focus on one’s customer, structuring an organization to serve its purpose, problem-solving, teamwork, integrating quality assessments into the learning process, and giving the people on the production line the tools and resources they need to help them do the best job of which they are capable. In education, the people on the production line are teachers, administrators, and their staff.

The application of these principles to create a blueprint for a new reality in education in America is the over-riding purpose of this book.

Our first objective will be to offer a strategy to transform our systems of education, both public and private, to one that focuses on success and that prepares our young people for the challenges that the balance of the Twenty-first Century will present. Our second objective is to gain a true understanding of the reasons why our systems of education are under-performing because these are the same forces that threaten every aspect of our way of life. Once we have gained that understanding we will be in a position to meet our ultimate objective and that is to take our newly engineered educational product to the people.

We must use our system of education to unite Americans behind a common purpose in the face of what may be the greatest challenges our nation has faced since the Civil War. Our goal is to re-infuse faith and hope in the American dream into the hearts and minds of every American parent and child. Only through this effort can we preserve our status as the richest and most powerful nation in the world as we move into an uncertain future.

We Must Be Willing to Believe in the Possibilities if We Wish to have Better Outcomes

One of the things that distinguishes positive leaders from the rest of the crowd is the belief in the possibility of things. How many times, when presented with a new idea for solving a problem have you heard the response, “That’ll never work!” “You will never convince them of that.” “Management will never go for something that grand!” “You are biting off more than you can chew!” “You will never get the funding!” “What makes you think they will be willing to listen to you?” “That’s impossible!” “You are spitting in the wind!” You’re dreaming!”

We could go on and on with similar examples of the excuses people use for not trying. Every great idea in the history of the world began in the fertile imagination of an individual human being who looked out at the world with a fresh perspective. A huge percentage of these great ideas were perceived to be impossible by the dreamer’s contemporaries, by the wisest people of their time; by those in power whether a king, emperor, general, or president; by the religious authorities of that time in history, and even by their closest friends and family.

Very often the dreamer was persecuted for his or her revolutionary ideas, ideas often branded as heresy and blasphemy.

Not uncommonly, these history changing ideas were not even spoken or written about, initially, because their proponent underestimated their own ability to make a difference in the world around them. Often, such ideas lay dormant in the deepest recesses of the proponent’s mind until something happened that compelled the individual to act, even in the face of great opposition.

Listen carefully! Whether an idea is big or small, each and every one of us has, within us, the power to ask why not. Each and every human being has far more ability to alter the world around them than they give themselves credit for.

In our case, we are talking about reinventing education in the US. Yes, it is an enormous challenge, but it is well within the scope of possibility. We can move the odds of any given idea from “possible” to “probable” just by expanding the number of people who are willing to open their minds. We can change education in America, if only we will open our hearts and minds to new ways to looking at the educational process; to new ideas.

Think about this for a moment. If we were to decide to start over, to build an educational system from scratch that would do all of the things that we want and need it to do, I can guarantee you it would look entirely different than the way the system looks today.

Begin with this question in your mind. What if there was a way to do things differently that would accomplish all that we want while preserving the integrity of the system and its professionals?

If there is a way, wouldn’t it be worth our time and energy to find out? Is not education sufficiently important to the ongoing welfare of our society that we should leave no stone unturned in our quest for a answer?

A must-read for parents, teachers and all those involved in improving the state of education

A Review of Reinventing Education, Hope, and the American Dream: The Challenge for Twenty-First Century America, on Amazon.com by Thalia:

“Reinventing Education, Hope, and the American Dream: The Challenge for Twenty-First Century America’, by Mel Hawkins, provides a critical look at the current state of education in America and follows through with innovative, inspired and crucial steps to reviving the standard of education in American and, thereby, reinvigorating the future of its workforce and the standard of living throughout the nation. Hawkins argues that the current state of matters must be tackled with `unprecedented urgency’, otherwise America’s very way of life will be jeopardized, with its stint as the richest and most powerful nation in the history of the world likely to end.

Hawkins explains that education in America has lost its relevancy, with citizens no longer seeing it as `the ticket to the American Dream’. Therefore, education is no longer deemed as important as it once was and, because of this, many children are not infused with this knowledge by their parents, which has a roll-on effect to their levels of motivation and abilities to withstand peer pressures and, ultimately, their levels of academic success.

This is particularly concerning as, through research and data analysis, Hawkins shows us that motivation alone (or lack thereof) to learn is the predominant factor which influences the success of a child in reaching their full capabilities (not race, parental income levels, teacher skill or other such factors which are usually associated with variances in levels of academic success).

Therefore, Hawkins advises that the education system must be overhauled to create a reality where children are motivated to learn and every child ‘succeeds’ (because all success is relative). In order to do so, however, people must be challenged to change their basic assumptions about the way children are educated. They must recognize how kids learn (through encouragement) and do their utmost to both motivate and support them so that they are always working at the edge of their own capabilities. Of course, this entails changing the current class structures and increasing the teacher to student ratio, if students are to be working alongside one another at different levels, but Hawkins outlines smart and practical solutions to making this system workable.

What I like most about Hawkins approach (and what separates this from other educational reference texts) is that he recognizes that more qualified teachers, better facilities, better materials and better technology in classrooms are not the solution to what has become an entrenched and festering crisis. Educational performance can only be remarkably improved if the current widespread symptoms of hopelessness and powerlessness are counteracted with a surge in motivation for education, which can only be achieved by a joint effort between parents and teachers, administrators and principals, and government and public figures, to name a few.

The only thing missing for me were the graphs/figures which were not displayed in the kindle version (perhaps as I have an older kindle, images were replaced with an icon of a camera). However, the data I assume these figures displayed was adequately discussed and analysed in the text, therefore it did not really take away from the text, more that these may have added that something extra.” [Editor’s note: the graphs are visible on most devices.]

“This handbook is particularly useful for parents, teachers, support staff and school administrators who work with American children. From a wider perspective, it is valuable in supporting children in general to become their best selves, hence this book is an invaluable source of information to all who play a role in children’s education.”