Classrooms and Schools that Work

America’s schoolchildren deserve classrooms and schools that are functional.

 

We cannot expect or even hope that young people will excel academically if we do not provide them with classrooms and schools that are both invigorating and nurturing. It simply makes no sense to apply higher academic standards while ignoring factors that hinder students’ capacity to learn.

 

The structural, environmental, and social problems plaguing school operations have to be addressed so that our youth can perform at the highest levels. Leaky ceilings, broken chairs and desks, missing door locks, out of order bathrooms are unacceptable in an environment where we expect high academic achievement.

 

Given all the distractions permeating schools, care must be taken to ensure that students feel not only safe and secure inside and outside of their classrooms, but that they also feel free enough to actively engage in curricular and extracurricular exercises. This means effectively monitoring and managing the social and peer pressures facing young people during and after school hours.

 

Administrators must actively partner with persons and organizations that can assist with domestic, emotional, and psychological challenges that students bring to school with them each day. It means collaborating with professionals who can serve as mentors, coaches, tutors, and even funding partners.

 

If we don’t get a handle on some of the negative externalities that are hurting schools, then we risk every honest effort to produce healthy and productive school settings for school-aged youth in communities everywhere.

Effectively Teaching, Teaching Effectively the Common Core

How well teachers teach and how well students learn are the building blocks for fulfilling the vision behind the Common Core State Standards.

 

To ensure that every child has the opportunity for academic success as a K12 learner and beyond requires this type of framework, in order to foster creativity, competence, commitment, and flexibility among teachers and students alike.

 

The Common Core is a roadmap for school leaders as they tailor the standards to fit the uniqueness of their student populations and teacher corps. It can be translated into a practical guide for synthesizing student academic goals with teacher effectiveness – ultimately relating how well teachers teach to how well students learn.

 

Through the application of creative instructional and learning practices, the hope is that new levels of effectiveness and success will be achieved – as classroom teachers enhance their capacity to challenge students and as students broaden their base of knowledge.

 

The Common Core is a timely response for assessing student academic achievement and evaluating classroom instruction, as we all continue the journey toward the discovery of new approaches and solutions for effective teaching and learning in the 21st century across diverse student populations.

Not On My Watch

The poorest children are suffering the most because of failing schools.

 

Perhaps the greatest tragedy in K12 education is that the students who live in poverty and come from the toughest neighborhoods and homes are often the victims of the worst schools. Somehow we’ve failed to provide a safe haven and learning sanctuary for talented students who desperately need a place to go where they can feel a sense of value and encouragement.

 

We know that there are scores of gifted young people residing in communities that are saturated by all kinds of negative forces. And schools should be the one place where they can discover and nurture their gifts and talents. The opportunity for academic success can also be one path which gives children and youth the chance to overcome their impoverished conditions and reach unimaginable heights.

 

To ensure that every child is given this chance to excel academically, the adults in the room must be willing to make sacrifices on behalf of our students. This means that the grownups will have to sacrifice their competing agendas and entrenched loyalties, so that students’ academic success becomes paramount. And the adult stakeholders must resist the temptation to be consumed by their own selfishness and greed. The academic interests of our young people must supersede the self interests of the adults.

 

Students deserve better. We owe America’s students across all income classes the chance to learn in classrooms and schools that reflect not only the highest expectations of them as learners, but also provide the tools and resources that are needed to assist them as they progress. My commitment, along with the cadre of school reformers who make up a wide spectrum of professions, industries, and sectors, is to ensure that every child at least has access to a high quality K12 education.

Can We Talk?

How can we expect our global neighbors to be civil and respectful when we do not apply this standard at home?

 

If Americans don’t figure out how to respect each other’s ideas, opinions, and perspectives, especially when they differ from one’s own ideology and politics, then we will always be viewed as hypocritical and schizophrenic around the world.

 

We promote and preach democracy, freedom of speech, openness, religious freedom, and human rights on the international stage, but far too many of us lack the will or maturity to acknowledge and appreciate the diversity of ideas and thoughts within our own national boundaries.

 

Our public square is being contaminated by those who possess an inability to disagree without personally attacking people’s character, beliefs, or family members. And to make matters worse, we are inundated by a media environment that has largely lost its journalistic integrity and objectivity.

 

We can’t even rely on news reporting anymore because of the emphasis on sensationalism. We desperately need civility in our public, political, and social discourse, especially in light of the reality that paradigms and demographics are shifting quickly.

 

We will not be able to manage or interpret the shifts occurring globally unless we get our own house in order first. What’s essentially required is that we start new conversations which appreciate and build upon the array of experiences and ideas that people bring with them as a result of diverse cultural, social, and ethnic ideas and experiences.

 

We can and must talk.

Giving Thanks With a Grateful and Humble Heart

Americans have a lot to be thankful for when you consider our material and spiritual wealth.

 

The challenges that have consumed the lives of so many people for the past few years should cause all of us to pause, reflect, and take an inventory of our spiritual and material wealth as individuals, families, and as a nation.

 

The benefits of life, health, security, and soundness of mind are blessings that not all people can take for granted.

 

The United States of America is a blessed and prosperous nation, and continues to have the capacity and resources to accommodate the dreams and hopes for every American citizen.

 

As our world shifts dramatically, we should definitely give thanks for the fact that we are largely safe and secure in our homes, on our jobs, in our schools, and as we go about our daily routines.

 

Because we have enjoyed all sorts of civil and individual liberties for a long time now, we tend to take these privileges for granted, not realizing that so many of our global neighbors live under severe restrictions and injustices daily.

 

Now is a good time for us to give thanks – with grateful and humble hearts – for what’s truly precious – life, health, freedom, peace, prosperity, and liberties.

Hearts of Compassion

There was a time not long ago when everyday people took pride in their neighborhoods and communities.

 

Families and neighbors worked together to ensure that homes, schools, churches, and other community centers were safe, clean, open, and secure for every citizen to use and be proud of. Kids could play in yards, in the streets, and on playgrounds without having to look over their shoulders wondering whether some stranger was lurking around to do harm.

 

Indeed, there was a time when we did not have to be concerned with gangs and drug dealers taking over schoolyards and street corners, using them for illicit activities. Schools and community centers were known as gathering places for hosting block parties, festivals, meetings, and sporting events that brought people together of all ages for relaxation, entertainment, and community service.

 

Schoolteachers were surrogate parents for most of us because they often lived in our neighborhoods, knew our parents, or attended church with us. Pretty much every adult accepted the responsibility for keeping the children and youth in line, and making sure they were nurtured properly. Schoolchildren seemed to have multiple guardians who cared for them and wanted to see them succeed in life.

 

There was a real sense of community and concern for the well-being of the people, their homes, and the community as a whole. The pride and connectedness that we once enjoyed and perhaps took for granted in years gone by do not exist in some communities today. Sadly, we are witnessing some of the most atrocious and hateful crimes in and around schools and neighborhoods unlike anything we’ve seen in most of our lifetimes.

 

We must reverse the tide of hate and antipathy which seems to have gripped the young and the old. We can return to our best days by being persistent and committed to civil and caring homes, schools, churches, and communities. We can recapture the compassion of years past and revive the spirit which led us to take good care of neighborhood children and protect their innocence until they are mature enough to make their own decisions and choices.

 

Although we live in a world that is marked by heavy doses of uncertainty and hatefulness, we must not bow down or give in to the forces that are attempting to destroy our families, schools, and communities. Our immediate task is to stand up and stand tall for the sake of our younger generation and the future that we want for them.

A Shifting Paradigm in K12 Education

The paradigm for K12 education is shifting toward local and community-specific innovations and solutions.

 

It seems we must also acknowledge that we are likely at a time in history whereby the roles of our large, federal education department must change in order for the massive operation to maintain its relevance as a champion for educational equality nationwide.

 

The need for school districts and their school leaders to be more responsive to the specialized academic needs of their students hearkens for more decentralized approaches to K12 teaching and learning. This will necessarily require that more of the decision-making and controls regarding implementation and resource allocation of federal education funds be done on the ground at the state and local levels.

 

Creative partnerships will need to be formed between the federal government and state education departments to facilitate new ways of resource sharing and collaboration that allow the flexibility necessary for responding to the unique school challenges in distinct schools and districts. The federal government will have to be a strong partner for states and school districts so that they have the space, time, and resources to successfully provide high quality education across rural, suburban, and urban school settings.

 

The new and evolving education paradigm demands a federal education department that is committed to the funding of innovation and best practices, and the application of responsible methods of oversight, high standards, and accountability for our nation’s school systems.

 

While we are long past the time of segregated and unequal schools, there are still specific challenges that must be monitored from the federal government level. The U.S. Department of Education does have a crucial role to play when it comes to closing the achievement gap for targeted groups of students and making sure that all schools have equitable teaching and learning tools, resources, infrastructure, and facilities.

 

We still need a federal education apparatus to oversee the work of the states in education achievement and to ensure compliance with our national priorities for K12 academic success. Because state budget focuses often do not meet the full complement of fiscal needs in public education, the federal department of education must serve as the watchdog for evaluating gaps and inconsistencies that arise across states, as they address nationwide education mandates.

 

The transformations that we are witnessing within and beyond the education arena do warrant a smart restructuring of the control, funding, and monitoring systems, and a redesign of organizational structures and hierarchies that can produce quantifiable, substantive, and creative data and programs that lead to high academic success for America’s elementary and secondary students.

 

Every stakeholder in public education must be honest and realistic about the need to reinvent our nation’s approach to how we oversee and manage K12 education from our nation’s capital. The state of public schools across this country demands that we exhibit courage and foresight as we tackle together the challenge of developing new forms of collaboration and control between the federal government and state jurisdictions as they work to reform the delivery of K12 public schooling.

American Humility

American humility must be on display as domestic and global paradigms shift.

 

As we ponder the unusual economic, spiritual, and political changes occurring around the globe, we must certainly acknowledge that our world is undergoing permanent transformations with regard to world economies, faith and spirituality, social and cultural values, and political ideologies. There is a real and noticeable realignment occurring among economic and political systems, people of faith, and philanthropists, and it is leading to partnerships and alliances that are defined more around common values and missions rather than previously held organizational identities and affiliations.

 

The extant shifts will inevitably dismantle traditional and historical allegiances and categorizations as individuals and institutions respond to the new realities confronting nations and the constituencies within them. Global solutions are being initiated in response to both the needs of underserved groups and the interests of consumer groups which reside in lesser developed and highly industrialized countries.

 

Nations, governments, missionaries, nongovernmental organizations, and multinational firms that do business, service, charity, and other kinds of work across cultures and markets are adapting their strategies and plans to reflect what they are experiencing on the ground daily around the world.

 

The global shifts are strengthened by people and organizations that are demanding freedom, liberty, morality, and justice in the economic, political, and social spheres of life. There is a new spirit of engagement and activism that is bringing people together to fight back new threats of hatred, abuse, terror, and violence against citizens who have been marginalized in many places – namely women, children, the poor, and disenfranchised.

 

Americans must be careful to give thanks for the abiding prosperity that this country has enjoyed and the national prominence that has been built as an irrevocable legacy for generations to come. The permanent rearrangements that are occurring globally are a testament to the creative, innovative, and entrepreneurial spirit that is common to all of humanity and therefore transcends national boundaries.

 

Ironically, it is the American systems of democracy and free market capitalism that can take some credit for paving the way and setting a standard for the emerging and imminent world powers. Many are unfortunately viewing these transformations as largely a sign of our national failures and weaknesses in leadership.

 

Much of what we are witnessing was predictable and inevitable, considering the contexts of our national public policies and foreign policy priorities across many decades. Empires rise and fall, and power shifts have been a historical fact for centuries. To be sure, there are real and tangible risks and rewards associated with certain actors who will gain power and influence. Nevertheless, this was true over the past century and will continue to be true in the years ahead.

 

Our hopes and prayers must be that we as a nation exhibit humility and use wisdom in our relations with our fellow citizens and global neighbors. We must insist on a new kind of international cooperation and collaboration as well as global diplomacy that views every nation as integral to the strength of the whole and integrates each actor’s respective capabilities and greatness.

Public Education: A Right and a Privilege

Even though some public schools across the country are in terrible shape, one wonders whether the students recognize how blessed they are to even have access to public education.

 

To be sure, many lesser developed countries can hardly afford to build schools for their children. In parts of the world where access to education is scarce, we know that young people often travel for hours to attend school. Others learn in makeshift classrooms in grass huts or rundown shacks. Many families in some of these poorer nations choose which child to send to school because they cannot afford to pay for the education for all of their children.

 

You will often find that many citizens of these nations display a greater appreciation and respect for education and its benefits. In America, where K12 education is free, the opposite sentiment is far too common. Too many parents and students take elementary and secondary education for granted and approach it as if it could never be taken away from them.

 

Some adults are old enough to recall the years when not all citizens could attend schools, and if they did attend, schools back then were separate and unequal. We are correct to demand that the public sector provide equal access to high quality schools for all children. We are equally right to hold young people (and their parents) accountable for their school participation and attendance, as well as their academic success.

 

With everyone taking responsibility for their respective roles in achieving world class public schools, surely we can show the world that a country as rich as ours can produce the next generation of highly skilled and highly capable citizens, workers, and leaders.

 

Maybe the younger generation will show more pride in their educational pursuits when the adults give them something to be proud of. Is it possible that America’s youth have understood all along that our negligence and lack of vision and leadership in public schools actually reflect how we really feel about their education?

The Trayvon Martin Case: Hypocrisy Revealed

President Obama said that if he had a son, then that son would look like Trayvon Martin.

 

We could say that about most black youth who have been victimized in their own neighborhoods and communities. Most of us don’t have to imagine someone like Martin, because he is the likeness of so many young black boys who are being assaulted and killed right in front of us.

 

They’re our sons, brothers, nephews, and neighbors. They’ve washed our cars, mowed our lawns, sold us candy, delivered our newspapers, and made us proud along the way. We’ve witnessed their development from toddlers to teenagers, only to have our hearts broken as they have fallen prey to the irresponsible actions of those who live reckless and heartless lives.

 

We care deeply about these kids, remember their smiles, can call them by name, and envision the fulfillment of their hopes and dreams. Yet, to a nation that is preoccupied with other matters, these young boys are the invisible ones. Even as it is increasingly difficult for teenage males to navigate their terrains at school and beyond, there is still not a sense of urgency when it comes to the life prospects for young black boys.

 

America is silent when it should be screaming the loudest. We should be offended and outraged when innocent, promising, and law-abiding youth are victimized, precisely because we have preached to them about getting an education, doing the right things, developing a solid work ethic, playing by the rules, obeying the laws, and respecting their elders.

 

Where’s the national outcry over the scores of black teenagers who are victimized daily as they walk home from school, ride public transportation, play in public parks, or attend school sporting events? What about all of the innocent black youth who are being wronged or persecuted everyday because they choose to abide by the rules or choose to mind their own business?

 

These young people live in our homes and neighborhoods, attend our churches, and work in our local grocery stores and eateries, yet, we fail to respond loudly as a nation and as communities when their young lives are threatened or taken away.

 

Perhaps the saddest reality in the aftermath of the Martin murder is the hypocrisy being revealed by Black America itself. I still can’t figure out why black civil rights leaders, black politicians, black radio and television hosts, and black public intellectuals don’t stay enraged and engaged as innocent black boys (and girls) are routinely persecuted in the very communities these leaders represent and advocate for?

 

It is as if black folks only care about black life when it has been taken by someone of another race. It is as if black folks only get excited about a black murder if there is broad mainstream media coverage of the incident. It feels like a sick form of dependence on the very institutions which have historically distorted certain realities about black life.

 

Black America needs to emerge from its stupor and take a stand concerning the sacredness of young black lives. Black youth deserve national and community leaders who will issue a clarion call to adequately respond to the risks and challenges that threaten the life prospects of young black kids in small towns and large cities, as well as rural, urban, and suburban communities.

 

We can’t afford to fall asleep until the next Trayvon Martin incident rears its ugly head. America as a whole and Black America in particular must rise above the emotional outbursts and start to do the hard and necessary work that can secure the hopes and dreams of young black children everywhere.