Should All Students Be Required to Learn Algebra?

Many educators and education policy makers are questioning the value of algebra. Think about how often you hear people comment that they never use algebra and think taking algebra in high school was unnecessary and did nothing more than add stress to their young lives.

Removing algebra as a requirement for graduation from high school would be a decision that requires careful analysis.

One Website offers a definition of Algebra attributed to Syracuse University. It states that Algebra is:

“a branch of mathematics that uses mathematical statements to describe relationships between things that vary overtime.” Continue reading

Quadrilateral Pegs in the Round Holes of Public Education; Revisited

Author’s note: In hopes of retaining a presence on social media, while writing my new book, I am selecting a few of the most widely-read blog posts from the past. I hope you enjoy this one.

 

Participating in the dialogue between teachers, principals, superintendents, and other players in our public schools has been enlightening and inspiring on the one hand and frustrating and discouraging on the other. It is wonderful to know there are so many amazing men and women who have dedicated themselves to teach our nation’s children. It is heartbreaking, however, to see how many of these remarkable professionals seem unaware that they are being asked to do one of the most important and most challenging jobs in the world in an environment that has not been significantly altered since I began school 67 years ago. Teachers labor in an education process that has not been adapted to meet the needs of 21st Century children.

It has been a struggle to find an analogy that resonates with teachers, principals, and superintendents so they can see what it looks like to observe them at work, from afar. I know that because I have not been trained as a professional teacher, it is easy for them to discount the merit of my education model as the work of just one more outsider telling teachers how to teach.

My perspective is unique, however, and merits the attention of our nation’s public school policy makers, leaders, and classroom teachers. I am speaking as an advocate for public education and for American public-school teachers and school administrators, not as an adversary. I consider public school teachers to be unsung American heroes and I’m asking you to open your hearts and minds to a new idea. If you see merit in what you read, I am asking you to help spread the word to other educators that there is an idea worthy of consideration.

As a student, I have earned two masters’ degrees, one in psychology and the other in public management. Over a nearly fifty-year career, I have worked with kids for 9 years as a juvenile probation officer and in a volunteer capacity for nearly 20 years. I have lead organizations; taught and have written a book about positive leadership; solved problems; created new and innovative solutions; reinvented production and service delivery processes; have written four book and many articles; have done testing for the military; and, while writing books, have spent ten years working as a substitute teacher in the same public school district from which my own children graduated.  Also, I have been a student of “systems thinking” since reading Peter Senge’s book The Fifth Discipline: The Art and Practice of the Learning Organization, when it was first published in 1990.

The experience of participating in and observing what happens in public school classrooms as a substitute teacher, was an incredible opportunity to walk in the shoes of public school teachers. What I witnessed as an observer of the public schools of my community are dedicated, hard-working professional men and women, giving their hearts and souls to their students in a system and structure that does not meet the needs of a diverse population of students.

If you can imagine what our nation’s system of highways would look like—given the number of automobiles and trucks on the roads, today—if neither President Eisenhower, in 1956, nor any of his successors had envisioned America’s interstate highway system, you will have an idea of how our public school classrooms and the education process at work within those classrooms look to me, observing from afar.

We are asking good people to educate our nation’s incredibly diverse population of students in the education equivalent of Route 66. These kids will become the men and women who must lead our nation through the unprecedented and unimaginable challenges the balance of the 21st Century will present. Think about the diversity of American public-school students. They represent every color of the human rainbow, speak innumerable languages, come from families both fractured and whole, from every corner of the planet, and with a range of backgrounds with respect to relative affluence and academic preparedness that is as cavernous as America is wide.

Public school educators are striving to do their absolute best for students in an environment in which they lack the support of our federal and many of our state governments and are under attack from education reformers with their focus on “school choice.” These education reformers, policy makers, and the politicians who are influenced by them are destroying our public schools and the communities those schools were built to serve.

As I have written on so many occasions, a handful of charter schools serving a few hundred students at a time, even if they were innovative, will never meet the needs of the millions of American children on whom our nation’s future depends. These charter schools are being funded with revenue siphoned from the coffers that were meant to support our public schools and rely on the same obsolete education process used in the public schools they were intended to replace. Many of these charter schools have failed to meet expectations in community after community.

We already have school buildings in communities throughout the U.S., staffed with the best teachers our colleges and universities can produce, and filled with kids from every community in America. This is where the problem exists and where its challenges must be met. We cannot produce the results these children and their communities need, so desperately however, until we examine the current education process through the lenses of a “systems-thinking” approach. Systems thinking allows us to challenge our assumptions about what we do and why. Only when we have taken the time to understand the flaws in the underlying logic of the existing education process will we be able to alter the way we teach our nation’s most precious assets and the way we support our teachers as they go about their essential work.

There have been many innovations in public education in recent decades, but they and other incremental changes have been and will continue to be no more effective within the context of an obsolete education process than repaving the highways of the 1950s would be in meeting the transportation needs of the 21st Century.

I have been working to build an education model that I believe will put both teachers and students in a position to be successful. It is a model that was designed from scratch to be molded around the relationship between teachers and students, enabling all to perform at their optimal level. I am seeking superintendents of a public-school districts willing to test my education model in one of their underperforming elementary schools.

You, our superintendents, know what the data illustrates and you know that what you have been asking your teachers to do has not altered the bottom line with respect to student performance in any meaningful way.  Most importantly, you know the number of elementary schools in your district that are languishing no matter what you do.

Yes, I understand the data produced through standardized competency exams is a totally inappropriate way to assess the performance of our teachers and schools but let us not throw the baby out with the bath water. The results of these standardized tests do tell us one thing of inestimable value.  They tell us that the education process does not work for millions of children no matter how hard our teachers work on behalf of their students .

We often cite poverty, discrimination, and segregation as the reasons why so many of our students fail. The reality is that when we ignore the unique requirements of our students and try to push their quadrilateral pegs through the round holes of public education, we leave the most vulnerable at the mercy of discrimination.

I challenge teachers, principals, and superintendents to ask yourselves whether there is anything you have done differently, over the course of your careers, that has resulted in a significant improvement in the performance of your students, in the aggregate. Yes, you can cite examples of individual students whose lives have been altered, but what about your student body as a whole? Your underperforming elementary schools and their teachers and students are waiting for you to do something different; something that will help them be successful. How about now?

It is time to consider a novel approach in which a new education model is crafted around the important work our teachers and students must do. It is a model designed to support them as they strive to meet the unique needs of an incredibly diverse population of American children.

My education model and white paper, can be examined at my website at: https://melhawkinsandassociates.com/education-model-white-paper/ I am asking you to risk a couple of hours of your valuable time to examine the model, not seeking reasons why it will not work rather striving to imagine what it would be like to teach and learn in such an environment. Are your students and their beleaguered teachers worth the risk of a couple of  hours of your time, given that the value of the upside is incalculable?

At my website you will also find my blog, Education, Hope, and the American Dream with this and almost 250 other articles about the challenges facing public education.

Our goal must be to arm our nation’s young people with the skills and knowledge they will need to be impervious in the face of prejudice and discrimination and to ensure that they have meaningful choices. We can only accomplish this goal if we transform public education in America.

Teach to Kids, not Tests! [A Re-visit]

 

While I focus on writing my new book, rather than be a non-presence on Twitter, I will be reposting a few articles from my blog that seemed to be among the most popular. I hope you enjoy them.

In his many books, Stephen Covey often told 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.

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 their students and their unique requirements. Teaching to the test is nothing more than a sophisticated version of cramming with the same minimal, long-term retention.

It seems that no matter how hard dedicated teachers are urged to work toward our misconceived purpose, test scores rarely improve. When they do improve the gains are marginal.

From a child’s first day of school, at age five or six, our focus must 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. The existing education process is not structured to facilitate such an objective, so it must be reinvented. My education model has been created for this very purpose.

Our goal is to help children lay a solid academic foundation on which they can build the future they are learning to envision for themselves. Once they have built that academic foundation, they can begin the wonderful and exciting 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. For our students, the pace of change in the world is accelerating faster than that which we perceive.

Think back on your own teachers. Could they have envisioned the world in which you are now asked to teach? If our deceased grandparents and educators were drop in for a visit, they would be overwhelmed by a world that is nothing like the one they knew.

Our task 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. Our objective must not be to prepare every child for college because a two- or four-year degree is not the answer for everyone. The last thing we want to do is push them down a path on which they are likely to become discouraged, to give up, and to lose hope. We want them to be excited about their life and we must be excited to be helping them on that adventure as their teacher, guide, coach, mentor and friend. We must remind ourselves, however that it is their adventure, not ours.

If we help them acquire a solid academic 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 men and women. They will be citizens 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 fallen so far behind that they have given up and lost hope. Certainly, we must help the students who have already reached this tragic point in their young lives, but our long-term focus must be on the success of children in grades K-5. We must shut down the pathway to hopelessness and powerlessness as surely as we must shut down the “schoolhouse to jailhouse” express.

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 discover, I urge you to join the small but growing number of educators who believe my model has the potential to transform education in America. Please share the model with as many colleagues as you can and, together, imagine what it would be like to teach in such an environment. Then, approach your district’s administrators and encourage them to envision a new reality,

Will that be difficult? Of course! It is amazing, however, what positive advocacy can accomplish as opposed to the futility of complaints and protests.

You will find my model and an accompanying white paper at https://melhawkinsandassociates.com/education-model-white-paper/ 

Its purpose is to enable our students to take their place in a troubled world where their knowledge and imagination will be desperately needed.

 

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.

The Essential Purpose of School: Help All Kids Learn or Just Document and Accept their Success or Failure?

It is time for educators, at every level of the education process in America, to redefine and reaffirm their essential mission. For what purpose do they exist to serve?

 Is it to use their talent, skills, and all the resources available to them to help children progress along their unique developmental and learning path or is it to push them from one lesson to the next on an arbitrary schedule or calendar?

 Is it to teach children how to be successful and help them celebrate their successes as they learn and grow or is it to document their successes and/or failures after an unending sequence of arbitrary time periods? Is it to move students from one lesson to the next, in each subject area, ready or not, or is it to ensure that they are able to utilize what they have learned throughout their lives, in real-life situations, the least important of which are standardized tests?

 Critics of public education find it easy to point their fingers at teachers but that is a “cop-out.” It is always easy to blame someone else for our problems. Teachers can only do what their administrators tell them to do and they can only teach to the academic standards that have been established by their state government. They must teach the curricula they are given.

 It is also easy to blame teachers’ unions and associations that exist only for the purpose of representing the interests of their members and defending them from policy makers, government officials, and reformers who want to blame them for the unacceptable outcomes of the flawed education process in which they are asked to work. These critics have not taken the time walk in the shoes of the teachers they are so quick to blame.

 Perhaps if administrators and policy makers would acknowledge that it is the education process that is flawed and that teachers are their most important asset, they might find that teachers’ unions and associations would be willing partners in reinventing the education process. Imagine an education process that, truly, does function to serve teachers, students, and parents in the important work they do.

Even in our highest-performing schools, many teachers are frustrated. It is such schools, however, where the symptoms of the flawed education process are subtle. This leads many educators to proclaim “public education is better than it has ever been.”

 The best teachers, if they were to look deep inside their hearts, know that many students are not learning as much as they could, even in high performing schools. They know the process is moving students along an assembly line.  

 In struggling schools that perform poorly, as measured by state competency exams, the flaws are apparent. Teachers know their students are not getting the education necessary to enter adulthood with meaningful choices. Teachers know something is awry every time they are asked to move students on to a new lesson before they can demonstrate understanding of preceding lessons. Teachers know the education process is flawed every time a student arrives in their classroom who is so far behind that catching up seems improbable, if not impossible. Teachers know something is wrong every time they record a low or failing grade in their grade books. They know it is a sham when administrators seek innovative ways to justify the issuance of diplomas to students who have made little or no effort throughout four years of high school; young men and women who lack the academic foundation necessary to make a place for themselves in main-stream society.

 The fact that most of the schools that produce low test scores are populated by disadvantaged students is no secret. We all know this. How is it that we have become inured to the failure of these students? How can administrators and policy makers avert their eyes and pretend that the education process is working for all kids?

 The fact that a disproportionate percentage of disadvantaged students are children of color is also common knowledge. How can the leaders of public education not see that the education process is failing theses students? Have they convinced themselves that this is the best we can expect from black students and other minority children?

 Leaders of the black community and other minorities must surely be appalled by the academic performance of so many of their children? They know these kids deserve better and they know their own children are as capable of learning as any other child. Is it not obvious that something is broken? Why are the leaders of black community not marching in the streets to protest what is clearly the civil rights issue of the 21st Century?

 One can only judge a process by the quality of the outcomes it produces. This is true of assembly and manufacturing processes, of service-delivery processes, and it is true of the education process in American schools.

 Before we rush to join the bashers of our nation’s public schools let us state, unequivocally, that the same disappointing outcomes are being produced by many private, parochial, and charter schools.

The problem is not our public schools and it is not the teachers. Schools are nothing more than structures constructed of brick and mortar and our teachers are all trained in the same colleges and universities and are certified to the same standards.

 The problem is an education process that became obsolete a half century ago and no longer serves its essential purpose. The education process at work in American schools is not structured to ensure that every child gets the time and attention they need to learn. The education process is not designed to nurture our nation’s most precious assets. It is a process that honors stale traditions of a distant past and that suppresses the creativity and craftsmanship of teachers.

 The problem with the education process begins with academic standards. We must have academic standards to ensure that we are teaching our children the things they need to know to become healthy, confident, and productive citizens. Quality standards give us direction. What we must do, however, is challenge the fundamental assumptions upon which the current standards were established, beginning with the assumption that all children must develop and learn at the same pace.

 We know that some children learn to walk or talk earlier than other kids. Even within our own families, some of our sons and daughters reach the notable milestones of child development earlier than their siblings. A child’s brain is not software, programmed so that every step in the developmental process is scheduled to occur at a precise point in time. Child development research may have established broad guidelines, but they are only guidelines. Each child is unique in every conceivable manner or characteristic. When children arrive for their first day of school, they are not at the exact same point on the growth and development chart. Not only are they genetically unique but they come from households that are diverse by every conceivable measure.

 How is it, then, that the establishers of academic standards expect all students to move from grade to grade on the academic standards continuum, in unison? We do not expect children to reach puberty at the exact same age nor do we expect synchronous growth spurts. Are we striving for regimentation or are we seeking the optimal growth and development of each of our students; intellectually, physically, and emotionally?

 Let us step back and re-think the essential purpose of education and then construct an education process that is engineered to support that purpose. This is what I have labored to do with the education model I have designed. It is structured to help each child learn and grow at their optimal pace while also developing their unique interests, talents, and potential.  It is an education model engineered so that teachers can adapt to the individual and dynamic needs of their students with creativity and craftsmanship. I urge you to take an hour to read it at:

 https://melhawkinsandassociates.com/education-model-white-paper/

No one has ordained that we must follow the obsolete traditions of a past we have out-grown. Please open your hearts and minds to the simple belief that the creation of an education process that will help your students fulfill their inherent potential is within our power. 

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.

 

The Hawkins Model: An Updated Version

THE HAWKINS MODEL

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

By Mel Hawkins

Version dated: September, 2018

 

A Process is Just a Process

Teaching children in a classroom is a process of human design, no different than any other production, assembly, service-delivery process, or even a software program. It is a logical construct engineered to produce certain outcomes.

We are guided by the principle that when a process continues to produce unacceptable outcomes, no matter how hard people work or how qualified they are, then the process is broken and must be reinvented. The education process in our public schools must be tasked, organized, staffed, and resourced in such a way that every child leaves school with a quality education. It is such an education that gives them meaningful choices about what to do with their lives to find joy and meaning and to provide for themselves and their families. The education process must help students discover their potential and help them develop that potential and begin taking ownership of the pursuit of their dreams and ambitions.

The existing education process in use in public schools is structured like a competition in which some students win and others lose. It is a rigid process that requires teachers and schools to conform to its structure and organization. It is our belief that the structure and organization of teachers, students, and schools must be driven by the purpose for which schools and teachers exist: “To help all children learn as much as they are able at their own best speed.”

I challenge educators to examine the model you are about to read with an open mind, seeking to understand how it could work and not in search of reasons why it will not.  My hope is that this model will stimulate your imagination and open your heart and mind not only to the deficiencies of the existing education process but also to the limitless possibilities of a model created for you.

The model has been titled, the Hawkins Model, so I can retain the right of authorship. The Hawkins Model will be offered to public and parochial schools, free of charge. The only compensation I expect to receive would be royalties on the sale of my new book, that will be released, later this year, with the working title, The Hawkins Model: Public Education Reinvented, One Success at a Time!

This work will replace Reinventing Education, Hope, and the American Dream: The Challenge For Twenty-First Century America, published in 2013 through Createspace. Thanks to the wonderful professional educators who support one another and share ideas through social media, I have learned a great deal in the past five years. While I believe the original book is worth a reader’s time and consideration, I have discovered many new ideas and have abandoned others.

My final advice to prospective readers is to consider that positive advocacy for a new idea or solution is a far more effective means of driving positive change than complaints and protests. The latter are like fireworks. They are exciting, stimulating, and even inspiring, but when the last echoes fade into the night sky and the smoke has dissipated, they are quickly forgotten. Only ideas and solutions, promoted through the advocacy of positive leaders working together, have an opportunity to become real and have a lasting impact on the world.

 

Discarding the Past

What public school teachers and administrators will think when they first review my model is, “this will not work in my classroom(s),” and, of course, they are correct. This is exactly my point. In the current education process, 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. It is my assertion that no educator can be satisfied, no matter how successful their own school, until every school is focused on the success of every student.

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

 

Two Fundamental Truths

 There are two fundamental truths that are central to our purpose and every detail of the education model you are about to read has been designed to serve those truths.

 

Relationships

The first truth is that academic success is a function of the quality of the relationships between teachers, students, and parents. Children who feel a close personal relationship with their teacher, the kind that many of us recall when we think back on our favorite teacher(s), almost always give their best effort and that proves to be true throughout one’s whole life. In fact, is there any time in our lives when close relationships with other human beings are not the most important source of our happiness and well-being?

The current education process is not structured to facilitate those relationships for more than a given school year, if it happens at all. Neither is it an expectation on which teacher performance will be evaluated. That those special relationships that do develop are severed, routinely, at the end of a school year illustrates that the most important variable in the education equation is not even a priority in the education process in schools, today.

Of great concern is the tendency of some education reformers to denigrate the importance of teachers. We reject this notion, categorically.

In the Hawkins Model, nothing is more important to the success of kids than enduring relationships with caring teachers. Add concerned parents to the equation and students will soar.

 

Learning is the only thing that counts

The second truth is that the only thing that matters is that children learn as much as they can at their own best speed. One would think this would be obvious but all students in schools, today, are not given the same opportunity to succeed. The process is structured to move children along an identical path, at the same pace. At the end of the lesson, we assign a grade to each child’s performance, record it in our grade books, and move on to a new lesson; our job on the previous lesson, completed; or so we believe. At the end of the school year, we move all but a few on to the next grade where new teachers will try to get to know them and move them and their new classmates along the next measured segment of the path delineated by state academic standards. We then, repeat this process in succeeding years as we are gradually conditioned to tolerate a certain level of failure. It is difficult not to become inured to the failure of our students.

The model you are about to examine has been engineered to insure no child is pushed on to a new lesson until they understand and can demonstrate mastery on the current lesson. If a child has not learned a given lesson the job of educators is incomplete. The expectation must be that educators keep working with the child until they can demonstrate an acceptable level of mastery; until our students have learned. Nothing else matters. We must not be satisfied, however, that a student was able to pass a test. The true measure of learning is one’s ability to apply that skill or knowledge in real life situations. Simply stated, if a child cannot use a skill or knowledge they have not learned it, and this has devastating consequences with respect to the child’s ability to become the best version of themselves.

At the same time, the last thing we want to do is put a child in a situation in which they feel pressured to perform. Learning is supposed to be fun. It is one of the great ironies of life that many children perceive learning to be fun until they start school. Learning can be fun in any environment if success in learning is both assured and celebrated. We want children to believe in their hearts that learning is a great adventure. We want it to be a great adventure for teachers, as well.

This requires that we change what we teach. We must teach more than academic subject matter and we must teach the whole child. We want to teach applied academics–how to use what they learn in the real world. We want to teach them how to think creatively; how to solve problems; how to communicate effectively using all media; and, how to work together with other people both individually and as members of a team. We want them to embrace technology and use their imaginations to take on the challenges facing both the planet Earth and human society. We also want them to learn how to be kind; how to have an open mind and be non-judgmental. We want to teach them how to participate in their own governance and to respect the rights and beliefs of individual human beings and the principles of democracy. We want them to be good citizens who accept responsibility for their actions and their communities. We want to teach the principles of positive leadership, of organizational dynamics (people working together in organizations), and systems thinking, which is the process of bringing about systemic changes. Finally, we want to teach them to value life, family, and community.

Where our students will end up in life will be determined by their individual potential, their interests, how much they learn, and how hard they are willing to work. If they leave school with few, if any, choices about what to do with their lives then not only have they failed, we have failed them.

 

The Hawkins Model

 

Step 1 – Clarifying Mission and Purpose

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

The welfare and success of all students must be a teacher’s over-riding priority and the instructional process, and the very structure of the environment, must be molded to serve that purpose with the same dedication aircraft engineers use to design the cockpit to support and enable every function a pilot will be called upon to perform.

An education must teach children more than facts and knowledge, it must teach them that success is a process. Success and winning are not accomplishments rather they are a life-long process of getting the most out of one’s life by learning from one’s experiences; both mistakes and successes.

 

Step 2 – Objectives and Expectations

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

It is our expectation that:

  • Every child will be given whatever time and attention they need to learn every lesson;
  • They learn that mistakes are learning opportunities and that they should never give up on themselves;
  • Success will be measured against a child’s own past performance and not the performance of other children;
  • We will strive for subject mastery and that the threshold for mastery is a score of 85 percent or better on mastery assessments;
  • Students must learn well enough that they can apply what they have learned in real life situations that include subsequent lessons, state competency examinations, and life in a democratic society;
  • There are no arbitrary schedules or time limits and that all students are on their own unique schedule; and, finally,
  • Learning is an adventure of discovery.

 

Education is not a race to see who can learn the most, the fastest and there is no such thing as an acceptable level of failure. No child should be asked to keep up with their classmates and no child should be asked to wait for classmates to catch up.

 

Step 3 – What do children need to learn?

Let us summarize all the things children need if they are to learn:

  • A close personal relationship with one or more qualified teachers;
  • The involvement and support of parents/guardians in partnership with teachers;
  • To start at the exact point on the academic preparedness continuum where we find them when they arrive at our door;
  • An academic plan tailored to their unique requirements and where disadvantaged students receive accommodations appropriate to their disadvantage much as we do for special needs students;
  • Access, under guidance of their teachers, to leading edge methodologies, approaches, and technologies; from STEM to stern;
  • Our patient time and attention;
  • A stable and safe environment for the long term;
  • The freedom to explore the world and pursue their own interests as well as the curriculum developed for them;
  • To learn how to be successful and they need to know that success and winning are nothing more than a process of striving toward one’s goal and making adjustments along the way on the basis of what they learn from experience; and,
  • To experience success and winning and to celebrate every success and every win.

 

As educators, we must understand that while cutting-edge technology may seem threatening to us, it will be an integral part of the world in which our children must, someday, thrive. Educators are encouraged to think of their smart phones as an example of something that was initially intimidating but has become an integral part of our lives. Notwithstanding that everything in life has tradeoffs, think about how our smart phones have benefited us in our daily lives.

 

Step 4 – Where do we begin?

We begin by selecting the lowest performing elementary schools in any of our targeted public school districts and using them as a test case and, also, by soliciting the support of local advocacy groups that represent the people residing in a given school’s boundaries. We stress our focus on public schools because this is the only place we can attend to the needs of all our nation’s children. When something works in public education, it will find its way into private, parochial, and charter schools but the converse is not true.

People in the communities to be targeted will be skeptical. They have spent a lifetime hearing false promises and enduring their own difficulties in school. We will need the help of a community’s leaders to convince people that this is something special that will truly give their children a path out of poverty. After sharing our objectives with the community, our primary agenda is to focus on children who are starting kindergarten and what we now refer to as first through fifth grade. Our objective will be to meet each child at the unique point on an academic preparedness continuum where we find them on day one. From that unique point of departure, our objective is to help each child move forward on their unique path at their own best speed.

 

Step 5 – Organization and structure

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

  • Elementary/Primary Phase (formerly grades K through 5)
  • Middle School Phase (formerly grades 6 through 8)
  • Secondary Phase (formerly grades 9 through 12)

 

While addressing pre-school learning is not within our purview, what we will be doing will bring the importance of pre-school learning and development into sharper focus. The primary focus of public schools, however, must be on the children who stand before us.

It is understood that many school districts have divided elementary schools into smaller segments, e.g. K to 2, 3 to 5, etc. While these segments could be preserved in our proposed education model, we would ask administrators and policy makers to remember that one of our core objectives will be to sustain the relationships between children and their teachers and between students and their classmates for as long as possible.

 

Step 6 – Teaching teams

We will rely on teams of 3 teachers with a teacher to student ratio no greater than 1:15, meaning not more than 45 students assigned to a team of three teachers. To optimize our chances for success we would solicit volunteers from among the school corporation’s most capable and most innovative teachers. We want teachers who will be proud to be part of something new and excited by the opportunity. It is our belief that while modifications to existing classrooms might be nice they are not essential.

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

Teaching teams have the added advantage that if one teacher is having difficulty with a student, another member of the team can step in, thus increasing the probability that every student will find a teacher with whom they can bond. Teams will also make it easier to develop a rapport with parents as we triple the likelihood that a parent will find a teacher with whom they feel comfortable.

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

 

Step 7- Optimizing teaching staff

If a school has teacher aide slots for elementary classrooms, we recommend that the funds allocated for such positions be redirected to paying for additional teachers. Striving to optimize teacher resources is a top priority and if we are utilizing the proper tools, aides will not serve our purpose, however capable they may be. Qualified teachers are an essential variable.

Like the practice of medicine, teaching is an uncertain science. Physicians practice medicine and they are challenged to learn, relentlessly. Just like their students, practice is an integral part of a teacher’s learning process and provides one with opportunities to learn from the outcomes we produce, whether positive or negative.

 

Step 8 – Duration and stability

Students will remain together as a group and will be assigned to the same teaching team throughout their full elementary/primary academic phase. Eventually, that model will be employed as students move from the elementary/primary phase to the middle school and high school phases.

Close personal relations with teachers and their students, in a safe environment, can best be accomplished by keeping them together over a period of years. Why would we want to break up relationships between teachers and students because the calendar changes? We are guided by the adage that “the child who is hardest to love is the one who needs it the most.” Sometimes, it takes teachers most of the year to bond with some of their most challenging students only to have the relationship severed at the end of a school year, which is nothing more than a designated point on an arbitrary calendar.

These types of long-term relationships also increase the likelihood that parents can be pulled into the educational process as partners with their children’s teachers. Finally, we believe keeping students together in such an intimate environment will strengthen the bonds between classmates and have a positive impact on both the incidence of bullying and our ability to respond to such incidents.

 

Step 9 – Reaching out to Parents

Reaching out to parents must be a high priority. By partnering with their child’s teachers, the parent can play an important part in helping the child succeed.  There is a high expectation that, as students begin to experience success, their parents/guardians will begin to see a difference in their children, at home. Success is contagious, even for those of us on the sidelines. It is our hope that the desire to share in and help celebrate their son or daughter’s success will lure even the most skeptical parents into partnerships with their child’s teachers.

We also know that when we form close relationships with parents we also get to know their families. This creates a real opportunity to intervene, if there are younger children in the home, to help insure that they enjoy improved enrichment opportunities thus optimizing their academic preparedness. With each parent we pull into the process, we expand our presence in the community and raise awareness that our new education model is a special opportunity.

 

Step 10 – Assessment and tailored academic plan

Select an appropriate assessment process/tool and utilize it to determine the level of academic preparedness of each child when they arrive at our door for their first day of school. We will then utilize what we learn to create a tailored academic plan to meet each student’s unique needs.

We know that the disparity with respect to academic preparedness of students spans the full spectrum. We also know that children have different learning styles. What educators must do is to recognize that these differences exist and do their best to accommodate the unique style, potential, and interests of their students.

 

Step 11 – The learning process

Academic Standards

Academic standards have been established by most states and on a nation-wide level there is “Common Core.” These standards drive expectations of schools, teachers, and their students and they also drive the high-stakes testing that assesses performance against those standards. While assessing standards and curricula is not my area of expertise, the other area of concern is the expectation that students are all expected to be at the same place at the end of a school year. Given that students have different starting points and that they are headed for more than just one destination, such expectations set millions of kids up for failure.

As new approaches to teaching children using experiential learning methodologies gain popularity, the greater the disconnect will be between standards and what kids truly need. Education leaders and policy makers must begin to re-evaluate the efficacy of existing standards.

Most of us would agree that there are foundational academic skills upon which a diverse population of young people can build different lives. The common denominator, however, is no longer limited to being able to read and write and to have basic math and science skills, although these are essential. Our challenge is to prepare children for life, not test-taking, and this demands that we find new and better ways to help kids learn by doing. Critical skills such as creative thinking, communication, team work, problem-solving, and the ability to understand and utilize technology will be as essential to their success as reading, writing, and math skills. The compelling need to be better stewards of our environment will make science and engineering more important than ever. As citizens of the 21st Century, our students must not only be able to utilize what they learn they must be able to adapt to the accelerating speed of obsolescence.

Because of the disparity in the academic preparedness of children arriving for their first day of school, we need to help children progress along a tailored academic path from their unique starting point and we must also be helping them assume ever greater responsibility for their own growth and development. As their interests and aptitudes evolve they must begin charting their own futures, with the help of caring teachers. The process for helping kids develop mastery over an ever-widening range of subject matter must be adaptive and involve, in some form:

  1. Presentation, appropriate to the subject matter, through utilization the full spectrum of media, methodology, and technology;
  2. Practice and review, giving the student as much time as they require to learn from their mistakes;
  3. Assessment of their ability to demonstrate mastery over subject matter, which we define as the ability to utilize it in the real world. When that level of mastery is quantifiable, such as a grade on a test or other instrument of measurement, the target will be minimum of 85 percent;
  4. The expectation that no child will be pushed ahead before they are able to utilize what they have learned even if that means starting over using other means and approaches; and,
  5. A verification assessment, in each subject area, to confirm retention of subject area mastery at a point in the near future, such as 6 to 8 weeks.

 

If the student scores 85 percent or better, their success must be celebrated and, also, formally documented. Students are, then, ready to move on to the next steps on their unique academic path in a given subject area. It is envisioned that such formal documentation will, someday, replace the need for standardized competency exams given once a year.

One of our Twitter colleagues, @nkgalpal, reminded us that students can also play a vital role in helping classmates who may be struggling on a given lesson or subject area.  Educators have long recognized that one of the best ways to learn something is to teach it. This suggests that more advanced students benefit as much or more as the classmates they have an opportunity to help. Not only does this enhance the level and quality of learning that takes place it also strengthens the bonds between students.

We want our classrooms to function like a family or like an athletic team in which members have formed the strong bonds that result from dedication to shared purpose and objectives; sharing the demanding work required in practices; cheering for and supporting their classmates; and shared celebration of success in overcoming their academic challenges. Think about how many times you have seen starters, at the end of a basketball game, cheer excitedly for teammates who work hard in practice but rarely get an opportunity to make a basket, a steal, rebound, or an assist in an actual game. These bonds are enduring.

 

Character, Creativity, Imagination, Service, and Civic Responsibility

As we have noted, our objective as educators extends beyond subject matter mastery. Even when character, creativity, imagination, service and civic responsibility are covered in the academic standards of some jurisdictions, they are easily forgotten in challenging environments and situations, particularly in our era of high-stakes testing.

We suggest that these things are interdependent. Think of subject matter mastery as laying a foundation upon which character, genius, and individuality will be built.  An individual’s ability to explore and create is very much, if not always, a function of fundamental knowledge and skill sets.

 

Step 12 – State-of-the-Art technology and tools of success

Provide each student and teacher with appropriate technology with which to work. We must be willing and able to utilize state-of-the-art technological tools, as they evolve, to help teachers teach and kids learn. Among other things, this requires that teachers be willing to relinquish their reticence.

No matter what some education reformers might say, technology will not and cannot replace teachers. This education model is premised upon the primacy of teachers in the education equation. Technology can and will empower teachers, however. The world is becoming and will continue to become more technology-driven than it is today, and this trend will only accelerate and expand in scope.

Our children will live, work, and rear their own families in a technological world that surpasses anything most of us can imagine. Our job is to prepare students for that future, not find ways to avoid it because of our own fear and reluctance.

There are wonderful digital tools on the market but many of them are specialized to the extent that it is unlikely they will provide the full range of support teachers and students need. We are seeking something comparable to an Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) system that is real-time, cloud-based, and integrated with 360-degree feedback capability. Such technology must be relieve teachers of all classroom management responsibilities, so they can be devoted, optimally, to relationship building and teaching.

It is envisioned that, as the scope of the potential market for such a product begins to reveal itself, developers of technology solutions will be competing aggressively to capture sustainable market share. Astute providers of such solutions will work closely with their prospective customers to ensure satisfaction.

A system must help the teacher manage the process as they will have students working at multiple levels, in various subject areas, utilizing an array of resources to meet the needs of a diverse student population.  Students will be on a unique path even though many of the paths may be parallel.

Software must be able to:

  • Keep attendance records;
  • Manage various subject areas;
  • Help teachers and students through lesson presentations;
  • Generate practice assignments and grade them if they are quantitative;
  • Permit teacher to enter qualitative assessments of performance;
  • Identify areas that need review and more practice;
  • Signal readiness for Mastery Quizzes;
  • Grade and record the results of quizzes and assignments and then direct students onward to a subsequent lesson module or back for more work on current modules;
  • Celebrate success much like a video game;
  • Signal the teachers at every step of the way;
  • Recommend when it is time for a Verification Mastery Quiz;
  • Document Mastery achievements as verified by VMQ as part of the student’s permanent record; and,
  • Give students the freedom to pursue their interests, as they strive to explore the universe.

 

Our objective is to empower teachers so their time can be devoted to meaningful interaction with each and every student as they proceed along their tailored academic journey. Meaningful interaction will include teaching, coaching, mentoring, consoling, encouraging, nurturing, playing, and celebration. That interaction must also include time spent with students’ parents.

 

Step 13 – No Failure and No waiting

No student is to be pushed to the next lesson until they have mastered the current lesson as success on one lesson dramatically improves the readiness for success on subsequent lessons. Similarly, no student who has demonstrated that they are ready to move on will be asked to wait for classmates to catch up. Every student moves forward at the best speed of which they are capable. This creates opportunities for students to move ahead on their own initiative and take ownership of their own adventure of discovery even if it means teachers must scurry to keep up.

It also means that no student will experience the humiliation of failure.The ultimate mission of education is to put the fun back in learning and teaching. Success is what drives motivation, commitment, and fun. If all we ever do is lose when playing a game, it is only a matter of time until we avoid playing.

Success is a process of applying what we learn from our experiences, whether successful or unsuccessful. The more we succeed, the more confident we become and the more confident we become, the more motivated we are to learn and grow. As children gain confidence in their ability to control the outcomes in their lives, their self-esteem is strengthened and their ability to overcome obstacles, including discrimination, is enhanced.

Educators are challenged to understand that the single greatest flaw in education, both public and private, is its acceptance of failure on the part of our students. Nothing destroys motivation to learn and creates an atmosphere of hopelessness as much as repeated failure. The fact that we permit children to fail is unconscionable and inexcusable.

In our definition, “failure” and “making mistakes” are not the same thing. We all make mistakes. Mistakes become failure only when students are allowed or are required to stop trying before they come to understand. This happens every time we ask a child to move on to a new lesson before they are ready and every time teachers are asked to record an unsatisfactory grade in their books. This type of failure not only deprives children of an opportunity to experience success, it robs them of the essential knowledge and skills they will need to be successful on subsequent lessons, and to live productive and meaningful lives.

Children must be able to use what they have learned in “real-life” situations. The National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP) defines “proficiency” as:

“having a demonstrated competency over challenging subject matter, including subject matter knowledge, application of such knowledge to real world situations, and analytical skills appropriate to subject matter.” [The emphasis is mine.]

Anything less than proficient is unacceptable and that includes “approaching proficiency.” Approaching proficiency is a good thing only if a student subsequently  becomes proficient. The work of our teachers and schools is not complete until students have actually achieve “proficiency.”

 

Step 14 – the Arts and Exercise

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

  • Develop relationships with other teachers;
  • Exercise their young bodies;
  • Learn to appreciate and to express themselves through art; and,
  • Interact with children from other classes.

 

Step 15 – Performance Management and Metrics

Identifying how performance against objectives will be measured is a vital part of any operational plan because how we keep score determines how the game will be played. We want teachers and administrators to be rewarded for the quality of the outcomes they produce. Our objective is to measure how effectively teachers are helping kids learn and be able to apply what they have learned in real-life situations.

Students will be expected to pass not only a Mastery Quiz (MQ) with a score of 85 percent or better before moving on to subsequent lessons, but also a Verification Master Quiz (VMQ) that will be administered to students 6 to 8 weeks after passing the MQ. The purpose of the VMQ is to ensure that students have retained what the have learned and are able to utilize that knowledge and/or skills in real life situations. This can best be measured by determining the percentage of students who pass their VMQ on the first attempt. The higher the percentage of passage the better the performance of teachers.

We are not expecting perfection, however. Certainly a few students will not pass their VMQs, signaling that they were not ready. While we want to minimize such occurrences, teachers will not suffer consequences. We must ensure that “pace of learning” does not replace “understanding” as the objective of teachers or the education process. The failure of a VMQ by a student is nothing more than an opportunity for teachers to learn from their disappointing outcomes.

 

Step 16 – High Stakes Testing

The performance of teachers will not be evaluated on the results of high stakes testing. We do not want teachers to feel pressured to move students along before they are ready. Every student who passes a VMQ will be demonstrating that they were, indeed, ready.

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

 

Step 17 – Stability and Adaptability

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

 

Step 18 – Relentless, non-negotiable commitment

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

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

 

Step 19 – The Power of positive leaders

As with any human endeavor, positive leadership is crucial. Administrators at every level, whether superintendents, assistant superintendents, principals, or assistant principals, must be trained to be more than administrators. They must be powerful positive leaders who understand that their success is a function of both their ability to keep their organizations focused on purpose and the quality of leadership they provide to their people. The bottom line is that the over-riding priority of positive leaders is to help their people be successful at every level of their organization and its supply chain; which includes students, parents, and the community.

Education departments in our colleges and universities must ensure that the study of leadership is a core component in the education of school administrators, at every level. We must view them as leaders, not administrators.

 

Step 20 – Special Needs

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

 

Summary and Conclusions

The only justification for preserving the status quo in public education would be if we truly believed the children who fail are incapable of learning. If, on the other hand, we believe all children can learn, we are compelled to act.

The fundamental premise of the Hawkins Model is that all children can learn if given the opportunity and if they feel safe and secure. The fact that we have clung for so long to an ineffectual educational process that sets kids up for failure and humiliation is unfathomable. Refusal to seize an opportunity to alter this tragic reality is inexcusable.

Once a school district becomes satisfied that this new model produces the outcomes they are seeking, the model can be implemented in every school in the district and can be modified to fit the needs of students as they move on to middle school and high school.

The success of this model will also drive the need for revolutionary change in our institutions of higher learning. Colleges, universities, community colleges, technical schools, and vocational education programs must be prepared to reinvent themselves as the needs of their students will have changed exponentially.

 

Important Questions for Public School Teachers

We begin with a declaration that American public school teachers strive to do their absolute best to help all their students learn as much as they are able. The purpose of my questions is to understand whether teachers are satisfied that they can give their students a genuine opportunity to learn, given the education process within which they are asked to teach, and the resources allocated to them.

Many public school teachers and other educators are concerned about the future of their own schools, about the future of public education as a whole, about their own futures and of the teaching profession, and about the future of our nation’s children. These concerns are justified considering the extent to which public education is under attack by education reformers with their focus on privatization of schools, high-stakes testing, attacking teacher unions and associations, and minimizing the reliance on teachers through increased utilization of digital technology.

The following questions are posed to all teachers, but especially to those who work in public schools under scrutiny because of low test scores and/or who have students who struggle to keep up. Think of the education process as the manner in which teachers, classrooms, time, and resources are organized to allow you to teach your students.

(Please note that I am not asking you to share your answers with anyone, only that you answer each question, as honestly as you can, to the satisfaction of your own hearts and minds.)

1) Given your commitment to do your best to help every one of your students experience academic success, how well does the education process support your efforts to give struggling students the extra time and attention they need to learn?

2) How often is it necessary for you to move your class on to a new lesson when one or more of your students—often a significant percentage of your class—are unable to demonstrate subject mastery on end-of-chapter exams?

3) How many times in a grading period, semester, or school year do you find it necessary to record a “below-passing score” in your gradebook?

4) By the end of a school year, what percentage of your students meet the objectives that were established for them per state academic standards for their grade level?

5) What percentage of your students earn a below-passing score on one or both Math and ELA components of your state’s competency exams (high stakes testing), or are unable to meet the criteria required to be identified as “proficient” in these subject areas; not “approaching proficient?”

If your answers to these questions raise doubts in your mind about the viability of the education process and the adequacy of the resources at your disposal, I ask you to consider another way to organize and teach our nation’s children. Please take the time to examine my education model, which is available for your review on my website at http://bit.ly/2k53li3 along with a white paper that provides the logical foundation for the model. It is an education model that has been developed through the utilization of a “systems-thinking” process, the principles of organizational development and positive leadership, and a focus on purpose that, in education, is helping every child achieve academic success.

Please note that “systems-thinking,” the principles of organizational development and positive leadership, and a focus on purpose or mission are utilized routinely in the private sector to help organizations address the concerns of dissatisfied customers and engage in continuous improvement of products and services. Often, this requires positive leadership to take an organization and its production process back to the drawing board to reinvent a process to produce better products and services or, in many cases, create new products and services. Make no mistake, education reformers and their supporters are nothing more than dissatisfied customers of public education.

If, upon review, you believe that my education model might improve the odds of success of your students, I ask you to help me spread the word, put an end to the failure of so many children, and end the frustration of public school teachers, everywhere. Implementing an education model focused on success will also render irrelevant the education reform movement with its focus privatization, high-stakes testing, and diminishing the role of teachers.

More Evidence that It’s Time for Public School Superintendents and Advocates for Disadvantaged Kids To Act!

If you are a public school superintendent or an advocate for black kids and other minority children who cares deeply about kids—yours or anyone else’s—if you could see what I see and hear what I hear, it would break your heart.

Every Thursday evening, I have the privilege of testing young men and women seeking to enlist in the Armed Services of the U.S. A significant majority of these young people (90+ percent) are recent high school graduates and high school seniors. They come from high schools throughout Northeast Indiana and they are seeking a place for themselves in society. They come to take the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB), which is used to demonstrate enlistment eligibility.

Eligibility for enlistment is determined by the “AFQT” score, which is a component of the ASVAB Battery made up of four of the ASVAB’s ten tests: “Arithmetic Reasoning” (arithmetic word problems); “Word Knowledge,” “Paragraph comprehension,” and “Mathematics Knowledge.” A minimum score of 31 is required for enlistment eligibility, although some branches require a higher score.

Even though a score of 31 makes them eligible for enlistment, prospects are considered “desirable candidates’ and qualify for enlistment incentives only if they achieve a score of 50 or better.

One can reasonably conclude that a young man or woman who is unable to qualify for even the most basic jobs in the military services will, similarly, be unable to qualify for even the most basic jobs in civilian society. The candidates who are eligible to enlist but fall short of the threshold that would designate them as desirable candidates, will be assigned the least desirable jobs.

Over the past year or more, I have tested approximately 700 public school students. Although I am not authorized to provide specific data, roughly 30 percent of the young high school graduates and high school seniors who took the exam were unable to achieve the minimum score of 31. Given that these are percentile scores based on the data from the millions of ASVAB exams administered during the last decade or longer, the outcomes I witness are not unexpected. Approximately 55 percent of the 700 high school graduates and high school seniors were unable to achieve an AFQT score of 50 or higher.

On a given Thursday evening, I might test anywhere from 5 to 20 young people. There is always a sense of nervous anticipation as candidates arrive for testing and I can hear excitement in their voices. From their recruiters, they have heard what the various branches have to offer, and the benefits are substantial.

Some of the questions and comments I get while checking them in for the exam are:

  • “Will I know my score, tonight?” and the answer is “Yes”
  • “Will I know what kind of jobs I will be qualified for?” I explain that their recruiter will help them understand their scores.
  • “I hope I do well because I would like to do “___________.”
  •  “Is this test hard? I really need to pass!”

 

Others will talk about how hard they have been studying in preparation for the test, not realizing how little that will help.

Teachers and other educators know how ineffective it is to cram the night before a test if students have not taken their classroom assignments seriously. We know it is impossible to make up, with a few hours of cramming, what takes most of us 12 or 13 years to learn and master.

As I monitor the candidates during the test, it is sad to see the discouragement set in as they begin to realize how poorly prepared they are for the material on which they are being tested. Their body language quickly reflects their discouragement: their shoulders begin to sag, they begin to fidget in their seats, or start looking around to see what other examinees are doing. When they begin racing through the questions, it is clear they have given up and are no longer trying; a strategy they have learned all too well.

I once had a young man raise his hand and then ask me one of the most profound questions I’ve ever been asked:

“How are we supposed to know this stuff?”

 I am not permitted to answer questions about the exam, but I would have loved to have been able to answer that question. Were they never told that learning “this stuff” was the purpose of going to school?

This high school graduate became one of the 3 to 5 percent of the examinees who achieved a single digit score, meaning they are functionally illiterate.

Over two-hundred times in the last year, as they left the testing room with score in hand, young men and women were confronted with the stone-cold reality that there are no good opportunities for them, whether in the military or in civilian life. Their faces tell the story. They are permitted to take a retest in 30 days, and again after another 30, and yet again 6 months after the 2nd retest.  It is exceedingly rare, however, for them to improve their score well enough to reach the “eligibility threshold,” let alone the “desirability threshold.”

I have been administering the ASVAB for fourteen years and have seen this story play out over 3000 times, whether testing in Fort Wayne, which is my primary testing site, or occasionally in South Bend, Gary, Muncie, Lafayette, or Kokomo, Indiana.  It is a story that is repeated in communities all over the U.S. as millions of young American men and women are leaving school without the knowledge and skills they will need to have meaningful choices in life. These young men and women come from all racial, ethnic, and demographic groups but a disproportionate percentage are young blacks; testimony to the fact that the performance gap or achievement gap between black students and their white classmates, is real.

It is unfortunate that public school superintendents and principals are not present to see their former students facing such stark realities; that they are not witnessing this tragedy up close and personal.

The roughly 55 percent of the candidates who score below 50 and are, thus, unable to qualify for enlistment incentives, are only marginally less at risk than those unable to score 31.

I ask the reader to understand that this population of young Americans represents only those who have sufficient ambition to, at least, seek out a better life for themselves. Many of the young men and women who leave school with minimal academic achievements do not even try to seek out opportunities because they have given up all hope. That many of this latter group of young Americans, black men especially, will end up in local, state, and federal correction facilities or meet an early, violent death is a national tragedy of immense proportions with staggering ramifications for the future of the American democracy.

All hope is not lost, however.

This is a tragedy that can so easily be avoided if the leaders of public education (our superintendents and policy makers) would first, acknowledge that what we are doing in our public schools does not work for disadvantaged children; and second, would accept responsibility for finding a solution.

It can be avoided if advocates for black children, Hispanic children, and other disadvantaged children would come together and demand action to address this civil rights issue of our times with the same relentless determination as the civil rights heroes of the 1950s and 60s. I can assure these advocates that the people who promote “school choice” are not their friends and do not have the best interests of disadvantaged kids in mind.

This is an American tragedy of staggering proportions and it happens only because the education process at work in our public schools is not structured to give disadvantaged children the time, care, and attention they need to overcome their disadvantages.

Many Americans are quick to blame teachers, but this is grossly unfair. Public school teachers are victims of the same flaws in our systems of public education, as are their students. Teachers are too busy trying to make a flawed education process work for as many of their students as possible.

Public school superintendents, and to a lesser extent, their principals are the professionals who have the best opportunity to bring about meaningful change. If superintendents have underperforming schools in their districts, they have a moral obligation to join forces with their colleagues and shout, loudly, that it is time to transform public education in America. I offer my education model as a starting point. Please check it out at https://melhawkinsandassociates.com/education-model-white-paper/