Reinventing Public Education: A Categorical Imperative!

Transforming/reinventing public education in America is well within the realm of possibility because it is a relatively simple human engineering challenge. The obstacles to its realization exist not in the architecture or mechanics of a solution rather in the politics of change. Those obstacles begin with how difficult it is for people to step outside their paradigms and envision a different reality. Being able to envision a new reality is important to all human beings but is imperative for educators if we are to insure equality in education.

The danger we all face when confronted with a long history of disappointing outcomes is succumbing to resignation that we are powerless to alter those outcomes. It is so easy to become inured to the human consequences.

In public education, disappointing outcomes have been a fact of life for generations and the consequences have had an adverse impact on virtually all aspects of American society. Teachers entering the profession almost always believe that all kids can learn but, over time, they are confronted with the reality that so very many of them do not. Some educators succumb to the proposition that there are children who cannot learn.

That so many of these students are poor, black, and other minorities makes it inevitable that some men and women—not a majority, we believe—will draw unfortunate conclusions. Educators must be challenged to reject stereotyping or profiling by racial, ethnic, or any other categorization and conclude, instead, that the problem is not that these kids all look alike, rather that they experience similar disadvantages.

This tradition of unacceptable outcomes will not be altered until educators take a paradigm leap and imagine a new reality outside the boundaries of conventional thinking. Envisioning an alternate reality does not guarantee a solution, however. Even when we discover a transformational solution, we are still faced with one of greatest challenges facing organizations; we must overcome the paralysis of inertia.

What teachers, principals, and other administrators must do is simple. They must acknowledge that what they are asked to do in their schools and classrooms is not working for many students, especially the disadvantaged. They must be encouraged to forget about what the critics say; forget about the corporate reformers and the politicians who have been influenced by them; and, forget about test scores.

The only thing that matters to teachers is what they see in their classrooms. Not all teachers can see the pattern from their classroom, however, nor can all principals. Those educators blessed to work in high performing schools must not turn a blind eye to the challenges faced by so many of their colleagues.  They must remind themselves, often, that “if not for the grace of God, that could be me.” They must stand shoulder to shoulder with their colleagues in our most challenging schools and districts.

Superintendents have a special responsibility to provide positive leadership and in districts populated by struggling schools and failing students, superintendents must be strong enough to share the truth of what they witness. Their responsibility includes their students, the men and women who staff their schools, and the communities they have been chosen to serve. It serves none of these interests to act as if everything is okay.

It may be unreasonable to expect all top administrators to break from tradition, but they must be  relentless in challenging the assumptions of conventional wisdom. When these leaders see a long pattern of academic distress, they must feel compelled to act because if they do not, who can? 

It is not my desire to shower these good men and women with blame, but I do challenge them to accept responsibility. Blame and responsibility are two entirely different things. There is an essential principle of positive leadership that suggests “it is only when we begin to accept responsibility for the disappointing outcomes that plague us that we begin to acquire the power to change them.”

It has long been my belief that the top executives of any organization must be positive leaders with a passionate commitment to their mission. I have observed far too many leaders in education, whether superintendents or principals, who appear to be administrators more than powerful, positive leaders. Because most were hired and are evaluated based on their administrative experience and skills, we should not be surprised. Those graduate programs for school administrators that do not place great emphasis on leaderships skills must be challenged to rethink their mission.

It is my assertion that the absence of dynamic, positive leadership in school districts throughout the U.S. has given rise to a groundswell of dissatisfaction that, in turn, has opened the door for education reformers. These reformers—also good men and women—are only striving to fill a void of leadership. They see inaction from the leaders of public schools in the face of decades of unacceptable outcomes. Those outcomes are the millions of young people leaving school without the academic skills necessary to be full partners in the American enterprise.

What is unfortunate is that the solutions these education reformers and their political supporters offer have proven to be no more effective than the public schools they are striving to supplant. And, why should we be surprised when all they do is change buildings, call it a charter school, and ask teachers to do the same job they would be asked to do in public schools. They rely on the same obsolete education process and it is inevitable that they will get the same results.

This flawed education process impacts every child, adversely. To disadvantaged students, those impacts are often devastating.

Once again, I ask the reader to consider an alternate approach; a new model designed to focus on relationships and giving every child as much time as they need to learn every lesson, at their own best speed. Please check out The Hawkins Model© not seeking reasons why it won’t work rather striving to imagine what it would be like to teach in such an environment.

The ultimate measure of the success of our schools is not graduation rates, or the percentage of students going off to college. Education must be measured by each student’s ability to utilize, in the real world, that which he or she has learned; regardless of the directions they have chosen for their lives. Education must be evaluated on the quality of choices available to its young men and women.

Whether you are a teacher, principal, or superintendent, how does one explain that all your dedication, best efforts, and innovation over the last half century have produced so little in the way of meaningful improvements in the outcomes of disadvantaged students?

Blaming outside forces is unacceptable. If the pathway to our destination is obstructed, do we give up or do we seek an alternate route? If we succeed in treating the illnesses and injuries of some patients does this let us off the hook in dealing with people whose illnesses and injuries are both more serious, and more challenging? “They all count, or no one counts.”

It serves no purpose to beat the superintendents of our nation’s public school districts about the head and shoulders, but we have a responsibility to hold them accountable. 

If teachers would rally together and utilize the collective power of their unions and associations to challenge conventional wisdom, they would gain support and become a revolution. The same is true of administrators and their associations. If teachers and administrators would link arms, they would become an irresistible force, not for incremental improvements, but for transformational change.  

Is there any doubt in the reader’s mind that if teachers and administrators were united behind a positive new idea that would assure the quality of education of every one of our children, that their communities would rally to the cause?

Educators, you truly do have the power to alter the reality that is public education for every child in America.

The Failure of So Many Public School Students and Poverty: Symptoms of the Same Pathology

(this is an updated version of a post published in the fall of 2013)

In a post on the Blog of Diane Ravitch, she talked about the assertion of Michael Petrilli[i] that education can solve the problem of poverty. [This post was published in 2013 but the issue is every bit as cogent, today.]

It is my belief that understanding the relationship between poverty and the problems of our systems of education is essential to fixing education.

Michael Petrilli’s suggestion that education can fix poverty is correct, but I believe there is more to it than that. The causal relationship between poverty and the problems in our public schools is not a simple thing.  It is my assertion that poverty and the poor performance of so many American children are interdependent. It is a chicken versus the egg conundrum.

In this blog, Education, Hope and the American Dream and in my 2013 book, Reinventing Education, Hope, and the American Dream: The Challenge for Twenty-First Century America, I suggest that poverty, deteriorating neighborhoods, the failure of so many American children, low-performing schools, and burned out teachers are all symptoms of the same underlying pathology.

That we do not recognize the true nature of the relationship between poverty and the failure in our schools contributes greatly to the disappointment of education reforms over the past half century.

I, also, suggest that race has nothing to do with this failure, and the belief on the part of some American educators and many citizens that the academic performance of disadvantaged children, specifically children of color, is the best we can expect, also contributes greatly. The problem is not race; it is culture, with poverty playing an interdependent role.

There is an enormous population of multiple generations of American men and women who have always failed in school. These citizens, a disproportionate percentage of whom are black and other minorities, have lost faith and hope in the American dream. These Americans, living in poverty, reside under a blanket of hopelessness and powerlessness and no longer believe they possess control over the outcomes in their lives or that an education provides a way out for their children. This is a cultural phenomenon that leaves these children vulnerable to ravages of discrimination.

Consider what it would be like to be born into a family where your parents, grandparents, and great grandparents have all failed in school. What is the likelihood that anyone reared in such an environment would be expected to be successful in school? What is the probability that an individual child in such a family would arrive for their first day of school with an expectation that they will be successful? What is the probability that these children will grow up to be productive citizens of a participatory democracy?

Add to this that such families are part of an entire community of men and women who have always failed in school and who have little or no expectation that an education will provide a way out for their sons and daughters.  What such an environment creates is a culture of hopelessness and powerlessness that transcends race. The youngsters from this culture are not just black students or other minorities. There are white students and their families immersed in the same culture of minimal expectations; the same cycle of failure and poverty.  

During the first nine years of my career, when I was a juvenile probation officer, I met many such children. I have sat at kitchen tables sharing cups of coffee with the parents of these children; families lamenting that they have few hopes for their kids. Believe me, these parents love their children every bit as much as any other American family.

Such families, whatever their ethnicity, are part of a culture characterized by a disdain for education. These men and women do not trust their schools and teachers, they do not teach their  children to value education, and do not provide a home  environment that fosters a strong motivation to learn. How do parents provide such an environment for their children when they have never experienced it themselves?

We live in a time when the American dream has become meaningless to  many and they no longer view an education as a ticket to the dream.  The children from these cultural pockets throughout much of urban and rural America, arrive for their first day of school with precious little motivation to learn and even less preparation. There, they are greeted by an education process that is neither tasked, structured, nor resourced to respond to the challenges they present and they are greeted by teachers and administrators who are as much victims of that education process as their students.

With its focus on academic standards with arbitrary timetables and on testing to measure performance against those standard, our American educational process sets up for failure and humiliation, huge numbers of students. These kids who are our society’s most precious assets are, figuratively, chewed up and spit out by the education process despite the valiant efforts of dedicated and caring teachers. That we turn around and blame these same teachers for the failings of an obsolete education process is as unconscionable as it is unfathomable.

That educators and policy makers are bewildered that these children are disruptive, earn failing grades, and disappointing scores on state competency exams is, itself, bewildering. The pleas from teachers to parents for help and support are rejected by men and women who, themselves, are products of the same educational process. These mothers and fathers and grandparents do not trust the hands that reach out to help them.

In my book and blog, I reject the conventional wisdom about the reasons for the academic failure of a growing percentage of American children and offer an alternative hypothesis. I suggest that the problems with education in the U.S. are 1) this burgeoning cultural disdain for education on the part of parents and the resulting lack of motivation on the part of their children, and 2) an obsolete educational process that allows students to fail.

The very fact that children can fail contributes greatly to a reality in which so very many of them do. This will not change until we alter how we structure and organize schools and teachers and until we reinvent the way we teach. The Hawkins Model© is created to do just that.


[i] Michael Petrilli is president of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, research fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution, Executive Editor of Education Next, and a Distinguished Senior Fellow for Education Commission of the States.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bad Days and Grumpy Moods – we all have them both Teachers and Students

A friend on Facebook recently posted a meme, published by Miramir.com, quoting author Rebecca Eanes.

“So often, children are punished for being human. They are not allowed to have grumpy moods, bad days, disrespectful tones, or bad attitudes.  Yet, we adults have them all the time. None of us are perfect. We must stop holding our children to a higher standard or perfection than we can attain ourselves.”

-Author, Rebecca Eanes, posted at Miramir.com

It is a terrific message and should be read by all. Having, “grumpy moods, bad days, . . .” is a universal human characteristic. We are all like that, even kids. When kids have that kind of day at school or at home, however, they usually get into trouble. This is especially true in school because the education process demands conformance, obedience, and “respectful tones.” Anything else disrupts the classroom and interferes with the work of teachers and classmates.

Because of the way our education process is structured, we leave no room for our students to do the very things we will likely do when we get home because the behavior of students led to a bad day, left us in a grumpy mood, and feeling short-tempered. Hopefully, at home, our families and friends will back off and give us space to work through the frustration we feel. Good friends and good families are like that. They are people who love us and have no expectation that we be perfect, in fact, they love us with all our “perfect imperfections,” as John Legend’s song describes them. And, at home, we typically have places where we can get away from everyone, even if only for a moment or two.

At school, even for good teachers, it is not so easy. Good teachers care but are not allotted enough time to help students work through the frustrations that flow from dealing, in some instances, with problems at home that we can hardly imagine. There are just too many kids, too much to do, and nowhere near enough time. So, we discipline students and even send them to the office if their frustrations and acting out cause too much disruption. It’s a last resort for teachers but their responsibility extends beyond the individual child, to a classroom full of other students.

The problem isn’t just that we give kids a reprimand, time out, or trip to the office—all of which brand the child as a discipline problem–the most significant consequences that flow from such actions are related to the fact that they lose time. They miss out on lessons that are being taught and practice time that is being given, and opportunities to get in-class assistance from their teacher. Most significantly, they fall ever further behind and this this only exacerbates their situation and fuels the frustration that got them in trouble to begin with.

The combination of their frustrations from the challenges at home, combined with the hopeless feeling of falling further behind, academically, and being viewed as “a problem student” or “bad kid” pile up until a student feels overwhelmed. When kids begin to feel hopeless and powerless to extricate themselves from bad situations, the risk is that they may choose to give up and stop trying.

Think about how you feel when you have had ”meltdown” incidents. For many of us, what we feel is helplessness and hopelessness. When the episode passes, as they always do, they may have created some inconveniences with which we must deal, but we are still able to get back in the game. For our students, in similar circumstances, the game clock is ticking away and there are no timeouts as in an athletic contest, where the whole game pauses to let participants catch their breath.

The academic standards that drive teachers and classrooms function like a conveyor belt. Once a child falls off, it is difficult for them to get back on the belt, even with our help. If they get back on, they can see how much further behind they have fallen, relative to their classmates.

Those academic standards are tied to an external, arbitrary timeline that may be totally out of sync with a child’s unique internal timetable. We all know how difficult it can be to get back in sync with all that is going on in our lives, but for many children, particularly disadvantaged kids, getting back in sync seems next to impossible. Their internal and external timetables are like an event horizon in which the child finds him or herself on the wrong side, with no way to get back on track.

What I have striven to do in the education model I have developed—The  Hawkins Model©—is  to eliminate external timetable so that students are never at a place in time that is out of sync with their unique developmental path. Even when schools must teach to a set of academic standards, these represent an outline of what policy makers have determined all children need to learn. We need to ask ourselves what is most important: that students learn these things, even if it takes some children longer than others, or that we strive to get them all from point to point in perfect cadence?

If we accept the premise that the two most essential variables in education are relationships and learning, what are arbitrary timetables? Are they not a “constant” that regulates relationships and learning? If we eliminate the constant variable of time, relationships and learning become independent variables that are not compromised by extraneous forces? We need an education model—education process—that ensures that such forces do not impede a child’s progress down their unique academic path.

We need a model in which the teacher is able give each student the time he or she needs to learn. Teachers often tell me, “this is not possible, there just isn’t enough time.”

Within the context of the existing education process, they are correct. This does not mean that creating time is impossible, only that the existing process and structure does not provide for it. If we are willing to alter the process and structure, we can design it to produce the outcomes we want based on the unique needs of each of our students. It all depends on how we sort our priorities and whether we are willing to question the validity of our structure and process.

In The  Hawkins Model© giving students time they need to learn and work through their frustrations, bad days, and grumpy moods is more important than keeping all students moving at the same pace down the arbitrary timelines that complicate academic standards. The fact that they may need to be separated from the class so as not to disrupt, need not impede their progress, it just delays things a bit.

The Primacy of Relationships and the Challenge of Peer Pressure – Part 2

Part of the focus on relationships that is central to The Hawkins Model©, is to ensure that, not only do  students have close and enduring relationships with their teachers, but also that they develop and sustain healthy bonds with their classmates. Such relationships play an important part of healthy development and can ensure that peer pressure can be a positive influence on kids, of any age, and not just a negative force that distracts and diverts young people from their values and purpose. Positive peer influence can be a powerful force that can strengthen relationships, minimize the incidence of bullying, and provide positive role models for kids.

When my family moved to Indiana during the middle of my junior year in high school, I had an opportunity to witness the positive power of peer influence alter the behavior of many of my classmates. In this case, it was a small thing, but it demonstrated the ability of a popular student to influence the behavior  of his peers as a positive role model.

As a new student who didn’t make friends easily, I was thrilled to be invited to hang out with one of the nicest and most popular juniors in the school. His name was John and he was a trend setter; not only in fashion but also in other ways. He was the first guy to reach out to me with an offer of friendship.

One day, we all arrived at school in a driving downpour and, as was the case in my prior high school, there were no raincoats, boots, or umbrellas to be seen on any of my male classmates. Guys were willing to arrive drenched rather than appear uncool. Then, along came my friend John, using an umbrella. He was the only guy who left a dry path, that day, as he passed through the halls and classrooms.

The very next time it rained, a few days later, there must have been a dozen or more guys, myself included, who arrived at school using an umbrella. By the end of the school year, seeing a guy in the rain without an umbrella was the exception, not the rule.

Our friend John, with his powerful self-esteem demonstrated how much of a difference one person can make just by setting a good example. To his credit, this was not the only way John exerted a positive influence on his peers. He was a genuinely good person who treated all other students–no matter who they were–and teachers with kindness and respect. He would have been a perfect candidate for membership in a 1960s version of @melanie_korach’s #starfishclub.

As I thought back about the other students with whom I shared a classroom over thirteen years of school, I began to recall others boys and girls who contributed, quietly but meaningfully, to help create of a positive peer environment.

It was a sad day, more than twenty years later, when  I searched for and found John’s name etched on the black walls of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, I felt a keen sense of loss and was unembarrassed to shed a tear for a guy who befriended me when I was the new kid in school; a young man who made a difference with his positive values, commitment to his community–whether a high school class or his country–and by being both confident and kind.

How many schools and classrooms, of which you are aware, make it a point to create a positive culture for all students, not just the most popular kids. It is my assertion that we can create a classroom environment that fosters this kind of positive peer influence, intentionally. It is one of the subtle but powerful things The Hawkins Model© can help create just by changing the way we structure the education process. Why not check it out?

The Primacy of Relationships and the Challenge of Peer Pressure – Part 1

Relationships are everything to human beings, as we have discussed in earlier posts. What we do not spend enough time discussing is the power of peer pressure and how it affects relationships, learning, development, and self-esteem of our students.

All human beings are subject to peer pressure and this is especially true of school-aged children. This was true when I was a kid but, today, that pressure is magnified by the ubiquitous nature of social media. Has it ever been more powerful than it is in present times? We will come back to that thought.

One of my all-time favorite teachers was Mrs. Swartz, my seventh-grade social studies teacher at Johns Hill Junior High School, in Decatur, IL. The fact that I remember so much of what Mrs. Swartz said and taught should illustrate how much of an impact she had on my life. She was my favorite teacher and I truly believed that I was her favorite student. I looked forward to 4th period every single day.

One day she began a period by sending one of the class’s best students to the library for a pre-arranged visit to pick up literature of some kind. As soon as our classmate left the room, Mrs. Swartz drew five lines on the black board. Four of the lines were the same length and one was noticeably shorter. She then proceeded to explain to the class what we would do when our classmate returned from the library. No doubt, some of the teachers reading these words have conducted the same exercise.

Mrs. Swartz explained that the purpose of the exercise was to test the power of peer pressure. She asked us to say yes when asked if the lines were the same length. She also asked us to predict what our classmate would do when it was his turn. Would he report what was obvious to see, that one line was shorter than the others or, would he succumb to peer pressure and go along with his peers?

Because he was one of the smartest and most popular students in our grade, my classmates and I were almost unanimous in our belief that he would say that one line was shorter. We all watched with growing anticipation as Mrs. Swartz worked her way around the classroom and we observed as each kid announced, without a moment’s hesitation, that all five lines were of equal length.

When, finally, it was the turn of the subject of our experiment, we were stunned to hear him say, as did we all, that the lines were of equal length. As we sat in disbelief, our teacher finished her trek around the classroom so that every student had an opportunity to respond.

Taking care not to embarrass our classmate, Mrs. Swartz proceeded to explain peer pressure, noting that it has the power to affect everyone, even one of the most intelligent and independent students in our class. She asked our classmate how he felt during the exercise and he said he was confused when, one after another, we all announced the lines were the same length. He said, “it didn’t make any sense, so I just kept staring at the lines, trying to understand why I was seeing something different than everyone else.”

As she questioned him, he described being pulled in opposite directions. Part of him wanted to say “ we were all crazy and that line number five was clearly shorter than the others. Another part of him felt pressured to go along with the crowd.”

He then laughed and we all laughed with him, but his was loudest of all.

Even in such simple situations, kids feel pressure to conform to the ideas and behavior of their peers and it is this writer’s assertion this has never been truer than it is today. All educators and parents are aware of this pressure but how many formal strategies exist to help protect kids from this incredible force that diverts and distracts them from their priorities? The answer is that very little is done to deal with the power of the peer group.

There is an interesting side note to this story from 1959. It  was not until the next year, when my friends and I were talking about how much we missed having Mrs. Swartz as our social studies teacher, that I was stunned to learn that every single one my friends truly believed that he or she was Mrs. Swartz favorite student. It  made us love and miss her even more.

What if we could give every child a Mrs. Swartz and allow him or her to keep her as their teacher for 3 or even as many as 5 years? What kind of an impact would that have on a child’s emotional and learning development? What if we could help more young people develop a powerful self esteem that would enable them to make sensible decisions and stay focused on their priorities, even in the face of negative peer pressure? Providing such an environment is one of the purposes of The Hawkins Model©.

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.

There is a need for transformational change in public education, but do we have the will?

If you are teacher, do you see anything on the horizon that gives you reason to expect the daily stress you endure will be lessened and the success of students will be assured?

Recent studies have found that American classrooms can place teachers under stress; often debilitating stress. This is not news. Teachers and their most capable leaders have known this for decades. If non teachers would spend just one day in the classroom of a Kindergarten, first, or second grade teacher, with more students with which any one teacher should be required to deal—students with wide disparity in academic preparedness—they would experience real stress; from the first bell to the last, each and every day.

We could say the same thing about the desired academic achievement of students. Every meaningful measure of academic achievement conducted over the past few decades has demonstrated that children of color, with economic disadvantages, and for whom English is a second language, struggle. How we justify ignoring this data for so long is difficult to understand.

Like all the challenges facing public education, stress and low achievement are symptoms of dysfunction and obsolescence; it is systemic.

As a teacher, you cannot change public education in America from your classroom. Just doing your job requires more than most people outside the field of education can imagine. Systemic changes to public education in America, however, cannot happen without your individual and collective advocacy. Your unions and associations can be powerful forces to drive positive change, but it is never enough to register complaints and protests. Instead, be a powerful advocate for a positive, new idea.

If you are a principal, you lack the authority to act unilaterally even if you had a solution yet you, too, can be a positive advocate for change. Seek support from your colleagues and from your professional associations on a state-wide or national scale. Complaints and protest are the tactics of the powerless, however, even for administrators. What we need from principals and administrators is for them to rally around a positive solution to the challenges facing our public schools and urge their districts to act.

Superintendents for school corporations and school districts have a clearly defined responsibility to provide the highest possible quality of education to the children within their district’s boundaries. If you are fortunate to lead an affluent school district with historically high achievement, you may feel confident that a quality education is exactly what each of your students receives. You also know that not all your colleagues and their school corporations are so fortunate.

Teachers, administrators, and school boards have not come forward with an alternative approach that can transform public education in America and neither have policy makers and state legislators. They have not found a solution because they are not looking outside the boundaries of conventional wisdom. And, no, school choice and charter schools are not the answer. Charter schools are a diversion that distracts us from what should be our primary focus. We must find a new, comprehensive, and integrated process that works for every child, whatever their unique requirements, and supports rather than impedes the efforts of every teacher.  We need all educators and public officials to open their minds to the possibility of a better way. Then, we need educators, at every level, to use their individual and collective power as positive advocates to fight for that solution.

Superintendents of community school districts with multiple schools and thousands of students who struggle must become more than just advocates for change. They have an obligation to be powerful, positive leaders in relentless pursuit of success for their kids. These superintendents and school boards know that the teachers of your struggling schools are no less qualified or capable than their colleagues in high performing schools. Further, you know that few if any of the innovative methodologies, technologies or curricula you have employed have made sustainable progress.

Sustainable, transformative change must commence with an acknowledgement that what we have been doing for decades will not work no matter how hard we ask teachers to work or how many new and innovative ideas we employ. Putting new wine in old wineskins will not produce the quality education process that our children, their communities, and our society so desperately need.

In a new book I am working hard to complete, I will introduce an education model designed to produce the outcomes we need. This education model has been crafted to place teachers and students in an environment in which they can thrive and with a process focused on success. You need not wait for my new book, however, to examine the model.

Visit my website at https://melhawkinsandassociates.com/education-model-white-paper/ and take a look at the model with the hope that, at the very least, you will discover some ideas worth your time and consideration. You may be pleasantly surprised to find an education model and process that will resonate with educators; a process that will make it easier for teachers to teach and for kids to learn. Have no illusions, however, that teaching will be easy. Teaching children is challenging work and this model will not alter that reality. It will, however, make it achievable and remove much of the stress for both teachers and their students.

If you are a superintendent, consider implementing the model in one of your low performing schools. What do you have to lose? Students in those schools have been struggling for years. If you are principal, strive to enlist support from some of you colleagues and present an action plan to your superintendent. If you are a teacher talk about the model with your colleagues and then approach your principals.

Please make time to read the model. Are the struggling students of your schools and community not worth an hour or less of your time?  

Finally, if you are a parent and you like what you read, share it with everyone you know. Proceed as if the lives of your sons and daughters depend on it because, indeed, they do.

Do Alternate Pathways to Graduation Lower the Bar?

In case you’ve been wondering why my presence on Twitter has diminished, as I mentioned in an earlier post, I’ve been inundated with ASVAB testing.

Beginning with the 2018/2019 school year, the State of Indiana has approved the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB) as an alternate pathway to graduation. Students who have been unable to pass the 10th grade math and English Language Arts components of the ISTEP+ exams, which have been required for graduation, can now take the ASVAB.

To qualify for graduation from high school using the ASVAB, students must achieve a minimum percentile score of 31 out of a possible 99, on the Armed Forces Qualification Test (AFQT) which is a composite score of the two math and two English Language Arts components of the ASVAB.

Since September, I have administered 55 student test sessions in 42 different high schools in Northeast Indiana, for just over 4,500 students. With travel to and from these 55 student test sessions, I have logged over 5,100 miles. Time required for both the pre- and post-test preparation for each session is significant and it has required that my 73-year old body haul anywhere from 1 to 4 cases full of test material (as much as 50 pounds each) over that same 5,100 miles.

During this same period, I have also administered 28 enlistment tests (once per week) for roughly 200 enlistment candidates at the Fort Wayne Military Entrance Testing Site (METS). This combined testing responsibility has been a learning as well as an exhausting experience. It has siphoned off both the time and energy required to complete the work on my book-in-progress and to participate in the important support network that Twitter provides for teachers and administrators. Needless to say, I am woefully behind on my writing.

Tracking ISTEP+ scores over the last ten years has been an ongoing part of the research for my book, Reinventing Education, Hope, and the American Dream: The Challenge for Twenty-First Century America (Createspace, 2013), for my 250 plus posts on my blog, Education, Hope, and the American Dream, and for researching my book-in-progress, Reinventing Education One Success at a Time: The Hawkins Model. None of that research prepared me for the experience of looking into the eyes of and talking to over 4,500 students who cannot pass their ISTEPs.

Many of these same students who are unable to pass their ISTEPs are also unsuccessful on the ASVAB. When you see their faces, rarely smiling, it is no longer an academic exercise. These are children representing a true cross section of the diverse population of Americans in the Northeast corner of Indiana. If all Americans could have looked into the eyes of these same high school students, any stereotypical illusions about the demographics of struggling students would have been shattered.

I should have been prepared for it, based upon my experience in administering the enlistment version of the ASVAB for the past 15 years. In my presentation to the students, I describe the AFQT score as a “work-ready” score. I also explain to them that there are few things as sad as watching 18 to 22-year old men and women walking out of a testing room with a piece of paper that says they are qualified for almost nothing. After all, if one cannot qualify for the most basic jobs in the Armed Services, how may civilian jobs will they be qualified for? Being able to get a 31 on the ASVAB means a young man or woman has some choices. The higher one scores the more choices they enjoy. I encourage them, should they do poorly on the ASVAB, to identify where they are weak and use their remaining months or semesters in school to work on them.

I wish every teacher and administrator could see the dejection in the faces of these young men and women. It is sad that educators, whom I consider to be unsung American heroes, do not get to see their students struggling to make a place for themselves in the adult world. If they did, I believe they would come to understand the truth of my words and the words of others that if a student cannot utilize what they have learned in the real world, they have not learned it.

That so many young people, across all demographic categories, are unable to achieve this minimum score on the ASVAB should be more than enough evidence that the education process is flawed beyond repair, no matter how valiantly teachers work to do the best for their students. This is a reality that has devastating, adverse consequences for not only the futures of these young people but also for a society that will depend on their leadership over the next half-century.

Teachers must come to understand that it is not their fault that so many young Americans are poorly prepared but there is no group of professionals better positioned to demand an end to it. It is time for public school teachers and administrators to stop being embarrassed and defensive about the performance of so many of their students and become indignant and aggressive in shouting to the world that what they are being asked to do in their classrooms does not work for a significant percentage of their students.

The education process at work in our public schools, is no more able to meet the needs of 21st Century students than America’s 1950s highway system would be able to meet the needs of 21st Century vehicular traffic. Our education process is neither engineered nor constructed to meet current needs.

Indiana’s decision to offer the ASVAB as an alternate way to qualify for graduation could well be interpreted as lowering the bar. More than a few teachers, guidance counselors, and administrators have commented that, while not all of them are successful, their students find the ASVAB easier than the ISTEPs. Is lowering the bar what we should be doing?

Would it not be a better use of our time to discard our obsolete education process and replace it with a new model in which teaching children has been reimagined and reinvented. I offer my model as an example: https://melhawkinsandassociates.com/education-model-white-paper/

Should All Students Be Required to Learn Algebra?

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

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

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

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