How do we extricate ourselves from the mess in which we find ourselves?

I want to share a message my daughter posted on Facebook because she said it better than I could ever hope to. Her message reminds us there are no simple answers to what is happening in our society and that nothing will change until each of us is ready to change:

“Please don’t let your outrage at the fires and looting distract from the reasons why it is happening. Our country is deeply damaged. Anger has festered for decades and it is time for a change. This type of anger is not always expressed quietly and calmly. It is ugly and uncontrolled. As ugly as the racism that has led to it. We must rebuild a better America. An America that is not great AGAIN but great for everyone going forward. White people must realize that people of color are not to be feared – WE are. We have caused this and contributed to it and we must be a part of the change. Do what you can. Donate, volunteer, demonstrate. Speak out when you see something wrong. Find your own way to help. But most importantly, learn empathy and examine yourself. We can all do better.”

                                              -Jeanne Hawkins Beaupre, Facebook, May 31, 2020

We must work to change the fundamental character of America and this can only begin with our system of education, whether public schools, parochial, or private. There is no other way.

Every child must be given the absolute best education we can provide, and this will not happen until we are willing to change how we teach them. We must not allow a single child to fail and we must never forget they can only fail when we choose to allow it. 

We have the power to ensure the academic success of every one of our nation’s children.  

We cannot accomplish this by teaching the same things we have always taught in the same way we have always taught them. We must change the very nature of our education process. While this may seem like an almost impossible task, you will discover it to be easier than most of you can imagine.

We must help every child learn as much as they are able at their own best pace. We must help children establish a foundation of knowledge and skills from which each can begin to create a positive future for him or herself. We must help every boy and girl choose whatever direction suits their interests and abilities.  The education we provide must give them a wide menu of choices of what to do with their lives in order to find joy and meaning; must prepare them to provide for themselves and their families; and, it must enable them to participate in their own governance.  

If you would like to learn how this can be accomplished, please check out The Hawkins Model© at my website at

As you read the model, strive to imagine what it would be like to teach and learn in such an environment, not in search of reasons why it will not or cannot work.

If you like what you read, please help me find a superintendent willing to test the model in one of his or her struggling elementary schools.

What do we have to lose? If we continue to do what we have always done, we will continue to get the same disappointing outcomes  we have been getting for as long as any of us can remember.

Part 2 of the Action component of our Strategic Action Plan to Reinvent Public Education – Engaging Parents and the Community


As we shift our focus to the community we must call on our political leaders for leadership, resell the American dream, and to educate all Americans on the paramount role of parents in improving the motivation to learn.


It would be so easy to stop at this point, thinking that our job is finished but, in reality, it has just begun. Education is simply a tool to help us prepare each new generation for the challenges our nation will face in an ever-more competitive world marketplace. It is a marketplace in which it will be impossible for us to compete, effectively, if we do not have the full participation of our entire citizenry. We simply must bring them on board.


As challenging and overwhelming as this may seem it is nothing more than an enormous marketing and advertising campaign to repackage and resell the American Dream. For all of the progress other economies have made with respect to their ability to compete with the U.S. we are still the unparalleled leader in marketing and advertising and we need to capitalize on this strength to re-engage every American to join their fellow citizens in rising to the challenges facing our nation. It is a perfect opportunity for African-Americans and other minorities to assume their rightful place as full partners in the American enterprise and in American society. We simply need to sell them on the idea that the time and the opportunities are prime.


The beauty of education is that nothing we do as a nation reaches into as many homes and as many families as our systems of education and it provides the perfect opportunity to not only transform public education but also to transform American society. It is an initiative in which the leaders of our school districts throughout the nation will be the point persons carrying the message of our political leadership. It is an initiative where our school superintendents and principals will be supported by leaders from government, professional athletics, entertainment, and the full spectrum of businesses. It is an initiative in which every single American man and woman will have a meaningful role to play.


What follows is the blueprint for action in the form of our final fourteen (14) action items.


 Action Item #20 – Our Presidents, present and future, must initiate and sustain a movement to re-sanctify the American dream, calling on leaders at every level of governments and business, and men and women in every community to believe in the American dream with their words and deeds and to ask American parents to accept responsibility for the education of their children. Further, that every American mother and father work hand-in-hand with their children’s teachers as full partners in the educational process. This is the categorical imperative of our time.


 Action Item #21 – Leaders at every level are challenged to ask parents everywhere, irrespective of race or economic circumstances: “Is your son or daughter a future President of the United States?  Is he or she a future CEO, physician, attorney, teacher, engineer, school superintendent, or other professional?” And then, those parents must be challenged to help their children achieve the best success of which they are capable.


  Action Item #22 – Educators accept that the over-riding objective must be to improve the motivation of students and that this requires the active partnership of the parents of those children. Toward this end, school boards need to re-establish expectations for their superintendents and principals to work toward this objective and determine how performance against those expectations will be evaluated.


  Action Item #23 – School Corporations must first target those segments of their community that are the lowest performing but no segment is to be overlooked.


  Action Item #24 – Educators must hit the streets using all available means to draw parents into their children’s schools and to engage those parents in the educational process. They must also work to enlist the assistance of community leaders toward that end and must hold themselves and their staffs accountable for the outcomes.


  Action Item #25 – Educational leaders must engage the creative energies of the entire community, including charitable foundations, for the purpose of developing and evaluating programs to help pull parents in as partners and to help them learn how to be effective in supporting the academic efforts of their children.


  In order to accomplish these objectives our school corporations must re-establish the expectations and priorities of principals and administrators.



  Action Item #26 – Superintendents must remove the administrative burdens from the shoulders of their principals, freeing them to devote their time and energy to their primary objective, even if it means employing more administrative support. Districts must create the expectations that principals and administrators spend 75 percent of their time in direct contact with parents, students, teachers, and staff.


  Action Item #27 – School Corporations must place a premium on positive leadership: Relying on positive leadership skills as the criteria for selection of principals and administrators and making real investments in ongoing leadership development for those principals and administrators.


  Finally, we must identify the communities with the greatest needs and we must use every tool and resource at our disposal to engage those communities and their leaders and to enlist their commitment to make education of our children the over-riding priority of every citizen. We must then replicate that process in each and every community in the nation.



 Action Item #28 – We need to call upon our presidents, present and future, to challenge celebrities from every venue, large and small, to make a commitment to public education by reaching out to their fan bases, asking them to accept responsibility for the education of their children. This challenge must be extended to every adult American, asking them to do whatever is within their power in order to make a difference.


  Action Item #29 – Initiate a cultural transformation using the African-America community as a model, on both a national and local front, in which black Americans, as a community:

  • Accept responsibility for their futures with no reliance on “The Man” to solve their problems for them;
  • Stop blaming the white people for the plight of blacks, whatever one’s opinion about the culpability of white society, simply because blaming others is a debilitating strategy;
  • Place a premium on education;
  • Raise expectations of black children in the classroom and relentlessly encourage our children to exceed those expectations;
  • Work as partners with our local school systems, both public and private, to support the teachers of our children.







 Action Item #30 – Local superintendents should encourage head start and other preschool programs in their school districts to redouble their efforts to pull parents into the process so that our children can continue at home the important work they do at their school.




 Action Item #31 – Superintendents of each district should establish a community advisory organization with representation from key members of each high school’s community: parents, churches, social and community organizations, neighborhood associations, and businesses. As noted earlier, these specific examples are specifically targeted at the African-American community because this is where the most glaring deficiencies can be found but they can easily be modified and local advisory organizations will tailor their activities to the unique requirements of their community. Examples of activities for which this organization will be responsible include:




  •          Reaching out to the community to solicit broad-based participation and support of the community;
  •          Asking all leaders of the African-American community to carry President Obama’s challenge into the homes of their community and to engage the community in the process of creating a new culture; one that challenges black children to assume their rightful place as players in the business and professional playing fields much as they have done in the world of professional athletics and entertainment;
  •          Brainstorming with people from across the spectrum of the community for innovative programs that will create the support systems necessary to facilitate this objective;
  •          Recruiting volunteers from among the ranks of professionals, business executives, craftsmen, tradesmen, athletes, and artists to reach out into the communities with which they have a connection and to connect with parents and students;
  •          Invite each school’s population of parents to a free lunch with their children, once per month;
  •          Using the same creative marketing techniques we use in promoting fundraising ventures, we can invite parents to workshops in the evenings or on Saturdays, to teach them how to help their children with homework;
  •          We can solicit parents to volunteer at their son or daughter’s school and, where necessary, we can enlist some of them to provide babysitting for those who have young children still at home;
  •         We can ask churches, neighborhood library branches, Boys and Girls Clubs, Big Brothers-Big Sisters, scout troops, and many other community programs to provide organized study, reading, and writing groups and to recruit tutors from among their ranks;
  •          We can find more creative ways to develop mentoring programs to bring young people into direct contact with men and women who demonstrate each and every day of their lives that success and achievement are within our power; and,
  • ·         We can ask families and neighbors of parents with school age children to support these parents in this process in every conceivable way.




 Action Item #32 – Successful men and women of each community should be challenged to reach back to their communities: to support the efforts of educators to pull parents in as partners in the educational process and/or to mentor to a child in need until there are not enough children to go around.




 Action Item #33 – Urge all Americans to give support and encouragement to the children in their lives: grandchildren, nieces and nephews, our children’s friends, kids from our neighborhood, even our own children. Let them know how important it is that they do their best and that we are rooting for them.






Fixing public education must be the categorical imperative of our time and the process will require the participation of the entire community. It is essential that parents be full partners in the educational process because these are the men and women who have the best chance of bringing a child to their first day of school, motivated to learn even in the face of the obstacles with which they will surely be confronted. If the child has wandered off the path, teachers and parents working together offer the best hope that these children can be redirected.


Improving the motivation to learn on the part of students and increasing their level of preparedness when they arrive for their first day of school must be the ultimate objective of every single thing we do and we must evaluate the efficacy of every program and investment on the basis of how well it services this purpose. We cannot afford to waste a single moment or dollar on things that do


We must also step back as educators, at all levels, to view our system of public education as an integral whole. We must apply a systems-thinking approach that will allow educators and policymakers to challenge their fundamental assumptions about public education; to understand how what we do contributes to the problem; and, ultimately, to re-engineer the system to do what we need it to do to optimize the power of a child’s motivation to learn. It must be a system focused on success that will help each child progress along their unique path at the best speed of which he or she is capable.


The entire educational community must reach out also to the current and future Presidents of the United States, urging them to fire the starter’s gun and lay down the challenge to every mother and father to accept responsibility for the education of their children and for partnering with their teachers and principals.


These things must be accomplished with an unprecedented urgency because the very future of our way of life is in jeopardy. If we fail to seize up this opportunity then the outcomes we will experience in the coming years will be decidedly unpleasant and we will have no one to blame but ourselves.






Exerpt #5 from Reinventing Education, Hope, and the American Dream, from The Introduction

Most Americans are unaware of the poor showing of the American educational system when compared to other nations in the world marketplace, but there does appear to be clear evidence that our children are performing poorly when compared to the children of other nations. This is particularly true of American children in our urban communities. As a result, our public schools are facing scathing criticism as are the educators who struggle to make the system work for our children. The cry goes out that our public schools are failing us and that teachers are to blame. Such claims are, at a minimum, misguided, at their worst a travesty.

In response to mounting pressure from federal and state officials, some school districts have resorted to major housecleaning; terminating teachers and administrators in groups both large and small. In other communities, state departments of public education are placing failing schools on probation and, in some cases, are threatening to take the schools over in an attempt to improve lagging test scores. In Fort Wayne Community Schools, the system to which we will often refer throughout this book, the district gave notices to more than 300 teachers and administrators at the end of the 2010/2011 school year and required them to reapply for their jobs as part of the district’s strategy for an academic shake up.

Such actions are tantamount to blaming soldiers for a war they were asked to fight. These efforts make an insignificant impact on the problem, especially when these schools rehire the same teachers and administrators and then move them to a different building. It does not work because teachers and administrators are only a small part of the problem and, in many cases, are themselves victims of an educational system that is both misdirected and poorly designed to do what we desperately need it to do in this ever-more complicated world.

So, what is the problem with public education in the United States of America? In response to what was meant as a rhetorical question, “What is the matter with these kids?” a middle school teacher with whom I shared a table in a faculty lounge summed up the problem with public education in the United States elegantly and concisely, if not kindly, in six words: “They just don’t give a shit!” And, he spat the words out.

My first response was to laugh. After ten years of substitute teaching, it has become glaringly obvious to me that there was more than a nugget of truth in the observations of this teacher, whose name and school I cannot recall. It is anything but a laughing matter, however.

There are, indeed, students who do care and parents who do support the educational process. The reality, however, is that an alarming percentage of those parents are pulling their children out of our urban public schools and placing them in a variety of private alternatives from parochial, charter schools, or other private schools to home schooling. In many places, state governments are encouraging such transfers through the use of voucher programs that allow the use of tax dollars to subsidize such transfers. Other parents are moving their families out of cities and into suburban and rural public school districts where they believe their children will receive a better education. The sad but compelling fact is that these suburban and rural public schools, and parochial and private alternatives, are out-performing their urban public counterparts on test scores to such a degree that it is difficult to be critical of parents who make such choices. The subsequent consequences with which our urban public school students and teachers must deal as a result of such departures are scary. We will return to this subject later in this chapter. Scarier, still, is that even our better schools are under performing relative to the school systems of other developed nations.

The only places where American students are consistently performing at an exceptional level are in special schools that exist, in small numbers, along the fringes of the mainstream educational system. Readers who have viewed the documentary, Waiting for Superman , were given a glimpse of a few examples of these remarkable little schools. As exciting as their performance might appear, these special little schools are not the answer to the American educational dilemma although they do offer a glimpse of the secret to solving the problem. They are not the solution because they are too few in number and simply cannot be replicated in sufficient numbers to solve the problem for the other ninety-nine percent of our nation’s student population. More importantly, they are not the solution because we have not made the effort to fully understand the reasons for their success. Instead, we stumble along in search of answers, blinded by our assumptions.

The leaders and advocates of such special schools suggest that their success can be attributed to two key factors. The first, these advocates suggest, is that these programs enjoy the luxury of being able to recruit exemplary teachers; the proverbial cream of the crop. The second is that, because these schools exist outside of the formal educational system, they are constrained by neither the bureaucracy of the public school system nor the power of teacher unions. Absent these constraints, according to their administrators, these schools are able to develop innovative curricula and place their exemplary teachers in exceptionally conducive environments, allowing them to do extraordinary things.

The freedom to do things differently and to break away from conventional wisdom creates a tremendous advantage for these schools and their students and mainstream educational policy makers and administrators must learn from their example. What we often ignore is that the most important advantage enjoyed by these special schools, we believe, is that the student populations of these schools are made up almost entirely of children whose parents are fiercely determined to see that their sons and daughters will get the best possible education.

Whether they are black, white, rich, poor, come from intact or fractured families is inconsequential. These parents took extraordinary action to get their children into these special schools, sometimes agonizing through a lottery process before their children are even accepted, and they are fully on board as partners in the educational process. It is from this fierce passion on the part of parents that students derive a powerful motivation to learn. When motivated students are supported by a sustained and active partnership between parents and educators, truly remarkable things happen. When combined with exemplary teachers utilizing innovative curricula and instructional methodology what takes place could be described as magical.

One would think it should be glaringly obvious that committed parents and their motivated sons and daughters are an essential ingredient in successful schools, wherever we find them, but the overwhelming majority of American educators and policy makers are so caught up in their daily challenges and so blinded by their preconceptions that they fail to see it.

Reinventing Education, Hope, and the American Dream, Excerpt #4, concluding the Preface

We suggest that business principles can make significant and meaningful contribution to the challenges we face [in public education] but we are not talking about the principles that come from the boardrooms and their focus on financial incentives, investments, and entrepreneurialism. The business principles to which we refer are things that can be learned from an operational perspective in a business environment. These principles have to do with things like focus on one’s customer, structuring an organization to serve its purpose, problem-solving, teamwork, integrating quality assessments into the learning process, and giving the people on the production line the tools and resources they need to help them do the best job of which they are capable. In education, the people on the production line are teachers, administrators, and their staff.

The application of these principles to create a blueprint for a new reality in education in America is the over-riding purpose of this book.

Our first objective will be to offer a strategy to transform our systems of education, both public and private, to one that focuses on success and that prepares our young people for the challenges that the balance of the Twenty-first Century will present. Our second objective is to gain a true understanding of the reasons why our systems of education are under-performing because these are the same forces that threaten every aspect of our way of life. Once we have gained that understanding we will be in a position to meet our ultimate objective and that is to take our newly engineered educational product to the people.

We must use our system of education to unite Americans behind a common purpose in the face of what may be the greatest challenges our nation has faced since the Civil War. Our goal is to re-infuse faith and hope in the American dream into the hearts and minds of every American parent and child. Only through this effort can we preserve our status as the richest and most powerful nation in the world as we move into an uncertain future.

Review of “Reign of Error,” by Diane Ravitch, Chapter 4

[My apologies to my readers for the delay in fulfilling my commitment to review Reign of Error, by Diane Ravitch, chapter by chapter. My holidays were sandwiched by bouts of illness that played havoc with all of my efforts to achieve a long list of goals and objectives.]

Ravitch notes that students of forty to fifty years ago did not get the “high quality of education that is now typical in public schools with Advanced Placement courses or International Baccalaureate programs or even in regular courses offered in our top city and suburban schools.” She goes on to note the increase in special needs students, students that do not speak English, and children who from troubled families. . . . “

Ravitch is correct that the world has changed and I have no doubt that the schools of fifties and sixties would never be able to respond to the challenges with which present day public schools must contend.

In response to the claim of critics who say that our public schools are in decline, Ravitch notes “there is a tendency to hark back . . . to the mythical good old days. But few people realize that there was never a time when everyone succeeded in school.

She continues, “. . . corporate reformers insist that the public schools are in an unprecedented crisis. They tell us that children must be able to ‘escape’ their ‘failing public schools.’ They claim they are “for the children,’ unlike their teachers, who are not for the children.”

In almost all of this, Ravitch is absolutely correct and we concur with her that all of the things these reformers say they want to do for our children are based upon a flawed understanding of what is really happening within our schools. The contention of these reformers that they possess some magical insight and tools and resources that will transform our schools is blatantly false and the unbridled enthusiasm and zeal with which they will rush forward will not change the reality that they are simply wrong. What is very clear, and I concur with Ravitch. is that these reformers can do great harm to our children and to our communities.

The reformers are correct, however, when they say that our “public schools are in an unprecedented crisis.” Here it is Ravitch who is wrong and the enthusiasm and the zeal with which she counters these reformers will not change this reality. Her powerful advocacy also masks the reality that our current schools, policy makers, administrators, and teachers have no more clue what must be done to salvage education in America than do the reformers.

While “corporate reformers play to our anxieties” in claiming that our society and future is at risk, Ravitch and her supporters, which includes the overwhelming majority of public school educators, play to our defensive mechanisms and our blind prejudices. They fight the battle in much the same way opponents of healthcare reform do when these ardent advocates cite the “dangers of socialized medicine” with the full knowledge that mainstream Americans will salivate, in response, with Pavlovian predictability.

While the reformers “scare us with warnings of dire peril [and] mask their agenda with rhetoric that is soothing and deceptive” according to Ravitch, “preservers of the status quo” lull us with the soothing and deceptive elixir of “traditions and stability.”

Let us not, however, be too critical of Ravitch who details, in point after salient point, the fallacy of the reformers agendas. She is so very right in so many cases that one almost feels disloyal to challenge the other half of her argument.

Here are just a few:

“When they speak of ‘reform’ what they really mean is deregulation and privatization.

    Ravitch is correct.

When they speak of ‘accountability’ what they really mean is rigid reliance on standardized testing as both means and the end of education.

    Ravitch is correct.

When they speak of ‘effective teachers’ what they mean is teachers whose students produce higher scores on standardized tests. . . not teachers who inspire their students to love learning.

    Ravitch is correct.

When they speak of ‘innovation’ they mean replacing teachers with technology to cut staffing costs. Here Ravitch is incorrect in defending the assertion that innovations utilizing technology pose a threat to the teaching profession.

    This plays on the fears and misconception on the part of teachers who struggle to envision that such technology can, if properly designed, empower them to do more for their students. Such technological advancements arm educators with powerful tools. The reader is reminded to think about how smartphones have empowered Twenty-First Century people, allowing them to do so much more with less effort.

When they speak of ‘no excuses’ they mean a boot-camp culture. . . .

    Again Ravitch is incorrect. While a few of the most ardent advocates may envision a “boot-camp culture,” most are addressing the compelling need to rid American classrooms of disruptive behavior that diminishes the quality of the classroom experience as well as the quality of the outcomes. This can be accomplished without resorting to drill instructor tactics.

When they speak of ‘personalized instruction,’ they mean putting children in front of computers with algorithms that supposedly adjust content and test questions to the ability level of the student but actually sacrifice human contact with a real teacher.

    As noted above, Ravitch demonstrates her own inability to envision a utilization of technology that can actually enhances the interface between teachers and students because they are not distracted by activity that that eats up valuable time while contributing no instructional value. If one of our most accomplished advocates for quality education cannot open her mind to new possibilities, how can we expect open-mindedness from the men and women who must stand at the head of our classrooms?

When they speak of ‘achievement’ or ‘performance’ they mean higher scores on standardized tests.

    Here Ravitch is correct even though the problem is with standardized test scores and not with ever-rising expectations, the performance against which can be measured in any number of creative and positive ways if we arm teachers with the right tools.

When they speak of ‘data-driven instruction,’ they mean that test scores and graduation rates should be the primary determinant of what is best for children and schools.

    Ravitch has a point but, oddly, relies on test scores and graduation rates to support her own argument that school performance is improving.

When they speak of ‘competition,’ they mean deregulated charters and deregulated private schools.

    Once again, Ravitch is correct, up to a point. Sadly, the advocates of privatization do envision that competition will result in a clear delineation between schools that are effective and those that are not. What is odd, is that traditional educational practices are set up in a way that students must compete with their classmates, to the great disadvantage of the majority of American public school students and most educators, apparently Ravitch included, seem oblivious to the fact.

When they speak of ‘a successful school,’ they refer only to its test scores, not to a school that is the center of its community, with a great orchestra, an enthusiastic chorus, a hardworking chess team, a thriving robotics program, or teachers who have dedicated their lives to helping students with the highest needs (and often the lowest scores).

    Ravitch is correct.

The reformers define the purpose of education as preparation for global competitiveness, higher education, or the workforce. They view students as ‘human capital’ or ‘assets.’ One seldom sees any reference in their literature or public declarations to the importance of developing full persons to assume the responsibilities of citizenship.

    While Ravitch is correct that the “reformers” to whom she refers may seem to be placing too much emphasis on students as a “resource-in-development” for American producers of goods and services, traditionalists seem oblivious to the reality that American society, including the commercial segment, is the end customer of our schools. Schools would do well to be more cognizant of the importance of one’s customer. The reality is that while standardized test scores may be a poor assessment of student performance, employers that depend on our young people to be able to read, apply mathematical and scientific principles competently, and write coherent sentences are the ultimate judges of the performance of our educational systems.

Of equal importance are the topics that corporate reformers don’t talk about. Seldom do they protest budget cuts, no matter how massive they may be. They do not complain when governors and legislatures cut billions from the public schools while claiming to be reformers. They do not protest rising rates of child poverty. They do not complain about racial segregation. They see no harm in devoting more time and resources to standardized testing. They do not complain when federal or state or city officials announce plans to test children in kindergarten or even prekindergarten. They do not complain about increased class size. They do not object to scripted curricula or teachers’ loss of professional autonomy. They do not object when experienced teachers are replaced by recruits who have only a few weeks training. They close their eyes to evidence that charters enroll disproportionately small numbers of children with disabilities, or those from troubled homes, or English-language learners (in fact, they typically deny any such disparities, even when documented by state and federal data). They do not complain when for-profit corporations run charter schools or when educational services are outsourced to for-profit businesses. Indeed, they welcome entrepreneurs into the reform community as investors and partners.

    While Ravitch’s criticisms, here, are fair overall; she misrepresents the value, or lack thereof, of testing children in Kindergarten or pre-kindergarten. The advocacy of such testing, at least on the part people like myself, is not to judge the effectiveness of early educational programs and teachers, rather it is to assess the level of preparedness of children as they approach their first day of school and to help the school prepare an appropriate and unique educational plan for each child.

While Ravitch is often right, she paints everyone who wants to challenge conventional wisdom into the same corner and suddenly the word ‘reform’ takes on the same pejorative connotations as socialized medicine in the context of healthcare reform and triggers a shutdown of the minds of the majority of Americans educators and taxpayers.

Ravitch writes:

The central theme of this movement is that public schools are in decline. But this is not true. The public schools are working very well for most students. Contrary to popular myths, the scores on the no-stakes federal tests—the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP)—are at an all-time high for students who are white, black, Hispanic, and Asian. Graduation rates are also at an all-time high.

This may be the most inexplicable of Ravitch’s statements. In our review of Chapter 5 of her Reign of Error we will examine her analysis of test scores and challenge many of the conclusions she draws from her own evidence.

A Response to Diane Ravitch Blog Post, Poverty Matters

Poverty Does Matter, but not the way we like to think!

Poverty is important and it does matter, very much, in fact. And no, poverty is not a state of mind; it is a tragic condition in which millions of Americans languish.

Poverty is also an excuse for throwing up our collective hands as if the outcomes are out of our control. It is an excuse for continuing to do the same things we have always done, unquestioningly, convinced we are doing the best we can for the children in our classrooms, under adverse circumstances.

We cry out: “If only Congress would raise minimum wages; change the tax structure to more equitably spread the burden; if only they would find a way to lift the horrible mantle of poverty we could really help these kids.”

And, before you rush to stereotype reformers and their pseudo-counterparts and shut down your minds, I grew up in a low-income family and attended a school that, sixty years ago, was 30 percent black and 50% impoverished. In my first job as a juvenile probation officer I sat across a rickety card table that served as the dinner table for a mother striving to rear 4 children on welfare, drinking coffee while trying to find a way to keep her sons in school and out of the juvenile detention facility.

I sent my own three children to city public schools so they would learn to feel at home in the midst of diversity and not grow up to be elitist, upper-middleclass Americans, out of touch with how so many of our fellow citizens must live.

What I have learned from my own parents and from a lifetime of experience is that it is not poverty that keeps children from succeeding in school. For generations there have been children from the poorest families who have somehow learned how to excel academically; and these were not outliers to be discounted as not relevant to our discussion. Almost without exception there is a characteristic common to all of these youngsters. These children are blessed to have a parent or guardian who somehow still clings to hope that their child can have a better life.

Let’s cling to no illusions about the difficulties these parents face or that such parents are always successful. Sadly, many do fail in spite of the heroic efforts that are made . What matters, however, is that many do not fail and, as a result, their children enjoy some level of academic success.

It is not poverty that keeps children in poverty, it is the hopelessness that so often accompanies poverty. Poverty is, indeed, a very real condition but hopelessness is very much a state of mind. The operative question is why we do not attack hopelessness, ferociously. Hope and expectations are inextricably connected.

As much as I admire and respect public school teachers our public educators, as a whole, whether policy-makers, professors in college departments of education, administrators, or teachers cling to the traditions of an early twentieth century educational process that is woefully inadequate in a twenty-first century world; totally unaware of how what they do contributes to and reinforces the hopelessness of our nation’s disadvantaged.

These educators are blind to the fact that our educational process is focused on failure and sets the most vulnerable of our nation’s children up for failure and humiliation. Is it any wonder that these youngsters grow up to spawn new generations of children with little if any motivation to learn and even less hope for a better life.

For the love of all that is precious in life, can we not abandon our outdated assumptions and biases and open our hearts and minds to a new way of thinking about education in America? If only we will relinquish our obsession with tradition and open our minds to new possibilities we will discover answers that have existed, right in front of us, just beyond the illusory horizon of intransigence.

To you, Diane Ravitch, who for so long has been one of our best and brightest advocates for excellence in education, we need you seek to understand rather than rebut. We need you to think exponentially and to provide a whole new level of leadership in a fresh paradigm.

I am not suggesting that there is a perfect solution to the challenges of education in America; there is no such thing as a perfect solution. With each stride down a new avenue of thinking, however, we will discover new and better ideas and each new answer will lead to whole new sets of questions followed by even more answers and even better ideas.

You know better than any of us that time is of the essence. We must act before those who are rushing to privatize education, place even more reliance on standardized competency examinations, and who want to separate our schools from the communities they exist to serve lead us to disaster.

Reign of Error by Diane Ravitch; the 3rd Installment of my Journaled Review

In her second chapter of this monumental work, Ravitch begins by providing an historical overview of Federal initiatives in response to what many believe to be an urgent need for massive reforms in our systems of public education,leading up to the George W. Bush administration. Under Bush’s administration the “No Child Left Behind” (NCLB) legislation was introduced and it was to have a far-reaching adverse impact on our systems of education, according to Ravitch, many others in the field of education, and of this author/blogger. The NCLB declared that all students in grades 3 – 8 should be tested annually; that states were to monitor schools re: their performance; and, that “failing” schools were to be labeled and face consequences up to and including closure. She notes that, given the unreasonable standard many schools, even some of our very best, failed year after year. She also notes that schools with high proportions of poor and minority students “were the likeliest to be labeled as failing.”

Ravitch writes “Let’s be clear: 100 percent proficiency is an impossible goal.” She makes a wonderful comparison to applying this standards to an expectations that cities were to become crime free and that cities that failed to rise to such expectations would see the closing of police stations and the firing of police officers. She writes “the first to close would be the police stations in the poorest neighborhoods, where crime rates were the highest.”

As I stated in my book, Reinventing Education, Hope and the American Dream, referencing teachers, “it’s like blaming the soldiers for the war they were asked to fight.” What it shows is just how dreadful is the understanding of legislators and policy makers with the problems facing education in America.

What seems to most concern Ravitch is that NCLB demands utilization of testing to assess the performance of both schools and their teachers and also that it “opened the door to huge entrepreneurial opportunities . . . .” It also “encouraged the growth of the charter sector by proposing that charter schools were a remedy for failing schools.”

She notes that when the concept was first introduced, charter schools were envisioned as a way for teachers to find “innovative ways to ignite the . . . Interest in education” speaking specifically of “lowest performing students, the dropouts and the disengaged.” She points out that it was also envisioned that the lessons learned in charter schools were to have been applied to our most challenging public schools.

She notes that the earliest proponents of charter schools never “imagined a charter school sector that was 90 percent non-union or one that in some states presented profit-making opportunities for entrepreneurs.”

The federal government, Ravitch tells us, promoted the concept of charter schools as a way to “compete with neighborhood public schools for higher test scores. . .” absent any evidence that the concept would work.

What has resulted, she suggests, is that the “incessant” focus on testing, creative ways to incent and fund charter schools, the use of vouchers, and privatization have had and continue to have a devastating impact on our neighborhood public schools, the teachers that populate those schools and the most vulnerable population of American school children that is served by those schools and their teachers.

Ravitch argues that, just as “this unnatural focus on testing produced perverse but predictable results; it narrowed curriculum; many districts scaled back time for the arts, history, civics, physical education, science, foreign language, and whatever was not tested.” She cites the widespread cheating that we are seeing; wasting huge sums of money on test preparation and administration; and “teaching to test” by teachers who feel pressure “to save their jobs and their schools.”

As a substitute, I have seen this occur where teachers are introducing material as “these are the kind of questions or problems you are likely to find on ISTEPs (the State of Indiana’s student competency examinations).

Anyone who does not agree with Ravitch’s concerns about the fraud and mismanagement of funds as a result of the privatization of education should think for a moment about Medicare and Medicaid fraud where doctors (supposedly the most trusted professionals in all of American society) and other health professionals and institutions are being charged for manipulating the system for their own financial interests. When there are big dollars at stake it seems to bring the greed and larceny out of even the best of us, and as Ravitch shows, dollars amounts being utilized to provide incentives and grants for these reforms are enormous.

The election of President Obama, Ravitch suggests, raised hopes of new directions in federal education policy that were quickly dashed. She cites what amounts to little more than a feeding frenzy as states and others compete for huge sums as a result of Obama’s Race to the Top, Common Core, et al.

Ravitch writes, “By picking a few winners, the Race to the Top competition abandoned the traditional idea of equality of educational opportunity, where federal aid favored districts and schools that enrolled students with the highest needs.”

We have seen it in other venues where the sudden availability of incentives through federal funding has spawned spectacular growth in the number of consultants and other for-profit entities that carve out enormous chunks of scarce dollars that will never, ever be spent in the direct benefit of a single American boy or girl.

Ravitch is absolutely correct that “reformers support testing, accountability and choice.” and that this blind commitment to unproven ideas is leading to the destruction of the public school systems on which Americans have depended for generations.

She concludes this chapter by saying that “the debates about the role of schooling in a democratic society, the lives of children and families, and the relationship between schools and society were relegated to the margins as no longer relevant to the business plan to reinvent American Education.”

Her last line is an unfortunate choice of words, from the perspective of a writer who has entitled his own book about educational reform as Reinventing Education, Hope, and the American Dream; The Challenge for Twenty-First Century America. I suspect that just the word “reinventing” has rendered my book as valueless in her mind, assuming she has even glanced at the correspondence I have sent inviting her to read the book or at the comments I have made in response to posts on her blog, as well as the posts on my own blog.

I agree with her completely that the direction of these national reform efforts is placing the very future of our nation and its children at risk. We seem to disag

The reinventing that I advocate is designed to come from inside of our schools reaching out to our community not the other way around. They are ideas that demand that the links between our schools and their teachers and the communities that they serve are strengthened rather than weakened. They are ideas that cherish the vital role that teachers play in the lives of their children and that are meant to improve the ability of those teachers to make a difference in those lives.

They are ideas that reject reliance on standardized competency assessments as a dangerous intrusion that not only distracts teachers from their purpose but puts emphasis on the “timed regurgitation of facts, figures, and formulas” rather than on sustained, meaningful mastery of subject matter that the men and women whom these children become will carry and utilize throughout their lives.

They are ideas that borrow from things we have learned, from an operational perspective, in a business environment and not from the boardrooms and their focus on financial incentives, investments, and entrepreneurialism. The lessons from which I challenge educators to learn have to do with things like problem-solving, teamwork, integrating quality assessment into the learning process, and giving the people on the production line the tools and resources they need to help them do the best job of which they are capable.

They are ideas at risk of being branded as more of the same by the real educators who are being forced to defend themselves and the important work they do when, in fact, these ideas will empower educators rather than bind and restrict them.

The author and the readers of Reign of Error are urged to have faith that not all re-inventers are out to do them harm and to give Reinventing Education, Hope, and the American Dream a chance to open their eyes to a new way of looking at what they do.

Diane Ravitch’s Reign of Error, A Journaled Review by Mel Hawkins, 2nd Installment

Ravitch’s Chapter 1 “Our Schools are at Risk”

Ravitch begins this monumental work by staking out the battlefield and categorically rejecting the assertions of “leading members of our political class and our media elite” that public education is broken.

They say that our children are not learning enough and that the “crisis is so profound that half measures and tweaks will not work. Schools must be closed and large numbers of teachers fired. Anyone who doubts this is unaware of the dimensions of the crisis or has a vested interest in defending the status quo.”

They are wrong, Ravitch says!

They say that teachers, principals, and teachers’ unions must “shoulder the blame” for low test scores. They must be held accountable on the basis of objective evaluations.” These reforms, Ravitch continues, insist that “Students must be given choices other than traditional public schools, such as charter schools, vouchers, and online schools.”
They consider themselves, Ravitch continues, to be “championing the cause of minorities . . . the civil rights movement of our day.”

She notes that these advocates appeal “to values Americans have traditionally cherished—choice, freedom, optimism, and a latent distrust of government.”

Ravitch declares, emphatically, “There is only one problem with this narrative. It is wrong.”

“Public education is not broken.” Ravitch explains. “It is not failing or declining.” She adds that the solutions of what she terms as “the corporate reformers” are wrong. She explains that “our urban schools are in trouble because of concentrated poverty and racial segregation.”

She says that “the solutions proposed by the self-proclaimed reformers have not worked as promised. They have failed even by their own most highly valued measure, which is test scores. At the same time, the reformers solutions have had a destructive impact on education as a whole.”

Ravitch continues her attack with such statements as, “strike at the heart of our nation’s most valued institutions.” “Liberals, progressives, well-meaning people have lent their support to a project that is antithetical to liberalism and progressivism. By supporting market-based ‘reforms’ they have allied themselves with those who seek to destroy public education.” She sites, “implacable hostility toward the public sector” advocating “the transfer of public funds to private management and the creation of thousands of deregulated, unsupervised, and unaccountable schools have opened the public coffers to profiteering, fraud, and small entreprenuers.”

Let me say, emphatically, that the “reformers” she is attacking are absolutely right at the outset of what they say, when they identify as the scope of the problem and they are terribly wrong on the other. Public education is broken and it does threaten our very future as a society. It might work well for an elite component of the population of American children but it works counter to the best interests of a significant portion of our children, and is a disaster for the rest.

Let me add with equal emphasis that they are absolutely wrong in what they are asking us to do to fix it.
On the other hand, although Ravitch comes tantalizingly close, she misinterprets the reasons for the problems with public education, which just happen to be the same problems facing our society as a whole. As a result, what she would have us do is to continue to make the same mistakes we have made for the last half century or more.
Ravitch insists, as do so many others, that the problems with education in America are rooted in poverty and racial segregation and in this she is wrong.

Poverty is not a cause it is a symptom very much like the failures of public education are a symptom of underlying cultural forces sweeping across our society. Similarly, racial segregation is as symptom of those same forces. Segregation is no longer decreed by law rather it results from choices that are made by American men and women, no doubt by default, in the face of the cultural forces to which we refer.

At the risk of over-simplifying, I can say that those cultural forces transcend both race and affluence. The first of these destructive forces is a blanket of hopelessness and powerlessness that is smothering a burgeoning population of Americans who are white, black, and every color in between. These men and women are poor to be sure but poverty is just a condition of their existence. It is the hopelessness and powerlessness that led them into poverty and that keeps them there. Sadly, they teach their children to feel hopeless and powerless and as a result, their children are unable to alter the condition of poverty in which they have been reared. Poverty is a condition, hopelessness and powerlessness are states of mind.

The second of the forces is that many American men and women, or more specifically, mothers and fathers, many of whom do not live in poverty have succumbed to a sense of hopelessness and powerlessness with respect to their ability to maintain control and influence over their children. The children of these people have fallen under the influence of their peers and of the powerful forces of a diverse menu of media that exert far more influence over the minds and attitudes of these young people than do their parents.

These kids can be found in any public school in the U.S. Just ask teachers to point them out for you. They are bright youngsters whose parents have thrown up their hands in figurative despair because they can’t make them behave, cannot get them to take school seriously, cannot get them to bed at a decent hour, cannot control whom they choose for friends, cannot control the amount of time they spend playing video games, surfing the net, or talking, texting, tweeting, facebooking, and sometimes even emailing their friends. When these kids get to school, the teachers, working without the support of the parents, struggle to get them to behave, pay attention, or take their school work seriously. Even though some of these kids earn passing grades, they perform so far below their potential that opportunity cost of what they should be learning has drastic consequences for the balance of their lives.

We have been striving to solve the problem of poverty for generations. President Lyndon Johnson declared war on poverty to no avail. We have created welfare laws intended to provide the basics for families but instead created an entitlement mentality.

Concerned professional in all of the social sciences have spent enormous energy just as federal and state government have spent trillions of dollars trying to “extend the advantages” to the poor that are enjoyed by the affluent. This is exactly what welfare has been trying to do for generations, now, with disastrous results.

We all know an adage that has become so cliché they we ignore its wisdom. “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day, teach him how to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.”

It is absolutely imperative that we shift the emphasis of everything we do and every dollar we spend way from “extending advantages” and focus those resources, instead, on attacking the hopelessness and powerlessness that are the true root causes of poverty, racial segregation, the failure of our systems of public education, and of the violence that has converted many urban neighborhoods to war zones.

If Ravitch were to step back and re-examine her assumptions what a powerful force she could be given the platform at her command.

As we continue through Reign of Error, we will strive to point out what a difference this alternate perspective would make and what opportunities it would create.

The other noteworthy and troubling phenomenon that his occurring is that both sides of the great educational debate are engaged in a dangerous exchange of slogans and catch phrases that blind us to the truth. In following Ravitch’s blog which has so much traffic that I have had to create a separate location on my computer to store the emails announcing the latest posts and comments; what I am seeing is that the words “reform” and “reformer” are becoming what I like to refer to as “trigger bytes” to which Americans react with prejudice with Pavlovian consistency. It is similar to such words as “socialism,” “communism,” and “socialized medicine.” When people hear these trigger bytes used in the attack of an idea, their minds shut down with stunning abruptness, and they no longer listen to what those with a different point of view have to say.

We are faced with some of the most important choices in the history of our nation and we need to keep our wits about us if we hope to weather the challenges of the Twenty-first Century and beyond.

Review of Reinventing Education, Hope, and the American Dream

    Reinventing Education, Hope, and the American Dream, by Mel Hawkins

A Review, by Ron Flickinger

I just finished reading the current draft of Mr. Mel Hawkins book, Reinventing Education, Hope, and the American Dream: The Challenge for 21st Century America, and have decided that it is something, particularly Part I, that should be read by a wide variety of audiences. In general, on a scale of one to ten, I would consider American Education (not Public Education as Mr. Hawkins identifies it) to be no more than a two. If totally implemented, Mr. Hawkins recommendations would move it up to at least an “Eight”. . . . his well-researched suggestions would advance our culture by light years.

Chapter 6 entitled, “The Role of Culture” was one of the best, well-written/easily read overviews of the impact of the culture wars on the preparation of our young I have ever read. Not sure that there is anything new in this, but it is so comprehensive, yet so concise that the words literally jumped off the page at me.

This is the first author I think I have ever read who finally attacked the evil of compulsory education. His rationale for moving compulsory education to the age of 14 would, I think, be justification enough to get rid of it completely and put the choice of providing state-sponsored education fully in the hands of parents when their children reach whichever arbitrary age seems most appropriate. Compulsory education is a complete contradiction and it’s about time someone attacked it. We value the things we choose, not the things fostered upon us in an arbitrary and hap-hazard manner. Hats off to this author for so clearly bringing this out.

Every school staff should read chapter 1 and 2 and use them to evaluate their programs and attitudes toward young people and learning.

The other tremendous positive is Mr. Hawkins point-blank, simple attack on the ridiculous system of placing young people in grade levels based upon age. In my entire professional life, I have never found any study which supports this. Every learning theorist I ever read gives a wide variance in brain/social/background readiness for every academic objective in every grade level. If learning were the true goal of schools, common sense would tell us to evaluate current status and build from there. This book is extremely clear on this point and the very fact that few places do this, public or private, shows the resistance to reality American educators embrace.

I share this author’s vision that all work is honorable and all humans are uniquely designed to function in ways that benefit the entire society. The student who likes to tinker with machines and is not at all interested in literature should not be held in less esteem at school than the lit student. The larger social system will value some skills more than others and will obviously pay more for those skills, but the culture has to find a way to communicate to its young that the guy that gets your plumbing right enhances the quality of your life just as much as the mayor of your city.

Educators continue to embrace the elitist notion that academic success is the end-all, do-all for financial, social, and emotional success. Any reform of American education must include respect for all God’s children, not the 20 percent who happen to intuitively respond to academic activities.

Ron Flickinger
Career & Technical Education Consultant
Fort Wayne, IN

The Difference is You: Power Through Positive Leadership

(The opening segment of the author’s book of the same title, now available as a Kindle book at

Are you happy with your job and with your career? Are you proud of your company and the people with whom you work? Do you feel like yours is a dead end job? Do you wish you worked somewhere exciting and challenging? Do you wonder if a break will ever come your way?

Do your supervisors respect you and recognize your efforts and contributions? Do they listen to you and ask for your input in tough situations? Do they give you the respect you feel you deserve? If you are a supervisor, how would your employees answer these questions about you?

Are you happy with your marriage? Is your spouse the kind of supportive partner you would like to have? Are your children turning out the way you hoped? Are your friends everything you want good friends to be?

Are you concerned about the direction in which our country is heading? Are you troubled by our nation’s economic competitiveness in the world marketplace? Do you worry about the bureaucratic ineffectiveness of our government? Does the moral fiber of our society appear to be unraveling? Do you think our systems of education are adequately preparing our children for the future? Do you feel safe in your neighborhood at all hours of the day?

Do the myriad of problems confronting our society leave you feeling discouraged and helpless? If you are like millions of other men and women, discouraged and helpless is exactly how you feel but listen closely. The Difference is You: Power Through Positive Leadership is a message of hope.

The premise of this work is that there is much that we, as individuals, can do that will have an impact on the problems facing us in our personal lives, as a nation, and as citizens of the world community. The problems we face as a society, as we proceed through the Twenty-First Century, are functions of the quality of leadership of our human organizations.

Our message is simple. These problems, in all of their diversity and complexity, can be resolved thereby improving the quality of life for all human beings. Today’s problems will be replaced by new problems, to be sure, but these, too, have solutions. In each case, solutions flow from effective leadership. What is new about this idea is the definition we assign to leadership and how far we spread its mantle.

Positive leadership is a special kind of leadership that gives individual men and women incredible power to bring about positive change and to make a difference right now, right where you are, at this moment in time!

Now is the best time to impact your organization and the job or role you now occupy is the right place to do it!

Many people put things off, waiting for the right or perfect time and place. Just as there are no perfect solutions, there is no perfect time and place. There is no time or place other than here and now. Do it now or, as they say in the athletic shoe commercial, “Just Do It!”

Now is always the best time for taking action and, the best opportunities are not the ones that fall into your lap but the ones you make for yourself. Do not delay another hour; begin anew. Start doing things differently. Take Zig Ziglar’s advice:

“If you keep doin’ what you’ve been doin’, you’re gonna keep gettin’ what you’ve been gettin’.”

Initiate changes in your life and in your approach to your duties, responsibilities, and your relationships and the world will begin to change in response. However small, even insignificant these changes may appear, they matter and they are the direct result of your leadership.

Be a positive leader in the same sense that you want the changes to be positive for everyone, whenever possible. Be concerned about values and begin thinking about the organization or community as a whole. Whatever the organizations of which you are a part, think about their purpose or mission and how you can best contribute to them. As you become more comfortable with your role as a leader, you will begin to see abundant opportunities to make an impact or to bring about change. You will recognize multiple opportunities for action; opportunities that have always existed but were imperceptible to you before you began to view yourself as a positive leader.
How great the impact and how grand the changes you can facilitate—how far-reaching your leadership can be—is limited by your talents and abilities but these boundaries are not nearly as confining as you imagine. It is like sitting in the middle of an unknown body of water where you see nothing but water on the horizon, in any direction. You don’t know whether you are in Lake Erie or the Pacific Ocean and until you strike out, using all of your talents and abilities, you will never know the answer to such questions.

Your leadership potential is also limited by other factors. Things like commitment, dedication, courage, faith, work ethic, persistence, etc., and these are things over which you have enormous control. The number of human beings in the world today who extend themselves to the full limit of their talents and abilities would probably not fill a large arena. For the overwhelming majority of us, the things that constrain us are things that we control, whether we know it or not.

Being an action leader means you are willing to pay the price for success. It means a willingness to work long hours, make personal sacrifices, delay material gratification, and forego leisure and social activities. Whatever it takes, you are willing to give. This takes real courage because, in our society, inordinate value is placed on working as few hours as possible; on reaching a point where sacrifices are unnecessary; where material wealth is abundant; and, where leisure time is paramount. To give these things up for a goal or objective no one else can see is an act of heroism and the world needs all the heroes it can get.