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/

Teachers Are Many Things All of which Are Essential!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Street Smart” Translates to Every other Kind of Smart!

This is the third in a series of re-published posts while I devote most of my time to the completion of my  upcoming book.  I hope you enjoy it.

When working with kids, outside of a classroom setting, their level of “street smart” is easy to recognize. What “street smart” tells us is that these kids can learn anything that is important to them. The fact that so many do not learn in school is because it is not important to them. If their families, from their own negative school experiences, do not value education, we can be certain their children will not value education. The operative question, therefore, is how do we make learning at school important to all our students?

Relationships are key to learning  but given how many people of color and other disadvantaged Americans are suspicious of teachers, especially white teachers, it is not easy to break through. This is particularly true when skeptical parents tell their kids, “don’t let the teachers treat you unfairly” and this is a common message untrusting parents give to their kids.

When I was a juvenile probation officer during the first nine years of my career, almost every parent I spoke with expressed concern that their kids would be treated unfairly at school. What I also discovered was that listening to them works better than talking. If they feel they are being interrogated, they will clam up quickly. If I was patient and just engaged in a normal dialogue with them, they would become more forthcoming with info about themselves and their families. Empathic listening skills must be a part of every educator’s portfolio.

For a white teacher with students of color, this is especially true, but I often wonder how many teachers know this. Teachers must maintain a keen awareness that they must earn the trust of students and their parents. That trust is not given, automatically. It is so easy when we are busy, however, to revert to talking rather than listening, giving instructions rather than explanations, and to interrogation rather than dialogue. When our students and their parents begin to learn that you have a genuine interest in hearing what they have to say—hearing their story—they become much more open. Nothing convinces them they are important to you better than your generous attention and empathic listening.

The way we win the parents over is by winning their kids over. When our students begin talking to parents about their teacher as being nice, a parent or guardian’s natural curiosity becomes an ally.

Especially early, as teachers work to form relationships with new students, kids will be as quick to pass judgment on their teacher as we are to pass judgment on them. It is ironic that so many teachers and parents think their children never listen to them. Whether or not they appear to be listening, I can assure you that they hear and see everything you say and do. And, when what you say does not jive with what you do, your integrity is diminished. You won’t know this, unfortunately, until you feel them pulling away from you, emotionally.

It is an oversimplification, I know, but things we are expected to teach our students are not important to them until students become convinced that they are important to us. I have also learned that as suspicious as our students may be, they hunger for closeness with adults. They will not open themselves to a teacher, however, until they begin to trust.

In the summer of 1966, in Philadelphia, I supervised a churchyard recreation program. The church sat on the border between the territories of two gangs and our purpose was to offer a sanctuary for kids—no gang recruiters allowed. All I did was play with the kids, ages 8 to 16, and listen to them, rarely offering advice, not that I had much advice to offer at age 20. My goal was to keep them coming and on any given day we would have between 15 to 30 kids on the grounds, some days even more. The only evidence that I was making a personal connection to them as individuals was 1) the fact they came every day, and 2) they began to talk about their lives.

The summer after my time in Philadelphia, I was in the Army, stationed in Maryland. I went back to Germantown Avenue for a weekend visit, not knowing whether I would even be remembered. When I walked into the churchyard, the teenagers were aloof, at first, but the young kids charged me and dragged me to the ground.

If you have ever been mauled by a litter of puppies, you can appreciate how I felt. Never had I felt more loved than I did wrestling under that pile of pre-adolescent kids. The teens quickly came around, as well.

While I choose to believe that teachers care deeply about their students, I do not believe enough of them take the time to listen to their students and then demonstrate that they care through their actions. Like anything else, we need to sell kids on our commitment to their success. When we have accomplished that, their parents become so much more accessible.

One more story, this one from my first year of subbing, and then I will get on with my point.

It had been 36 years since my summer in Philadelphia and over 20 years from my last day as a probation officer when I subbed for a 3rd grade teacher. I had only been subbing for a few weeks. After the first 20 minutes, I noticed a young black boy was following me around the classroom. When I gave a teacher a questioning glance she said, “he won’t stay in his seat. We can’t get him to listen to or do much of anything.”

For the entire day, he was my shadow. He let me help him with his assignments; read to him; and, when we marched to art class, to lunch, or recess, he held my hand. The teachers were as astonished as I was and told me he had never let anyone get close to him.

I was only at that school for one day. One of the most difficult things about subbing is that you may never see the same kids again and rarely get an opportunity to build on even the smallest foundation of the occasional connections you make.

To this day, I am ashamed to say that I did not stay in touch with that little boy, whether as a tutor, or “big brother,” or some other way. My only excuse was that, in addition to dealing with a couple of personal issues at the time, I was a rookie substitute teacher and was feeling overwhelmed by what I was experiencing, daily.  I think of that little guy, often, and wonder how he is doing. He would be in his late twenties by now.

Back when I worked closely with kids I would have responded to this child’s need for affection, instinctively. In that summer in 1966, on Germantown Avenue, and when I began work as a juvenile probation officer a few years later, I learned far more from my kids than they learned from me. The most important lesson of all was that it is all about caring.

Teachers are just people. There are times when all are distracted by personal issues. Somehow, teachers must have strength of character and a relentless commitment to their purpose, however, that they are able to set their personal issues aside when they walk into their classrooms. each morning. If teachers treat each student as if he or she is your number one priority; listen to them empathically; and convey through your words and actions that they are special, you gain a tremendous amount of leverage with respect to your ability to influence them in a positive way.

As difficult as it may be, teachers can never let up. Your students will test you almost every day, to reassure themselves that your concern for them is genuine.

The following lesson had quite an impact on me as a father and I think the lesson applies to teachers and parents, alike.

“It is every bit as important that we pass the tests our kids give us as it is that                  they pass the tests we give them.”

 

How often we pass their tests and demonstrate unconditional love and concern has a profound effect on our ability to make a difference in their lives. It is imperative that we not wait until they are 16 before we begin working to form the kind of connections that, truly, will transform lives. We need to recreate the education process so that its over-riding priority is to help teachers form close, personal bonds with their students beginning on their first day of school. The structure must be engineered to support this purpose; time must be fully allocated; the ratio of teacher to student must be adequate; and, teachers and students must be allowed to remain together for more than just one school year.

From the first day a 5 or 6-year old child arrives at school, our focus must be to treat each boy and girl as a beautiful, unique child of creation. For some children it will be easy but there are some who will test us, severely. They are the children about whom my grandmother was referring when she told me that the “child who is the hardest to love is the one who needs it the most.”

Their first few weeks of school may the most important period of a child’s academic life. Making certain they feel special and are not being pushed beyond their cusp of knowledge and understanding must be our absolute priority. Thereafter, the education process must be a place where they feel special, where they discover that learning is a process they can master and where their successes are celebrated. The powerful self-esteem that comes from feeling special, combined with the confidence that they can create success for themselves will ensure that they will have choices in life; real choices.

The way our schools and classrooms are structured today, and the misguided expectations we place on our students and teachers, do not allow us to give our students what they need most. Nothing we can do, incrementally, will be enough. The education process must be reinvented to fulfill its purpose. A process exists for no other purpose.

We can create an education model that helps us provide our students with a solid academic foundation upon which they can build a future for themselves. What we discover is “street smart” translates to every other kind of “smart.” If we accomplish this for our students, we will have also created a process that provides teachers with the sense of personal and professional fulfillment that comes when we help another human being create a life for themselves,

We have the power to create such a process. Time and children are being wasted while we tinker with this or that. Working together, educators like you and advocates like me have the power to reinvent the education process. All it takes is our imagination, courage, and determination to accept nothing less than the best for our students and nothing less than the best for ourselves.

While writing this post, back in February of 2018, @casas_jimmy tweeted:

             “Let’s not hide behind the standard line “I don’t have time.” We determine what                 we have time for & what we don’t. When something matters a great deal to us,               let’s find a way to make it happen. . . .”

It fit perfectly with the theme of this post. It helps when the structure and process are created to focus on purpose. If our purpose is that all kids learn then the process makes providing that time its priority. The proper response is not “I don’t have time” rather it is “that’s what I’m here for!”

Please take the time to examine my education model at http://bit.ly/2k53li3 not in search of reasons why it cannot or will not work rather looking with hope that it might work. Also check out some of the 250 or more articles posted on this blog.

Quadrilateral Pegs in the Round Holes of Public Education; Revisited

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

In his many books, Stephen Covey often told the story about taking time to sharpen the saw and it is a good lesson for public school educators. As we work hard, cutting wood, the saw gradually loses its edge. If we don’t take time to stop and sharpen the saw, it won’t matter how hard we work; our productivity will begin to decline until we are accomplishing almost nothing.

The era of high-stakes testing has led public school policy makers and administrators to push teachers to work hard doing the wrong things when what they really need to be doing is teaching to their students and their unique requirements. Teaching to the test is nothing more than a sophisticated version of cramming with the same minimal, long-term retention.

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

From a child’s first day of school, at age five or six, our focus must be on identifying each child’s unique starting point. We need to know where they are on the academic preparedness continuum. Once we have identified what they know and where they are lacking, we can develop an academic path tailored to the unique needs of each child. The existing education process is not structured to facilitate such an objective, so it must be reinvented. My education model has been created for this very purpose.

Our goal is to help children lay a solid academic foundation on which they can build the future they are learning to envision for themselves. Once they have built that academic foundation, they can begin the wonderful and exciting journey of discovery of who they are, what they can be, and where they can go in life.

Their destination should not be based upon anything other than their own evolving sets of knowledge, skills, interests, and dreams. We are not teaching them to be successful in the world as we know it because that world will not exist by the time our students leave school as many as 13 years later. For our students, the pace of change in the world is accelerating faster than that which we perceive.

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

Our task is to make certain our children are always moving forward from one stage of their individual development to the next, irrespective of what their classmates are doing. Our objective must not be to prepare every child for college because a two- or four-year degree is not the answer for everyone. The last thing we want to do is push them down a path on which they are likely to become discouraged, to give up, and to lose hope. We want them to be excited about their life and we must be excited to be helping them on that adventure as their teacher, guide, coach, mentor and friend. We must remind ourselves, however that it is their adventure, not ours.

If we help them acquire a solid academic foundation, they will be primed to go wherever their curiosity, interests, talents, and abilities will take them. They will be primed to thrive in a future we can barely imagine. It will be a different world where every aspect and institution in society will have had to adapt to accommodate whole new generations of motivated men and women. They will be citizens with both the hunger and wherewithal to make a difference, and with a dream to follow.

We cannot wait until kids reach middle school and have fallen so far behind that they have given up and lost hope. Certainly, we must help the students who have already reached this tragic point in their young lives, but our long-term focus must be on the success of children in grades K-5. We must shut down the pathway to hopelessness and powerlessness as surely as we must shut down the “schoolhouse to jailhouse” express.

The last chapter of my book,  Reinventing Education, Hope and the American Dream: The Challenge for Twenty-First Century America (2013) was an attempt to envision how different the future might look if we help our children develop their full potential. Envisioning that future, I wrote:

“Post-secondary educational institutions have had to virtually reinvent themselves as the demand for more advanced mathematics, science, engineering, and information technology classes has exploded. The evolution of institutions devoted to a wide range of technical and vocational educational opportunities has been similarly phenomenal.”

 

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

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

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

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

 

A Word about Teaching Teams, continued:

Nothing generates success more than success itself. When teammates begin to see positive changes in the attitudes, behavior, and academic performance of their students it is incredibly motivating. The more success the team experiences the more confident and motivated they become and the more powerful and enduring the bonds with each other will grow. While we hope teammates will learn to trust and care about one another and will also learn to inspire one another, sometimes people do not get along. As uncomfortable as such times may be, in a team setting it cannot be ignored because it has an adverse effect on everything that takes place.

In the existing education process, teachers might question the capability of a colleague in the next classroom, but their focus is on their own classrooms and their own students. In a team setting, the walls between us do not separate us, they embrace us. They are part of the environment we mold to serve our mission. The need to find resolution makes it easier to reach out to one’s principal, seeking help. Also, it is easier for the principal to respond because they are not walking into a situation where they expect to find someone doing something wrong who must be disciplined. What they find are professionals who need help in solving problems that are, often, nothing more than breakdowns in communications. Because of their shared commitment, team members will be likely respond to such intervention in a positive manner.

There are times when the principal may find a toxic environment that requires that an individual be re-assigned. While this may never be an easy action to take, it is almost always welcomed by most of the team. Often, it comes as a great relief to the person who is re-assigned. In such cases the principal is viewed as a problem-solver rather than a problem-seeker, lurking in the halls to find someone doing something wrong.

For those teachers who have had less than inspiring experiences with principals, please note that we will discuss the subject of positive leadership in a later section of this work. We will be encouraging principals to become positive leaders, not administrators, and we will be encouraging the colleges and universities that educate school administrators to teach them how to be positive leaders, not just administrators.

The team environment we wish to create changes a classroom into a laboratory where we help each child develop their potential, whatever their point of embarkation. We also want to create the same types of bonds between students as we do between teachers and students, and between members of the teaching team. The environment is designed to encourage creativity and innovation. Teaching is craft that is always under development. In the type of collegial setting we seek, teachers will work together to engage students in their own learning adventure and will also seek to engage parents.

Many parents, particularly those who have had negative experiences in school, will demonstrate apathy and even skepticism. When one’s own experience is negative it is difficult to expect better for one’s children. Once parents begin to observe changes in their children; when they see their children making progress; when they find them enthusiastic; when their children are always talking about Ms. or Mr. Teacher with fondness parents will begin to develop a curiosity about what is going on in their son or daughter’s classroom. When they observe their son or daughter enjoying success, parents will want to see it firsthand. Success and winning are contagious, even for those of us sitting on the sidelines. Eventually, parents of our students will be pulled into the process as partners with their child’s teacher; partners sharing responsibility for their child’s education.

As children begin to gain confidence in themselves; when they not only discover that they can be successful at school, but also that they can create their own success, a magical transformation commences. The classroom becomes a secure, safe, and exciting learning environment. As kids learn new things, their imaginations will take flight. Every answer to a question will generate more questions and kids will, also, begin to discover things about themselves. They will discover talents they never saw in themselves and develop skills they never envisioned.

As they begin to view themselves in a new light through the lenses of confidence, children will begin to dream. Gradually, these youngsters will begin to take a little more ownership of their own futures and accept responsibility for the directions of their lives. Most importantly, they will each be a developing a powerful self-esteem that will enable them to exert more control over the outcomes in their lives. They will have real choices about what do in life to find joy and meaning. Their powerful self-esteem will enable them to overcome most of life’s challenges. If they are black or other minorities or members of religious faiths other than Christianity, they will be able to overcome discrimination when it threatens to cut off avenues of opportunity.

The growth and the development of their students will be enormously gratifying for teachers and will bring them the potential for true fulfillment. As the end of a school year approaches, teachers will be pleased to replace saying goodbye with “see you soon.” In The Hawkins Model, teaching teams and their students will continue their important work for longer than an individual school year.

A Word about Teaching Teams!

When creating a new education model, it must be designed to meet the unique needs of all students; after all, teaching kids is the purpose for which schools were created. Like any work environment, however, the unique needs of the people who do the work must also be met. We must focus on the needs of teachers, not just to help them do the best job of which they are capable, although this is core to our mission and purpose, but we must also satisfy the personal needs of our teachers; unique human beings, each.

We want teachers to have personal and professional job satisfaction. A student’s academic success is as important to the well-being of the child’s teacher as it is to the student, him or herself. Close, caring relationships that are vital to the success of our students are equally vital to the success and well-being of teachers. We often talk about what the difference a “favorite teacher” made in our lives as we look back through our school years and, if we were fortunate, we may have two, three or more teachers who were special and whom we recall with such fondness.

Teachers also look back over their careers and the faces, smiles, and names of favorite students peek out from behind the curtains of their memories. Just like when we smile while thinking back on one of our favorite teachers, those same teachers are likely to smile when they think back on us. As their students, we recall that favorite teacher’s classroom as a place where we felt safe and enjoyed one of the most successful periods of our school career. It was in their classrooms where we did our best work, where we felt the least fear of failure, and where learning was fun. We can be assured that, for those teachers, our presence made their jobs a little more meaningful and their days a little brighter.

When we go back to the drawing board to re-invent the education process in and with which teachers and students work, we must make a conscious effort to create an environment that fosters these special relationships. We would like to create a classroom environment where every child feels a special bond with one or more teachers and where all teachers feel special connections with as many of their students as possible. We understand that no matter how hard we work, perfection is never attained. There are things we can do to ensure that we get as close to perfection as possible, however.

If you are reading this and finding yourself unable to imagine any way this type of an team environment can be created in your classroom, please be patient. To create such an environment is the purpose for which this book was written. We are going to walk you through the process of creating such classrooms, one step at a time.

One of the reasons it so difficult to envision such classrooms is because teachers work individually, with twenty-five, thirty, or even thirty-five students. Yes, many of you have aides and you may find them invaluable. Most schools also have various resource teachers for reading, special education, English Language Learning and more. Some special needs children have individual aides assigned to help them throughout the day. Most of these resources create value and, as a teacher, you and these colleagues may, occasionally, put your heads together to brainstorm or to come up with a strategy to help some of your students. Often, however, these colleagues are not your partners; they are not teammates. You have your job to do and they have theirs.

In the model that will be introduced to you, we will be relying a team teaching environment with teams of three teachers, working together as partners. Some of you may find the idea of working as a member of a team of three colleagues uncomfortable or frightening. This is understandable but, again, I ask for your patience; be hopeful. In diverse venues, such teams have proven to be extraordinarily successful. Often, team members become more than co-workers or even partners; they become close personal friends and provide a level of personal and professional support that is not possible within the current education process. Teachers as part of a team are never on an island by themselves.

Teams can contribute to unprecedented levels of performance and quality of outcomes and have even been proven to be more effective that management in dealing with performance or commitment issues. This has been found to be true even in strong union environments in manufacturing facilities. When people are working on their own, whether as a teacher in a classroom, a professional in another setting, or a production worker on an assembly line, it is easy for poorly trained and unmotivated people to hide in the crowd where their sub-standard performance goes unnoticed. Even when co-workers bring such individuals to the attention of their boss, many of these managers and supervisors find it difficult to act, even when doing so is their job.

I began my first job as a supervisor in 1972 and have managed units with as few as seven people and operations with as many as several hundred people, at all levels of the organizational hierarchy. In addition, I spent many years working as an organizational development and leadership consultant during which I learned as much as I taught. One of the things I learned is that we must all embrace a simple concept. Most people want to do their job, well. They would like to be respected and they would love to be part of a winning team. They may not know how to do these things, they may struggle to find motivation, and they may not even know to whom to turn for help. If we start with this idea, however, rather than read some measure of evil intent into the behavior of a colleague, it changes everything. This same approach should be applied to one’s students, also. They would like to be successful, but many do not know how and have no one with whom they feel they can talk.

It is also easy to tell these coworkers to, “see your supervisor or manager” but, sadly, one of the things most lacking in organizations of all shapes, sizes, venues, and purposes is positive leadership. Many supervisors and managers are unapproachable and are the last person to whom a troubled employee might choose to turn. Many of you reading these words have vivid memories of such supervisors, managers, and principals. Even some bosses do not know how to do their own job well nor do they know to whom they can turn for help. We will spend more time talking about positive leadership in a later section of this book.

In a team setting, there is no place to hide and each member of the team is accountable to the team and his or her teammates. While this may sound scary, it is, most often, a source of comfort and support. The fundamental difference in such team teaching environments, even when the principal may become involved, is that the focus is on ways to improve the quality of teaching; not finding fault with a team member. It is always about improving the effectiveness of relationship building, whether with the team’s students or with one another. It is never about finding things team members who are doing wrong, it is always about finding ways for all members to get better outcomes. It is a case where the whole is always greater than the sum of its parts.

Teams are comprised of imperfect human beings and bonding will not always come quickly and easily. Often, however, when members of a new team struggle to come together, the very nature of having to work together for the benefit of the students for whom they share responsibility, begins to change the chemistry of the unit. This seems to be especially true with people who share a deep commitment to their mission.

There are few populations of professionals who have stronger and more enduring commitment to the people they serve than teachers. I think the generosity of teachers is a testament to that commitment. Danny Steele is a principal, speaker, and author who has an enormous following from teachers who support each other on Twitter. In a recent Tweet @SteeleThoughts, wrote:

“To all those teachers who have ever provided a pizza party for a class. . . or donut party. . . or a cookie party. . . out of your own pocket. . . for any reason—Thank you! You probably violated some health guidelines but the students loved it. You made an investment in them!”

If we could tally all the time devoted by teachers, before arriving and after leaving school, along with the money used for school supplies, décor, treats, parties, covert loans of lunch money, et al, it is difficult to imagine a more generous group of workers, professional or otherwise, than teachers. We are not talking about the words they say about how committed they are, we are talking about how they demonstrate that commitment by the things they do, day in and day out. It is this shared commitment to one’s students that make teams work so effectively. Teachers may have varying levels of experience or come from diverse cultures, but they all want what is best for their students. And when they link those diverse backgrounds in a team setting, magic happens.

If you are teacher reading this, and are not a Twitter user, I encourage you to become one. There is a huge support group of wonderful teachers who will be there to inspire you, every day. Start by following Danny Steele @SteeleThoughts and then gradually begin following the teachers and other educators who follow him. This author’s username is @melhawk46. I invite you to follow me, as well.

You are not in this alone and there is a solution if we all work together, not in protests or complaints, but as advocates for a powerful new idea.

[to be continued]

Do We have the Will to Bring About Transformative Change: A Message of Hope and a Call to Action!

We have the power, intelligence, and imagination to envision a better America and we have, in our possession, a new idea about how we can bring that vision to life. It requires that we challenge our assumptions about how we go about doing what is every society’s most important job: preparing our children for the future. Ultimately, the question is: “Do we possess the will to bring about transformative change?”

Public education need not be under attack! Public schools can be successful. Teachers need not flee the profession. Children need not fail. Teaching need not be stressful and frustrating. Learning can be fun. All kids can learn and be excited about learning. Parents can be effective partners with teachers to help their children get the best possible education. The American dream can be real for every child. People need not be poor and do not need to be entrapped in the cycle of poverty and failure, nor do they need to live under a blanket of hopelessness and powerlessness.

There is no requirement that our prisons be full. Black men and women need not be afraid of being shot by the police, white Americans need not feel threatened every time they see a black man in an unexpected place, Hispanics need not face anger and resentment when they speak Spanish to their children—besides, isn’t being bilingual something to which we should all aspire? Immigration need not be considered a threat to prosperity or democracy. Children of immigrants need not be separated from their parents. Children born in America must not be denied citizenship, whatever the status of their parents. Everyone must be free to worship according to their faith. None of the worlds great religions must be singled out for disdain or preference and their worshipers need not be subjected to prejudice.

America can, indeed, be great again, in fact, greater than it has ever been, and we need not be a divided people. The very things that divide us are, in truth, the things that keep the reality of America from matching our vision. Prejudice and bigotry impede rather than enhance the quality of life in America. We need not deprive our citizens of access to healthcare services or see the costs of healthcare become prohibitive. We need not place our environment at risk to have a strong economy or strip away regulations that were established to protect our citizens from abuses from those who would sacrifice our safety and well-being for the sake of profits.

Considering America great again does not depend on restricting the freedom of the press; questioning the integrity of our electoral process; or branding an entire race, ethnic group, or religious faith as unworthy of freedom and justice. Our greatness as a free people is not enhanced by withdrawing from the world community any more than our economy is enriched by protectionism. Like it or not, the future of the United States of America requires interdependency and the same can be said for the future of the world community.

America’s strengths and weakness are a reflection of what the American people have learned rather than a representation of who and what they could be.

All the problems facing American society and threatening the future of our participatory democracy are rooted in the historic ineffectiveness of our system of public education. Neither the interests of American society nor the world community are enhanced by ignorance, illiteracy, innumeracy, gullibility, or closed-mindedness. We need our young people to leave school with solid academic foundations, portfolios of a broad range of skills, and the ability to think exponentially (outside the box) with creativity and imagination. We need them to be able to accept the responsibilities of citizenship. We need for them to provide for themselves and their families, to understand the cogent issues of our time and to participate in their intelligent discourse. Ultimately, we need our young people—all our citizens, in fact—to be able to make thoughtful choices in the face of the extraordinary challenges that await us in balance of this 21st Century.

We cannot have citizens who are so poorly informed about critical issues that they will follow, blindly, high profile dilettantes based on jingoistic platitudes and outdated dogma on whatever side of the political spectrum they reside. We need our people to be sufficiently informed that they can distinguish between real and fake news, the latter of which is poorly disguised propaganda.

We want to create an abundance mentality in which everyone believes they can participate in the American dream because, if we work together, there is enough of everything for everyone. This is an enormous challenge, I know, but it is one that is possible if every American possesses a quality education. There are, indeed, deep prejudices in the hearts and minds of millions of Americans and we cannot legislate an end to bigotry and resentment. What we can do is ensure that all Americans, regardless of their race and/or ethnicity are able to fulfill their responsibilities as citizens, which, in turn, increases the frequency and quality of our interactions with one another. If we live and work in closer proximity with one another our similarities are magnified relative to our differences.

This can be an accurate representation of our society, but it requires that we abandon an obsolete education process that has allowed millions of our children to fail, has driven hundreds of thousands of qualified teachers from the profession, has created extraordinary anguish on the part of a significant percentage of the rest, and has left huge populations of men and women unable to participate in the American dream.

We must replace an education process that is structured like a competition to see who can learn the most the fastest. It is an education process that fails children on both ends of the academic achievement continuum. Children who had the misfortune to start from behind are pushed ahead before they are ready, placing them at an even greater disadvantage when success on subsequent lessons requires the application of knowledge and skills they were not given time to learn. This sets up children for failure, particularly disadvantaged children. A disproportionate percentage of these disadvantaged children are black or other minorities, and kids who come from homes in which English is not the mother tongue.

The incessant repetition of this practice erodes the diligence of educators and conditions them to tolerate some level of failure. It also inures teachers and educators to the tragic consequences with which their students will be forced to deal. Sadly, policy makers and government officials are so far removed from the suffering to which they contribute they are oblivious and learn nothing from it. These powerful men and women have not learned the lessons from “systems thinking” that help us understand how our own behavior contributes to the outcomes that do us harm. (Systems thinkin is a concept introduced by Peter Senge in his book, The Fifth Discipline: The Art & Practice of the Learning Organization (Doubleday, New York, 1990).

At the other end of the performance continuum, high achieving students are asked to slow down and wait for classmates to catch up. This is also tragic because when confronted with boredom and impatience, learning ceases to be fun, leaving hungry young minds to look to social media, video games, and even more harmful diversions for excitement, intellectual stimulation, and mindless distractions. When they get to high school, these students may be diverted into honors or advanced-placement programs but what happened to them in elementary school has diminished their enthusiasm for learning.

One of the dysfunctionalities of our existing education process is that it is brittle and unadaptable thus providing teachers with neither the opportunity nor the authority to differentiate between the divergent needs of their students.

As much as I admire teachers and administrators, only a minute percentage ever see the struggles faced by students, whom they proudly declared ready for graduation, when these young men and women find themselves woefully unprepared for the demands of the workplace, institutions of higher learning, or the military.

Every employer witnesses the tragedy when they turn away young men and women who lack the essential academic foundation and skills required of the jobs for which they have applied. Even those employers that offer remedial instruction to help new hires overcome their functional illiteracy and innumeracy, find these young people unmotivated to learn and unwilling to work hard. Even job candidates with impressive academic credentials are often found to be unmotivated and unimaginative. Employers are mystified when they discover that the “book smarts” of the men and women they recruit do not translate well in work situations. On the other side of the equation, these young people are frustrated to discover that what they have learned does not meet the expectations of their employers.

In many of my blog posts, I have shared stories about the difficulty young men and women have, typically recent high school graduates and second-semester seniors, when striving to pass the ASVAB (Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery) to qualify for enlistment in the military services. They may have been able to pass a test or meet some other criteria to qualify for a high school diploma but a few months later they are unable to apply what they had been expected to learn to the real-life challenge of achieving enlistment eligibility. When these enlistment candidates fail to achieve the minimum score for enlistment, they can retake the exam a second time, after a thirty-day period; a third time after another thirty-day period; and, a fourth time after an additional six months. Even with the use of study materials, few of these young adults ever achieve a passing score. Cramming for exams does not give one the mastery required to be able to utilize what one needs to know in life; mastery requires that we know it.

[to be continued]

Education Infrastructure: To Ensure Our Future, Focus on Desired Outcomes

Fort Wayne Journal Gazette

OP ED COLUMNS

http://www.journalgazette.net/opinion/columns/20181206/education-infrastructure

Mel Hawkins

Thursday, December 06, 2018 1:00 am

The Journal Gazette’s Nov. 30 editorial, “Students first,” offers evidence of the dysfunctionality of the political process with respect to education policy.

Our system of education is a national tragedy and is at the root of all our nation’s challenges. That millions of our nation’s children suffer irreparable harm makes the American education process a disaster of unprecedented scope and scale.

Children in charter, parochial and public schools are failing throughout the U.S., and each failure has tragic consequences for the children and our society. Even the students who seem to be succeeding are not learning the things they will need to know, nor are they developing the skills they will need to have meaningful choices in life. Neither are they being prepared to find creative solutions to the unimaginable challenges the balance of this 21st century will present.

That our teachers are being asked to shoulder the blame for the unacceptable outcomes of an obsolete education process is just one more travesty. These dedicated men and women are as much the victims of our flawed education policies as are their students. Not only are they blamed for the struggles of their students, we refuse to provide them with the level of respect and compensation they deserve for doing one of the most important and challenging jobs in American society. The fact that we are driving so many of these men and women out of the profession is just one more symptom of the obsolescence of the American education process.

Possibly we should invite teachers to participate more fully in the policy-making process. The problem, however, is that the solutions to the challenges of preparing our children for an uncertain future will be found outside the boundaries of conventional wisdom.

Perhaps we should examine the challenges facing education in America the same way we must address our nation’s crumbling infrastructure. Over the past century the world has changed exponentially while the structure and function of our education process have changed minimally. In our schools today, it takes an extraordinary effort on the part of teachers and principals to implement innovative ideas and solutions that will endure and not be ground to dust by the unrelenting glacial power of the existing education process.

The education process impedes rather than facilitates the ability of educators to respond to the unique requirements of a diverse population of children with disparate needs. The recent focus of education reformers on charter schools, voucher systems and high-stakes testing to hold teachers and schools accountable has done more damage to public education than we could have possibly envisioned.

Ironically, high-stakes testing is telling us what we need to know. These tests are not measuring the performance of teachers and schools, however; rather they measure the efficacy of the education process itself.
Our challenge must be to reinvent the education process to produce the outcomes we want.

What are those outcomes? That every child learns as much as they are able at their own best pace. That students retain what they have learned and are able to use their knowledge and skills in real-life situations and not solely for the purposes of passing standardized tests. That as these students discover they can be successful, they begin to develop a healthy self-esteem that will enable them to overcome obstacles and control most of the outcomes in their lives. That as they progress along their developmental paths, they are able to partner with their parents and teachers to take ownership of their futures.

Education must not be a competition to see who learns the most the fastest. Rather, it must be a process that provides each and every child with a menu of choices about what to do in life to provide for their families, to find joy and meaning, and to participate in their own governance. It must enable them to make thoughtful and reasoned choices and help them work together to find new and innovative solutions to the problems facing a world undergoing unrelenting change and facing unprecedented challenges.

These things are possible and within our power to accomplish if we are willing to challenge all our assumptions about what we do and why and, then, open our hearts and minds to new ways of thinking and doing.

Differentiation: An Essential Variable in the Education Equation

One of the essential variables that is missing from the education equation in America is differentiation.

When they begin school, we do not treat each five- or six-year-old boy and girl as unique little people with respect to their characteristics, challenges, and potential. Neither do we adapt the academic standards to which we teach nor the individual lesson plans with which teachers must work to serve each child. Instead, the education process often impedes the ability of teachers to attend to children, individually.

Teachers go to great lengths to help their students negotiate the challenging academic pathway along which all of them are directed but there is only so much they can do, particularly if they teach in schools that are attended by disadvantaged children.

In addition to a host of disparities that exist, their personality impacts the ability of children to form nurturing and enduring relationships with their teachers and the likelihood that they will find their place within the community of students in their classrooms. What kind of social skills do they possess? Is there anything about them that stands out and attracts either the positive or negative attention of their classmates? Are they among that population of children who are the most difficult to love but who need it the most? Children who are different in some obvious way need the help of their teacher to negotiate not only the complex academic pathways but also the social minefields that exist in even Kindergarten classrooms.

Having a sense of belonging can change the course of a child’s entire life. Teachers who are overwhelmed by challenging classrooms will find it difficult if not impossible to attend to the needs of these vulnerable boys and girls. And no, it is not enough that teachers bond with a few of their students.

It is one of the great ironies of the human condition that children think learning is fun until they begin their formal education. It is the first few years of school that will determine how many of these young lives will be lost to society. Make no mistake, the unmotivated and disruptive students we meet in middle school and high school lost their way during their first few years of school, if not their first few months. These are the children with whom teachers were unable to form enduring relationships in Kindergarten and first grade. These are the children who were the hardest to love but who needed it the most.

Somehow, we must shake education leaders and policy makers of education in America with enough force that they see the folly of the learning environments they create for their students and teachers. For every child that we lose in their first few months of school there will be consequences, both for the children and society. There is also an incalculable opportunity cost associated with each child who falls off the conveyor belt that is education in America. The boys and girls who will someday end up in prison, on drugs, or who will suffer early, violent deaths might have had the potential to achieve greatness had we created an education model and learning environment crafted to meet their unique requirements.

How many more young lives can we afford to squander and how long are we willing to let this tragedy to continue? How many teachers are we willing let flee the profession because they are unable to give kids what they need?

When children arrive for their very first day of school, they are at one of the most vulnerable points of their lives. They need to feel safe, loved, and important. These are the things that allow the development of a healthy self-esteem. It is insufficient that teachers strive to identify and respond to the unique needs of each of their students—and indeed they do—the education process and the way teachers, students, and classrooms are organized must be crafted to support that essential variable of a child’s education: differentiation. We are not just teaching children to pass annual competency examinations, we are preparing them to be responsible citizens of a participatory democracy.

What we teach and how we teach it must, also, differentiate with respect to the reality that our children do not all learn the same way and are not all preparing for the same futures. Some will be going on to college, some to vocational schools, others to the military or directly into the work force. In some cases, they are preparing for careers and endeavors that do not exist, today, and that we cannot envision. Our job, as education leaders and teachers is to help them acquire an academic foundation that, as their unique talents and abilities are revealed, will allow them to choose their own destinations; to strike out in any direction.

If we are helping them learn the things they will need to develop their unique potential; to discover their special talents and abilities; to formulate and begin to pursue their dreams for the future; to fulfill the responsibilities of citizenship in a participatory democracy; and to be able to control most of the outcomes in their lives, a healthy self-esteem will prove to be more important than what they know. With a solid academic foundation, a healthy self-esteem, and active imaginations they will be able to learn whatever they need to know.

This tragedy need not continue. We can go back to the drawing board and reinvent the education process to produce the outcomes we seek. This is what I have striven to accomplish in the development of my education model and I urge you to take time to read it, not seeking reasons why it won’t work rather striving to imagine what it would be like to teach in such an environment. My model is available for your review at https://melhawkinsandassociates.com/education-model-white-paper/