NAEP and Other Standardized Tests Have Been Weaponized.

This a break in my series on positive leadership in order to respond to a recent post on our colleague @StevenSinger3’s outstanding  blog. Gadfly on the Wall.

The reaction of public-school educators to the results of standardized tests, whether state-based or national is very much like the reaction to more lessons and tests in their classrooms on the part of struggling students. When one feels victimized by something, having an aversion to it is a natural thing.

The genesis of high-stakes testing is irrelevant when public school educators feel beaten down by such exams and by the blame that is so often attached. In essence, standardized tests have been weaponized and are used to attack the very existence, not to mention credibility, of public-school teachers and administrators, and the public schools in which they teach. It should not be surprising that these educators go on the defensive at the mere mention of high stakes testing.

This is no different than a student who fails lesson after lesson with such repetition that they feel hopeless. By the time they reach middle school, struggling students have given up on learning. Some of them have given up and stopped trying by the time they reach the middle elementary grades three, four, or five. While the  demographics of these children cover the full spectrum of American society, a disproportionate percentage of them are poor, have skins that are varying shades of brown, or live in households where English is not their mother tongue.

It is no different than a person or a dog that has been beaten by a cane. After a while, they begin to react, viscerally, to the very sight of the cane. Objectively speaking, there is nothing wrong with the cane other than it is being utilized in a manner other than its intended purpose. If the child’s parent or grandparent, or a pet’s owner, picks up the cane and uses it to help themselves walk across the room it is serving its true purpose and is inherently good. The child or pet that has been beaten by that same cane will shy away from it, nevertheless.

The problem in public education is not high stakes testing rather it is that they are being utilized as a weapon to attack public education as a whole, and teachers and their schools, more specifically.

Neither is there anything inherently evil about the results of such exams other than the fact that they are being used for reasons other than their purpose. Because they trigger a negative emotional response, educators have discounted the value of what we can learn from them. It is probably more accurate to say that educators have rejected the value of the results, altogether.

This is unfortunate because those results validate what we learn by examining the gradebooks of public-school teachers. The results confirm what our military services are dealing with when a significant percentage of our nation’s young men and women are unable to score well enough on the ASVAB[1] to qualify for enlistment. They correlate with the experiences of employers who want to hire these young men and women but find them unqualified. The results of all these assessments corroborate the reality that the men and women who populate our prisons were, at one time, our struggling students.

Having been one of those employers I can attest to the frustration when so many candidates for vacant positions lack basic math and reading skills essential to the jobs they would be asked to perform; even entry-level production or warehouse positions. For a brief period, before a change in our ownership, we provided basic math and reading skills instruction for these candidates. Even then, the results were disillusioning. Many struggled and some quit. My interpretation, then, was that they felt traumatized by the classroom.

I saw this while subbing, particularly in middle school classrooms, when students appear to be afraid to try. This triggered recollections from my years as a juvenile probation officer when my probationers seemed afraid when encouraged to talk about school experiences.

I challenge public school teachers to imagine how kids feel when, week after week, lesson after lesson, they  perform poorly on practice assignments and fail both quizzes and chapter tests. Imagine how you would feel if the evaluations from your principals were negative, time after time. After a while, being instructed to “work harder” is as demeaning as it is unhelpful.

I know teachers agonize over these kids and I know they do the best they can in the environment in which they are asked to work. I tell myself that these teachers, whom I have come to respect, must know in their hearts that something is not working; that, somehow, the process is flawed.

High stakes testing has become a pivotal issue for educators on both sides of the debate on the future of public education in America. It is worth looking at the NAEP (National Assessment of Educational Progress) testing because the results confirm that what is happening in our schools is not confined to a few unfortunate communities or school districts but occurs nation-wide. What is important about NAEP assessments is the way they define the “Proficient” level of performance.

The vital component of that definition is that it attempts to measure the ability of these youngsters to utilize what they were expected to learn in real life situations. Ultimately, this is the only measure that counts. I have no illusions that the instruments of assessment are perfect. Yes, they are culturally biased; yes, multiple choice questions are limited in their utility even though we have been using them in our classrooms for generations; but, it seems that the results are the same however we measure them. Even the chapter tests that are given in almost all classrooms, routinely, bring us to the same conclusion.

It does not matter what teachers and other educators think their students have learned; and neither do graduation rates matter. Similarly, the piece of paper with which graduates walk away that says they have completed a portion of their formal education is meaningless if they cannot apply useful skills and knowledge in real life.

Whether young people can apply what they were expected to have learned when they go out into the world and strive to make a life for themselves is the essential question and the basis on which the performance of our education process must be measured. And let us make it perfectly clear that it is the efficacy of the education process that all forms of assessment measure, not the effectiveness of public school teachers, public schools, or public education as a whole.

No matter how hard they work, how qualified they may be, nor how dedicated public-school educators may be, they cannot make an obsolete education process give us outcomes it is poorly designed and structured to produce.

My message to public school teachers is that I am not here to blame you. You are my heroes. I have subbed in classrooms that have shown me the challenges you face, daily. I have experienced what it is like to strive to teach in a classroom where the distractions of student behavior make it seem impossible. I have felt the dread of walking into a classroom every day, after having to gird myself for the challenges I was certain to face. I have at least sampled the frustration of professional men and women who are unable to do what they were trained to do; who are unable to experience the satisfaction of helping kids learn and grow—the very reason why they chose to become a teacher in the first place.

Teachers and principals: you are not to blame. I do not question your commitment or professionalism. I do not dispute how hard you work or how valiantly you strive to give your students what they need to learn. The education process that has been at work in our schools for as long as any of us can remember does not work for a significant percentage of our students, and it does not work for teachers. I would assert, also, that it does an injustice to even the students who appear to be performing well because it inhibits their ability to achieve at their full potential.

Both teachers and their students deserve better.

The challenge is, we cannot create better outcomes until we analyze what contributes to the struggles of our students and are willing to let go of the traditional methods and approaches with which we have grown comfortable. For most of you, it is the only way you have ever known.

Our students are not struggling because of bad teachers and bad schools. Neither are they struggling because they are poor, because of the color of their skin, because of the language of their birth, or because they are genetically incapable of learning.

I want to convince you that poverty is as much a consequence of inequality in education as it is a cause of that inequality.

I want you to understand that we will never get better outcomes for your students—our nation’s most valuable assets—until we go back to the drawing board. We will not get better outcomes until:

  • We assess the level of academic preparedness of each student when they arrive at our door for their first day of school.
  • We tailor what we do to meet the unique needs of each student;
  • We create an environment in which they can form enduring relationships with teachers who will provide the constant emotional, physical, and academic support they require;
  • We ensure that every child has at least one teacher with whom he or she can bond, even the kids who are hardest to love,
  • We discontinue the practice of severing relationships between students and a teacher on whom they have come to rely;
  • We stop treating education as a competition in which some kids win, and others lose;
  • We stop pushing kids ahead to “next lessons’ before they are ready—before they have mastered and understand their previous lesson in each subject area;
  • We stop asking students who “get it” to sit by patiently until their classmates catch up;
  • We stop marching to the tune of arbitrary schedules and time frames;
  • We stop measuring the performance of students against the performance of their classmates;
  • we free teachers from the unnecessary distractions that prevent them from giving each child the time and attention they need to feel safe, to feel special, and to learn at their own unique pace;
  • We give teachers the freedom to utilize whatever approaches, methodologies, media, or technology that will help a given student learn;
  • We recognize that our students are not all preparing for the same destinations and aspirations and that no one destination is more important than others;
  • We allow our students to discover the best versions of themselves and chart out their own goals and ambitions;
  • We ensure that every child learns that success is a process of learning from our outcomes and experiences, both successful and unsuccessful, and that it is a process each of them can master;
  • Until together and with enthusiasm, we have celebrated all their successes along the pathway to whatever destiny they have chosen for themselves;
  • They have developed the powerful self-esteem they will need to face the unprecedented challenges in the balance of this 21st Century; and,
  • They have sufficient strength of character and the tools to withstand the slings and arrows of prejudice and discrimination with which so many of them will be subjected.

Answer the following question for your own benefit, not for mine:

“Is the education process in which you are asked to teach structured to provide students with each of these essential components?”

My purpose as an advocate for an education model designed to provide all these things, is to recruit you to rally around a positive idea that can transform public education in America.

I am an advocate for public education in community schools that are accountable to the residents of those communities. I am an advocate for teachers, whom I consider to be unsung heroes who have one of the most important jobs in all of society.  

I encourage you to ask yourself: “What if there is another way to teach our nation’s children?” What if there is a way that gives all children, not just a lucky few, the quality education they deserve while giving teachers the career you dreamt of when you chose the field of education?

What if there is a way to ensure that you will make a difference, every day, without the distractions and complications that have led so many of your colleagues to leave teaching?

Why not sneak a peek at a new education model, The Hawkins Model©; a new way to teach your students? What do you have to lose?

Remember that it is a quality education on which the future of our nation’s children depends, and it is on those same children that the future of our nation depends.


[1] Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery, the instrument used by the Armed Services to determine eligibility for enlistment.

The Second Most Important Lesson of Positive Leadership.

The most important lesson for those who aspire to be powerful, positive leaders is that it is not about you. The second most important lesson is to focus on one’s purpose and, almost always, that purpose/mission is to satisfy one’s customer.

In the private sector, focus on customers is easy because it is the customer who buys goods and services. Dissatisfied customers can act immediately to take their money and seek out other suppliers. If that dissatisfaction spreads, the enterprise is at risk of losing their ability to compete.

In the public sector, of which public schools are a part, there can be a disconnect between leadership and dissatisfied customers.

Unlike buyers of consumer goods and services, the end-users of public education (the community, parents and employers) are faced with limited choices. Rarely can they take their money and seek out other providers of education services. With no consequences with which to deal, leaders of schools and other public institutions  are under minimal pressure to alter what they do. In the absence of choices and meaningful responses from educators, the dissatisfaction of the community festers.

It is this author’s belief that striving to replace our nation’s public schools with a smattering of uninspiring charter schools is a classic example of “throwing the baby out with the bathwater.”

Contrary to the perception of many public-school educators and advocates, however, education reformers—with  their focus on charter schools, vouchers, and digital learning—are driven by neither a greed for profits nor for a reliable pipeline of automatons to work in their factories. Just the opposite is true.

An over-supply of unthinking workers is the very thing employers are unhappy about.  And, while reformers may want their charter schools to make money, profits are not the motivation. There are much easier ways to make money.

The true motivation for creating charter schools, in present day, is to create an environment where dissatisfied parents can take their money and seek out a better school for their children; to have a choice. Having such choices puts pressure on providers to produce better outcomes.

It is this observer’s assertion that reformers are not out to do harm rather they are misguided. Just changing the name on the door does nothing to differentiate charter schools from public schools. Different teachers working in different facilities matters little if they teach in the same way. And, no, it does not matter that they rely more heavily on digital tools. Varying media does not alter the essential nature of the learning environment.

It is a positive environment that fosters learning and it is the quality of relationships that create positive environments.

What superintendents and local school boards must understand is that it is not enough to believe their schools are effective nor does it matter how hard their teachers and principals work, or how dedicated they may be. Neither does it matter that the societal issues of poverty, crime, discrimination, and segregation make it difficult for educators to do their jobs. These are excuses. The only thing that matters is whether a school’s outcomes are acceptable to their communities.

The challenge for leaders of public education—their essential purpose—is to accept responsibility for the outcomes with which one’s customers are disappointed and find solutions that work for all kids. Societal issues do not diminish the need for change, they make it more compelling.

In public education, or any other setting, innovative solutions must be sought outside the boundaries of conventional wisdom. Finding them requires that we go back to the drawing board and challenge our assumptions about what educators do, and why.

Throwing out the bathwater of public education but not the kids is a formidable challenge. Professional educators must take the lead and would do well to invite corporate America to join them in addressing this most significant challenge for 21st Century America. Only by working together and rallying around innovative solutions can educators and corporate America marshal the resources necessary to transform the American educational system.

The education model I have developed is an example of just such a solution and I invite superintendents and corporate leaders to examine it at https://melhawkinsandassociates.com/education-model-white-paper/

Teachers Are Many Things All of which Are Essential!

When we greet a five- or six-year old boy or girl on their first day of school this is a point of embarkation on a twelve- to thirteen-year journey to adulthood. The mission of teachers is to help prepare these young people to be citizens of a participatory democracy. Teachers are essential to the fulfillment of that purpose and can be replaced by neither technology nor less qualified, lower paid staff.

The job of teachers is to help our students build a portfolio of knowledge and skills so they will have choices for what they want to do with their lives to find joy and meaning. We want our young people to be able to provide for and create wealth for themselves and their families and we want them to add value to society. More than anything we do, relationships will be key to our students’ success and development, in every way.

When children arrive at our door on their first day of school they may be at the single most vulnerable period of their lives. These unique little human beings are a precious creatures—truly our society’s most important asset and it will be on their backs that the future of society will be borne.

We must greet every child who arrives at our school as an individual with the potential to accomplish important things. Their welfare should be at the top of every single one of our nation’s priority lists. Possibly, one of our students may grow up to be President of the United States, become a brain surgeon, a research scientist who will find the cure to cancer, a lawyer, architect, teacher, professor, nurse, entrepreneur, public safety officer, elected official, sales professional , manager, supervisor or the best electrician, cosmetologist, auto mechanic, custodian, plumber, certified nursing assistant, or small business owner in their community. It is not for us to decide what they will grow up to be.

Our job as educators is to help them discover who they can be and then teach, coach, mentor, guide, cheer for them, sometimes push, and always support them along their unique developmental path. We must help them identify their talents, abilities, and interests so that they can begin to create their own dreams and become the best versions of themselves. During this time, we must avoid passing judgment on their choices. We must embrace the idea that every job, done well, adds an element of beauty to the world. We must refrain from making arbitrary decisions such as that all students must prepare for a four-year degree.

Public school teachers must convince their students, through our daily words, actions, the expressions on our faces, and the tone of our voices that we consider helping them develop their potential to be our mission in life. We must make them feel loved, and respected, and we must smile at them at every opportunity. Remind yourself how you feel when greeted by a warm smile from someone you know. Think of it as relentless affirmation.

We want our students to become good citizens who understand their responsibilities as members of a participatory democracy. We want them to understand the cogent issues of their time and to make thoughtful decisions. We want them to be able to think for themselves and not be swayed by charlatans, whatever their doctrine.

It is our objective that our students will become imaginative and creative adults able think exponentially, outside the boundaries of conventional wisdom (outside the box). They must understand that the world is changing at an ever-faster pace and that we all must adapt. We must help them understand that the solutions to the challenges facing society, at any given point in history, will not be found by dredging up strategies and tactics of the past, other than the lessons we have learned from them. Today’s problems are often the consequences of policies past, policies that have grown obsolete and are no longer in sync in a dynamic world. The young men and women our students will grow up to become, must be prepared to find new and innovative solutions as the 21st Century unfolds.

Our children must learn that the only way to protect their own rights is to protect the rights of others whether freedom of speech; religion; or protection from the abuses of the powerful, whether from the public or private sectors. They must understand how vital it is that they exercise their right to vote.

We want these young people to understand history in hopes that they might learn from our mistakes and successes as a society, much like we all must learn from our experiences, including classroom assignments and quizzes. We want to remind them of the adage that “if we are not falling down once in a while, we are not really skiing.” We must teach them that success is a process of doing just that, of learning from both our successful and disappointing outcomes. We all must learn how to master that process of success and a vital part of that process is not being threatened by the success of others. We must celebrate our own successes and those of the people around us. It is success that gives us the confidence to face new and bigger challenges. When our students become discouraged, as all will do, we must be there to encourage them not to give up. They must learn that the process of success is fused with persistence and determination.

When teachers get discouraged, as all will do at some point along the way, they must be able to depend on their leaders—their principals and administrators—to encourage them not to give up. Teachers must also be able to depend on one another for more than just negotiating for better deal, as important as that may be. They must be able to work together as a profession to drive change when they are confronted, daily, with a process that does not work for all their students.

We want our kids to understand the social sciences so that they might grasp at least a wisp of understanding of human nature; whether with respect to individuals or within the context of families, organizations, communities. and societies.

We want them to understand the natural sciences and that the forces of the natural world that are greater than us; that we must view such natural phenomena as climate and other environmental changes as components of an interdependent, evolving universe rather than view the natural world from within the context of narrow and shallow minds. We want them to be able to understand that a single winter storm does not refute the evidence of global warming and that a clean environment is not bad for business. Our children must learn to be stewards of all things in nature. They will need all of their creativity to find solutions for the 10 billion people with whom they will share the planet; billions for whom the policies of the past will be insufficient.

Our students must learn to appreciate and be able to express themselves through the arts, which have proven to be the signature of civilization. Arts also help us develop our imaginations and creativity and thus expand our views of the world. We want our students to learn that the ability to recognize the need for and embrace paradigm shifts is as essential to the development of the individual human mind as it is to the evolution of human society.

It is equally vital that our children have healthy lifestyles for both their minds and bodies. Helping children develop their mental and emotional health is one of the most important outcomes of an effective education process and the work of its teachers. A healthy sense of self is a function of the quality of our relationships with other people. Teachers and their personal relationship with each child are an essential variable in the growth and development of young minds, bodies, and egos.

How often have we heard that “it takes a community to raise a child?” Parenting may be the most challenging of callings, especially in times such as these. We believe the best outcomes for our nation’s children will flow from the partnership between parents and teachers. It serves no one’s interests, however, to pass judgment on parents who may be struggling to raise children and provide for their families. Even when parents are derelict in their duties, no one benefits from the neglect or victimization of innocent children?

For those of you who believe that these things about which we have spoken are, indeed, what teachers must be doing for their students, it should be obvious that the education process in place today does not render these things possible.

Our education process is an archaic structure that is designed to process children as if they are widgets being fed through a machine like commodities. It is also a process that sets both teachers and students up for failure. Because the education process has not worked for so many children for so long it leaves the American people to do what human beings have so often done; look for simple answers to complex problems and for someone to blame.

Teachers must acknowledge, both individually and collectively, that no one else can see what they see, every single day. They are the only people who can possibly understand why the system has grown dysfunctional and what we can do to fix it. What teachers cannot do, however, is view the entire education process from inside their classrooms and nor can principals view it from within their buildings any more than any of us can view our entire planet from our own back yards.

What public school educators need is a little help from an outsider like me who unknowingly found himself walking in their shoes, observing what they see. The difference is that, as I walked in their footsteps, I saw their world through lenses colored by different training and experience. I observed a dysfunctional process that is public education through the mind of one trained to apply the principles of systems thinking, organizational development, and positive leadership to replacing systems that do not an cannot work with systems that will.

What I cannot do, however, is rally teachers around a positive solution to the challenges of public education, I can only give them a positive solution around which to rally. I can only urge them to consider that the powerful advocacy of their collective will around a positive new idea will be infinitely more effective than all the complaints, protests, rally’s, and collective bargaining strategies laid end-to-end. I would ask all of you to consider that the best way to regain the respect and support of the taxpaying public is to give them a solution that works for their children. I’m not suggesting that teachers not strike, when necessary, rather that they consider that such actions are only responses to symptoms, not etiologies.

I challenge teachers to consider The Hawkins Model, an education model designed and structured to do everything teachers need to do for their students. I challenge them to abandon our decades-long tradition of teachers pushing an entire classroom of children down an arbitrary path and replace it with an education model that helps children progress along a path tailored to meet their unique needs. I also challenge their principals and administrators to join them in the implementation of an adaptive education process guided by a student’s interests, aptitudes, motivation, and achievements resulting from a progression of successes.

Please do, as some of your colleagues have done, and take the time to examine my education model not in search of reasons why it will not work rather while striving to understand what it would be like to go to work everyday in a place where you truly can make a difference in the lives of each of your students.

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.

 

Public Schools Need Visionary, Positive Leadership!

Positive leadership in any organization or enterprise is crucial and this is especially true in venues that are being challenged by dissatisfied customers or constituents. Public school districts and public education, in general, are examples of such venues.

In public school corporations, the leader at the top of the organization is the superintendent. Like all top executives, superintendents are responsible for: conveying mission, vision, and values to their people and community; developing a leadership cadre to help create and preserve a culture of excellence in which teachers, students, and staff can be successful; driving their districts toward fulfillment of its mission; overseeing the administrative, managerial, and fiscal functions of their school  districts; and representing their districts to the community—their constituency.

 Two of the most important components of representing one’s mission to constituents are, 1) being fully attuned to the level of satisfaction of one’s customers/constituents and, 2) being able to envision innovative solutions in response to customer concerns and in anticipation of evolving wants and needs. Positive leaders must go out into the community or marketplace so they can actually listen to and be able to articulate the sentiments of their constituents.

 Assessing customer satisfaction is an area in which public school leadership is under-performing. I believe public school educators and policy makers rely too heavily on self-assessment.

 Consider the example of a chef in a restaurant. It is not sufficient for the chef to be satisfied that the food she prepares is of the highest quality. This might be adequate if she viewed herself as an artist engaged in the development of her craft for self-expression. It is insufficient, however, when the chef is working to create a product for which patrons would be willing to pay. In the latter case, quality can only be assessed by an objective measurement of customer satisfaction. Satisfaction is easy to assess in private enterprise because a business is either financially viable or not. Assessing customer satisfaction with a public school corporation presents different challenges and rarely will self-assessment be enough.

 When a superintendent announces that their district’s graduation rate has increased from 89 to 91 percent, as an example, such statements are inconsequential if those high school graduates lack meaningful choices of what to do with their lives. If high school graduates are unable to take advantage of opportunities because they cannot pass a basic academic skills tests for employment purposes, for acceptance into a college or vocational training programs, or for enlistment in the military services, their diploma is meaningless and so is a graduation rate.

 Superintendents of public school corporations must be willing to recognize and accept that the education reform movement with its focus on privatization is a symptom of wide-spread customer dissatisfaction with public schools. The diminution of the willingness to bear the cost of public schools on the part of taxpayers; the erosion of the esteem in which public school teachers are held by their communities; and, the outcries from minority communities that the needs of their children are not being met are all symptoms of pervasive customer/constituent dissatisfaction. 

 Like the “Me Too Movement” the outcry of men and women of color, with respect to the willingness of public school educators to tolerate the failure of disadvantaged kids, will no longer be silenced.

 Public education is in dire need of visionary leaders who are willing to go back to the drawing board to reinvent an education process that will meet the needs of all students, even disadvantaged kids. The goal must be that every child learns as much as they are able at their own best speed, beginning at the precise point on an academic preparedness continuum where we find them when they arrive for their first day of school. An education is not a competition to see who can learn the most, the fastest and it must not become triage where we pick and choose to whom we will offer opportunities.

 The measure of the success of our children must not be their ability to pass high stakes testing rather that they be able to utilize what they have learned in the real world. And, yes, we can teach to this standard even if we must continue standardized testing. If we succeed, it is inevitable that high-stakes testing will be rendered irrelevant.

 I urge the leaders of public education to open their hearts and minds to a new way of thinking about how we teach our children and I offer an education model as a point of embarkation. https://melhawkinsandassociates.com/education-model-white-paper/ You are invited to examine my education model, not is search of reasons why it will not work, rather in search of reasons why it can. If you think my model and its education process will work, then test it in one of your lowest performing elementary schools. If you think you can make it better, then do it. Just don’t think, for even a single moment, that we can fix public education by tinkering with one incremental change after another. Our nation’s children deserve better.

Black Panther, the Movie: a Call to Action!

 

To this white viewer, the movie, Black Panther, has a compelling message for all Americans, but particularly for successful men and women of color. It is a call to action with an unequivocal message that It is not acceptable to isolate oneself from the problems of society when one’s successes, discoveries, and genius can make a meaningful difference.

In the fifties and sixties, civil rights leaders had a clear and all-consuming purpose. They were driven to ensure that people of color be granted equal protection under the law. They achieved their purpose with the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and other subsequent legislation.  Now, however, 50 years later, our society remains separate and unequal with respect to black and white Americans and other minorities and that separation is being perpetuated by the performance gap between black students and their white classmates in our nation’s schools. The dream so eloquently envisioned by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and for which he and the other heroes of the civil rights movement sacrificed so much, has not been realized.

 Black Panther, the movie, is a call to action to address the civil rights issue of the 21st Century, public education. Take a moment to think about public education in America.

There are many men and women of color who have enjoyed success and accomplishment in every conceivable venue including being elected to the American presidency. Look at what so many men and women of color have achieved in the last half century. Look at your own accomplishments. Your successes did not come easily. For each of those successes you worked hard to overcome the formidable obstacles of bigotry and discrimination. How were you able to overcome discrimination?

The key was a quality education that provided you with a portfolio of the knowledge, skills, and understanding you needed to seize opportunities. You did it, also, because you were blessed to have people in your lives who helped you develop a strong self-esteem, self-discipline, and the determination needed to overcome discrimination.

Now, consider the millions of men and women of color who languish in our nation’s poor urban and rural communities, entrapped in a maelstrom of poverty and failure. These Americans have not been successful in acquiring a quality education and neither have they been able to acquire the strong self-esteem and self-discipline necessary to render themselves impervious to discrimination.  As a result, they have spent their entire lives living under a canopy of hopelessness and powerlessness, vulnerable to those who look upon them with suspicion and derision because of the color of their skin.

The sons and daughters of our nation’s poor communities, a disproportionate percentage of whom are children of color, now populate the same public schools in which their parents struggled. In poor urban and rural community school districts around the nation, the data is indisputable. An unacceptable number of these children are failing. It begins in the early grades when these boys and girls arrive for their first day of school with what I call an “academic preparedness deficiency.”

In many school districts, by the time these kids reach middle school, the percentage able to pass both the math and English language arts components of their state’s competency exams may be 20 percent or lower. The performance gap between black students and their white classmates is as wide if not wider than it has ever been.

It is vital that we understand that this lack of academic achievement is the result of an obsolete education process and not because of bad teachers and bad schools and not because disadvantaged kids cannot learn. Our public school teachers are dedicated men and women who do the best they can to make an obsolete education process work for their students.

We must also understand that the “school choice” movement with its focus on high stakes testing and privatization through the establishment of charter schools is not the answer. The performance of charter schools is often no better than the public schools they were intended to replace, and this should come as no surprise. Except in rare circumstances, these charter schools rely on the same obsolete education process as our public schools. Just moving kids to a different building with different teachers will not change outcomes. Teachers in public, private, parochial, and charter schools are all trained in the same colleges and universities.

Most public-school educators and policy makers insist that public education is better than it has ever been and that the performance gap between black and white and rich and poor kids exists because society has not been successful in addressing the issue of poverty in America. I suggest an alternate explanation.

The truth is that our nation has done something about poverty in America. Our state and federal governments, over the last century, have spent trillions of dollars building public schools in every community and hiring public school teachers trained in our nation’s finest colleges and universities. That children are still failing does not mean they cannot learn or that our teachers cannot teach. It only means that what we have been asking teachers to do, does not work for disadvantaged students.

If what we are doing does not work, it is not okay to give up and say we tried. We must keep searching for new ways to do what we do until we find something that does work.

I challenge successful men and women of color and white Americans who share my belief that diversity is and has always been our greatest strength as a democratic society, to join forces on a mission to transform public education in America. This is the civil rights issue of the 21st Century.

Based on my 40-plus years of combined experience in working with kids, in organizational leadership, as a leadership and organizational development consultant, as administrator of the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery, and as a substitute teacher in a public-school corporation, I have developed an education model that rejects failure and is focused on success.  It is a model that:

  • determines the level of a child’s academic preparedness when they arrive for their first day of school;
  • tailors an academic plan based on the unique requirements of each child;
  • creates an environment in which teachers are expected to develop close, enduring relationships with each student;
  • strives to pull parents into the process so that they can be partners sharing responsibility for the success of their sons and daughters;
  • Expects teachers to give students however much time and attention they need to learn from their mistakes and be able to demonstrate that they can use what they learned in real-life situations, including future lessons;
  • Enables teachers to use whatever innovative methodologies and technologies they deem necessary to help their students succeed; and,
  • Celebrates each student’s success so that they can gain confidence in their ability to create success for themselves.

 

Please take the time to examine my education model at https://melhawkinsandassociates.com/education-model-white-paper/

The only justification for ignoring this call to action is if one chooses to believe that disadvantaged children and children of color are incapable of learning.

If you believe that these kids can learn, how long are we going to wait and how many children will we permit to fail before we say enough is enough? Until we refuse to allow these children to fail, the schoolhouse to jailhouse track will remain a super highway to the future for far too many young people.

Unlike the civil rights heroes of the 50s and 60s, we need not sway Congress or even state legislatures. The changes we propose will not alter anything other than the way we organize students, teachers, and classrooms and what we do inside those classrooms. We will still teach to the same academic standards and will still be subject to the same accountabilities.

We need only convince a handful of superintendents of school districts with low-performing schools to test my model in one of their struggling elementary schools. If it works as I believe it will, those superintendents will be compelled to expand the model into all their districts’ schools and other public school corporations will be compelled to follow suit.

Imagine a future in which every child leaves high school with a full menu of choices about what to do with their lives to find joy and meaning in life and provide for themselves and their families. This future can be realized if you choose to accept Black Panther’s call to action.

A Letter to Superintendents & Advocates for Equality in Education for Children of Color and for the Disadvantaged!

I am asking for the help of superintendents, advocacy organizations and individuals in seeking one, two, or three public school districts with superintendents who are sufficiently frustrated with the lack of meaningful improvement on the part of their students that they would be willing to examine a new education model. It is a model designed for any school but is particularly suited to meet the extraordinary challenges faced by underperforming elementary schools. My model is designed to focus on success and stop the failure in public education.

Consider a single disadvantaged child, age 5 or 6, maybe black but from a family entrapped in the cycles of poverty and failure. Consider that he or she will be likely to register for Kindergarten in a public school, this fall, in which a significant majority of elementary students are unable to pass both the math and English language arts components of their state’s standardized competency exams. Consider further that, in many such school districts, the percentage of middle school students able to pass both math and ELA components of standardized competency exams is likely to be even lower.

How would you rate the odds of this child emerging from the 12th grade with the knowledge and skills needed to give him or her real choices about what to do in life?

Imagine the difference if we could place that same child in a classroom, free from things that distract teachers from doing what they know their students need them to do:

• Connect with the child on an emotional level;
• Pinpoint what the student has learned and where the child lags;
• Create a tailored academic plan to help that child build on what he or she knows;
• Refuse to let the child fail by providing however much help, time, and patient attention a student needs to learn each and every lesson;
• Help students learn to use their imaginations and creativity;
• Help the student discover that academic success is “a process of learning from one’s mistakes and growing in confidence that he or she can create success for themselves” and,
• Reach out to the child’s parents or guardians so they can help celebrate their son or daughter’s academic success.

An environment my education model is intended to create cannot exist given the manner in which our public schools are configured, today, or in most of our private, parochial, and charter schools; no matter how hard teachers work. It cannot happen because this is not what is expected of teachers and because the education process within which they strive to teach is not structured to support such objectives. Instead, it is structured to keep score based on who learns the most, the fastest, as students progress, as a class, down a path outlined by state academic standards. Such scores/grades will color both the child’s perception of themselves, and society’s perception of them, for the rest of their lives.

Is there any doubt in your mind that children would flourish in a positive learning environment such as I have described, and would far out-pace children who will be attending struggling elementary schools in a neighborhood or community near you? As a superintendent, you have spent time in the classrooms in underperforming elementary schools and if you are an advocate, you need to visit a few, if you have not done so, already. Ask yourself if what you observe gives you hope that a solution is just around the corner? Or, did you walk away thinking these kids deserve better and that, surely, there must be a better way?

We can create an environment in a public elementary school that will provide this kind of learning experience for every student? I listen to teachers and administrators every day and what I hear is how hard they strive to create the very things my model is intended to provide. One can sense their frustration that doing what they know they should be doing requires an extraordinary effort within a structure that is not designed to support those activities. For all their commitment, sacrifices, and heroism these educators find it difficult to step outside of their frame of reference and observe what is happening around them, objectively. They need a paradigm shift.

If you believe that some of the many programs, curriculum changes, methodologies, and technologies that have been introduced in the last few decades, and about which many teachers are excited, will transform public education then I understand your desire to cling to hope. I only ask you to do one thing. Ask yourself how many of these innovations will work in a classroom with 20, 30, or 35 disadvantaged students who are so far behind that it seems impossible to think they will ever catch up? Would it not be better if we were able to keep them from falling behind in the first place?

Search your own heart. If you believe one child could succeed in the type of environment I have described, then it is not too much of a stretch to believe every child could be successful if this was the kind of public-school classroom they will enter this fall. And, if such a model proved itself, how long would it take before other public school districts would follow suit?

If you are a superintendent in a school district serving a poor and diverse population of students, you know what the numbers say and you know they have not changed, appreciatively, in decades. You have an opportunity to provide leadership in a venture that will change the lives of your students. I also believe that the changes necessary to implement my education model are within the scope of authority of you and your school board.

If you are an advocate, you and your organization may be one of a very few that are positioned to make an enormous difference for disadvantaged kids, if only you would help find a superintendent willing to test a new idea. Imagine a new world where all children are equipped with the tools to they need to have choices in life. Children of color must also possess the tools and strong self-esteem needed to overcome the obstacles of bigotry and discrimination, much as many of you and your colleagues have done.

Join me in promoting a new vision that will transform public education for our children, the world’s most important and most vulnerable resource, by examining my education model. Look not in search of reasons why it will not work rather seeking reasons why it can and what you can do to help. Subscribe to my blog with over 200 articles about the challenges facing public schools, their administrators, teachers, and students at https://melhawkinsandassociates.com/blog/ and follow me on Twitter at @melhawk46.

Millions of disadvantaged children are desperate for someone to take the lead in doing something different.

An Important Message to our Nation’s Heroes!

To my heroes in public education and to my heroes who are leading advocates for people of color, make sure you take note of a new piece of legislation being introduced in Congress.

What does it say to you when one of our elected representatives to Congress does not believe our public schools are good enough for the children of our heroes who serve in the Armed Services of the United States?

One of the lead stories, this morning, on the front page of the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette, reports that US Representative, Jim Banks, Republican from the 3rd Congressional District in Indiana, has introduced a bill that:

“. . . would let active-duty military families tap public funds to send their children to private schools.”

The Fort Wayne Journal Gazette also reported that “Banks wrote an op-ed column about his legislation that was published this week in the Wall Street Journal under the headline ‘Military Families Deserve School Choice.’”

It is time that our public school policy makers, administrators and teachers accept the indisputable fact that a growing percentage of the American people, led by conservative politicians and corporate reformers who are advocates of “school choice,” have given up on public education as the best solution for preparing our nation’s children for the future. These powerful men and women seem perfectly content to let public schools in affluent communities go about their business, but they view public schools serving disadvantaged children and their families as a lost cause.

To our heroes in the Armed Services of the United States. We understand how you feel about your children because we feel the same about all children, but, is this the America you are fighting to protect? An America where not every child counts?

It is time for advocates for people of color and the poor to acknowledge that these same supporters of “school choice,” whether conservative Americans and their political champions or powerful corporate reformers, are willing to abandon your children and their schools, teachers and communities. They consider you and your children to be part of Governor Mitt Romney’s infamous “47 percent of American voters who are dependent on government” and do not matter.

How long are we going to sit by and let this happen?

To public school educators I ask you to consider that all the protests, marches, rallies, and teacher strikes in the world will not alter the reality that disadvantaged children in America, a disproportionate percentage of whom are blacks and other minorities, are failing in our most challenged public schools, by the millions. Teachers may not deserve the blame for creating this reality, but they will be blamed until they are willing to accept responsibility and declare to the world that what they are being asked to do in our public schools does not work for disadvantaged children.

Teachers have not shown a willingness to say it out loud, but you know in your hearts that the existing education process does not work for children who arrive for their first day of school with minimal academic preparedness, little or no motivation to learn, and less parental support.

You know this to be true every time a student shows up in your classroom who is so far behind that catching up seems impossible. Teachers know this to be true every time you are required to record an “F” in your gradebook and move your class on to a new lesson when many of your students are not ready. You know in your hearts that these kids need more time to learn but the education process does not allow you to give them that time. You do your best to help these kids when there are only one or two of them in your classroom but when the kids who need more time represent 25, 50, or 75 percent of the students in your class, it is impossible to give them the help they require.

For advocates for people of color who are still working hard to make Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr’s dream a reality, surely you know that had it not been for the heroes of the civil rights movement in the 1950s and 60s, we might still be waiting for meaningful civil rights legislation. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 and other such legislation was passed only because the civil rights movement could no longer be ignored.

Today, in this second decade of the 21st Century, public education is the civil rights issue of our time. I challenge advocates for children of color and advocates for public education to come together as a united front to stop the failure of disadvantaged kids, once and for all. Imagine a world, 10 to 13 years from now, when every single graduate from high school is armed with a portfolio of knowledge, skills, and confidence to enter mainstream America with real “choices.” All we need to do is go back to the drawing board to reinvent public education.

Here is the good news:

1. I have already gone back to the drawing board to reinvent public education and have developed an education model focused on success and rejecting failure. Use it as a starting point. If you think it will work, run with it. Or, it may inspire a better idea from one of you. You can examine my model at: https://melhawkinsandassociates.com/education-model-white-paper/

2. Solving the problems in public education for all children, not just the disadvantaged, does not require an act of Congress. It does not require an act of your state legislature. All it requires is that we find a handful of public school superintendents willing to test this new education model, whether mine or yours, in just one of the lowest performing elementary schools in their district. Once proven to work, it can then be expanded to every school.

3. Implementing an education model that works for all children will also render irrelevant, the corporate reform and “school choice” movement.

Whatever you do, please don’t just sit there. There are millions of children who are desperate for your help, now.

It is public education on which the futures of our nation’s children depend, and it is our children on whom our nation’s future depends.

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

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

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

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


Ladies and gentlemen, this is one of those occasions.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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