Category Archives: Expectations

Workers people group.

Fundamental Education Reform in Kentucky: An Economic Imperative

I love being a Kentuckian. Our state has been blessed with unbelievable natural beauty and some of the friendliest, good-natured, hardworking people you could ever hope to meet. My wife and I thank God daily for the blessings of our Kentucky home, church family, and friends. But there remains tremendous untapped potential in our state. We have not yet become the state that we can be, that we should be. And central to our untapped potential is a public education system that while much better than it has been in generations past, is still in dire need of reform.

Kentucky has made significant strides in public education since the early 1990s. The passage of the Kentucky Education Reform Act (KERA) and other subsequent reforms have been good for Kentucky’s children. But the academic performance and employment and earnings outcomes for our low income children and children of color is drastically different from performance and outcomes for our middle income and White children. That reality is crippling our state.

Much work remains to be done to improve the education attainment, employment, and earnings outcomes for all of Kentucky’s students, but drastic improvement in performance and employment outcomes for our low income children and children of color is both a moral and economic imperative. We are a state that has for years ranked near the bottom in labor force participation. In 2015 we ranked 47th out of the 50 U.S. states and DC, with a labor force participation rate of 57.9%. We lead only Arkansas, Alabama, Mississippi, and West Virginia in labor force participation. While those are fine states, we can do better. In sum, not nearly enough Kentuckians are working, and a major factor contributing to our labor force woes is our failure to equip all of our students with the knowledge and skills needed for gainful employment. That failure has in turn led to our challenges with attracting companies with high wage jobs to Kentucky, jobs that require a pipeline of skilled workers. There is no doubt about it, we have to do better.

First, there must be acknowledgement by education leaders and policy makers that current academic and performance outcomes for our students are unacceptable. Period.

Second, leaders must acknowledge that what’s happened and what’s happening in Kentucky’s public schools contributes to the current racial and socioeconomic performance and outcomes gaps. Leaders and policy makers seem content with pointing to out-of-school factors which contribute to gaps, but most leaders seem unwilling to admit that school factors have contributed to the problem as well. While our schools are not wholly responsible for the gaps, our schools have played a role and continue to play a role in the maintenance and in some cases exacerbation of performance and outcomes gaps.

The frequently heard refrain that “we’re working to ensure that all kids learn” is meaningless when what we are doing doesn’t lead to all kids learning. Leaders have talked about public schooling working for all kids in Kentucky for a long time, but low income kids and kids of color continue to be left behind. It’s past time for state and school leaders to acknowledge that what we’ve been doing in the name of all kids hasn’t worked for all kids; and begin exploring what we can do different to ensure that low income kids are learning, that Black kids are learning, that Latino kids are learning, etc.

Third, leaders must commit to fundamental change; not tinkering here and there, but fundamental change in our state’s public education system. The magnitude of socioeconomic and racial performance and outcomes gaps in Kentucky are such that tinkering with the system will get us nowhere. Fundamental reform to Kentucky’s public education system is an absolute necessity. Reform is needed in every area, from the recruitment, selection, and training of teachers and leaders, all the way to the mechanisms we use for holding schools, leaders, and teachers accountable for student learning and outcomes, and everything in between. A system that produces such disparate outcomes for different groups of children is fundamentally broken, and nothing short of large scale reform is worthy of consideration.

We can and we must reform Kentucky’s public education system to be responsive to the needs of our most vulnerable children; reform is both a moral and an economic imperative. The health of our state’s economy is dependent on our ability to better prepare all of our children for success. We cannot afford to prepare only some of our children for gainful employment, and lives as civically responsible, tax-paying citizens of our state. All Kentuckians’ futures are inextricably bound together.

Lending Young People Our Confidence in Them

We spend a great deal of time discussing children’s skills and abilities, drugstore and rightfully so; but we often neglect another necessary prerequisite for achieving academic and professional success. I am talking about a child/student having the necessary confidence in his/her intellect, skills, and abilities to work toward achieving success. Many of our children, and truth be told even some of us, suffer from what I term a crisis of self-confidence; simply stated, not believing that they have the intellect, skills, and abilities to achieve success. This crisis of self-confidence is a serious matter. Even for children who have very clearly identifiable gifts and talents, a crisis of self-confidence can be a debilitating condition, preventing them from achieving the success that they are fully capable of achieving.

In response to such a crisis, one of the things that I have learned over the years is that my confidence in a student can sometimes be enough to get them on the way to believing in his/her own abilities. In essence, what I am talking about is loaning a student my confidence in them; allowing them to use my confidence in their abilities as a foundation for them to move forward. In other words, while we work on building Susan’s confidence in her ability to get algebra, she uses my confidence in her abilities to get started. Why does this work? Because while Susan does not yet have confidence in her abilities, she trusts me and believes that my confidence in her must be based on something.

This shouldn’t sound like an altogether foreign concept. Many of us have had the experience of being motivated or lifted by someone else believing in us. That parent, friend, or teacher’s confidence had the effect for many of us, of helping to get us to the point  where we could see what it was that they saw in us. It was not a complete replacement of the self-confidence necessary for achieving, but it was just enough to get us started. That is exactly what we have to do for some of our children/students; lend them our confidence in their abilities. It could be just enough to help unleash the amazing potential that lies within them.

Be empowered my friends and remember, change begins with you!

Happy children in a multi ethnic elementary classroom

Our Children…

My message today is a simple one: Don’t give up on our children. Don’t ever allow what you see in the media and what you hear at the grocery store and the barber shop to make you consider giving up on our children. Despite what the statistics stay, despite the great challenges that we face with ensuring that all of our children have access to a world-class educational experience, despite the crime and violence that grip so many of our communities, I have never been more sure than I am today that our children can and will not only succeed, but lead.

How can I be so sure of this, you ask? Because daily I look into their eyes; and through our children’s eyes I see their ambition, I see their determination, I see their God-given gifts and talents, I see their strength, and I see their courage. And I know, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that nothing, and I mean nothing, can stop them doing what they set their hearts and minds to doing. Our children can and will beat the odds. Our children can and will be the leaders to take America to heights never before seen or imagined.

So don’t you let anyone fool you into believing things about our children that are not so. Please don’t give up on our children. They haven’t given up; they’re just getting started.

african american college student

Black Male Academy Induction-The Importance of Expectations

A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to attend the induction ceremony for young men who will be the first students at Carter G. Woodson Academy, here  a new program in Lexington, Kentucky which comes as a result of the collaborative efforts of the Black Males Working (BMW) Program at First Baptist Church Bracktown and the Fayette County Public Schools. With the explicit mission of helping young Black men to achieve at high levels, store the program has enrolled students in grades six through nine and promises to offer educational experiences designed to have them realize their full academic potential.

The induction ceremony was a special one. Each young man was individually recognized and called to the front of the standing room-only sanctuary of First Baptist Church Bracktown where his parent(s) or grandparent(s) presented him with his official academy blazer. Additionally, as a token of the expectation that each student would graduate from high school, each young man was presented with a symbolic high school diploma.

There are lots of things that I think are special about what this program, the church, and school district leaders are planning and doing with Carter G. Woodson Academy, and I expect to have conversations here about its approach and accomplishments for years to come. For the moment, however, I’ll touch on just one thing that I believe to be crucial; that is the importance of having and articulating high expectations for the achievement of young Black men. Unfortunately, too many young Black men have heard neither their teachers nor their parents articulate and hold them to the expectation that they will achieve academically at high levels. If we are to change the educational and life outcomes for young Black men in our homes, schools, and communities, this must change. Parents, family members, church family members, and community members must first begin to believe for themselves that young Black men can compete academically with anyone. Personally, I think having high expectations for a child ought to be a prerequisite for having any dealings with him/her. The sad truth of the matter, however, is that if that prerequisite were enforced, there would be lots of adults that would not be able to work with Black children anymore.

I applaud the leaders of the Woodson Academy for making the expectation of academic achievement clear from the outset, and making that expectation known not only to the young men and their families, but to the larger community as well.