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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Help Me Understand Why We Are Content to Let Disadvantaged Kids Fail!

The fact that we continue to allow disadvantaged kids to fail in school is a great mystery to me and I wish someone would help me understand why.

Do we not believe the data from annual assessments?

I understand that public school teachers and administrators abhor high-stakes testing. I understand their resentment that such tests are utilized, inappropriately, to measure the performance of schools and teachers. I understand that the very existence of high-stakes testing places pressure on schools and teachers to “teach to the test” rather than teach kids to learn. I understand all of the concerns of public school educators with respect to the degree to which state competency exams disrupt the learning process.

Do these concerns invalidate the results of state competency exams, however?

The results of state competency tests show a clear and convincing pattern of failure of students in public school districts serving a diverse population of children, whether looking at race or household incomes. This is true in public school districts throughout each of the fifty states in both urban and rural communities.

African-American students have the lowest performance record on state competency tests. In our most diverse schools, by the time they get to middle school, the percentage of African-American students able to pass both math and ELA exams is as low 20 percent. I know this should be obvious but this means that roughly 80 percent of black students are failing by the time they reach middle school.

If you are a teacher from one of these schools and you are shaking your head in disagreement, open your gradebook and what do you see? You don’t have to answer this question out loud; just be honest with yourself when you look at the performance of your students, because it is not your fault. As I have said so often over the past few years, “anytime a process continues to produce unacceptable outcomes no matter how hard people work or how qualified they may be, the process is flawed and must be replaced.” This is applies to the American education process, as well as production and service delivery processes.

How can public school educators justify their assertion that public schools are better than they have ever been, given the data reported by state departments of education, everywhere?

I understand that school districts are proud to show improved graduation rates but do graduation rates trump state competency exams? Do we really believe that the middle school students who perform so poorly have turned it around by graduation?

It is my privilege to administer the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB) to young men and women interested in enlisting in the Armed Services of the United States. Every week, I see the ASVAB scores of recent high school graduates and high school seniors and I can tell you that the results do not mirror the graduation rates about which school districts boast so loudly. ASVAB results do mirror the results of state competency exams in school districts serving diverse communities, however.

Ninety percent of students in public schools serving diverse populations of children might be graduating from high school but nowhere near that many are able to qualify for enlistment. While this is especially true of black students and other minorities, many white students fall short of enlistment eligibility, as well.

Having been an executive in charge of hiring candidates for employment, I can also say that nowhere near ninety percent of the candidates whom we considered for employment were able to meet even our minimum requirements.

Don’t take my word for it. Survey employers in your community and ask them to share their experience.

It is understandable that public school educators feel the need to defend themselves from the harsh criticism of education reformers but simple assertions of success are a feeble defense, at best. All such claims do is damage the credibility of advocates for public education in the eyes of both education reformers and the general public.

I have been shouting out, for the last four years, that the poor performance of disadvantaged students in our public schools is the result of a flawed education process and not the result of incompetent teachers and bad schools. The existing education process is structured like a race to see who can learn the most, the fastest and we have learned to tolerate an unacceptable level of failure.

It need not be this way!

We can easily redesign the education process in such a way that every child learns as much as they are able, at their own best pace. The beauty of this is that success is contagious. As kids gain confidence that they can learn, their enthusiasm and pace of learning accelerates. Success is contagious even for those of us who sit on the sidelines. As parents begin to see a change in the performance and behavior of their children, it will be much easier to pull them into partnership with the teachers of their sons and daughters.

Please check out my Education Model and white paper

Teacher Performance Evaluations are the First Step in the Right Direction, But. . . ?

As I am still getting requests for copies or links to this article, which was shared more than 500 times on Facebook, I have elected to re-run the piece on this Memorial Day,

Teacher Performance Evaluations are the First Step in the Right Direction

Whatever one feels about the reliability of the data regarding “school staff performance evaluations” released by the State [Indiana] Department of Education and reported in Tuesday’s (April 8, 2014) Journal Gazette, just having a system of evaluation in place and reporting results to the public is a positive step for our state’s educators.

Performance evaluations in any venue are an uncertain science but the fact that they acknowledge a responsibility to be accountable to the public is the first step in the right direction. The results of these evaluations are far more credible than the off-hand assertions of skeptics that the “results do not provide a true and accurate assessment.” References to what would appear to be contradictory evidence provided by the performance of students’ on ISTEPs are equally nonsensical.

It has become fashionable to blame teachers for the poor performance of their students but this should be construed as evidence that critics of our systems of public education have an over-simplistic understanding of why so many American children are performing poorly in school. Those who advocate the use of state competency test results to punish schools and teachers are simply out of touch with reality and demonstrate, with each shouted breath, that they are clueless as to the reasons for failure in our schools.

The reasons why children fail in school are many and they are complex and can be discussed in detail at another time and place; but, let there be no doubt that far too many of our children are failing and this is, without question, one of the most important issues on the American agenda. It is because this issue is so critical to the future of our society that it demands thoughtful examination on the part of men and women who are more concerned about understanding the dynamics of the issue than they are about assigning blame or spouting meaningless platitudes.

Blaming teachers for the problems in public education in America is like blaming soldiers for the war they were asked to fight. Teachers are as much victims of an obsolete educational process as are the students that they teach. It is bad enough that they are asked to perform miracles in the classroom without the necessary structure, support, and resources; can we at least spare them the ramblings of an uninformed public?

I am not suggesting that the teaching profession is without culpability and they certainly must bear a significant share of the responsibility for changing the reality that is education in 21st Century America. Performance evaluations can play an important role in that process and they can be a powerful tool in driving organizations toward their objectives and in holding employees at all levels of an organization to the highest possible expectations. Unfortunately, the quality of performance evaluations are often a function of the caliber of management in the organization. If they are to work in an educational environment, principals must be thoroughly schooled in their use. Interestingly, this is an area where school corporations and teachers associations could work together toward a common purpose.

Performance evaluations are also another area where schools can learn from business. While the value and functionality of performance evaluations in a business environment span the continuum from pathetic to outstanding, many industries have been engaged for decades in the development of meaningful instrumentation. The concept of integrated performance evaluations would be one innovation that would offer great promise in an educational environment. Integrated performance management systems are designed to provide ongoing, real-time interface between worker and supervisor and are focused upon helping workers, both professional and non-professional, maximize their ability to provide products and services of the highest caliber.

It seems to this observer that it would be in everyone’s best interests if teacher associations would take the lead in working with their school districts to mutually develop such capability. Nothing drives innovation like the compelling need to satisfy demanding and unhappy customers and there are few people who are happy with the state of public education in America in this second decade of a new century. If ever a time would be right this would seem to be it.