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HOW TO FIX SCHOOLS WITHOUT MAKING EVERYONE MAD!!
Article written by D. Scott Schwartz, M.Ed.
This article will outline the problems in our educational system that we can see and know about, and proven solutions to fix those problems. 

If you are starting this blog with skepticism, that's proof you AGREE these are major problems facing our K12 system. The reason your skeptical is not because you don't think there are problems, but because you don't believe anyone can solve them.

By the end of this article, you will realize why it's hard to believe these problems can be fixed. And you will recognize that YOU can be part of the solution if you want to be.

Let's start with the known problems in our educational system. There are three major problems schools, teachers and students are facing:
1. Low Student Test Scores
2. Underperforming Teacher Performance
3. Ineffective Building Administrators

We are going to focus on these three major problems because they are the KEY issues holding our country back. There may be a laundry list of "other" problems you know about, and you are right that NONE of those problems are being addressed either, but we need to START somewhere.

So let's focus our attention to these three major problems first.

1) Low Student Test Scores

This problem seems daunting. Educational leaders and experts have been unable to fix this problem for more than 50 years. There have been research studies done that prove student scores have steadily declined since 1965. We have news headline after headline talking about how America is slipping in educational outcomes versus other developed nations.

We even have US Government data that shows the Achievement Gap has widened in the last 30 years. The problem seems insurmountable. 

What if there was a path to solve this problem? Would you want to take it? Or would you lower your head in defeat and give up? The truth is that Americans never quit when there is a way to improve realities. And solving the student test score issue is one of those realities.

Here are the facts leading to low student test scores. Every standardized test and teacher-made test we use to assess students is based on 19th century skills assessment. Why that's important to know is because we live in the 21st century. 

How come we are only teaching 19th century skills? Why are we NOT teaching 21st century skills as well? 

The fact is 21st century kids need both 19th century and 21st century skills. It's not enough to just teach them how to read, write and do basic math. That was ENOUGH in the 19th and 20th century. But in the 21st century, we need to provide students MORE than just a traditional 19th century education.

The journey cannot end, once students learn how to read, write and do basic math. Look at your own high school experience, what did you learn in English, Math, Science and Social Studies. The reality is that in English and Social Studies, all you did was read and write. The reality is in Math and Science, all you did was math and reading.

Educators can create fancy terms and buzzwords to try and "fool" you into thinking you did more. But the essence of those high school classes were 19th century skills, reading, writing and math.

How do I know?

Because I was one of the first Superintendents in NJ (the #1 ranked state in education) to fully implement a 21st century curriculum into my K12 program. 

A 21st century curriculum combines the power of 19th century skills, (reading, writing and basic math) as a foundation for learning 21st century skills (leadership, team building, problem solving, sales and communications) in high school.

Every student needs to learn how to read, write and do basic math. But in the 21st century, every high school student also NEEDS to learn how to be a leader, team builder, problem solver, communicator and self-aware confident self-promoter.

What they don't ALL NEED is how to do geometry, or chemistry or read English Literature. 

Proven Success

You can read more about Jaylen, the 23-year old African-American male who beat the odds and expectations that young African-American males cannot be successful without a college degree, without superstar athletic talent or some luck in the universe. 


2) Underperforming Teacher Performance

It has become easy and convenient to blame teachers for low student scores and low performing schools. It's gotten so easy, in fact, that no one stops to think that maybe teachers are the "scapegoats" for other people?

America's leading and undisputed educational data expert is Dr. Robert Marzano. For the last 40 years, he and his research team at the Marzano Research Institute have been conducting research into the effects of teacher performance on student achievement. And what they found was that a low-performing teacher can negatively affect student achievement for a total of 3 school years.

Here's why low performing teachers are so problematic for schools? When a student is sitting in class with a low performing teacher, that student isn't receiving the full curriculum, they aren't receiving full support, in fact, they are being denied a full education.

At the end of that school year, that student is behind. When they start the next school year, the new teacher recognizes the student is behind. In that second year, the new teacher works hard to "catch" the student up. The problem is that means the student will miss information while they are "catching up."

In the 3rd school year, the next teacher realizes the student is "missing" information from the previous school year. So that next teacher works hard to fill in the missing information, while keeping the student focused and on-track. 

In reality, it took 3 school years for the student to get back to where they needed to be. EXCEPT...

What if the teacher in the 2nd or 3rd year is also low-performing? 

How Can Schools Fix This Problem?

The easy answer is to blame the teacher. In fact, conventional wisdom has been blaming teachers for the last 100 years. Guess what? That hasn't worked. As long as there has been a K12 system, there have been underperforming teachers. Isn't it time we stop doing the same thing over again and expecting a different result?

Here's how you ACTUALLY solve this problem.

The reason teachers underperform is because they make mistakes in class. Some teachers make a ton of mistakes in class and some teachers make the same mistakes over and over again. 

If we just look at the problem head on, the issue is we need to help teachers make less mistakes and to learn from the mistakes they are currently making. It's not really that difficult to solve that problem, when we don't ESCALATE it into a catastrophe.

Here's What I Did In My K12 Program

In 2009, I developed the comprehensive Teacher Development program, a 2-year program for teachers, which shows them the best practice research and techniques expert teachers use in the classroom.

Let me repeat that. For two school years, I shared with my teaching faculty the research and best practices of experts on lesson planning, classroom instruction, assessing students and creating a safe and conducive learning environment.

What happened after the two years is ALL of the teachers KNEW more about expert level teaching than they did before they started the program. What happened was ALL the teachers were performing better in class. What happened was that teachers felt more confident and hopeful they could become an EXPERT teacher.

Do you want your students to be taught be an expert?
Shouldn't every school want EVERY classroom to have an EXPERT level instructor in front of it?

If we look at the data from Dr. Marzano and think about it this way--what if there were expert level teachers in EVERY classroom in America? Based on Dr. Marzano's research and data that would mean---every student's achievement would increase.

Solve the student test score issue, but solving the teacher performance issue.

3) Ineffective Building Administrators

One of the hardest things for human beings to do is ADMIT when we are wrong. We are hard-wired to dig in our heels, be overly stubborn and DENY reality sometimes when the truth is we got the answer wrong.

If you want to boil the ineffective school administrator issue down to a single point, that's basically it. School administrators want to BELIEVE they are "geniuses" and they have all the answers. I get it. When you first become a principal or supervisor or even a Superintendent, it's the first time inside the K12 system that ANYONE gives you respect.

Isn't that sad to say? 

But the role of the school administrator is NOT to have all the answers. Their role is much simpler than that. This is where principals and superintendents make their own mistakes that end up hurting teachers and students.

School Administrators need to be CURRICULUM experts. They also need to understand what teachers are doing in class. They need to understand the role of lesson planning, how to observe a teacher give instruction, how to analyze student data for assessment purposes and also whether or not the classroom and school is a safe and conducive learning environment.

The problem in our schools is the building administrator is NOT FOCUSED on any of those needs. They are too busy conducting "needs assessments" for teachers so they can create a schedule of professional development. Or they are too busy meeting with other administrators in the district to discuss student test scores. Or worse, they are too busy running around the building dealing with student discipline issues.

Meanwhile...

The school is not focused on it's job -- teaching and learning.

Here's How I Solved This Issue

After the huge success of the Teacher Development program, I was asked in 2013 to work with a group of school administrators in the Newark Charter School network. I called it the Principal's Academy and we met weekly for about 6 months. 

The main purpose of the Academy was for me to listen to their issues and problems and to provide them with hands-on and turn-key solutions they could take back to their teachers to implement. 

What ended up happening is I started to hear about issues and problems I didn't expect to hear from school administrators. Issues like, too many I&RS referrals, or if students should be suspended or not for offenses, or homework policies. 

I was shocked. 

The administrators expected me to give them turn-key solutions to address their building issues, but instead I showed them why those were NOT problems they should focus on. Instead, I showed them how to become Building Leaders and how to build a team of expert teachers. 

As soon as I started to show them what I was talking about, they all sat in silent admiration. This is WHAT they really wanted. They wanted to lead a building of expert level instructors all working at a high professional level, where students were being taught every day in class. 

What they wanted was to be able to talk to students who got into trouble and had difficulty in class and guide them to handle situations differently. They didn't want to give detentions and suspensions, but the conventional wisdom TOLD them - they HAD TO!!

As long as there has been a K12 system, there have been punishments for students that are "out of the box" and none of those punishments has resulted in academic success. 

Isn't it time we stop doing what we have always done--ESPECIALLY when it NEVER WORKS!!!

That's what every administrator in the Principal Academy thought. And that's why it turned into a 6-month mentor/training program for building administrators. 

Do You Want to Be Part of the Solution?

These are the three most important issues facing our schools, and as you can see these are three solutions that solve those problems. This isn't theoretical. This isn't hypothetical. These are three real-world solutions, I implemented and showed thousands of other educators how to implement in their school buildings.

If you want to be part of the solution, you have to get involved. You cannot sit on the sidelines anymore and point fingers like a monday-morning quarterback. It's not helpful to anyone that you judge without involvement.

If you think the school system needs to be improved, then inform your local teacher, principal and school board about these three solutions. 

If you think your child's teacher isn't very good or is struggling, let them know about Leaf Academy's teacher support program. 

If you are a teacher and know that some of your colleagues are struggling, let them know we are here!

No MORE EXCUSES!

There is no room for excuses. If you want to complain, you are unhelpful. Stop complaining and start sharing. Let more people know that we exist. Let people know that LEAF ACADEMY has real-world solutions to the three BIGGEST problems facing our schools.

If you want to boost student achievement, we solved that problem.
If you want to boost teacher performance, we solved that problem.
If you want to boost administrator leadership, we solved that problem as well.

Thank you for listening! We hope to help your local school in anyway we can very soon.