Understanding Education as a Process and Our Schools as Organizations: and a Shout Out to Ted Dintersmith

There are many new and exciting things happening in some schools: innovative education methodologies, ever more sophisticated technologies, and curricula that are being challenged and re-examined.

Recently, our friend @tracyscottkelly shared a teacher’s ( @HJL_Greenberg ) enthusiastic Tweet about Ted Dintersmith’s book, What School Could Be. Kelly acknowledged, as have many of us, that @dintersmith has provided a wonderful compilation of innovative education programs in real American schools.  It is a great read and if you haven’t done so, put it at the top of your reading list.

Let us not lose sight of Dintersmith’s title, What School Could Be, however.The book is not about “what all schools are.”

Dintersmith’s book offers  examples of public schools and school districts that are producing exciting results for their students. These schools and their programs provide shining examples that give hope to teachers and other educators who are feeling overwhelmed by their own challenges and those of their students.  

Let us, also, not forget that Ted Dintersmith traveled through all fifty states to find these innovative education programs, approaches, and methodologies.It is vital that we acknowledge theses schools are the exceptions and do not represent the reality that is public education in many of the other schools in those same fifty states.

Think about how we arrived at present day with respect to public education.At some point in the distant past, schools may have been established to enable teachers to meet the unique needs of children, but over the decades, schools have devolved into one-size-fits-all service delivery providers.  Schools in the U.S. are organized for operational efficiency, based on financial constraints. That the unique needs of our nation’s children have never been as complex as they are now, creates a recipe for failure for millions of kids.

No matter how hard they work or how deep their commitment, teachers cannot alter the aggregate reality that is public education in America and they must not be blamed.

Each of the noteworthy programs from around the nation exists because of the extraordinary efforts of educators willing to step outside the boundaries of education tradition; often against the forces of doubt.  Sadly, these schools are not the norm and millions of American children do not enjoy the benefits of such programs nor are they likely to benefit, any time soon.  We can only hope that as more educators and school administrators are inspired by the examples of “what could be,” they will step out of their comfort zones and take a paradigm leap.

In my education model, my 2013 book, Reinventing Education, Hope, and the American Dream, and my upcoming book with a working title, Reinventing Education One Success at a Time: The Hawkins Model, I have examined our schools from the perspective of an organizational leadership consultant asking the question, “are schools structured to produce the outcomes we so desperately need?” Most often, the answer is that they are not.

The paradigm leap that is needed, if we are to transform public education in America and restore the American dream, is a willingness to remind ourselves that schools are human organizations incorporating an “education process” designed to deliver a service.

If we are dissatisfied with the quality of the service our education process is producing, we must take a giant step back to a point from which we can examine the education system as an integral whole.We must, then, stop looking for someone to blame and, instead, challenge every single one of our assumptions. Only then can we start from scratch and reconstruct an education system—both structure and process—to produce the outcomes we want and need.

What is it that we want and need from America’s public schools? We need an education model or process in which our dedicated teachers can help every child have more than just equal opportunities—they must have the wherewithal to develop their own dream, envision their futures, chart their own paths, and seize those “equal opportunities.”

At the root of every problem facing American society—whether social, political, economic, technological, ecological, or criminal justice—is the fact that far too many young Americans are not equipped with the understanding, knowledge, skills, self-esteem, and self-discipline to seize the opportunities to which they are entitled, constitutionally.It all comes down to the efficacy of our education process as a whole and not whether a few schools might be succeeding.

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.

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/

A Word about Teaching Teams, continued:

Nothing generates success more than success itself. When teammates begin to see positive changes in the attitudes, behavior, and academic performance of their students it is incredibly motivating. The more success the team experiences the more confident and motivated they become and the more powerful and enduring the bonds with each other will grow. While we hope teammates will learn to trust and care about one another and will also learn to inspire one another, sometimes people do not get along. As uncomfortable as such times may be, in a team setting it cannot be ignored because it has an adverse effect on everything that takes place.

In the existing education process, teachers might question the capability of a colleague in the next classroom, but their focus is on their own classrooms and their own students. In a team setting, the walls between us do not separate us, they embrace us. They are part of the environment we mold to serve our mission. The need to find resolution makes it easier to reach out to one’s principal, seeking help. Also, it is easier for the principal to respond because they are not walking into a situation where they expect to find someone doing something wrong who must be disciplined. What they find are professionals who need help in solving problems that are, often, nothing more than breakdowns in communications. Because of their shared commitment, team members will be likely respond to such intervention in a positive manner.

There are times when the principal may find a toxic environment that requires that an individual be re-assigned. While this may never be an easy action to take, it is almost always welcomed by most of the team. Often, it comes as a great relief to the person who is re-assigned. In such cases the principal is viewed as a problem-solver rather than a problem-seeker, lurking in the halls to find someone doing something wrong.

For those teachers who have had less than inspiring experiences with principals, please note that we will discuss the subject of positive leadership in a later section of this work. We will be encouraging principals to become positive leaders, not administrators, and we will be encouraging the colleges and universities that educate school administrators to teach them how to be positive leaders, not just administrators.

The team environment we wish to create changes a classroom into a laboratory where we help each child develop their potential, whatever their point of embarkation. We also want to create the same types of bonds between students as we do between teachers and students, and between members of the teaching team. The environment is designed to encourage creativity and innovation. Teaching is craft that is always under development. In the type of collegial setting we seek, teachers will work together to engage students in their own learning adventure and will also seek to engage parents.

Many parents, particularly those who have had negative experiences in school, will demonstrate apathy and even skepticism. When one’s own experience is negative it is difficult to expect better for one’s children. Once parents begin to observe changes in their children; when they see their children making progress; when they find them enthusiastic; when their children are always talking about Ms. or Mr. Teacher with fondness parents will begin to develop a curiosity about what is going on in their son or daughter’s classroom. When they observe their son or daughter enjoying success, parents will want to see it firsthand. Success and winning are contagious, even for those of us sitting on the sidelines. Eventually, parents of our students will be pulled into the process as partners with their child’s teacher; partners sharing responsibility for their child’s education.

As children begin to gain confidence in themselves; when they not only discover that they can be successful at school, but also that they can create their own success, a magical transformation commences. The classroom becomes a secure, safe, and exciting learning environment. As kids learn new things, their imaginations will take flight. Every answer to a question will generate more questions and kids will, also, begin to discover things about themselves. They will discover talents they never saw in themselves and develop skills they never envisioned.

As they begin to view themselves in a new light through the lenses of confidence, children will begin to dream. Gradually, these youngsters will begin to take a little more ownership of their own futures and accept responsibility for the directions of their lives. Most importantly, they will each be a developing a powerful self-esteem that will enable them to exert more control over the outcomes in their lives. They will have real choices about what do in life to find joy and meaning. Their powerful self-esteem will enable them to overcome most of life’s challenges. If they are black or other minorities or members of religious faiths other than Christianity, they will be able to overcome discrimination when it threatens to cut off avenues of opportunity.

The growth and the development of their students will be enormously gratifying for teachers and will bring them the potential for true fulfillment. As the end of a school year approaches, teachers will be pleased to replace saying goodbye with “see you soon.” In The Hawkins Model, teaching teams and their students will continue their important work for longer than an individual school year.

A Word about Teaching Teams!

When creating a new education model, it must be designed to meet the unique needs of all students; after all, teaching kids is the purpose for which schools were created. Like any work environment, however, the unique needs of the people who do the work must also be met. We must focus on the needs of teachers, not just to help them do the best job of which they are capable, although this is core to our mission and purpose, but we must also satisfy the personal needs of our teachers; unique human beings, each.

We want teachers to have personal and professional job satisfaction. A student’s academic success is as important to the well-being of the child’s teacher as it is to the student, him or herself. Close, caring relationships that are vital to the success of our students are equally vital to the success and well-being of teachers. We often talk about what the difference a “favorite teacher” made in our lives as we look back through our school years and, if we were fortunate, we may have two, three or more teachers who were special and whom we recall with such fondness.

Teachers also look back over their careers and the faces, smiles, and names of favorite students peek out from behind the curtains of their memories. Just like when we smile while thinking back on one of our favorite teachers, those same teachers are likely to smile when they think back on us. As their students, we recall that favorite teacher’s classroom as a place where we felt safe and enjoyed one of the most successful periods of our school career. It was in their classrooms where we did our best work, where we felt the least fear of failure, and where learning was fun. We can be assured that, for those teachers, our presence made their jobs a little more meaningful and their days a little brighter.

When we go back to the drawing board to re-invent the education process in and with which teachers and students work, we must make a conscious effort to create an environment that fosters these special relationships. We would like to create a classroom environment where every child feels a special bond with one or more teachers and where all teachers feel special connections with as many of their students as possible. We understand that no matter how hard we work, perfection is never attained. There are things we can do to ensure that we get as close to perfection as possible, however.

If you are reading this and finding yourself unable to imagine any way this type of an team environment can be created in your classroom, please be patient. To create such an environment is the purpose for which this book was written. We are going to walk you through the process of creating such classrooms, one step at a time.

One of the reasons it so difficult to envision such classrooms is because teachers work individually, with twenty-five, thirty, or even thirty-five students. Yes, many of you have aides and you may find them invaluable. Most schools also have various resource teachers for reading, special education, English Language Learning and more. Some special needs children have individual aides assigned to help them throughout the day. Most of these resources create value and, as a teacher, you and these colleagues may, occasionally, put your heads together to brainstorm or to come up with a strategy to help some of your students. Often, however, these colleagues are not your partners; they are not teammates. You have your job to do and they have theirs.

In the model that will be introduced to you, we will be relying a team teaching environment with teams of three teachers, working together as partners. Some of you may find the idea of working as a member of a team of three colleagues uncomfortable or frightening. This is understandable but, again, I ask for your patience; be hopeful. In diverse venues, such teams have proven to be extraordinarily successful. Often, team members become more than co-workers or even partners; they become close personal friends and provide a level of personal and professional support that is not possible within the current education process. Teachers as part of a team are never on an island by themselves.

Teams can contribute to unprecedented levels of performance and quality of outcomes and have even been proven to be more effective that management in dealing with performance or commitment issues. This has been found to be true even in strong union environments in manufacturing facilities. When people are working on their own, whether as a teacher in a classroom, a professional in another setting, or a production worker on an assembly line, it is easy for poorly trained and unmotivated people to hide in the crowd where their sub-standard performance goes unnoticed. Even when co-workers bring such individuals to the attention of their boss, many of these managers and supervisors find it difficult to act, even when doing so is their job.

I began my first job as a supervisor in 1972 and have managed units with as few as seven people and operations with as many as several hundred people, at all levels of the organizational hierarchy. In addition, I spent many years working as an organizational development and leadership consultant during which I learned as much as I taught. One of the things I learned is that we must all embrace a simple concept. Most people want to do their job, well. They would like to be respected and they would love to be part of a winning team. They may not know how to do these things, they may struggle to find motivation, and they may not even know to whom to turn for help. If we start with this idea, however, rather than read some measure of evil intent into the behavior of a colleague, it changes everything. This same approach should be applied to one’s students, also. They would like to be successful, but many do not know how and have no one with whom they feel they can talk.

It is also easy to tell these coworkers to, “see your supervisor or manager” but, sadly, one of the things most lacking in organizations of all shapes, sizes, venues, and purposes is positive leadership. Many supervisors and managers are unapproachable and are the last person to whom a troubled employee might choose to turn. Many of you reading these words have vivid memories of such supervisors, managers, and principals. Even some bosses do not know how to do their own job well nor do they know to whom they can turn for help. We will spend more time talking about positive leadership in a later section of this book.

In a team setting, there is no place to hide and each member of the team is accountable to the team and his or her teammates. While this may sound scary, it is, most often, a source of comfort and support. The fundamental difference in such team teaching environments, even when the principal may become involved, is that the focus is on ways to improve the quality of teaching; not finding fault with a team member. It is always about improving the effectiveness of relationship building, whether with the team’s students or with one another. It is never about finding things team members who are doing wrong, it is always about finding ways for all members to get better outcomes. It is a case where the whole is always greater than the sum of its parts.

Teams are comprised of imperfect human beings and bonding will not always come quickly and easily. Often, however, when members of a new team struggle to come together, the very nature of having to work together for the benefit of the students for whom they share responsibility, begins to change the chemistry of the unit. This seems to be especially true with people who share a deep commitment to their mission.

There are few populations of professionals who have stronger and more enduring commitment to the people they serve than teachers. I think the generosity of teachers is a testament to that commitment. Danny Steele is a principal, speaker, and author who has an enormous following from teachers who support each other on Twitter. In a recent Tweet @SteeleThoughts, wrote:

“To all those teachers who have ever provided a pizza party for a class. . . or donut party. . . or a cookie party. . . out of your own pocket. . . for any reason—Thank you! You probably violated some health guidelines but the students loved it. You made an investment in them!”

If we could tally all the time devoted by teachers, before arriving and after leaving school, along with the money used for school supplies, décor, treats, parties, covert loans of lunch money, et al, it is difficult to imagine a more generous group of workers, professional or otherwise, than teachers. We are not talking about the words they say about how committed they are, we are talking about how they demonstrate that commitment by the things they do, day in and day out. It is this shared commitment to one’s students that make teams work so effectively. Teachers may have varying levels of experience or come from diverse cultures, but they all want what is best for their students. And when they link those diverse backgrounds in a team setting, magic happens.

If you are teacher reading this, and are not a Twitter user, I encourage you to become one. There is a huge support group of wonderful teachers who will be there to inspire you, every day. Start by following Danny Steele @SteeleThoughts and then gradually begin following the teachers and other educators who follow him. This author’s username is @melhawk46. I invite you to follow me, as well.

You are not in this alone and there is a solution if we all work together, not in protests or complaints, but as advocates for a powerful new idea.

[to be continued]

My Motivation to Develop an Education Model that Works for All Kids!

My wife and I have four grandchildren. The eldest is a little girl who was adopted by the eldest of our two daughters and our son-in-law. She is of Mexican descent with beautiful, thick black hair, brown eyes, and golden-brown skin. The second is a little boy, who was adopted by that same daughter and son-in-law, has skin that is a beautiful, rich brown with eyes to match and who came out of his birth mother’s womb with a natural Afro. Our youngest two grandchildren are the biological offspring of our youngest daughter and her husband. The eldest (and our third) is the palest of whites, bordering on pink, and her hair is as red as her father’s beard. Our fourth, not yet three years of age, has skin not quite as pale as his big sister’s but hair every bit as red.

These four children represent our family’s beautiful rainbow and like all grandparents we love them so much that it hurts.

These kids have magnificent smiles that light up our lives even more than the lights of the holiday season and laughter that warms us during the coldest of times. Such smiles have reminded me that throughout my whole life, whenever I have been blessed to see children smile, I am blind to any of the other features, that for reasons that are difficult to fathom, cause some human beings to pass derisive judgment. For me the smile of any child is a source of incalculable joy that is as common to the shared universal human experience as anything else in life.

I have spent my entire lifetime striving to understand why our world is so full of hatred over issues as insignificant as the color of one’s skin. I still struggle to understand why differences in eye or hair color are perceived as different shades of beauty while differences in skin color produce such extremes of enmity.

I was blessed to be born to parents who taught that we are all children of Creation and that we were blessed to live in a country in which we are all considered to be equal under the Constitution.

In 1951, I was equally fortunate to live in a neighborhood and attend an elementary school that was twenty-five percent black. It was at school where I learned to be a friend and playmate with one of my black classmates before I ever learned of the existence of bigotry and racism. Somehow, I never noticed that when I was playing with my black friend that my white friends were off doing something else and vice versa.

When I first witnessed the hatred that my white friends had for my black friend, I was devastated. My black friend and I never played together, after that. At the time I did not understand whereas he probably thought to himself “I should have known better.” This was nothing new in his life. For me, innocence was forever lost but I never lost my perception of diversity as something to be cherished as beautiful.

Later, at the age of 20, I was privileged to spend a summer working in a churchyard in Philadelphia, providing a place for young children to gather and play, safe from the reaches of the gangs whose territories sandwiched our little oasis. All these kids were black, save one. While I was responsible for the boys and girls between the ages of 8 and 16 who came to play in our churchyard and game room, I played with them far more than I supervised. While my job was to keep them safe and be a mentor, I must confess that these youngsters taught me far more than I ever could have taught them.

For the first nine years after college and the military, I worked as a juvenile probation officer where I supervised a multi-racial group of boys and girls between the ages of nine and seventeen. I also worked with their families. I have vivid memories of sitting at a kitchen table, having a cup of coffee with the mother of a young boy or girl—some white and others black—who was desperate to understand why her child was failing in school and seemed unable to stay out of trouble. “My kid’s not stupid!” they would often say. I had no answer for them, but I agreed that their sons and daughters were not stupid. In fact, their “street smarts” was apparent.

A decade later, I was one of the founding board members of a local Boys and Girls Club where, once again, I was privileged, as a volunteer, to be around, play with, and serve a diverse group of children. When in an environment where these children felt safe and received unconditional affection, patience, and affirmation their joy and laughter was contagious. These kids were voracious learners, quick to listen to adults with whom they felt a special connection. They were anxious to soak up whatever lessons their adult leaders might offer. If they struggled with a lesson, they sought the help of their trusted friend.

Often, the adults would scratch their heads and wonder why so many of these children, so full of life and curiosity, were failing in school. I was only beginning to comprehend.

More than a dozen years later, when I decided to relinquish my leadership and organizational-development consulting practice to focus on my life-long dream of writing books, I worked part-time as a substitute teacher for my local public school district. In those high schools, middle schools, and elementary schools, I was able to walk in the shoes of public school teachers and observe, first hand, the struggles of so many of these teachers and their students. Once I got over feeling overwhelmed by all that was swirling around me, I began to wonder why these classrooms were so different from the game rooms and playgrounds at the Boys and Girls Club or the churchyard in Philadelphia.

What I learned about children during these significant chunks of my life was that whether black, white, or shades of brown; rich or poor; male or female they are all just kids and they can all learn from someone who cares about them if given a fair opportunity. Whatever their backgrounds there are more similarities than differences between them.

They all laugh when they play or act silly; cry and bleed red when they get hurt; get mad when they lose; celebrate when they win; get embarrassed when they are made fun of; yawn when they get sleepy; respond to warmth and affection with warmth and affection; and, suffer egregiously when abused by their parents, feel disconnected in many of their classrooms, or when bullied by their peers.

All these boys and girls are capable of learning; they are all curious about the world around them; and, they all get discouraged and feel humiliated when they fail. They all suffer great loss of self-esteem when they give up on themselves after repeated failure and no longer believe in their ability to compete in classrooms that never should have become competitive environments in the first place.

They all deserve our respect not only as individual human beings but also as members of their unique cultural traditions. The only difference, once they arrive at school, is their level of preparation and motivation. They all deserve the best we have to offer and the very fact that so many of these children fail provides irrefutable evidence that what we are doing does not work for everyone.

Despite the heroic effort of our teachers, it is here, in our elementary schools that we will find the roots of the problems that beleaguer us as a nation and society. Whether we are teachers, administrators, policy-makers, or deans and professors of schools of education, we must be willing to pull our heads from the sand and stop defending the indefensible.

The fact that so many children are failing, particularly minorities and the poor, is not a predisposition of birth or a fact of nature. That children are failing is nothing more than an outcome of a flawed system of human design. The performance gap between white children and black kids and other minorities is an outcome our traditional educational process is structured to produce. Like any other production, service-delivery process, or software application, our education process can be reinvented to produce the outcomes we want and need.

This flawed system is not the fault of teachers and other professional educators. Rather, the culpability of educators is that they are the people in the best position to identify the failure of this flawed educational process, yet they hold back as if they are afraid to act. It is critical that we understand that this lack of action is not because they are bad people or incompetent professionals rather it is because they have learned to perceive themselves as powerless.

Teachers must be challenged to accept that, for professional men and women, powerlessness and hopelessness are functions of choice.

Education Infrastructure: To Ensure Our Future, Focus on Desired Outcomes

Fort Wayne Journal Gazette

OP ED COLUMNS

http://www.journalgazette.net/opinion/columns/20181206/education-infrastructure

Mel Hawkins

Thursday, December 06, 2018 1:00 am

The Journal Gazette’s Nov. 30 editorial, “Students first,” offers evidence of the dysfunctionality of the political process with respect to education policy.

Our system of education is a national tragedy and is at the root of all our nation’s challenges. That millions of our nation’s children suffer irreparable harm makes the American education process a disaster of unprecedented scope and scale.

Children in charter, parochial and public schools are failing throughout the U.S., and each failure has tragic consequences for the children and our society. Even the students who seem to be succeeding are not learning the things they will need to know, nor are they developing the skills they will need to have meaningful choices in life. Neither are they being prepared to find creative solutions to the unimaginable challenges the balance of this 21st century will present.

That our teachers are being asked to shoulder the blame for the unacceptable outcomes of an obsolete education process is just one more travesty. These dedicated men and women are as much the victims of our flawed education policies as are their students. Not only are they blamed for the struggles of their students, we refuse to provide them with the level of respect and compensation they deserve for doing one of the most important and challenging jobs in American society. The fact that we are driving so many of these men and women out of the profession is just one more symptom of the obsolescence of the American education process.

Possibly we should invite teachers to participate more fully in the policy-making process. The problem, however, is that the solutions to the challenges of preparing our children for an uncertain future will be found outside the boundaries of conventional wisdom.

Perhaps we should examine the challenges facing education in America the same way we must address our nation’s crumbling infrastructure. Over the past century the world has changed exponentially while the structure and function of our education process have changed minimally. In our schools today, it takes an extraordinary effort on the part of teachers and principals to implement innovative ideas and solutions that will endure and not be ground to dust by the unrelenting glacial power of the existing education process.

The education process impedes rather than facilitates the ability of educators to respond to the unique requirements of a diverse population of children with disparate needs. The recent focus of education reformers on charter schools, voucher systems and high-stakes testing to hold teachers and schools accountable has done more damage to public education than we could have possibly envisioned.

Ironically, high-stakes testing is telling us what we need to know. These tests are not measuring the performance of teachers and schools, however; rather they measure the efficacy of the education process itself.
Our challenge must be to reinvent the education process to produce the outcomes we want.

What are those outcomes? That every child learns as much as they are able at their own best pace. That students retain what they have learned and are able to use their knowledge and skills in real-life situations and not solely for the purposes of passing standardized tests. That as these students discover they can be successful, they begin to develop a healthy self-esteem that will enable them to overcome obstacles and control most of the outcomes in their lives. That as they progress along their developmental paths, they are able to partner with their parents and teachers to take ownership of their futures.

Education must not be a competition to see who learns the most the fastest. Rather, it must be a process that provides each and every child with a menu of choices about what to do in life to provide for their families, to find joy and meaning, and to participate in their own governance. It must enable them to make thoughtful and reasoned choices and help them work together to find new and innovative solutions to the problems facing a world undergoing unrelenting change and facing unprecedented challenges.

These things are possible and within our power to accomplish if we are willing to challenge all our assumptions about what we do and why and, then, open our hearts and minds to new ways of thinking and doing.

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.