How to teach students good humanitarian habits that will last them a lifetime —A personal story.

“…If responsibility for ills can be pinned down, then the possibility of attacking and uprooting them is very real. This possibility is in the profound confidence that a structure of moral integrity undergirds all of life…” —Howard Thurman.

I recently read a news story with incredible sadness while asking myself: “who are these people?” And, “who raised them?”

“As coronavirus cases and hospitalizations surged in Alabama, Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) mentioned the state’s lowest-in-the-nation vaccination rate at a political fundraiser, eliciting cheers from the audience in a video posted this week. Days after the video surfaced, the state’s health leader said officials have tossed out more than 65,000 coronavirus vaccines that expired, citing low demand that experts have partly attributed to the politicization of the vaccine. Alabama has the lowest vaccination rate in the country, followed closely by Mississippi, according to data compiled by The Washington Post…” —Source Washington Post.

Suppose you wanted to permanently establish some humanitarian core values, ideals, and behavioral inclinations into a young person’s personality. As a professional educator, I can think of no more efficient pedagogical delivery system than that child having a 1950-60s Caribbean-American home upbringing and 12 (yes, K-high school) years of Anglican-Caribbean-American weekly church Sunday school classes ( ST. Augustine—Bed-Stuy Brooklyn). After so many years of reading the great works of people like Gwendolyn Brooks, James Baldwin, Ralph Ellison, Toni Morrison, W.E.B. DuBois, Sonia Sanchez, Franz Fanon, Walter Rodney, Dennis Walcott, Amílcar Cabral, Aimé Césaire, et al.; and listening to the words of Martin Luther King, Fannie Lou Hammer, Malcolm X, and Nelson Mandela; it seems that all of their wonderful and enlightening words are captured, compressed and expressed in those basic fundamental teachings I received from the Caribbean-American instructional team of my church Sunday school teachers and the moral instructions I received at home.

The simple, standardized ethical messages that my childhood ‘teaching-elders-experience’ gave to me has held consistently true for my entire life (including professional) time; they are: be honest and upright in your dealings with others, walk in purposeful righteousness, assist, and do no harm to the less fortunate, fight for the weak and oppressed, and just basically resist evil and be a good person.
All of the K-12, undergraduate, and graduate school learning I received could only reinforce but never erase those fundamental humanitarian habits that were planted and nurtured in my subconscious childhood brain and spirit. And I always suffer a great deal of emotional and psyche pain when I did not go all in, that is 100%, on any of those moral virtues I was taught as a child. So I knew early in my career the type of professional educator I would always be and how that “Augustinian” (choosing between the City of God and the city of man) choice I needed to make would close many appealing and enjoyable doors to me. And at the same time, open me up to situations that could bring me great disappointment, pain, and suffering.
One always has a choice, but that choice is not totally removed from a personal experiential, psychological, and philosophical adult thought encounter we must have with an upbringing that is inseparably linked to our early ethical ethological imprinting.

It did not matter if none of my church and home adult instructors were college-educated, read Dewey, Piaget, Bruner, or Vygotsky, or if, like me, they took a large number of professional education courses and collected multiple educational degrees, licenses, and certifications. Instead, their instructional practices were based on the moral example of their personal lives, the consistent time and place repetition and replication (year after year—home and church) of their lesson objectives; and how these learning objectives were always wrapped in either biblical or a personal overcoming difficulties story narratives.
For example, one Sunday school recurring theme: “What is meant by humans as an act of evil (e.g., Daniel in the lion’s den, Joseph and the cruelty of his brothers, etc.); will cause a powerfully ‘turning-it-around’ responsive Divinely responsible act of justice and good(ness) to emerge!” A human disappointment could be, in actuality, a transcendent moment of a supernatural appointment.
And one of my mother’s favorite exhortation (I guess on one level you could say inspirational) stories:
“You must never take free school in America for granted because I remember as a small child how poor we were and our parents could not afford the school fees for all of the children to attend school at the same time, we had to take turns attending school, and I remember crying my eyes dry when it was my year to stay home!” I would have no idea if that tale was even accurate. But to a young adolescent, especially one who possessed an early, albeit ideologically immature sensitivity for the plight of the poor and who also passionately loved school and learning, you can imagine how these emigrant autobiographical story-telling-sessions could serve as extremely powerful, moving, and motivating teachable moments.
But then there were those many other maternal spiritual/moral lessons:
“God does not rest, nor does he slumber, He sees and knows everything!”(and there was a subtle sub-context suggestion: “And so do I!”)… “I know that you will behave when I am present, but I am training you to behave properly when I am not present!” … “The devil only pretends to be your friend, but he is the enemy of good!” … “Better to go without, lose or suffer, then to cheat or steal!”… “There is never a good reason or a right way to do the wrong thing!” … “Jealousy is the first step on the path to thievery and sin!” …
My mother was not a university trained theologian (or university trained anything), but I was totally convinced that at the core existence of what it meant to be human was to fearlessly practice goodness, justice and mercy; and that I could commit no wrong act or action that would go unknown or unseen by God; and further, that there was a universal principle that led (forced) every person to eventually confront the resultant reality of accountability and the severe cost and consequences for every evil or wrong deed that was done by them in their life-time.

And so, here we are in 2021, where I find myself a long way from my 1950-60’s Brooklyn home and church moral, educational learning system and reading: “…Alabama state health officials tossed out 65,000 coronavirus vaccines that expired, citing low demand that experts have partly attributed to the politicization of the vaccine…” And, I’m wondering, who are these people and who raised them? And further, did they have Sunday school lessons that were different from the ones I received?
How could something like this happen with so many of our planetary neighbors in the world suffering, dying, and desperate for covid-19 vaccines? And will this dastardly collectively cruel act of a resource-rich nation generate a ‘cursed’ response from the universe? (Oh yeah, that’s another one I heard over and over again as a child: “If you don’t properly use the blessings God has given you, then those blessings are either given away to someone else (more deserving) or turned into curses!”)

Throwing away those precious 65,000 coronavirus vaccines may not meet The International Criminal Court in The Hague definition of a crime against humanity. Still, it indeed achieves the status of a crime of indifference and insensitivity concerning the suffering and death of other human beings. And equally educationally tragic, what long-term moral lessons are the children of Alabama learning about their sacred duties and responsibilities toward other members of our human family?
Wait, I seem to remember something… Now, how does that go?… Oh yeah, “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:21)! That’s pretty straightforward.
Ok, I think I got it; perhaps the problem is that the vaccine discouragers/destroyers are using a different (new pro-covid translation) version of the Bible than the one I used in my childhood Brooklyn church Sunday school classes. Oh well, the quality of one’s humanitarian learning is always a matter of time, the teachers and the terrain.

Michael A. Johnson is a former teacher, principal, and school district superintendent. He led the design, development, and building of two Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics—Career Technical Education (S.T.E.M.—C.T.E.) high schools: Science Skills Center High School, N.Y.C. and Phelps Architecture, Construction, and Engineering High School, Washington DC. An author of a book on school leadership: Report to the Principal’s Office: Tools for Building Successful High School Administrative Leadership. He has served as an adjunct professor of science education in the St. John’s University School of Education. Mr. Johnson is presently completing his second book on school administration and leadership: Report From The Principal’s Office (Fall/2021).

Our COVID-19 public education ‘Lesson Plan’ is badly flawed, and our instructional delivery system is equally ineffective.

As every principal who has observed a sizable number of classroom lessons knows, it is impossible for a teacher to “nail” a lesson if the conceptual and behavioral objectives are a set of ‘moving targets.’ The challenge of educating the public about a presently existing, highly infecting harmful microorganism, going through its natural seeking-to-live life cycles, e.g., advantageous adaptation and opportunistic reproduction, is not like teaching a lesson on World War II. Not only will the information change rapidly and often seemingly contradictorily; e.g., some vaccinated people will still get infected, but do amazingly better recovery-wise than the unvaccinated who get infected. Further, this public health lesson is not like some abstract pedagogical exercise; indeed, COVID-19 is negatively (in one way or another) affecting all of us student-citizens daily. Also, we scream at people that they should “listen to the science,” but that implies; and I am not proud to say this, that those of us in the K-12 public education community have adequately provided the majority of our citizens with the tools to effectively apply science knowledge and methodology to all of the real-science or pseudo-science information being thrown at them every day (just count the number of “likes” and “commentary endorsements” for the strong-but-wrong assertions of the many “Facebook and Twitter Scientist”; people who would not recognize the ‘Scientific Method’ if it sat down next to them at their breakfast table!).

We started this COVID-19 public education process wrong from the start. To add to this problem, we are (not learning from our mistakes) continuing down that not appreciating the rules-of-education path to this present day. Here in the US and in other places like Brazil and India, the public education problem was exacerbated by the ‘bad luck’ of having the worst possible leader at the initial moments when we faced one of the worse public health crises in our national history. Bad leaders make bad situations much worse. When I first began as a superintendent, I had to stop some principals in mid-explanatory sentences when they started with: “Well, we are outperforming such-n-such schools…”— Me (channeling the Motown Supremes: Stop! In the name of educating children): “Don’t even try it!”, I responded, “the performance of schools x, y or z are not the measuring criteria by which I am evaluating your school leadership capabilities!” For sure, Donald Trump did a lot of damage to our Covid-19 response and recovery efforts; but this is where we are. It follows then that Mr. Biden must do much better and go beyond “just not being Trump” I’m sorry, I like Mr. Biden, but that Trump-leadership-bar-standard is way, way too low!

I get that people are in love with the idea of bipartisanism (well, at least the Democrats are). Still, we need to face the reality that we are fighting both a highly-efficient virus and a high-powered and well-organized, pro-virus spreading elected and public leadership movement in our country…
In an email to two of my dear friends (Medical Drs. Sweeney & Walker), I recently proclaimed that the ‘mask mandates’ and ‘healthy social distancing’ battle is lost and over; they both sadly agreed. Unfortunately, the right-wing “business or bust” cynical Darwinian forces have succeeded in convincing a lot of people in the world (i.e., Germany, France, America) that there is some ‘natural’ or constitutional right to expose oneself or to potentially expose others to a deadly viral disease. In England, they marketed their largest-to-date COVID-19 exposure and spreading moment in the worst possible phraseological way: “Freedom Day!”
One British conservative commentator said in a PBS interview (I paraphrase here): “We can survive the small number of global deaths due to COVID-19, but the economic destruction and dislocation will be more devastating and long-lasting if we don’t fully open up now!” … I guess it’s good when you and your family have privileged person options! Perhaps, we should share his ‘uplifting message’ with “the small number” of the dead, dying and destined to die in the future, millions of people who live in those parts of the world where they don’t have access to COVID-19 vaccines or adequate medical treatment and facilities.

Republicans may not believe in science, but it does not mean they don’t believe in arithmetic!
Even though we now see some Republican elected leaders backtracking on vaccinations as they watch ‘their voters’ (the politically hardcore unvaccinated) bear the brunt of new deadly accelerated infections. But this vaccination epiphany they are displaying is not based on any principles of religion or human compassion; instead, they have come to realize the mathematical reality that a lot of GOP unvaccinated voters could very likely die before the 2022 or 2024 election cycle, thus possibly nullifying any expected advantage gained by the massive Black voter suppression laws they are putting in place nationally. If a politician can only do one thing, that one thing is count voters, or sadly, in this case, dead voters. The problem, however, is that they have taken their followers so far down the “ignorant-and-loving-it” path, I am not sure that these millions of people who think that Mr. Biden stole the election can now turn it around and believe that the COVID-19 virus is devastatingly real and not some “story” that was invented by the “deep liberal state.”

An effective response to an extraordinary public crisis requires extra-ordinary, unorthodox, and working outside of bureaucratic boundaries types of actions. (what those highly effective principals of successful Title-1 schools do every day!)…
Living in a nation with massive numbers of COVID-19 disease and vaccination deniers, the countless number of social media medical “experts” dispensing vaccination advice without conducting or bothering to reference peer-reviewed clinical trials data. And when you throw in the vast number of “don’t tread on my right and freedom to be covid-19 infected and to infect others!” folks, we can see how our present situation might look a little bleak. However, this challenging health crisis place we now find ourselves I believe logically presents us with the best and perhaps only viable option in fighting this COVID-19 viral siege; and that is to create the highest number of vaccinated citizens in the fastest, most efficient way possible; that objective should drive our pedagogy and all of our efforts.
Operational logistics aside (actually the easiest part), this extraordinary effort sounds to me to be, in large parts, like a major educational initiative. And, of course, professional education provides many models for achieving the greatest success in this type of mass teaching and learning effort.
(#1: “Know when your lesson plan isn’t working for some or all of your students!”) One of the attributes of a master teacher is having the ability to ‘decenter,’ assess student comprehension by observing student body-facial language and utilizing good questioning techniques during a lesson. Clearly, for reasons previously mentioned, our current vaccination information/convincing plan is not working. If too many states and localities like Alabama (34% vaccinated) have below 50% of their population vaccinated, then we are in for some challenging and troubling national health times ahead. And then there are also those citizens who are resisting taking the vaccine who live in those states and communities with higher general numbers of those vaccinated, e.g., Vermont 80% vaccinated; and yet, these vaccine resisters may be traveling locally or nationally, and therefore can serve as human petri-dishes of virus spreading. It seems to me that a national ‘one-size-fits-all’ vaccination education strategy won’t work here, and even worse, our present approach misallocates resources, people, time, and money.
Therefore, we need (#2: A differentiated methodological reaching people and teaching people process). This problem-solving methodology must include a standards-based, rubrics defined, pacing calendar vaccine education curriculum based on local infection and vaccination rates, geography, history, social and political science, anthropology (local customs), social-psychology, and demographical researched data. This qualitative/quantitative data-driven approach might sound ‘too technical’ to non-professional education readers, but it’s something the best educators do every day by putting efficacious scaffolding and supports in place for different cohorts of children (meeting them at the place of their learning need), and thus placing them in the best conditions and in the best possible positions to succeed educationally.

Part of this differentiated analysis is to separate those Americans who have legitimate concerns about vaccines in general and/or the COVID-19 vaccines in particular from those who are motivated by political anti-vaccine movements. Distinguishing between unvaccinated citizens who make great prophylactic lifestyle efforts not to get infected and not infect others and those immorally reckless citizens who are unvaccinated and don’t care if they get infected and if they infect other people. People who believe that some billionaire or the ‘government’ is inserting software data into the body of everyone who is vaccinated should not be blended (in the same Q & A information sessions) with people who in many situations are simply afraid, confused, and overwhelmed by an overabundance of both good and bad information.
And to be fair on the topic of providing information, the well-meaning, well-informed, and science-driven ‘explainers’ have not always been clear, unified, and ‘on-the-same-talking-points-message’ positions concerning the explanations of the ‘behaviors’ of microbiological organisms, infectious diseases specifically, covid-19 infection prevention protocols, and crucially, the pro-vaccine taking encouragement campaign. Another public information/communications problem: Pharmaceutical firms should be part of the “conversation,” but they should not frame and lead the conversation due to financial conflicts of interest. In my humble opinion, the natural leaders of this national health crisis response team, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), needs to ‘step up’ stronger and in a more (better expressed) transparently focused and definitive way, provide good and practical “laywoman-layman-friendly” information in all of their pronouncements and recommended actions!
And my message for the CDC I take from my principal and superintendent years; there are times when you just can’t ‘hedge or hint’ around a problematic issue. These are those moments when you must just tell folks the truth (as sensitively and gently as the situation allows), even if it’s a truth they don’t want to hear.

Time is not on our side…
We also need to keep in mind that ‘time’ is not an innocent bystander in a pandemic. So, how should we focus our vaccination educational efforts and resources? Should we first invest a lot of time on those whose hesitancy could be more easily removed by having access to small sessions with an excellent local information provider in their homes, a community-based organization center/site, or meetings in their affiliated religious institutions? A place where they can feel safe and comfortable in raising difficult questions and concerns.

Professional educators don’t see questions as the enemy…
True professional educators want more, not less ‘asking for clarification’ questions from students. And what educators really don’t want is for students to sit quietly in (and eventually walk out of) a classroom without fully understanding the lesson’s objectives or finding out that the students have carried their lesson ‘misunderstandings’ into the standardized testing exam room. As I have warned principals as a superintendent, a staff person raising a ‘difficult’ but fair question or requesting clarification on an initiative should not automatically be interpreted as someone who is in hostile opposition. We need (for time and limited resources reasons) to separate the unclear, questioning, reluctant vaccine taker from the unrepentant pro-covid-19 disease spreader. Understanding the underlying motivations for a concern is the leader’s responsibility, not necessarily those who are raising the concern; that’s the teaching/mentoring part of leadership. For example, Black Americans can’t be mistaken to have concerns about the COVID-19 vaccine based on their love of or faith in right-wing or Republican propaganda (even as these negative actors having extensive news media access are not helping the Black infection rate situation); rather, their mistrusting of America ‘operating-in-their-best-interest’ with a vaccine or anything else, is framed by centuries and up to the present days of horrible racial mistreatment, abuse, discrimination and denial (think of those Republican voter suppression folks trying to “clean-up” the voting process). I would go further in saying that as far as not trusting White America institutionally to do the right, just, and fair thing as it applies to the lives of Black people in America, is, in my view, perhaps a sign of a healthy Black psychological profile. And so, any pro-vaccine-taking educational approach with Black Americans should respectfully start from that understanding. Therefore, (#3: “Get the right instructional practitioners in front of the students who need them the most!”) Black Americans will, in my hypothetical view, only respond positively to those Black American pro-vaccine advocates (not just any black face presently in a prominent place), who they
genuinely trust to represent their best interest and well-being. Why not invest federal outreach funding in organizations and institutions like: The National Medical Association, National Black Nurses Association; Meharry, Morehouse, and Howard University medical/nursing/allied/public health schools to do a massive national on-the-ground (literally door-to-door, block-by-block, religious institutions-to-religious institutions) COVID-19 information campaign in Black communities across this nation? Employing an anti-rightwing/anti-vexers message or debate is less effective with Black Americans since they are already profoundly suspicious and cautious of any GOP (Trump-like or Trump-lite) motives. We need to stop sending the wrong messages to people and start sending the right messages to the right people.
For example, please, news media, stop ‘ambushing’ random professional athletes and celebrity entertainers and asking them if they’ve been vaccinated; beyond this not being any of our business, it’s not helping. Instead, let those self-selecting, highly influential celebrities, who choose as a service-to-humanity to publicly share their vaccination story, be part of an organized information campaign where their messages are vetted, professionally managed, and filmed/recorded in a strategically smart targeted way to specific audiences.

This targeted differentiated COVID-19 teaching method could also work for many other cohorts of Americans who live in places where I have spent a lot of time, places like Alabama, Louisiana, and Mississippi. Now don’t get me wrong, I have a profound respect for Dr. Anthony Fauci, and I think that future historians will designate him as one of our great national science-medicine heroes for this historical period. But the truth is that in places like Alabama, Louisiana, and Mississippi, for a large segment of the population in those states, Dr. Fauci’s “approval ratings” (believability-credibility ratings) are in the same ‘statistical neighborhood’ as Hillary Clinton’s favorable ratings. This means his message, no matter how well articulated, scientifically sound, or life-savingly clear, won’t be heard. These are the places where we need a new and different set of instructional personnel to take the lead in the vaccine ‘message delivering mission’; people like famous NASCAR drivers, college Football and Basketball coaches, country & western music stars, etc. In fact, I suspect that Nick Saban, Alabama University’s famous football team coach, if given a major state-wide professional PR, print, radio, TV, and social media communications campaign platform, could single-handedly significantly raise the vaccination rate numbers in the state of Alabama! (My apologies to Auburn fans—sorry everyone else, this is an inside Alabama conversation:-)

The right tools for the job and the right professionals for the job…
Finally, if you need electrical work done in your house, you don’t call a plumber; in need of a new roof, you probably won’t hire a brick mason. If America is going to embark (and it must) on a major vaccine-trusting-taking educational project; which I now believe is our only getting-out-of-this with the least amount of people dying option, then there must be a recognition that the word “education” is the center and centering objective and activity of such a campaign. Then why are we not utilizing professional educators as primary, not peripheral planners in this national COVID-19 response and recovery effort?… Just asking for a lot of very brilliant PreK-12 professional educators in this nation.

Michael A. Johnson is a former teacher, principal, and school district superintendent. He led the design, development, and building of two Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics—Career Technical Education (S.T.E.M.—C.T.E.) high schools: Science Skills Center High School, N.Y.C. and Phelps Architecture, Construction, and Engineering High School, Washington DC. An author of a book on school leadership: Report to the Principal’s Office: Tools for Building Successful High School Administrative Leadership. He has served as an adjunct professor of science education in the St. John’s University School of Education. Mr. Johnson is presently completing his second book on school administration and leadership: Report From The Principal’s Office (Fall/2021).

Bob Moses understood that a people’s freedom and development were connected to their children’s mastery of S.T.E.M. education.

On Sunday, July 25, 2021, one of the most dedicated African-American freedom fighters journeyed to that ancestral work-space to continue his efforts with the many other fighters for Black political freedom; those recognizers of each person’s natural human right to obtain the greatest intellectual capabilities possible.

There were two people in my life who, upon only meeting them once, we realized in both cases that our pedagogical efforts to liberate the minds of the disempowered and disregarded children of our nation was to empower those children with the knowledge and skills of a S.T.E.M. (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) education. One of those individuals was Jamie Escalante (“Stand and Deliver”), and the other was Bob Moses (“Radical Equations: Civil Rights from Mississippi to the Algebra Project”). Interestingly, they both focused on mathematics, while my particular focus was on S.T.E.M. education generally. But there was no conflict of ideology or purpose, for I have always affirmed that mathematical literacy was the key to opening the door of opportunity for science, technology, and engineering careers.

Specifically, with Bob Moses, I agreed that the proficiency level in “Algebra 1” was the great gatekeeper-determiner that allowed, hindered, or disallowed students from pursuing higher-level science and mathematics courses in high school, and later the ability to successfully pursue a S.T.E.M. major in college. This reality I understood clearly from the experiential knowledge I gained from spending 11 years as a high school principal. The students who mastered Algebra 1, either in the eighth grade or in the ninth grade, were on a solid track to be able to take calculus or A.P. calculus in high school (the best place to take your first or second calculus course); this high school calculus taking then set them up well to meet and master those very hard “calculus for engineers” or “calculus or physics for science majors” courses when they stepped onto a college campus.

But the other uniquely extraordinary greatness about Bob Moses is that he understood and made the critical linkage between mathematics education and the political struggle to affirm all children’s inherent gifts, talents, and called purpose in life. In all of my 40+ plus years in education, I can honestly declare that there is no more assured, confident, and sense-of-empowerment student personality than that which is found in the cohort of Black and Latino students who attain mastery level in their S.T.E.M. education! The best antidote to societal dismissal and disentitlement is S.T.E.M. learning empowerment. You can change the history curriculum all you want (and for sure, it requires profound changes). However, as long as Black and Latino children are effectively kept out of the S.T.E.M. learning universe, they will remain second-class students, acquiring a second-class education, even if they live in a “first world” nation like America.

We can now add Bob Moses’s name to the ‘ancestral working group’ list of those great African leaders throughout the diaspora, people like Amílcar Cabral (Agricultural Engineer — Guinea-Bissau) and Cheikh Anta Diop (Physicist-Anthropologist — Senegal), who believed that political freedom and independence was inseparable from the ability to exercise the primary building tools of development and self-reliance fully; and that skilled resource is having a S.T.E.M. educated mind exposed to and enhanced by a quality S.T.E.M. education.

Michael A. Johnson is a former teacher, principal, and school district superintendent. He led the design, development, and building of two Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics—Career Technical Education (S.T.E.M.—C.T.E.) high schools: Science Skills Center High School, N.Y.C. and Phelps Architecture, Construction, and Engineering High School, Washington DC. An author of a book on school leadership: Report to the Principal’s Office: Tools for Building Successful High School Administrative Leadership. And he is presently completing his second book on school administration and leadership: Report From The Principal’s Office (Fall/2021).

The fight over “Critical Race Theory” helps us to forget the race that really matters.

“The key at the art and heart of a magic trick is distraction,” so explained a former colleague of mine who had more sense than I (still focused on educational concerns) to take up a rewarding and fun retirement hobby of learning “magic.” He continued, “I just do this for my grandkids and the neighborhood children, and once I get them hooked into the act; I deliver a small educational lesson like the importance of studying hard at home and in school” He would not explain the precise “technical truths” of these magic tricks, only speaking generally of the importance of ‘distraction’ as a method of “fooling” the audience into believing their “eyes” and not their brains.

Whether you are sympathetic to the ideas of either Carl Jung or Karl Marx, you should agree that the weapons of mass-distraction (e.g., a stolen election lie) can effectively be used to get people either consciously or unconsciously to march in a direction that is detrimental to their well-being, and ultimately to a place that is not in their personal or the collectives best interest. I feel that way about these distracting Critical Race Theory arguments, that will probably end up being a very lucrative enterprise for a small set of Black wokeness acolytes; leading to a flood of talk show appearances, create a lot of journal and newspaper essays, and produce a New York Times bestseller list of books that will race-shame white folks into seeking solace and redemption from an Amazon book purchase. But forgive my lack of heavy wokeness, perhaps driven by my having spent eleven years as a public title-1 high school principal and observing year after year the number of US native-born Black and Latino children arriving in the ninth grade who can’t read, decipher, explain or express in writing, the meaning of the individual words Critical, Race or Theory. For many of these young people, a high school textbook is of no use to them; which means that we must then come up with creative ways to teach high school vocabulary level subject/courses matter through alternative methods, as we critically race to get their reading and writing skills up to 8th grade standards comprehension levels. The reading weakness problem is also not helpful in their unreadiness to take on other academic subjects like the heavy language-dependent algebra-1 course, which negatively combines with their K-8 algorithmic processes and conceptual knowledge pre-algebra skills deficiencies. The only thing that saved us was my excellent and efficacious mathematics and english department teachers, who performed their own form of pedagogical magic to push and pull these young people up to a functional high school student learning level.

We need a theory that would compel us (convince us?) to critically race to get our children up to academic and grade proficiency learning levels.

When (I’ve wondered for many years), do we begin to focus on the quality of our collective children’s learning and get those basic educational things right! Those non-sexy and social media non-trending actions to make sure that by the time a child gets to high school, they can read, write, do science and mathematics on a ready-to-do high school work level. Every day it’s one distracting issue or another that takes our attention away from a real primary mission of a community’s adults; and that is, the educational success of their children. Today it’s Critical Race Theory, and tomorrow it’s a professional track athlete who is correctly sanctioned for smoking weed. Anything that takes our eyes and hearts away from the real issues; perhaps because those real and meaningful struggles are too painfully hard to undertake; better to not focus on our inner-community educational needs, but instead, focus on making segments of the white community angry; as if our path to progress is dependent on white upsetness (or happiness), and not on our own independently focused and purposeful efforts.

As a supervisor of a history department for many years, a department who in parallel cooperation and support from the english department’s 9-12 fiction literature reading list, took its own unique path to apply a curriculum approach that balanced standardized test readiness (City, State or AP exams) with teaching the truth arrived at by scientifically applying critical historiographical analytical techniques as championed by people like Allan Wilson, Cheikh Anta Diop, and John Hope Franklin. We also utilize other curriculum areas, i.e., dance, art, music, foreign language, and technology, and (yes for a high school) went on a lot of cultural institutions trips and invited many visiting scholars to broaden students understanding of the many complicated and nuanced expressions of the worlds culturally diverse perspectives. We did not ask permission or agreement from outsiders when we decided to teach world and US history critically and honestly in its full complexity (achievements and disappointments). We did not define “exceptionalism” or “development” solely in the context of material wealth or military power; rather, how does a nation treat the emigrant seeking a safe asylum, the politically and economically disenfranchised, the children of the disinherited, its elders, etc.; in other words how exceptional is that society’s kindness, caring and compassion standards? And ultimately that every nation in the world is essentially a work in (more rapid or less rapid) progress.

We did not have a special “phrase” that would have caught the attention of outsiders for whom we did not want to waste time explaining to non-educators (who probably would not understand anyway) our philosophical approach to teaching historiography.
And principal, if you don’t know how to clandestinely “bend” the curriculum to help your students to be more ethically enlightened, morally sensitive, intellectually enriched, and emotionally empowered, then you need to ask somebody who does know or probably get another job title.

One of my former colleagues remarked once to my extreme pride and joy about Facebook postings: “I notice that your former students are very politically thoughtful, astute, sensitive and articulate when it comes to current and past political events” Yeah (I think he was also suggesting progressive), as I even smile today reflecting on his words, I realize that we got a few things right because they are basically decent human beings, great critical thinkers and skilled analytical readers!

Michael A. Johnson is a former teacher, principal, and school district superintendent. He led the design, development, and building of two Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics—Career Technical Education (S.T.E.M.—C.T.E.) high schools: Science Skills Center High School, N.Y.C. and Phelps Architecture, Construction, and Engineering High School, Washington DC. An author of a book on school leadership: Report to the Principal’s Office: Tools for Building Successful High School Administrative Leadership. And he is presently completing his second book on school administration and leadership: Report From The Principal’s Office (Fall/2021).

The Supreme Court’s N.C.A.A. student-athlete compensation ruling is a good start, but not the end of the problem.

Sometimes the appearance of a silver lining will precede a cloudy situation…

Regardless of one’s political affiliation, you would be hard-pressed to not agree with several parts of Supreme Court Justice Kavanaugh’s assessment of the present N.C.A.A./college varsity student-athlete relationship; here is one excerpt:

…Nowhere else in America can businesses get away with agreeing not to pay their workers a fair market rate on the theory that their product is defined by not paying their workers a fair market rate. And under ordinary principles of antitrust law, it is not evident why college sports should be any different. The N.C.A.A. is not above the law...”

Calling things by their true names, in this case calling some college sports programs what they are ——“businesses;” is the first step in understanding the true nature of those ‘things,’ and, thus, their true motivations. But if we follow the “if” premise of Judge Kavanaugh’s argument, and then the “than” conclusion that follows, we will be lead to a place that defines those who work for these businesses are in fact and deed employees, and therefore entitled to being fairly compensated for their labor.

Everything about this ruling turns on the question of whether or not the N.C.A.A. is primarily an umbrella business conglomerate organization for the MLB, NBA, NFL etc., or is it an agency with a primary mission of working on behalf of the best health, safety, and educational interest of college students. Multitasking aside, I don’t think that the N.C.A.A. can ethically and effectively engage in both of those actions simultaneously.

In any event, the SCOTUS’s unanimous ruling on this matter essentially yanked away the insufficiently covering fig leaf argument made for years by the N.C.A.A., that college varsity athletes were indeed being compensated by receiving a “market value” college education scholarship. Now that assertion may have been overwhelming true in the past and still might be true for many college varsity athletes who take full advantage of an athletic scholarship. Still, the amazing expansion of “professionalism” into sports activities generally like lacrosse, volleyball (beach and hardwood), soccer, track & field, etc., along with the athletic gear endorsement and marketing money, has radically changed the college varsity sports economic landscape. But the scholarship argument is also undone by things like the “one-and-done” (or 2-3 years and done) escape-to-the NBA clause; where there is not even the pretense (at least try to fool us N.C.A.A.!) that those college athletes who select this exit plan are in any sense of the term real “college students.” In one-and-done and other ‘get-out-of-college-early’ cards like the “financial hardship” rationale seems to be a mutually benefiting agreement to exploit students’ talents by the NCAA and professional sports bodies. But the arithmetic reality is that the vast majority of college students participating in ‘pre-professional’ varsity sports activities will never set foot on a professional court or playing field. And unfortunately, too many of those never-will-make-it to the pro-ranks athletes will fail to take serious advantage of that free education option. I’ve spoken to both (Division-1) student and professional athletes, who say that there is a great deal of unstated and unofficial pressures used by the adults in these varsity sports programs to discouraged athletes from acting like “real students”; and so what is a young highly impressionable person to do if they hope to move up to professional sports ranks? Many young people see professional sports as their only viable option to move themselves and their families out of a precarious socio-economic situation. The larger society encourages and reinforces this myth, even if the objective statistical odds tell an opposite story. Those odds of turning pro and making it a viable long term career includes factoring in all of the things that could go wrong (e.g., injury or just some kid from another college beats you out of one of those limited number of pro positions), makes the pro-route to economic viability such a daunting mountain to climb. This excludes the exceptionally talented student-athletes like Leonard Fournette (NFL) or Devin Booker (NBA), for whom participating in college sports could (the chance of injury) actually hurt their odds of being well-compensated because they are highly likely to be professional athletes. But the overwhelming number of college student-athletes receiving a scholarship might find it in their best interest to seize the moment by earning a ‘real’ college degree. This approach could offer an immediate and generational improvement way to a brake-the-chains-of-poverty narrative that might be plaguing their families.

Unfortunately, we live in an economic system that requires all workers to commoditize themselves as they brutally clash in an artificially created unfriendly competition against each other for the chance to be economically exploited. And so, the SCOTUS decision did not solve the undergirding problem of college athletes serving primarily as ‘marketable products’ instead of college students. However, the SCOTUS ruling did offer a peek into the institutional problematic culture of the economics of college sports programs. We see that this is a seriously damaged system that, even if ‘tweaked’ by legal rulings or legislation, will still make it possible for the major Division-1 universities to come out on top in any type of student-athlete compensation initiative structure. Surely, the biggest and wealthiest universities will be able to offer “top-pick” prospective high school athletes the most attractive “compensation packages.” Also, these colleges will have the advantage of offering top-recruits greater exposure through “TV-Time” and highly professional marketing services. And which aspiring to be a professional athlete teenager will turn their back on the opportunity to have greater exposure to the sports shows talking heads, journalists, and professional sports scouts?
The present N.C.A.A. college varsity sports situation already disadvantages small to middle-size colleges, inflicting its greatest harm on institutions without huge reservoirs of cash, like the Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), who ironically, are unable to recruit the most talented Black high school athletes in states (e.g., Arkansas, Kentucky, Florida, Georgia, Texas, etc.) that go out of their way to suppress the human, civil and voting rights of their Black citizens. These cynical states have adopted a political position that says: “We want Black bodies on the varsity sports playing field, but not in the voting booth!

The college varsity sports system is so broken that even those nine wise souls of the SCOTUS can’t fix it!

The best solution, I believe, is to dismantle and rebuild the entire college student varsity sports oversight system so that the primary beneficiaries are guess who —The students! The prime ethical directive of a reconstructed N.C.A.A. should be to do no harm to any student. The N.C.A.A. must ensure that colleges have as their primary mission to prepare their student-athletes for a highly likely non-professional career future. Universities need to be forced by the N.C.A.A. to actually (not just rhetorically) produce real student-athletes with real college majors and then be held accountable (by way of sanctions) for their graduation completion rates. There must also be a professional responsibility on the college athletic staff to be educators first, and sports coaches second, to care about student-athletes after their college playing days are over.

I think that N.C.A.A. can and must do better…

I always ask my public education PreK-12 colleagues the ethical question: What would public schools look like if we were genuinely and seriously committed to the pursuit of our overarching mission statement to educate all children? And so, what would happen if the N.C.A.A. dared to pursue its true mission?

I get it, major league sports is a business, but colleges should primarily be in the business of enhancing and enriching students’ knowledge, skills, and information banks, as they are being prepared for the cruel realities of the demands of a world waiting for them. Thus, the N.C.A.A. should serve in the role of protectors of college students’ present and future well-being. In that regard, I think that the N.C.A.A. can and must do better.

Michael A. Johnson is a former teacher, principal, and school district superintendent. He led the design, development, and building of two Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics—Career Technical Education (S.T.E.M.—C.T.E.) high schools: Science Skills Center High School, N.Y.C. and Phelps Architecture, Construction, and Engineering High School, Washington DC. An author of a book on school leadership: Report to the Principal’s Office: Tools for Building Successful High School Administrative Leadership. And he is presently completing his second book on school administration and leadership: Report From The Principal’s Office (Fall/2021).

Principals, 2021-22 School Year Priority Assignment — Assessing Student’s COVID-19 School Year Learning Loss.

On the question of standardized assessments…

Unfortunately, and to the learning detriment of many students, professional commonly accepted content and skills learning curriculum standards and their related standardized assessments (test, exams) have of late fallen on hard times (and why even bother to have standards if they will never be assessed; we can simply declare anyone a plumber, lawyer, or a dentist!). This is due to a convenient coalition of adversaries who have managed to maneuver themselves onto the public education center stage conversation on standards and standardized assessment. One group has used “standardization” and its related assessments as a tool to deny access and opportunity to those disentitled citizen-children; aka Black, Latino, or poor White children who are exposed to a below standards pre-assessment educational learning experience, thus making them non-competitive when they take any exam based on the curriculum standards materials they never had the opportunity to learn. The second part of the anti-standards coalition (in oppositional response to their coalition partners) are admittedly well-meaning, even as their opposition to the principle of standardization and standardized assessments is pedagogically uninformed; and to be painfully honest, they are also hypocritical because many of these individuals (usually themselves part of the US entitled class), provide a high-standards option to their own children, and further, to my knowledge, tend to engage the services of a “certified” (taught and tested) plumber, seek the advice of an attorney who is licensed and has passed the bar exam, and only offer their teeth to dental school graduated and common core dental curriculum standards assessed dentist.

Now, with that out of the way, let me speak to the chief professional educators of the school building who have formally studied pedagogy, pursued the learning of graduate-level school leadership theories and practices, and were required to pass a state standardized school building administrator’s exam to receive a principals license. Therefore, you principal should understand the critical role of commonly accepted content standards and their ‘pacing structures’; for there is much child developmental learning sense-making in the sequential organization of grade-level content standards that allows us, for example, to take a PreK child from basic conceptual numeration to 12th-grade calculus. And we see the present terrible results, primarily affecting poor children and children of color, of what happens when individual states, school districts or schools, ‘make-up’ their own standards. You (certified) principal should also have a deeper and better understanding of the role and purpose of standardized assessments. You know, because you’re an ethical school administrator, that these important evaluative ‘tools-of-the-trade’ should never be used for:

A way of denying access or opportunity to students.

A way to lower the self-esteem or injure the psyche of students.

A way to ‘discipline’ or punish teachers.

A way to marginalize and dismiss the hopes and dreams of parents.

A way to put down, ‘negatively label,’ or ‘test-results-shame’ schools.

A way to punish school administrators.

A way to lower-the-expectations and denigrate particular groups of students or communities.

However, you should also know that standardized assessments should always be used for the purposes of:

A way to diagnose student deficiencies and strengths.

A way to identify the specialized support or educational enhancements needed to ‘grow’ student(s) learning.

A way to expand student(s) quality learning access and opportunities in opposition to socio-economic and political barriers.

A way to improve the methodological performance and efficacious quality of a teacher’s instructional practice.

A way to get Title-1 schools the necessary raising academic achievement resources and the social-emotional health and counseling personnel and support they (and their students) so desperately need to succeed.

A way to give disentitled parents and disenfranchised communities confidence in a fair and equal opportunity “playing-field” academic competition process.

A diagnostic data tool that principals use to determine the policies, procedures, and professional development ideas, interventions, and themes that they and their school staff require.

Ok, since we have addressed the unprofessional inauthentic use of standardized assessments versus the authentic professional use of standardized assessments, let’s move on to the main idea of this essay.

All informal educational (outside-of-school) learning is not equal, and all outside-of-school learning loss is not equal…
We need to start with the above hypothesis in a highly professional, compassionate, and ethically honest way, which means not bringing a denigrating and condescending attitude to the problem. The reality is that a great deal of the quality of a child’s informal-educational experience is driven by parental-push-power (PPP), e.g., financial assets, political influence, connectional human resources, level of education, access to information, and time. Morally speaking, professional educators should do nothing to diminish (instead enhance it) the amount of PPP a student receives at home. But we also have a moral obligation to step in as parent substitutes —In loco parentis, in supporting students who don’t receive adequate amounts of quality PPP at home. And to be clear (for our non-professional education readers), this lack-of-access to those beforementioned learning enhancing parent PPP resources and skills should not be confused with a parent not lacking in having a powerful passion and desire of wanting their child to be educationally successful, even if they personally lack the financial resources, english language skills, political connections, formal education, or “system” information to be more effective in making that happen.

So was the pre-COVID-19 School Year (SY) ‘education world’; so was the COVID-19 2021 School Year (SY) ‘education world’…
The COVID-19 SY did not ‘invent’ learning quality disparities in America; instead, it simply exposed the vast divide in the access-to-learning-resources gap that has always existed between social-economic groups of children in our society. However, COVID-19 did produce the undeniable public exposure conditions that would prevent us from hiding from the fact that our public school systems are, in reality, two separate and unequal, of have and have not systems. The technology access gaps between students, school districts, schools, and communities were fully displayed during the COVID-19 SY. We also realized that most public education systems could not neutralize (and democratize) technological advantages in a severe public crisis school year. In addition, they were incapable of dismantling learning disabling disadvantages. Although the COVID-19 SY was not helpful to any US student who was physically unable to attend school, what is also true is that the COVID-19 SY inflicted different degrees of educational harm on different cohorts of students. Principals must keep this factor in mind as you plan your “undoing-the-damage” 2021-22 school year strategy. This is (wearing my former superintendent’s cap) that school leadership defining moment when I believe that a principal must on a fundamental level “earns-their-stripes”; and on a higher level, symbolically earn those “above and beyond the call of duty medals” by developing an ‘all students’ educational reconstruction plan that contains the smart applications of balancing equity and equality in developing and applying schoolwide learning-support mechanisms.

The 2021-22 SY is what it is…
Just as I told many of my principals as a superintendent, “the students you have are the students you have, the parents are not hiding and keeping a better behaving and higher academically performing group at home!” So it is also true with this upcoming 2021-22 SY, the conditions are what they are, and you principal must deal with them. Make no mistake about it, things will be very challenging, but you must face these challenges in a strategically-smart programmatic way. And you should plan with the idea (if public education history is true to itself) that you probably won’t get all of the financial resources you need to be successful. As a principal facing these kinds of emergency learning-loss situations I assumed nothing; essentially I operated with the belief that all of the help I truly needed was not coming from the school system. It’s always easier to adjust to receiving “extra unanticipated” district resources support, then to plan-to-fail by designing a strategic response to a learning blocking crisis based on anticipated outside help that ends up never arriving. Every one of my 11 years as a high school principal of a Title-1 school I received a sizable number of students who in no knowledgeable educator’s estimation were prepared to do high school work. It was my job (not the district, chancellor or superintendent) to get them to a graduation ‘finish-line’ in four years and onto a positive and productive post-graduation career path. Therefore it is you (yes you!) principal, who must lead the charge in the 2021-22 SY to save your children!

The present and future COVID-19 SY educational danger…
I know after many years as a public educator that a lot of people would prefer that I get on board with the rosy “Good-Housekeeping” image many public (relations driven) education systems seeks to project to the public; but I can’t do that because that would mean selling out students, parents, and disenfranchised communities. Therefore, here is my not-happy-to-report 2021-22 school year hypothetical projection:

The approaching reality of the public education 2021-22 school year is that those entitled public school districts (and entitled schools inside any district) with rich tax bases; school districts that serve primarily as a community educational and not adult employment resource; districts (and schools) having the most well-informed and properly engaged elected officials (including those districts under executive-mayoral or elected school board governance control); those districts (and schools) enriched with well-endowed financial and ‘human-connection’ resources; the districts (and schools) with a financially well-off parental support system, will respond more effectively and positively on behalf of their students in the 2021-22 SY; and therefore the students attending those enfranchised public schools (and districts) will enter a school learning environment year where children will academically ‘recover’ faster from the COVID-19 SY, and as we advance into subsequent school years these fortunate students will out-learning-perform those unfortunate students who attend non-enfranchised school districts and schools! After forty+ years, I’ve come to the consistently observed conclusion that: In both “good” times and “bad” times, the schools that serve the entitled children of our nation fair better than the schools that serve the children of disentitlement. The schools of entitlement are the least negatively affected by any significant school district governance or superintendency change. And further, in a severe emergency, we don’t have a national public educational ethos that demands that “all boats rise equally” during an education-loss flood; the facts are that some boats are better constructed and situated than others to deal with the natural (ex. Covid-19) educational storms of life.

Make no mistake about it, Title-1 schools (and students) face grave educational dangers in the 2021-22 SY…
I have every reason to believe that most Title-1 schools in America will not have what I had as a principal; and that is a 501c3 extra-funds-producing foundation and extensive powerfully rewarding partnerships with major corporations, universities, national-state-local government agencies, federal and foundational grants, and philanthropic giving individuals; and without naming names, I also had a large number of district central office leadership staff that often ‘gifted’ me with a lot of extra resources. Having access to a large amount of financial and human resources far above my official school budget allocation would have allowed me if I were facing a 2021-22 school year, to put in place the necessary comprehensive and extensive, during the school day, extended and after-school day, weekends, holiday and summer break academic programs to get those students who suffered the most from COVID-19 SY learning loss up-to-speed academically. But I don’t think that our average Title-1 school will have access to such resources. And, unfortunately, an ‘ordinary’ or ‘normal’ 2021-22 SY will mean that a lot of students who are on or above grade/performance level will be permanently left behind in their present academic underperformance status while also facing future negative possibilities for engaging in advanced (specialized schools, gifted & talented programs, AP courses, etc.) learning opportunities. But a much harsher reality is the plight of the many disentitled and academically struggling children in this nation who absolutely cannot afford to lose any major part of, or definitely not an entire school year of learning. Those students must be ‘triaged’ to the front of the 2021-22 SY academic recovery line. As I stated earlier, most Title-1 schools won’t have the organizational additional (outside-of-budget) resources foundation and scaffolding help to address the 2021-22 SY challenges effectively. So, school districts will need to intervene in a big way to support those schools.

School districts (with federal assistance) must put principals in a position to win the 2021-22 School Year!
As we move forward, and this is a secondary thought (although with 2021-22 SY implications), principals need to devote some thinking-time, over the next year, for evaluating how their schools performed during the COVID-19 SY; and what do they need to put in place (e.g., creating a 501c3 school foundation, a laptop loan program, a more functional school website, etc.) to be able to address better both the ‘normal’ and abnormal challenges schools will continue to face. But for the immediate situation, any superintendent or principal who believes that the educational crises caused by the COVID-19 SY can be repaired (for all students regardless of academic performance level) with the standard school year approach is setting themselves and their students up for failure.

This brings me to my final point; school districts can’t solve this problem with their present level of financial resources. Principals need to understand (and you will when you become one) that superintendents can’t always publicly say what needs to be said. So I will: Our federal executive and elected national governmental leaders (one of the reasons we teach kids history) need to see and treat the 2021-22 SY as a “Sputnik Response” or “Marshall Plan” moment. School districts will need a 1-3 year special (one-time) massive allocation to get large numbers of US students back on some semblance of a productive educational learning track. Small compensatory ‘tutorial efforts,’ no matter how well-intentioned, won’t get us where we need to go, especially with our most COVID-19 SY negatively affected students; we need to go big!
Further, our 2021-22 SY recovery efforts would be greatly helped by the adoption of President Biden’s bold proposal (Infrastructure Bill) for radically expanding internet access capability (e.g., through municipal broadband capabilities), especially into several states that contain some of the poorest (based on per/pupil expenditures) and least internet-connected rural school districts in our nation (places like West Virginia, Kentucky, Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana…). This expanded internet capability and access in both urban and rural school districts would be extremely helpful in supporting our current efforts to navigate the 2021-22 SY successfully, but long term, it would also provide us with a tremendous technological learning asset for regular school learning, and a learning-loss ‘antidote’ if we ever face another COVID-19 like crisis or any emergency (e.g., illness) where students are forced to spend long periods of time out of school.

The key is to provide the sufficiently right amount of funding in the most efficaciously right way…
The caveat for this COVID-19 SY ‘learning reconstruction funding’ is that President Biden and his on-the-hill colleagues must (a chance for bipartisanship?) prohibit and prevent school districts from using the extra money to do the business-as-usual “school improvement,” “raising achievement scores,” “closing learning gaps” expensive programs that sound and feel good but don’t actually work; employing those past failed approaches would be a terrible loss of money and a tragic loss of an opportunity (I would be more than happy to give Mr. Biden a list of people who are sincere and really good at this work, seriously).
This 2021-22 SY is no time for “symbolic” or fancy-sounding ineffective initiatives. So, perhaps it would be helpful to employ the non-politicalized National Science Foundation (NSF) model for screening Request For Proposals (RFP) potential grantees (school districts, schools, and external school improvement consultants and companies). This means having independent educational expert peer review panels to screen and rank proposals; design RFP’s that require potential grantees to have pedagogical knowledge, professional educational certifications, and school based experience; and most critical, a documented proven track record of past “raising-achievement-scores” success, especially with our lowest-performing schools and students; and finally, having grantees who have a sound theoretical/strategic proposal that would suggest that the grantees know and can produce the promised project’s ‘deliverables.’ When dealing with other major natural or unnatural disasters (e.g., oil spills, forest fires, etc.), we don’t bring in entrepreneurial amateurs who have no proven past track record of success in solving the present emergency.

Real change takes place only when there is real change activity in play...
In those school districts (e.g., NYC, Los Angeles, Chicago, etc.) with a politically powerful teacher union presence, for the 2021-22 SY, there must be some “emergency conditions” negotiated contractual concessions (it’s been done before under less extreme crisis situations) that would lead to improved learning recovery and growth opportunities for both our ‘doing well’ and our most academically struggling students. For example, placing a brand new, inexperienced, or not-highly effective teacher with academically struggling students who have suffered an entire year of some or a lot of learning loss is a recipe for disastrous failure for both the teacher and students. Another option school districts may want to consider is to place their most academically vulnerable Title-1 schools into some form of the district controlled, guardianship and redesigned “charter schools” status (this also has been done on a limited basis before under less severe crisis conditions than covid-19) that would allow for the kind of rules and regulations flexibility-relief, and the necessary leadership authority the principals of those schools will need to make this critical school year work for their most vulnerable students. We will set principals up to fail this 2021-22 SY if we request that they act like the essential executive leaders they need to be and then don’t grant them the executive power to act with formal executive authority. Employment in these ‘district charter schools’ for both school administrators and staff should be by a voluntary application process and consist of the best-of-the-best practitioners, regardless of seniority. These Educational Special Practitioners (ESP) must be reasonably extra-compensated for the more extended school day, week, and school year they will need to work if the students in those schools have any chance of surviving COVID-19 SY learning setbacks. An ESP assignment must also be framed as a ‘resume enhancing’ possible future career promotion/advancement placement. These ESP staffed schools must also have additional funding to address the students’ socio-economic, health, and emotional counseling needs.

The first response for the 20121-22 SY, improve the quality of teaching and learning...
For reasons of child-learning urgency, on the district level as a superintendent, and having the appropriate amount of resources, I would start my 2021-22 SY recovery efforts with a robust strategic plan to drive large amounts of resources into immediately improving the quality of instruction. One area of attention would be instituting specialized and differentiated professional development exercises to improve teacher classroom instructional practices. I would create smaller class sizes, and in struggling schools, expand the daily instructional hours and increase the number of instructional school days (the present SY calendar is artificially short-structured to address a no-longer-relevant need to have children available to do farm work). A ‘struggling schools’ 2021-22 SY ‘Year-Round-School’ format can be innovatively creative (e.g., Summer STEM, computer, art, dance, or music concentrated programs, along with the smart inclusion-immersion of “academic work”). Put in K-8 specialized applied science, technology and mathematics labs and train a school-based team of F/T science specialists to teach in them. Expand music and art programs in all schools (for its own educational value but also because it raises academic achievement in other academic areas). A laptop lending program. A fully funded library and a full-time librarian in every elementary school. Place elementary reading teachers in middle schools (and yes, there is a need for a “teach them how to read” program in Title-1 high schools). Establish a gifted and talented program in every K-8 school, with a professionally developed teacher leading the class. Let elementary teachers “specialized” based on interest and ability to be able to “flip” (Math/Science & ELA/History) and teach each other’s classes (this also gives them fewer subjects to prep for). Fund and design many more SPED/REGED team-teaching classrooms, and in Title-1 schools triple the present number of classroom educational and behavioral paraprofessionals (and not limit this paraprofessional support to students with IEP’s); this will (I found) dramatically increase the amount of Quality Learning Time in classrooms; and further, establish in every Title-1 school a school-based teacher resource center and F/T instructional coaches with the number based on the size of the teaching staff; give all schools without one an Assistant Principal (AP), or an extra AP so they or the principal can give serious and dedicated attention to instructional coaching. For the emergency 2021-22 SY, we need a major concentration of effort on improving the quality of instructional practices district-wide if we are not to lose (forever) large numbers of children.
Most of the above strategies are in part or whole (depending on the needs of the school) what was utilized during the 2000-2003 School Years in Community School District 29 Queens, NYC in many of our schools. This led to our being able to raise academic achievement scores across all grades, student performance levels, and schools; faster and better than any of the other 32 NYC school districts. We did this by maintaining a laser focus approach on improving the quality of teaching and learning. Similarly, principals must be singularly focused for the 2021-22 SY on dramatically improving the learning environment for all students in the school building. All of their attention should be on lengthening the amount of Quality Learning Time (that classroom time that is truly dedicated to learning) while strengthening the ‘technical’ quality of teaching and learning in their schools. For just like it’s essentially and ultimately about the quality of the economy for many politicians; also true for school leaders who hope to survive and thrive in the wake of the COVID-19 SY, essentially and ultimately, it will be all about the quality of instruction!
And as for high schools, where there is already (should be) a school cultural imperative of needing to engage in serious academic reconstruction practices, that must also take place in a short window (4 years) of time, and further not having a next-level public school option to pass ‘unfinished’ students onto; well, I wrote an entire book on how to diagnose, treat and strategically raise the scores of those students who arrive annually and unrelated to any health crises to high school suffering from severe learning loss!

Inaction or weak actions will doom the dreams of many children and parents and damage our nation’s economic capacity...
If our national governmental leaders fail to act in a decisive and adequate resourced way in this COVID-19 educational emergency; then, as those COVID-19 SY learning-loss children reach adulthood workforce age (and for high school students, that will be sooner rather than later), American political leaders will be forced to address a severe and debilitating future skills and knowledge competency gap crisis that will exist between US potential and US production. In addition, large numbers of students, due to no fault on their part, will be robbed of the opportunity to place their inherent gifts and talents in the service of all of humanity; but paramountly, they will be unable to employ their extraordinary personal capabilities in the service of becoming all that they imagine and hope themselves to be.

Michael A. Johnson is a former teacher, principal, and school district superintendent. An internationally recognized science educator who served as an expert peer-review panelist for the National Science Foundation. He was part of the team that designed the first NAEP national science exam questions. Johnson led the design, development, and building of two Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics—Career Technical Education (STEM—CTE) high schools: Science Skills Center High School, NYC and Phelps Architecture, Construction, and Engineering High School, Washington DC. He also served as an adjunct professor of Science Education in the School of Education at St. John’s University. An author of a book on school leadership: Report to the Principal’s Office: Tools for Building Successful High School Administrative Leadership. And he is presently completing his second book on school administration and leadership: Report From The Principal’s Office (Fall/2021).

NYC mayoral debate wasted educational question moment.

“Should NYC schools be desegregated or improved?”

As professional educators, we are trained to never classify a question as “dumb.” So in that spirit, I will charitably designate this question as terribly uninformed.
My first question (still in charitable mode) about the question was: “Is this question designed to ferret out which of the candidates was for segregated schools?” (Or, where was this going?)

Now I am sure that professional journalism schools can do a much better job raising the standards for preparing their graduates to ask good and meaningful public education questions.

And so, how about this: I think that it is reasonable to assume that when the next mayor takes office (whoever that is), NYC schools will not be integrated; and so perhaps a more usefully practical and high information value question for parents and the general public voters would have been:

“What is your plan to significantly raise Black and Latino student’s academic performance, achievement, and graduation rates, regardless of where in NYC those students attend school?”

In their follow-up questions the journalist must not allow a candidate to venture into that vague politically safe “eduspeak” space that starts off with phrases that sound something like: “It takes a village,” “I believe children are our future,” “All children can learn,” etc. We need to hear some concrete “breaking the business-as-usual NYCDOE organizational culture” answers.

Perhaps one good place a sincere and well-informed mayoral candidate could start their answer is here:
https://majmuse.net/2021/06/06/a-low-political-risk-but-high-educational-reward-initiative-the-next-nyc-mayor-can-easily-institute/

Michael A. Johnson is a former teacher, principal, and school district superintendent. He is the author of a book on school leadership: Report to the Principal’s Office: Tools for Building Successful High School Administrative Leadership. He is currently completing (Fall 2021) his second book on school administration and leadership: Report From The Principal’s Office.

A low political risk but high educational reward initiative the next NYC mayor can easily institute…

The next NYC mayor should extend K-8 Gifted & Talented opportunities to very deserving & capable Black & Latino students.

High Educational Reward: Large numbers of NYC’s Black and Latino students would receive high expectations and high-quality levels of a dynamic teaching and learning experience. This G&T exposure would immediately lead to a rise in student academic achievement profiles and performances in the present Gifted & Talented (G&T) ‘desert’ (exciting and advanced education deserted) parts of the city. And to interject a positive political reward, this action would provide whoever the chancellor is with an opening ‘raising of achievement scores’ good-news-story victory. Most important, These students could take and pass algebra-1 by the end of the 8th grade, thus positioning them to advantageously pursue a Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) college major path and career. Further, they would also be prepared by the end of 8th grade to do well on any standardized exams they take; and succeed academically in whichever NYC high school they attended. A political advantage (I know in NYC that’s important) is that many of the city’s most vocal advocates for maintaining the Specialized High School Admissions Test (SHSAT) have fortunately gone on new media record as supporting the raising of the quality of the pre-SHSAT taking (K-7) learning standards, and the expanding of G&T programs access to more of NYC’s Black and Latino students. Those passionate public pronouncements (even if they were insincere and self-serving) would make any opposition on their part to the expansion of G&T programs to Black and Latino students a politically and morally contradictorily problematic stance to take.
Finally (assuming this means anything to NYC’s elected, appointed, and otherwise recognized leaders), this move would make large numbers of Black and Latino parents happy and positively hopeful of their children’s future.

Low Political Risk: If it is done right, and I will later explain what ‘done right’ means; the United Federation of Teacher’s (UFT) won’t be happy. And they will play their ‘best interest of the children’ nullification card with many NYC/NYS elected officials. And even if they do mount a Public Employment Relations Board (PERB) or other legal venue challenges to the initiative, let them defend in the legal courts and in the court of public opinion why they believe that able and very capable Black and Latino children don’t matter! However, the offsetting good news is that even if the Council of Supervisors and Administrators (CSA) is quiet about the plan, trust me, the NYCDOE’s rank & file principals and assistant principals (and many teachers) will be ecstatic about this G&T expansion initiative!

I fully understand the “attractive-headline” and “lead-story” challenges of the news media industry; so I can’t be angry with them for focusing their campaign reporting efforts on which NYC mayoral candidate will (pick one) 1. ‘defund,’ 2. ‘refund,’ or 3. ‘more-fund’ the NYC police department (NYPD). And I guess it’s irrelevant that several of the candidates don’t seem to have a grasp of the general or NYPD portion of the very complex NYC budget; or are unable to adequately explain how NYPD services are integrated with other city agencies (e.g., Mass Transit, etc.), or the NYPD’s role in supporting the extremely important (for employment and tax revenue generation purposes), NYC’s tourism, restaurant, commercial and entertainment industries. Or, finally (and not diminishing the seriousness of the too often occurring ‘high-profile’ subway shoving incidents), the news media has failed to force the candidates to specifically pay attention to the #1 victims of NYC crime, Black and Latino citizens; who in many cases are under daily pedeocratic siege. (Except for Eric Adams speaking unasked), there has not been a line of press inquiry that responds to those communities who are most suffering from crime, especially concerning their urgent request for more and better (serve and protect, not occupation style) NYPD services. The other mayoral candidates, intellectually lazy avoiding-the-elephant-in-the-room (the elephant being an educational system that favors adult employment and satisfaction over student academic success) focus, is around the “restricting or expanding” of charter schools. Of course, expansion could help a few parents. Still, a decision, either way, won’t make even a slight statistical educational impact for the majority of NYC’s one million-plus student population who won’t be attending a charter school. The charter school expansion/restriction debate could be an interesting analytical discussion if the real reasons that charter schools even need to exist were the theoretical foundations of the conversation, but that’s not the case. The NYC charter schools mayoral candidate’s debate, generally speaking, in its present form is terribly inauthentic, albeit a politically attractive target of conversation. However, in the current format, charter school conversations are dangerously distracting from the necessary confronting of the fundamental issues that plague NYC public education. But I digress.

Applying the most fundamental “law of parsimony” to organizational change: The ‘game’ only really changes when the leader is willing to make real ‘game-changing’ decisions…

One of my first acts after being appointed (2000) by then Chancellor Harold Levy to clean up and educationally refocus the badly educational leadership abused and neglected Community School District 29 Queens (CSD29Q) was to dramatically expand the number of G&T classes in the district. And so, here comes the ‘done right’ part. The prospective G&T teachers in CSD29Q were selected and assigned based on their completion of a G&T professional development program and a highly effective instructional performance history review, aligned with principal recommendations and utilizing formal observation ratings; which was followed up by a district-level (including me) staff person doing an observation of the teacher. National Board for Professional Teaching Standards graduates were particularly sought out as candidates. Seniority (building or system) was not a factor (most teachers actually respected the fairness of that aspect of the selection process) in our selection decisions. In fact, some teachers had less than 5 years of teaching experience, but they were instructional super-star practitioners. I also provided these newly established G&T programs with more funding for instructional resources. Each of the schools received additional art and music activities funding. Most were ‘gifted’ with a dedicated STEM-AT lab* and a specialized and trained dedicated F/T science teacher. Not making this up, but before my changes, “science teachers” in most of the district’s elementary schools did not necessarily have any serious expertise or professional training in science. In some cases, these “science teaching positions” were places to put tenured teachers the principal did not want teaching in any of the ‘testing-grades’ (which is ultimately all K-5 of them). Some of these teachers were actually good but did not have a dedicated science room or adequate funding from the school’s budget. Many of these ‘prep-coverage’ science teachers were forced (again not making this up) to travel from room to room around the school with their science materials on a cart, even when an empty room was available in the school building. And if you can believe it, these many science-learning negatives were operating in the face of all of the elementary schools in the district being required to face a 4th-grade state standardized science exam!
There was no accident that along with Math and Reading test scores, test performance scores on the 4th-grade standardized science exam rose dramatically in every elementary school in the district, and pronouncedly so in those schools with STEM-AT labs.
But it did not take long for me to receive a call from a central office NYCDOE official; “You know superintendent Johnson that you can’t on-your-own increase the number of G&T classes in your district.” I pretended to be shocked; “Really, I did not know that; you know I came from the high school division where even at the school level it is not required to get prior ‘central’ clearance to set up AP, advance, electives, I.B., and other special programs.” And me continuing in ‘I-had-no-idea’ mode, “Could you please send me the regulations governing the creation of G &T programs” (I knew there were no such regulations); and continuing; “And I’ll need someone from your office to assist me at the staff/community/parent meetings to help explain to the schools that have been designated, why the already allocated expenditures, and how the selection and training of the teachers could begin, but would now need to end; and more importantly to inform the parents, that those G&T programs that were promised to them would now be canceled”… If they did have ‘centrally mandated’ guidelines I had every intention, as I approached many NYCDOE “mandates,” of “making them work for children”; and so, I’m still waiting twenty-one years later for that callback! I learned early (as a principal) that in a mission undermining bureaucratic system like the NYCDOE; especially in a system that did not have the disentitled and disenfranchised children of the city as a priority, that in some situations, it was better to make an irreversible (politically can’t be reversed) bold ‘game-changing’ move on behalf of expanding student learning opportunities, and then after (if) you’re caught, sincerely apologize. This approach was far more positive and productive than asking for permission to engage in some audacious action on behalf of your students that would surely result in a negative no-can-do response. (but I still wonder to this day; who snitched on me to central? —— Not to worry, I have a list of likely suspects!)

But the NYC school system is not alone in failing to answer a core US public education question: “What do we do with the Black and Latino students who are on or above grade or performance levels, but who sit in a remedial, bad standardized-test-prep obsessed, school or classroom?” The short answer is “nothing.” The (politically safe) longer, more confusing, distracting, and non-productive answers are:

(1) “We need more integration!” A cynical idea because in most large (also small and medium-size) public school districts in our nation, we simply don’t numerically have enough ‘white kids’ to distribute around the system for integration purposes; and in some cases, it would be a busing nightmare (e.g., kids are riding buses for hours) to put every Black and Latino child in a classroom with a critical-mass (enough white kids to make the quality of educational services matter) of white children. Even if we came up with the most ‘inventive’ but not child-focused bussing program imaginable, the demographic and housing realities of localities like NYC would still require large numbers of Black and Latino children, at some point, to sit in classrooms composed solely of, or a majority of, other Black and Latino children. And even the expansion of NYC charter schools (based on their present NYC and national racial demographic profiles) would increase the number of highly racially segregated schools. The problem is that public schools are being unfairly asked to solve a societal racial and socio-economic segregated housing problem, a task for which they are neither structurally equipped nor have the resources to successfully pull off.

However, as professionals, we should be ashamed to say or have non-educational political actors say on our behalf that: “The only way a Black or Brown child can receive a quality education in our school system is if they are sitting in a majority white student classroom!” For sure, there are many enrichment learning advantages for any student who attends a culturally, ethnically, and socio-economically diverse school and classroom. But a school district that is serious about its professional moral responsibility to children must seek to diversify the quality of education so that wherever a child attends school in that district, regardless of their own or the color of their classmates, their parents will be assured that they will receive the highest of quality learning experience the district can offer; and that we are capable of doing.

(2) “We need to eliminate “special programs and schools,” G&T classes, standardized admissions exams to specialized schools, etc.!” This pedagogically cowardly position allows a school district to avoid the real truth and reasons why such large numbers of ‘likely candidates,’ meaning those Black and Latino students who are on or above grade/performance level, are simply not prepared to perform well on a SHSAT or any standardized exam. And (after having painstakingly reviewed the SHSAT question by question) speaking truthfully, my professional conclusion is that it’s the lack of adequate pre-test classroom learning preparation and not the exam itself that is racist and discriminatory.
There is indeed more than adequate quantitative and qualitative data that professional educators could utilize to make the case that any ‘single-admissions’ measuring tool and criteria is grossly improper, educationally immoral, and ultimately a poor predictor of future student academic success. The “single admissions test or interview” theory is more of a measurement of the quality of parent-push, a family’s ability to provide informal (out-of-school) educational resources, access to good formal test/interview preparation, and most importantly, having received a quality learning experience in the years prior to the admission-test-taking day; all factors outside of a child’s control. These admissions criteria could very well obscure or completely hide a student’s true G&T qualities and potentialities.
But that most important factor (that “test-prep” can strengthen but not replace) of being exposed to the quality of pre-admissions-test learning experience is the one most avoided by the most vocal and animated opponents of the standardized exam admissions process (e.g., NYC’s anti-SHSAT folks). Their feigned ignorance or uninformed avoidance of that most critical of factors is because they know that the tackling of that issue would essentially launch the pivotal political decisive battle of public education, and that is: who does or does not receive a NYC quality education experience, and why!

Obfuscation and Misdirection as political tactics to maintain the status quo conditions in public education…

The “Woke-Ones” can, if they wish, work on social integration and the elimination of all standardized exams and specialized admissions assessments. I, however, would prefer that they do the much more challenging and dangerous work of eliminating the segregation of the quality of learning experiences that exist between students enrolled in the same school system (and sometimes in the same school building); a disadvantage that permanently assures that Black and Latino students will be academically unprepared for a world with or without standardized exams (although I don’t believe that in the foreseeable future, we will live in a world without measurable standards).
I realize and realistically accept that taking on such a brave and audacious effort would mean that any elected or appointed leader would be stepping into High-Political-Risk minefield territory; and so, pardon me if I am not optimistic of such serious game-changing policies being enacted. After all, returning to an extended version of an earlier question: “What will society do with all of those ‘school-successful’ Black and Latino kids?” Where will their jobs come from?” “Who will replace them as raw-material feed for our vast criminal justice prison system? “What would it mean for large numbers of competent, confident and smart Black and Latino students to be placed in a fair and competitive college and economic environment with the entitled children of our nation?” And for those news media darlings who want to “defund” the police; well, guess what, by greatly improving public education outcomes for Black and Latino students we would overtime ‘naturally’ reduce the number of police officers (prison cells, correction/parole officers, etc.) a city like New York would need. But I don’t expect that advocation to happen; after all, “Ensuring Quality Education for Black and Latino Students!” does not a viral “sexy-political” hashtag make.
This is why, for right now, I would place my very “low-bar” expectations on the next NYC mayor and other elected/appointed/annotated officials and leaders on taking the ‘safe-small-step’ of expanding G&T programs (in at least one or two classes) in every elementary and middle school in every G&T deficit-district in the city. And as we learned in CSD29Q; by placing a G&T program in one of our lowest-performing schools in the district, a cascading effect occurred that caused high expectations to rise and for high instructional quality to permeate throughout the school building, and this “G&T diffusion effect” was doubly effective in those schools that also housed a teacher professional development center—having models of teaching and learning excellence on-site provided those school-building administrators with an additional instructional professional development resource-tool in helping to raise the quality of teaching and learning throughout the entire school building.
Seeing schools from a district supervisory level perspective, you come to appreciate that individual schools have unique institutional personalities. School families can collectively either feel good or not so good about themselves. If all a school community hears about their school is that they are “failing,” “underperforming” or “a bad school.” Such a school family can start to believe that those negative labels are genuinely reflective of everything and everyone (students, parents, administrators, and staff) in and connected to the school building: “Those negative attributes are who we are, and we can’t do any better!”

We found in CSD29Q that by putting a G&T program in previously academically underperforming schools, immediately the conversation changed for the upbeat better about those schools, with its teachers, administrators, parents, students, and the surrounding community. Before introducing a G&T program, parents whose children were “zoned” for a particular school utilized ‘the-full-bag-of-tricks’ (I won’t mention them) to keep from sending their child to their neighborhood school. But after the establishment of a G&T program along with the many other exciting school enrichment resources, prospectively “zoned” parents were now inclined to not use granny’s address (oh my, I mentioned one) to get their child into another school in the district. Some of the new G&T principals commented that their newly minted G&T programs, other music, and art programs, and especially the placing of a state-of-the-art STEM-AT lab turned what use to be a challenging annual recruitment process into an exercise of pride and the proud promise to parents that their children deserved, and would receive the best the system has to offer.

The process for admission to a G&T program is not statutorily or regulatorily fixed-in-stone…

Like the absence of regulations that ‘fix’ the number of G&T classes in a school district; there are also no official-standardized guidelines for admission to a G&T or specialized school or program in a district; unless they are artificially imposed (e.g., the SHSAT) for political and non-pedagogical reasons. Any present “admissions process” is arbitrarily applied and is not the product of a research-based (and proven) process. For all we (professional educators) know, admitting students to a specialized or G&T program, school, or classes, based only on their performance on elementary and middle school state standardized exams or a ‘specialized test,’ might not be the best way to capture large numbers of potentially powerful highest-performing students across the district’s vast educational landscape; students who may have gone educationally and G&T unnoticed because they don’t ‘test well,’ or as a result of their zip coded limited learning experience, or their lack of access to parent-push-power, means that they (and the world) don’t get a chance to discover and display their talents and gifts. The present G&T admissions process is heavily weighted in favor of those children who enjoy solid and effective parent support; even the “admission interviews” are in many ways interviews of the parents (including the often unconscious ‘adding-of-points’ effect by the review team when seeing both a mother and father, presenting “professionally” while attending the information or pre-admission assessment session) and the learning quality of the child’s home life; not the child’s demonstrated or potential “talents and giftedness.” There is every reason, based on my 40 years of educational experience (and having observed teacher G&T professional development sessions) that any K-8 child on grade level (or even below) could benefit and thrive in a G&T instructional environment. In fact, my experiential observations reveal the opposite effect when there is no G&T differentiated learning intervention. When above, on, or slightly below grade and performance level Title-1 K-8 children are in classes with a lot of students who are struggling academically or who require a great deal of social-emotional support systems (often not available); this results in those above, on and slightly below students not being pushed and challenged to reach their next highest academic performance levels.
Further, the teachers in these types of classrooms (not uncommon in Title-1 schools), if not extremely highly-proficient, may find it very difficult to give all of the students across broad academic performance levels and counseling needs spectrums, who are sitting in the same classroom, the full instructional attention they all need; unless that classroom is specifically designed as a team-teaching (e.g., SPED/REGULAR-ED) blended classroom with full-time behavioral and educational paraprofessional support, and a comprehensively robust school-based counseling/medical services resource department.

Maintaining as both being true; two seemingly contradictory concepts…

I realize that I am asking a lot of readers by requesting that they accept my posing of two seemingly, on the surface appearing, contradictory ideas (a classroom technique teachers should utilize more often to grow student’s intellectual skills). One idea being that standardized exams are not a perfect or even a good measuring tool for admission to a G&T, specialized/advanced learning programs, or schools. But on the other hand, I am pushing for the immediate creation of K-8 G&T programs for NYC’s Black and Latino students who have standardized tested on or above grade level. I see this immediate and focused expansion plan (and its inherent contradictions) of G&T programs as a ‘first-aid’ educational response to the present educational trauma and high-expectations depersonalization situations these particular students are presently subject to daily.
Simultaneously adopting these two ‘conflicting’ positions is also based on my experience of having transitioned from a school-building principal to a school district superintendent. “It’s a different world than the one you came from!”; is the first song that came to my mind when I stepped into the superintendency. Significant effective changes on the school-building level have the capability of occurring quickly, quietly (under the political radar), and without the central office, politicians, and the news media getting involved. As a principal, many ‘things’ that happen in my school-building fell under the “we won’t ask, and you don’t tell us” rule. That school district-school relationship understanding worked because year after year, we produced high achievement scores in every school quality measurement criteria (and generated much positive press for the NYCDOE), from school-building safety and cleanliness to graduation rates, college admissions & scholarships earned, to our students’ successful performances on all (Regents to AP) standardized exams. In summary, we were able to engage in some “interesting practices” because, as a Title-1 school, we were one of the “best” (a chancellor’s words, not mine) performing high schools in a city with 500 high schools!
A school district, however, is another matter. A school district ‘change-action’ is like changing the direction of a giant ocean liner compared to a school’s ability to produce and maneuver ‘change’ like a speed boat. Any significant action, initiative, or project on the school district level will generate many active and vocal advocates and a likely cast of equal in number of passionate opponents, who will all have their own unique agendas, access to school board members, connections to influential and powerful political stakeholders, and even ‘contacts’ in the news media. And often lost in their demonstratively divisive or conflicting efforts is the possibility that the superintendent could actually be pursuing (without prejudice or political partisanship) a path that is in the best interest of children. However, a word to those wise principals with higher career aspirations; superintendents can’t completely avoid making a “greater good” decision. For even in CSD29Q, I had to put a G&T class and STEM-AT lab in a high-performing school that ‘technically’ could have waited until the next (year) round because the school’s well-politically-organized parents “protected my political flank” and made it possible for me to enact the G&T program district-wide and especially in struggling schools.

So as not to push the NYCDOE too dramatically and too quickly forward (public civil service systems can have bureaucratically inbred growth limitations issues); we should be willing to accept as a temporary G&T admissions and participation approach, one that focuses on those Black and Latino students who are on or above grade level based on standardized test scores, and teacher/school administrators recommendations, as initial G&T programs participants; these young people are presently educationally suffering badly by sitting in poor quality and severe under-learning classrooms. It’s a children saving triage move that admittedly has many pedagogical deficiencies.

The Hypocritical Hyperadvocates…

Ok, so this is where we will hit the liberal (both black and white advocates) wall. Some of my critics (in the past) and the newly recruited ones based on this article will say that this call for expanding G&T programs harms struggling, performing below grade level Black and Latino students in Title-1 schools. But their “tell” (and I always look for it) is that they, their children or their family and neighbors children, presently or in the past, enjoyed some type of G&T high-expectations rigorous academic program experience, even if those programs were not labeled “G&T.” These (in deeds) G&T entitled programs or specialized schools have as their daily basic-floor-standard, the drawing out and development of their students best talents and gifts; and most important is the school’s instructional requirement to have high expectations (and thus high-efficacious behaviors on the part of the teaching staff), for all students, as a core uncompromising operating school culture attribute.

I have visited many entitled public and prestigious private PreK-12 schools serving the entitled in this nation; while school administrators, staff members, and parents connected to those schools may rail against and perhaps even discourage the taking of state standardized exams; they are at least in one essential way, right. Their state’s ‘Core Curriculum Standards’ are far below their school-based teaching and learning (and internal assessments) standards; therefore, having to spend an excessive amount of time preparing for the syllabus, unique ‘rubric-language-styles’ of the questions, and the test format structures of state standardized exams will slow down their ‘authentic’ learning process. But for many unfortunate disentitled public school children living in the wrong zip code or skin color, just being able to learn and master ( at a proficient or highly proficient level) a state’s subject/content areas Core Curriculum Standards by their 3rd, 4th, 6th or 8th grades, at or above grade/performance levels, would be the equivalent of those students winning a public education lottery. This is why an even greater G&T educational experience would take many of those same disenfranchised students to national and international academic peer competitive stratospheric learning levels! But even this approach is only a temporary measure to stop the low-quality-learning ‘bleeding’ that’s destroying large numbers of NYC’s on and above grade and performance level Black and Latino students. Ultimately, a school system must be ethically committed to providing G&T techniques and practices in every school and classroom in the city; but that is an action that would invite a whole new dangerously high level of political risk for any mayor or chancellor.

*Working with the Scantek corporation, a company that traditionally developed high school and college-level Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) hands-on Applied Technology (AT) labs; we designed a new curriculum (aligned with the 4th-grade state science exam), lab projects, activities, components and teacher professional development programs for a Pre-K-5 and middle school grades appropriate models of their H.S./college AT labs.

Michael A. Johnson is a former teacher, principal, and school district superintendent. He is the author of a book on school leadership: Report to the Principal’s Office: Tools for Building Successful High School Administrative Leadership. He is currently completing (Fall 2021) his second book on school administration and leadership: Report From The Principal’s Office.

The art and craft of being an effective principal is to be political without being political.

The art and craft of being an effective principal is to be political without being political.

A very common education bad news media story lead that is usually some version of :

“Principal in trouble, for saying, writing or engaging in some ‘overt’ political act, in the context of their official work role… The principal “took-sides” in a foreign political or military conflict… As a result of the principal’s actions… ”.

Usually, if a principal is asked to apologize for a mistake publicly, they will—to keep their job. But the principal’s coach (the superintendent) can’t only be concerned about the bad publicity or ‘punishment’ aspects of the incident. Instead, the superintendent must also focus on professionally developing the principal’s judgment capabilities and school leadership skills.

As a superintendent, I always coached and cautioned principals to execute extreme judicious behavior and be both words and phrases careful about what they put in any memo. “You should assume,” I warned, “That your memo will be made public and/or leaked to the news media!”. There are also many potential legal implications (e.g., labor-contract laws, lawsuits, etc.) relating to what a principal commits to writing. I’ve seen Special Education lawyers eat principals alive (and by unhappy extension also me, the superintendent) for what a principal unwisely put in writing.

It is much easier to defend your intent in the face of a bad outcome when the ‘delivery system’ is verbal (although you should also be careful with your spoken words) by ascribing any problems that arise to linguistic misinterpretations and misunderstandings. However, this corrective (or retreat path) option is removed from you when your words are permanently written on paper or in an email. In terms of memos generally, “make them rare and absolutely necessary,” was the advice a veteran senior principal gave to my rookie principal-self; and for the next ten years, after I received that wise counsel, I wrote so few memos that even today I could almost remember all of them!

The myth of public education being politically neutral; and the hypocrisy of accusing principals of being political.

Ok, let’s start with a logic exercise:
Public Education is a political act. If there is any confusion about this statement, then I would call your attention to the issues of: “Specialized Schools,” — “Gifted & Talented Classes,” — “Advanced and Enrichment Programs,” — “Highly-Effective Large Quantities of Quality Learning,” and the “Schools and School Districts Resources Gaps;” all controversies presently occurring in many school districts across this nation. Who does and does not (as in zip codes, communities, socio-economic class, ethnicities, etc.) receive the best positive learning benefits from public education is a political decision.

Now, don’t get distracted by the faux and insincere angst over the present Asian student’s doing-well success story with the NYC Specialized High School Exam (SHSAT). This success story was not the result of an Asian community ‘political power move.’ The SHSAT was an initially designed “gate-keeper” (for segregation and quality education purposes) to benefit NYC’s 1970’s white (not Asian) student population. Asian students’ success, in this case, is a flukey and accidental exception to the Political Power = Quality Education rule. Generally speaking, the parents with the most political power (entitled or acquired) consistently get the most (best) beneficial efforts and outcomes for their children from their public education system; this is even true if the levers of governmental political power are controlled either locally, statewide, or nationally, by people who look like (e.g., Black & Latino) the children who are on the short-end of receiving the positive public education benefits. If you are still not clear on this question as to whether public education is a political act; one can simply count the number, starting with the US secretary of education, down to the thousands of elected local school board members; those people who are the political stakeholding governance officials (elected and appointed), who influence or control public education policy. I would include here the many powerful and influential political players (e.g., teacher’s unions or the “billionaires donor club”) who, to borrow from one of the old-folks sayings, will “throw harmful education policy rocks, but then hide their hands!”

Therefore,
Principals are necessarily political ‘agents’ with ‘officially’ limited agency in the public education political process. In such a highly-hyper-politized unjust and unfair system, the only professionally ethical extraofficial option available to principals is to insurgently counterbalance the advantages of the powerful and dismantle the disadvantages of the powerless. These actions should represent the bulk of the principal’s pedagogical and operational focus; and, if done correctly, should (especially in a Title-1 school) take up most of your working time and attention. Multitasking skills notwithstanding, as a Title-1 principal, I actually needed more than 24 hours in a day (like 34!) to save more kids. And for the record, personally, I am sensitive to whatever struggles the people of Wales might be facing, as well as the plight of the ocean whales; but there was only one of me in the building, and so much that needed to be done; therefore, I had no extra time to solve the problems of the near east, middle east or far east.

The ‘world’ was in a difficult place when you assumed your principalship. It will probably (without Devine intervention) be in a difficult place when you leave your position. The problems of our nation and the planet are too big and too numerous for any single or group of principals to solve. However, what you can definitely do for children (and win at doing it), is to change, in their favor, the national and world access to intellectual growth opportunities options for each of your students.
Let the specialized professional political activist solve the world’s problems. Your professional political activism should be focused on changing the negative trajectory world your students have been societally selected to suffer. The most revolutionary thing you can do for a disinherited and disentitled school child is to give them, through academic achievement empowerment, a vastly improved possibility for future life survival and success.
Granted, this is not social media or hashtag ‘sexy’ (on the contrary, it will probably result in you receiving some painful political wounds). Still, it’s what your students desperately need from you. These are the children for whom public education is their only good-and-real-shot at realizing family status improvement, acquiring a bright and promising future, or those who need to break what could be debilitating generational chains of disappointment, despair, and destitution.

In the soul-lifting words of Al Green: “Let’s Stay Together” — and focused on the school’s mission!

Principals are the leaders of the adults (not just the children) in the school building. These adults represent many different political views, ethnicities, religions (or no religion), personal philosophies, cultural and family experiences. An effective principal will keep their staff focused, not on the external political-world issues that might divide them, but rather on the internal challenges that will unite them in wanting to provide the maximum level of quality education to all of the students in the building. Be the student-success bound school-ship’s guiding rudder, not its sails that react to every political wind blowing in the world. One of my all-time favorite principal responses to the never-ending parade of planetary issues: “Let’s stay focused on our students folks!”

Michael A. Johnson is a former NYC teacher, principal, and school district superintendent. He is the author of a book on school leadership: Report to the Principal’s Office: Tools for Building Successful High School Administrative Leadership. He is currently completing (Fall 2021) his second book on school administration and leadership: Report From The Principal’s Office.

Both Trump and the Taliban understand the power of education.

If what they say is true, that the truth will set you free; then the untruth, the nontruth, must set you up to be enslaved!

The recent bombings of schools in Afghanistan (mainly targeting those schools that educate girls) seek to mark a fireworks-like celebration of the exit of US military forces from that war-worn nation.
But they are also the explosive celebratory expressions of the Taliban preparing to end all types of secular study and learning for girls. This carnival of carnage is the Taliban’s joyful anticipation of soon being able to control most, if not all of Afghanistan; which would allow them to intensify and finalize, on a national scale, the targeting of girls being removed from the intellectual growth and skills acquisitions activities connected to school-based educational learning opportunities.

There is a rich collection of analytical and anecdotal data that connects a society’s ability to progress to the quality and quantity (of that quality) of education the women of that society receive. Shared child-rearing ‘leave policies’ not-with-standing (which is essentially a ‘rich’ nation conversation), there is the reality that in our present world, women in the role of mothers will represent the overwhelming number of primary-care takers and primary before-formal-schooling first teachers of children.
And as professional educators, we know how meaningful and powerfully significant those pre-formal schooling informal learning experiences are in functioning as the learning-ready preparations for later academic success once the child enters the formal school setting. This reality would appear to make the women and education discussion an evident and straightforward proposition: Raise the level and quality of education for women in a nation, and you automatically raise the quality level of education for the entire nation!
The additional bonus of having a highly educated female population is that a nation does not enter their internal development problem-solving challenges, and their external international trade and commerce partnerships and competitions, with more than half of their ‘intellectual team’ untrained and unprepared to face the many technological, communications, medical, agricultural, etc., cooperative and competitive challenges all nations face as members of the very interconnected and integrated world economic community.
In a real sense, for a non-western nation (e.g., Afghanistan) to adopt a policy of denying full public educational access to their girls is the equivalent of that country declaring a national ‘developmental death sentence’ on itself.
And when you combine this national ‘developmental-suicide’ act with the many other nation-building disadvantages developing nations face (e.g., lack of access to ‘growth capital;’ industrial and educational technological insufficiencies and incapableness; commercial and civilian transportation deficiencies; healthcare and pharmaceuticals access and production inadequacies; etc.), we end up with a seemingly permanent underdeveloped coalition-of-the-weak nations serving as the major raw-materials providers and the major consumer markets for the further improvement and enrichment of developmentally stronger (aka “western”) nations. This out-of-balanced scenario keeps those struggling-to-develop countries in an exploited-client relationship with those nations who are further along the economic development path.
Say what you will about China, but the PRC leaders have read this ‘developing’ world and ‘developed’ world negative equation of economic exploitation correctly, which is why they are not holding back when it comes to rapidly growing and improving (ex., expanding higher quality education to historically underserved rural areas), the capacity and quality of their national public education programs.
Now I am sure that the Taliban leadership, many of whom have ironically acquired “formal” (what they and their Nigerian Boko Haram colleagues would call “western”) secular education; are aware of this need to: Raise the level and quality of education for women and thus raise the quality level of education for the entire nation and its relationship to national development. But the Taliban leadership has made a conscious and cynical decision to sacrifice national development and societal-wide wellbeing by preventing its citizenry (especially girls) from benefiting from the personal and community benefits that could accrue by providing more, not less public education to girls. The Taliban has made this development destroying decision because of their fear of the other great gift of education. That is the possibility that the educated person would equip themselves with the tools to think!
“Thinking” can be a problem if your national political aspiration is creating a non-thinking population and state. A place where any inspired idea or thought, no matter how beneficial to the larger nation, if not sanctioned by the religious leadership, is forbidden. The Taliban know that the positive end-results of a public education system could lead many Afghanis (pronounced: af-ghan-eez) to acquire skills in the operational arts of inquiry, logic, investigation, hypothesis forming, and thought-experimentation ways-of-thinking, all necessary talents for individual and human societal development. But these thinking attributes and enhancers are also very dangerous in a society that requires unquestioning (no grey areas) obedience to absolute authority.
The Taliban have purposely engaged in a condescending approach to a type of leadership that will always know what is in the ‘best interest’ of the citizenry, including the prohibition against even thinking about thinking about one’s role as a citizen (“why to bother thinking, we will think for you!”).

Education is the enemy of tyranny, the opposite of any hindrance to, and denial of, the emergence and evolution of a fully free, thoughtful, and highly reflective human being. The Taliban know that educated women could ‘poison’ the minds of their children by exposing (reading to them) those virtues building stories found in many children’s books; also bad for ‘religious-despotism-business’ is the possibility that Afghanis mothers would teach their children to practice the skills of creative imagination, invention, innovation, and moral reflections. And lastly (and fatal to any country instituting planned underdevelopment policies through religious totalitarianism); these mothers could insist that their children (including girls) attend school as a way of making them better prepared to enter into a positive future that is focused on self-realization, human emotional growth, and the desire to engage in the ideals of meaningful work, freedom, and democracy. All of these ‘mother wit’ and mothers wishing the best for their children pearls-of-wisdom are the values that promote the best path forward for human and personal progress (hey, on the real, where would many of us be without the interventional educational pushing-power of our mothers!) But what the Taliban want to do is push their society backward in human evolutionary progress time, keep an entire country barefoot and barren of any collective positive, progressive ideas, and prevent the emergence of any unsanctioned individual independent life-affirming aspirational thoughts and dreams.

All societies (regardless of economic capacity or dominant religious affiliation) could be tempted to apply a form of Taliban-lite promoting of ‘ignorance’ as a strategic approach when organizing social and political movements (see the current rise of ‘old-school’ and nouveau fascist movements in European nations—have they forgotten how 1930’s-40’s fascism inflicted devastating damage and great loss-of-life on their countries?).
The counterforce power of public education and learning is that it interferes with the ‘organic’ yearnings on the part of some desperate and uninformed people who want to go back to a prior historical period when women (Blacks, Latinos, Asians and, LGBTQ people, etc. knew and remained in their subjugated, exploited, and ‘legally’ harmed places).

“Ignorance” (as a political organizing tool) can cause ordinarily ‘normal’ citizens (see 1930’s Nazi Germany) to be available and open for manipulation through disinformation and misinformation techniques employed in the worse possible ways (e.g., racial stereotypes), by the most evil-intentioned people, who have either seized by-way-of violence or acquired by other means (e.g., voted in because of that same ignorance factor), state political power.

The anxious-to-be-mislead masses are told that: “All of one’s life problems (no love, no job, no respect, no hope, no hair, no teeth…) exist because of the presence of the hated ‘other’ (than us)!” —And, “If we as a nation could simply Brexit (or, in the case of the US, barricade our southern border!) from these previously colonized and exploited undesirables, then everything in our wretched personal lives will immediately become better!” And of course, such a political promise is a profoundly big lie, for even a brief review (i.e., a high school world history class) of the human past would reveal that powerful exploitation-colonization empires (e.g., Rome) once fallen never rise again to the heights of their previous dominating power.
Political (power) change is always arriving, either dramatically fast by guillotine or by way of dynamically slow but consistent facts-on-the-ground!

Even in our own nation, we are watching these phenomena in real-time, as the ignorance-based “stolen election” mythology has been transformed into a sacred working ideology of democracy damaging violent raids on our nation’s capital and the imposition of racist voter suppression laws being enacted against selective US citizens in states (channeling the old post-confederacy segregation acts) across our country.
White Americans are being sold (for hegemonic political objectives) false bigotry survival lies that our nation can return to a pre-civil rights apartheid social-cultural-political period (the actual “cultures war”) in US history when racism could act in full legal attitudinal, authoritative, and actionable ways. A time when lynching was not limited to local police departments kneeling on the necks of Black men; but instead, they were moments in our national history when Black Lives Mattered so little that Black lynching events became white community/family fun picnic outings.

In this world, the lack of knowledge is not without consequences; education and learning have the ‘natural’ inclination and purpose (even when the study is historiography) to act as a forward-looking exercise. The selling to intellectually challenged white Americans of the hopeless idea that America will (or even could) return to a place and time where Black Americans will quietly sit in their ‘assigned’ seats at the back of the bus is a tragic (for all) false lesson that is emotionally wasteful and prevents the US from being at its best and most productive self for serving the best interest of all of its citizens.
Alternatively, the Taliban’s long-term political survival strategy is not to steal an election; instead, it is to end all elections by utilizing the lack of learning and knowing as a way to reduce and ultimately remove any possibility that Afghanis will ever challenge the legitimacy of their leadership in either ballot boxes or the boxed-in brains of a politically illiterate citizenry; even as that leadership behaves in the most undemocratic fashion, and operates in the most anti-human and anti-civil rights (and anti-civility) way.

Those tragically untouched by enlightened and transcendent ideals, the low-information, non-critical-thinking citizens of any nation; are open to being driven by the politically stimulated primitive ‘instincts’ of the limbic sections of their brain systems; which is why they will amazingly choose leaders (e.g., religious and non-religious fascist or political proto-fascist), who will enact policies and practices that are clearly counter to the greater societal interest and wellbeing (ex., the non-stop attempts to hinder access or permanently eliminate Affordable Healthcare —“Obamacare”) of those who voted for those leaders; as long as those policies and practices being espoused by their unethical/immoral leaders speaks to the most base of human animalistic emotions like fear, anger, dominance, and the protection of genetic offspring!
Some of these nations (e.g., England and the US) may not have reached the Taliban level of banning and burning books; but ‘bad leaders’ even in so-called “democratic countries” can be very efficient in extinguishing any burning desire on the part of their followers to want to use any books or thinking exercises that might inspire, in a thought-provoking way, a different and more nuanced way of looking at the world.

Exiting my elementary school in 1963, and having been efficaciously taught to read far above grade level, I could daily engage the vocabulary of the NY Times in the current events section of my middle school ‘social studies’ class, where I also read Rousseau’s The Social Contract and unlike so many of our current fellow under-informed US citizens, learned the difference between communism, socialism and democratic socialism (ideas that were later expanded on in my high school US and world history classes); learning French language and about French-speaking national cultures; studying earth science (now known as environmental science); transitioning from my elementary school mastery of the applications of arithmetic to the more complex algorithms of algebra; class trips to museums and other NYC cultural institutions; all of these events, activities, and readings, led me to know (and to want to know more) about that vast and substantially more diversely complicated world that existed outside and beyond the reality of my Brooklyn neighborhood. Reading and discussing books in high school English class like: “Johnny Got His Gun” and “All Quiet on the Western Front”—caused me to think deeply about the purpose, meaning, and consequences of waging war on other human beings. And exploring other literary works like: “The Diary of Anne Frank” and “Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave” —compelled me to reflect on how as a human family, we (and specifically I) should treat the fellow members of our human family. In so many powerful ways, I was theoretically transformed, intellectually inspired, emotionally elevated, and curiosity energized by my K-12 public educational experience, and that’s what a good public school experience will do, can do, and must do, for a society to grow and prosper.

Full disclosure here—As much as I would like to believe it, unfortunately, education is not a cure-all; there is, after all, the ever-present human factor (remember those pesky limbic systems ‘lower’ instinctual behaviors).
For sure, millions of Americans who believe in and (still) follow Donald Trump attended somebody’s K-12 school system or even obtained a college diploma. So education alone cannot always reach and fix some of those deep areas of the human heart that are severely damaged by the presence of bigotry, prejudice, and the fear of losing racial entitlements and privileges. But a No Education policy as proposed by the Taliban is much worse than even having an inadequate K-16 education. At least with the under or poorly K-16 educated individual, there is still a possible redeemable hope that some idea from a novel, poem, science lesson, art or music study, school club or team experience, a kind act by a teacher or administrator, some uplifting biographical or historical story learned, that could when catalyzed by a current event or personal incident, awaken the ‘inherent righteous goodness’ in their beings.
But the total absence of education means a high risk of the vilest expressions of the human personality being enabled, empowered, and encouraged to act in a highly mean-spirited, ugly, and toxic ostracizing way towards those who we have been convinced, are not-us. Ultimately, this demonization of the ‘other’ bad-thinking process could lead to the application of extreme methods of violence (e.g., Genocide against the Tutsi in Rwandan, 1994). And this is why what is happening educationally (and sadly, what will probably happen) to the children of Afghanistan is not just an Afghanis educational human rights problem; it’s a global educational human rights problem. We can’t afford to ignore any attack, anywhere in the world (including inside the US), of any acts of denying, diminishing, or destroying public schooling and learning. Alas, in this world (recalling another one of my high school readings), there is no chance of obtaining “A Separate Peace” away from the consequences of the human-caused societal moral chaos created by ignorance!

Michael A. Johnson is a former NYC teacher, principal, and school district superintendent. A science educator who served as an expert reviewer for the National Science Foundation; and was part of the team that designed the first NAEP national science exam questions. He led the design, development, and building of two Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics—Career Technical Education (STEM—CTE) high schools: Science Skills Center High School, NYC and Phelps Architecture, Construction, and Engineering High School, Washington DC. He also served as an adjunct professor of Science Education in the School of Education at St. John’s University. He is the author of a book on school leadership: Report to the Principal’s Office: Tools for Building Successful High School Administrative Leadership. He is currently completing his second book on school administration and leadership: Report From The Principal’s Office.