Individualizing Instruction – Simple (not easy)

111Alaska Perfect Mood Food 2I was just teaching a unit on working with discouraged learners and discussing tailoring teaching…whereas I heard: “I don’t have time to do that many lesson plans!” Ummm, who said you had to have 28 lesson plans for 28 students? But that is a common ‘reason’ to avoid doing it. Could it be an excuse? Or maybe simply people do not KNOW HOW…and as we are in education, it is okay not to know something – even if you are a teacher. But the best learner in the room should be the teacher or they are not a true educator. So, let’s at least remove ignorance of what can be done…

I have been an ardent fan of “tailoring instruction” since 1969 when I was suddenly by right of being a graduate student at FSU involved in the Elementary Teacher Preparation Project where we trained every single student in teacher ed. to individualize and then in the school where we were filming these “kids” doing their clinicals (with smaller kids ;-) the teachers on staff got so excited they asked us to train them! So we had an add-on grant and trained every K-3 teacher at Walter T. Moore School to be able to individualize. We explained to them a good teacher accommodates learners recognizing that each is different, i.e., AFFIRMING diversity. One way a school has done individualized instruction is not the same as another…so let’s talk about that.

I reckon there are – as my nine-year old buddy, Ira, used to say – “lebbenty-lebben ways”* to individualize instruction. You can do IPI – Individually Prescribed Instruction – where you look at what is “wrong” or “deficient” in a kid and then “build bridges” of curriculum to where he or she is supposed to be (according to some charts somewhere, or common core standards, or the state standards, or scope & sequence of the content provided by curriculum publishers). Delivery systems are boring workbooks (like Wisconsin’s famous DPI Bluebooks – Yawn!); or, buying content provider’s work kits, like the SRA Reading Kits, or make up your own. I prefer an online delivery system for at least some of it because there is so much content on the Internet now…but you have to screen kids as not many kids have the self-discipline until they are 30 or so.

Those are “deficiency-based” models…or “pothole pedagogy”…filling in what is missing or what the kid is “behind on” and not very motivating or positive in nature. And boring, to boot!

Then there is my preference, the strengths-based model, like the January Education Model** that is also learner-centered but where we begin with building curriculum around students’ natural interests, talents and abilities…THEY help by proposing projects at some age….later they can file a “green sheet” which is a template for a self-designed project…it can be with other students also, such as I used to do with gifted kids…they had to have an individual project and a group project everyone in the room worked on.

Learning or Interest Centers work well, too, where you have “Stations” set up for, say, Science, Math, Reading, History, Art, etc. and kids can choose from a list or learning activities and do their own record keeping.

There are a lot of options that allows teachers who MUST teach CERTAIN content do it in their way. No one says it MUST be Sit’nGit or SageontheStage, i.e. lecture. One can work in small areas in any course where students get a choice to tailor the course to THEIR ideal way of learning. Look below in the PS at one of my graduate students said.

Think on it.

Let me know if you can add anything to this list of possibilities for individualizing instruction.

Dr. DJ

PS – A teacher a year or so ago listed how she individualized instruction. Pretty creative: [This will all be a quote from that teacher, but note she says “a FEW I have used”]:

Individualization can be accomplished in an almost infinite number of ways. A few I have used are listed below:

    1. Using a pretest to determine prior knowledge
    2. Allowing proficient students to design their own exploration.
    3. Modifying delivery of content based on student needs, learning styles, etc.
    4. Providing choice in student demonstration of mastery. (test, project, verbal answers, etc.)
    5. Changing the environment to promote success (standing desks, preferential seating, lighting, etc.)
    6. Providing choices in daily academic tasks (ex. leveled assignments, number of problems)
    7. Modifying tasks (length, size, format, font, etc.)
    8. Creating learning contracts.
    9. Changing location to promote success. (ex. quieter room)
    10. Use of supplemental tools (ex. iPad, calculator, times table)
    11. Collaboration (small group, pairs, peer tutor, etc.)


*CRABAPPLE – A True Story of Hope & Miracles – The magical ninth year in boys by Anthony Dallmann-Jones – soon to be an eBook!

**FIXING PUBLIC EDUCATION by Anthony Dallmann-Jones and Nine Extraordinary Educators

High Stakes Testing Lunacy (again)

So the State Department of Education in Mississippi suspected that 17 schools (elementary schools) were cheating on the statewide high-stakes testing program. So they asked them if they did. And they said, “No…everything’s fine over here, Chief!” Case closed.

Read this, then you will see why we had to respond:



Dear DA (and Mississippi SDE):

First of all there IS a surefire way to uncover cheating (and it is not asking the cheaters). More on this below the line.

There are several other stupid things about high-stakes testing:

1) They are NOT used to improve individual children’s learning. They are just for political reasons and schools do not need to be involved in politics–they have enough to do with their rightful charge to educate children.

2) Anyone notice that 50% of the kids are always below the percentile known as the 50th percentile? You cannot have sports games without losers. You cannot have a top half without a bottom half, i.e. this sort of assessment has built in a bottom half. How does this help kids? How does it help teachers perform better at teaching? No matter how hard you work with kids to improve, a testing paradigm of this sort makes sure half “fail”! Seems fairly un-bright.

3) The TIME it takes away from real learning is also a tragedy. Kids spend less than an hour a day truly ‘attending’ to learning: meaning alert, absorptive, and retaining knowledge. To fritter it away on tests like these is almost a crime against taxpayers and their children. Some schools are spending more than seven full days prepping for these tests…by cramming with older versions of the same test. Learning psychologists have a lot to say about the ineffectiveness of cramming as a learning strategy. But no one is listening to the researchers on this anyway.

4) Once again we have unconsciously (I hope it is unconscious or we are really, really out in left field on this) accepted the fallacy that a single test score measures learning. This kind of testing is a Huge Red Herring away from what we should be doing in schools: Keeping learning centered around EACH child’s needs, talents, aptitudes, and interests.

Do you REALLY want to know if there is cheating on these tests? Here is an ironclad way to find out: It is called a ‘Surprise Retest’. If the state is TRULY concerned, unannounced, return to the schools and administer the same tests to those same kids. You will know quickly if there was cheating.

But do you really want to know, Mississippi? From what I am told privately by teachers all over the country cheating is absolutely rampant in schools on these tests. Be realistic – what do you expect? You are putting peoples’ jobs and reputations on the line based on a single test score. Like we are creating 50% below average, we are creating cheaters, then acting righteous when they show up.

And the death knell: Unless you can uncover and eliminate every invalid test score all the rest of the test results are useless.

Willie Shakespeare, if he was around, might write a new hilarious version of his play based on our high-stakes testing frenzy: “Much Ado About Nothing.“

Please read “FIXING PUBLIC EDUCATION” when it comes out next month.

Anthony Dallmann-Jones PhD
Differentiated Instruction for All Learners Program
Marian University – Fond du Lac WI

WAKE UP! Only the testing and scoring companies are gaining from the high-stakes testing game.

Angels & Warriors

Educators Who Succeed with Shadow Children

Anthony Dallmann-Jones

Someday educators (and hopefully, communities) will look back in shame at how our schools turned its back on today’s at-risk children. A school that should offer well-prepared at-risk teachers often places freshmen faculty or burnouts into these teaching positions. Kids should be able to count on having highly trained and skilled educators with the resources necessary to provide the compensatory programs they need. The system should have the ability to launch prevention and intervention programs that at-risk youth desperately need — and need a great deal more than other children. As Jerry Conrath (teacher and author of Early Prevention) says: “None of these children asked to be placed at-risk.”

If our school system insists on re-victimizing our youth by officially neglecting them, what message does this send to our children? Today’s youth need champions more than ever, and educators are in the perfect position to fill that role — but they need the resources and professional development to do so. Most teachers, myself included, were trained to teach math, or science, or history; we were not trained to teach children — and we were certainly unprepared to teach at-risk children.

Children are the best investment one can make with their tax dollars. In Chapter 2 of my book, Shadow Children — Understanding Education’s #1 Issue, we saw the costs for not addressing this problem in U.S. schools, which is the school system I am most familiar with. It comes to over $94,000,000,000 annually.

That figure does nothing but get larger each year. Indeed, in many ways, our children are undoubtedly the best investment possible. From the affectionate vantage point of our precious children to the businesslike multi-billions of dollars annual price tag, or both, it is in our best interests to provide them with the best teachers possible.

The Aspen Institute’s Commission on No Child Left Behind (2009) determined that teacher effectiveness is the key ingredient in student success. They also revealed the discovery that proper course work or degrees/certification did not necessarily make for the most effective teachers. What accurately measures effectiveness is student progress — the more students who progress under a teacher’s supervision, the more effective the teacher.

Content is not king, competence is. There is currently a large question in front of public education: What IS success? What type(s) of student progress IS essential for a teacher to be known as a “good” teacher? If we cannot answer these questions we are left with standardized test scores as the only consistent measure of a teacher. And, if that is what we focus on, that creates another set of problems for education, namely if we know all children are different and we believe in diversity as a source of enrichment but only measure by standardized achievement test scores, just in general we have set ourselves up. It is impossible to standardize students!

Common sense tells us that what we focus on expands. If you want to feel tired, just keep telling yourself and all around you just how tired you really are. If you want to enlarge the negative aspects of anyone or anything, just begin and keep adding to a list of all the deficits and shortcomings you can. More will keep coming to mind. If you wish to feel truly impoverished keep talking and thinking about how broke you are and how unfortunate you are and how crappy your life is and how little you have. (Pretty soon even the national debt will look good to you.)

If we focus on standardized testing as THE measure of a “good education” it will be all we see as important and it will grow huge in our eyes, limiting our vision of all other aspects of what schools and learning can be for students. The memorable things of school are rarely the results of a standardized test. Yet there are schools right now spending two to four weeks of the school year prepping for the achievement tests and that amount of time is expanding. Yet no one agrees on what a “good education” is. What is important for a student to know? What — learned now — will serve a student’s future well? Who is the “best” teacher? Without answers to these questions, why are we spending so much time trying to standardize our students? With this focus, diversity will become our enemy. Tension and competition among teachers, administrators and schools (AND states) will mount to a fever pitch. Collaboration, creativity, team-teaching, and flexibility will become concepts to be avoided.

Focusing on teaching

Research of the National At-Risk Education Network shows that what makes for effectiveness in at-risk education comes in two categories that we liberally and deliberately dramatically label Angel Educators and/or Warrior Educators. Both categories of educators have several things in common. They prize learning and student progress. They see education as having the power to change life for the better and they see themselves as having high self-efficacy as instruments of betterment for kids. These and a few other commonalities are internal attributes, and usually invisible.

What is amazing is how the external attributes of these educators can appear to mirror the opposite of who they really are. It is the visible means by which these educators relate to at-risk learners, in particular, that is noticeably dramatic. Most highly successful at-risk educators are either Angel Educators or Warrior Educators. These labels have nothing to do with religion or with violence. Rather, they help to understand, underline, define, and explain.

The quotes below are from surveys of over 90 at-risk students in alternative programs, and 110-plus current teachers who were formerly at-risk students.

Angel Educators

Angel educators are teachers who, despite being quiet, low key, and studious, are remarkably successful with at-risk students.

  1. Compassionate. This is number one for a reason. Angel teachers may be no more compassionate than Warrior teachers, but they show it clearly. It is quite obvious they care about children. They seem to look past symptomatic behaviors of defiance, gruffness, resistance, and reluctance sometimes shown by at-risk kids, and, as one student said, can “peer into my soul with eyes of concern.”

  2. Present. Being present is obvious to children. “She wanted to be with us!” People who do not want to work with an at-risk kid are either bitter because they are required to be working with this child, or they are distant and focused on something other than the child in the moment, meaning they would rather be someplace else.

  3. A Light Being. This is difficult to define, but one participant said it best: “It seemed like her feet never touched the floor. I used to watch to make sure because rumor had it that she was an angel and might be able to fly.” Light beings seem to be quiet, soft, and almost spooky in their silence, suddenly showing up at your elbow when you need help. “Ms.        scared the hell out of me, as she seemed to materialize just behind my shoulder when I was having trouble!”

  4. Gentle. “She never raised her voice the whole year!” Angel educators are not always teachers. A Principal may be the most powerful educator in the whole building. “Mr. C        always called us by name, and never yelled at us.” “Our principal was a great guy. He never yelled at us, would smile softly at us and knew all our names. I never figured out how he knew everyone’s name. I realized years later that maybe he only knew my name!” Most seasoned educators know that you do not force anything onto people. You nudge them gently in a direction until it is their idea. Shouting, or being angry, causes fear and resistance. Most at-risk kids have already experienced enough force to last a lifetime.

  5. Focused on Positivism. “She never criticized us!” “”Mr. H        only marked the correct answers on our tests, not the wrong ones. He always said, ‘Let’s build on our strengths, people!’ “Great teachers know that everyone loves to talk about their good points, and withdraw or get defensive when you focus on their negative points. It has never dawned on some teachers that what you focus on expands. Once a teacher understands this fact, things go better for them because they see the room begin to fill up with a pleasant, positive, and progressive atmosphere.

Warrior Educators

Warrior Educators may appear loud and gruff, but they have hearts of gold. Warrior educators exhibit their life on their sleeves. They often have troubled backgrounds and have learned from the school of hard knocks. Now they want to help at-risk kids get the break perhaps they never had. They want to be the teacher they never had, but so desperately needed. Perhaps they are teaching — although they act more like a professional wrestler — because they were inspired by a teacher or person who changed their life. But beneath the bark is a caring, loving person dedicated to at-risk youth.

  1. Tough. Battle-scarred, perhaps, or maybe protecting themselves from being too vulnerable, the Warrior Educator’s gruffness is apparent, but not meant to harm anyone. They are often surprised when told they appear aggressive or loud, but they will not deny that they are intense. “Mrs. N        acted like there was no tomorrow and tenaciously moved us along like a freight train on an emergency mission!”

  2. Street Savvy. When in a dark and dangerous place, this is the person you would want with you: smart, capable of handling the unknown, and fearless. “My best teachers at the Tech school had all been scarred by life!” “And some had done a little scarring themselves,” added one of my students. “My history teacher was a Viet Nam vet and said he never felt more alive when there, but he wouldn’t talk about things he had done there. “Let sleeping dogs lie” was one of his expressions. But he taught like we were lucky to have this chance to learn. ‘The things people take for granted in the United States does not apply everywhere. It is a privilege to have people care enough about you to teach you — and you WILL learn!’, he would smile — but he meant it!”

  3. Goal Focused. Whereas Angel Educators may appear more needs-based — meaning they deal with each child in a nurse-like manner — Warrior Educators appear more focused on outcomes. “He would start off by saying, ‘Today we WILL accomplish the following things!’ then he would proceed to do exactly that, repeating it at the end of the class with, ‘Look what you did!’ That was powerful to me. Every day I could see what I had gained. Other classes seemed to slip by with me being unchanged, but Mr. W        made it look like we had just gone up a step on the universal stairwell, and would never be the same.”

  4. Overcomes Obstacles. Warrior Educators are at war. They may even use warlike words, such as “conquering,” “winning the battle,” or “victory.” Angel Educators seem to look on the bright side whereas Warrior Educators see the world as a challenge, or a race against an imaginary clock with dire consequences if one loses. They believe in the power of effort and make it clear that, not unlike a mountain climber, if you try hard enough you can make it. “Mrs. C        never gave up on us, and said we could “win the race of life’ if we just wanted it bad enough and were determined enough.”


Does this mean that only clearly defined Angels or Warriors can be successful with at-risk children? Of course not! Many educators are a combination of the two. What I have attempted to do here is make it clear what works, and show that great teachers can be quite different in their effectiveness and approaches to learning and students. On the other hand, a very successful educator once said to me, “The ‘secret’ to a great program is not what you teach but WHO teaches it.” When I asked him to clarify he said, “Real learning is about relationships — with either the content alone or with a teacher who inspires you to be all you can be. A good teacher makes learning enjoyable or meaningful, but a Great Teacher makes learning seem essential as well.”

Mentioned in this chapter are some factors common to successful at-risk educators. Every effective teacher usually also possesses a sense of humor and great enthusiasm for the academic content or learning processes. Humor and enthusiasm appear as significant labels applied to most educators who are seen as exceptional by their former students. Educators of at-risk children are this and more: They are Angels and Warriors who do not know the word quit. They fight failure as if it were a dragon, as it may well be. Above all else, they care deeply about their children’s futures and are not afraid to show it.

You are fortunate if you have had one of these educators in your life. There is no reason we could not attract and train more of them, but the field of education is timid it seems — unwilling to get into the character education of teachers, though it would impact the character education of students directly. We just need to think a bit and then be willing to announce these findings, and in our teacher training aim directly at the target of creating Angel and Warrior Educators with deliberate and determined enthusiasm. It can be done. I have seen it happen.

The Educational War We Are In: The Angel-Warrior At-Risk Educator Code

We literally are in a war to save many of our children. Our enemies are many. Our first goal is to gain clarity about our goals. This clarity includes knowing our enemies, the first of which is ignorance.

How Do We Arm Ourselves?

  1. We must develop an unbridled, unstoppable, impassioned, intelligent, and persistent effort to lower the dropout figures in any way we can, child by child.

  2. We must develop an internal locus of control for ourselves and seek out other colleagues and interested citizens who are determined to proactively make a difference.

  3. We must learn about Shadow Children, their academic, psychological and social issues, and their individual learning needs and styles.

  4. We must become serious about the education of children as a preventative matter, not only on a minute-by-minute basis, but comprehensively pre-K‑12 and beyond.

  5. We must be the champions to children that they need in order to develop healthfully. We need to get close to them rather than turn away; talk to them about important things in their lives rather than ignore them; and let them know we care rather than act like we wish they would disappear.

  6. In other words, we need to embrace these children and clearly send the message that we want them, need them, and, above all, love them.

Shadow Children — Understanding Education’s #1 Issue was written to help arm educational stakeholders with the knowledge necessary to provide the avenues of liberation so desperately needed by our youth.

We at-risk educators find ourselves in a glorious war. It is directly concerned with the very issues that often make for great fiction — except this war is very real. It is about rescuing the helpless, rooting out decay, and replacing it with marvelous life enhancements. It often comes down to good triumphing over some form of evil. It is about saving lives. What could be more exciting or worthwhile than that? How many professionals get the chance to dedicate themselves to such a worthy cause?

Unfortunately, it is often a thankless job, with long unbroken stretches of solitary work. As service workers, we must often sustain ourselves but we must also make the effort and time to network with our colleagues, not only to share information that might expedite our work, but also to inspire one another with our hope, strength, and experience.

Above all, we must be courageous, intelligent, and persistent Angel-Warrior Educators.


Anthony Dallmann-Jones, PhD: The conceptualizer of The January Model and editor Fixing Public Education. He is author of Shadow Children, Handbook of Effective Teaching & Assessment Strategies, and Primary Domino Thinking, and is co-founder with Angela Engel of Uniting4Kids.com.

Anthony has taught every level of public education and worked most levels of administration. He is currently a professor of alternative education at Marian University in Wisconsin and writes an active blog on the JanuaryEducationModel.com website.

The Urban Aspect of the January Model

Marcus Gentry, Dr. Respect

The subject of respect, especially in urban communities is very often a topic of discussion, a matter of contention and one of the most volatile issues that arises in homes, schools and on the streets. One of the greatest misunderstandings held by many is the belief that to respect someone means to obey them. After completing some very basic research, we discover that obeying is not actually what respect means at all. According to Webster’s Dictionary, third definition, “respect” means: to esteem for a sense of the worth or excellence of a person… To esteem or hold in high regard.
One other major element missing, especially in urban communities, is the enlightenment of our youth from three separate sources concerning their education and overall wellness. This means, the philosophy or message we want our youth to embrace has to also be delivered from the place where their basic survival needs are being supplied. We would like to think that is their home and family but history teaches us that may not necessarily be the case. So our instructions must be individualized. Alignment and consistency of messages must include the parent/guardian, educators and ultimately the community. These three sources must align for the highest good and enrichment of our children. Obviously history demonstrates time and again that because of our resilient nature, we can learn to survive and thrive in less than ideal environments. This chapter describes what we can do to create an environment more conducive for growth.
More often than not, minorities live in urban, and many times, impoverished areas. These groups will often erroneously look to the majority culture to give them the respect they deserve and provide them what they need for their growth, development and wellness. Many who look to others for respect are also seeking acceptance.

Those in urban communities in particular base their worth not on self-acceptance but on whether they are accepted by the majority culture. This causes them to constantly adjust the appearance of who they are in order to blend in through acculturation, which pushes them further away from their true identity, often resulting in developing underlying disdain for their true self and anyone who resembles them. This adds to their common subconscious feelings of not being good enough, and therefore not deserving of self-respect. The only exception to this condition is those who have learned to develop self-respect through deep appreciation for their own and others’ unique individuality.

The ten dominant principles in the Philosophy of Respect
The ten dominant principles emphasize the importance of developing self-respect, personal responsibility and self-discipline first, before respect can be given to others.

Principle One – Respect

Principle One includes respect for self, respect for others and respect for the environment. Respect in these three areas in particular is essential to the healthy development of an individual, family, community and a nation.

Principle Two – Discipline

We must execute self-discipline, by training ourselves to accomplish our goals. This principle parallels with the second principle of Kwanzaa’s Nguzo Saba, kujichagulia or self-determination (Karenga, 2014).

Principle Three – Responsibility

Individuals should learn at an early age that each person is responsible for his or her own well-being and happiness, personal growth and lastly, personal safety. Let’s begin with our well-being and happiness. When a person depends on someone else or someone else’s decisions for their happiness, they become enslaved to that person’s whims or fancies and will lose track of their own abilities to be creative in finding the passions of their heart. A very effective method of finding one’s own happiness is to simply explore possibilities, experiment with those possibilities and then, evaluate their impact in one’s life. This process can be repeated for an entire lifetime.

Principle Four – Remembrance

We must first remember who we were, what foundation we now stand on and the force that is presently within us. Let’s begin by getting to know who we were. If you were asked the question, “Who were you before you were given your name,” what would your answer be? I propose through reflection and observation, in the beginning you were a unique marvel of creation—the essence of Respect. You were present and operated in the here and now. You were curious and courageous. You were filled with undeveloped and unleashed potential. You were resilient and relentless in going after what was important to you, and you were teachable. All of those qualities that you possessed in the beginning are still in your pure authentic core. Once people remember or regain their identities, they will be able to more successfully manage their transitions through life. This is particularly missing or distorted in our urban communities, therefore there is no fertile ground for our youth to prosper and flourish with clarity concerning their identity.

Principle Five – Elevation

According to the writings of Socrates, “The unexamined life is not worth living” (Plato, 38 ad). That quote has been used and expanded upon for centuries. I refer to that quote in this principle because time needs to be allotted in an individual’s life to elevate their understanding of themselves, examine the beliefs that produce their thoughts and finally, their behaviors concerning family, relationships, finances, health and other areas of importance in their life. People will often say things such as, “I don’t know why I did or said that,” “That wasn’t me” or “I can’t help the way I think and operate; that’s just who I am,” as if we are robots. Although we are not robots, we can definitely act in a robotic fashion by repeating the same behaviors over and over again as if we have been pre-programmed. The truth is we have been programmed! However, we have the ability to re-program ourselves for the life we want to live, but as stated in the book, The Answer to How is Yes (Block, 2002), we must first be willing to say yes to three critical questions paraphrased here:

  • Do you have a burning desire to look at and adjust your beliefs if they prove to be barriers to your advancement?

  • Are you willing to make a plan and follow it? (A passionate desire without a proper plan is a roadmap for failure.)

  • Are you willing to put in the necessary work to accomplish your goal?

Principle Six – Strategize

This principle expands on the statement that was made in Principle Five about needing to make a proper plan in all areas of our life in which we expect to attain success: Relationships, Personal Resiliency, and The Unexpected. We will all eventually, and perhaps suddenly, experience.

Principle Seven – Pursuit of Your Passion

Many, particularly in urban areas, are unable to identify what passions to pursue because of their confusion between purpose and passion, along with their prior pre-conditioning. Many are taught that passion is a luxury to be enjoyed only after you get off work, when you retire or possibly while on a vacation, which in most cases, is only one month out of twelve maximum. Let us examine on way of looking at purpose. It appears that your purpose was installed into your DNA from the beginning and will be fulfilled effortlessly, as is true with all forms of life on this planet. In fact, the three-part purpose of all life in existence is exactly the same:

Part 1) Evolve to the highest form it is capable of during its existence/journey through this life, based on its genetic makeup and exposure to its environment.
Part 2)
Expand through reproduction, physically, intellectually and materially through acquisition and accumulation.
Part 3)
Transform, constantly adapting to the environment until expiring from physical existence and through physical expiration thereby feeding life to the next form of life waiting for an opportunity of expression.

Principle Eight – Encouragement

Wherever we are in our journey through life, regardless of age and although we are pursuing our area(s) of passion, we will experience losses, frustrations, setbacks and disappointments, as does everyone else. Although we are responsible for our own happiness and well-being, encouragement is of tremendous value for those seeking success in making it through a difficult period. A common term used by many twelve-step programs is, “One day at a time” but sometimes a day is a very long time. We may need help to make it through the next five minutes.

Principle Nine – Creation

Instead of waiting for the window of opportunity to open or opportunity to knock on your door, the higher level of operation is to create opportunities for success. In order to do this, you must first define in very specific detail what your success looks like. Steven Covey (2003, pp. 40-51) speaks of this in his book, 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. His 2nd habit is: Begin with the end in mind. After determining the end game, break that detailed image into small “bite size” steps beginning from where you are now to where you want to be at the end.

Principle Ten – Teaching

In his book, Book of Secrets (2004, p. 10), Deepak Chopra speaks of there being no generation gap inside our bodies as far as the cells are concerned. The older cells pass on knowledge to the newer cells and the newer cells are receptive to that knowledge, creating constant development in our bodies without having to restart every time a new cell arrives. If we return to who we were first at infancy and reflect on our internal intelligence, we will remain teachable. Think of the brain of an infant or child and their ability to learn multiple things including languages at that tender age. It is amazing. One of the things allowing those capabilities to operate is the realization that other people know more than they do, so they are humble, willing and able to receive the needed information. Once the brain believes it knows all it needs to know on a topic it shuts down, no longer looking for information.

Marcus Gentry, Dr. Respect

Marcus Gentry, Dr. Respect

Ayn Rand (1957) states in Atlas Shrugged that if youidentify the dominant philosophy of a society you can predict its future.This statement holds just as true for each individual comprising that society. As shared in this chapter on the urban aspects of the January Model, I recommend the Philosophy of Respect as a valuable tool for enhancing respect for self, others and the environment. These ten dominant principles woven into the schools’ fabric will provide an education that motivates individuals to feed, clothe, shelter and protect not only themselves, it will also nurture their own healthy personal power and potential. From this healthy families are created and upon the solid foundation of the individual and family the healthy and thriving community is created, developed, and sustained. And a better village raises better everything.

Marcus Gentry, also known as Dr. Respect, is an internationally respected lecturer, freelance writer and Transition Strategist who because of his experience as a professional actor and vocalist creates learning environments that leads his audiences to a conscious awakening through Socratic reasoning.

Since arriving in Chicago in 1976, Marcus Gentry has developed a longstanding reputation for effectively working with challenging youth in the inner city as well as many of the surrounding suburbs. His experience includes, but is not limited to, working in a locked facility for violently aggressive adolescents, several alternative schools where he created groups called SADA (students against drug abuse), program development and implementation for youth in CHA (Chicago Housing Authority) and the HACC (Housing Authority County of Cook). Mr. Gentry continues to operate as a consultant and mentor for youth training and leadership programs nationwide.

Marcus Gentry is the founder of A Mastermind Creation – a service organization that uses creative empowerment strategies while teaching the application of universal principles. Marcus travels extensively, taking his messages of empowerment and respect as a global initiative around the world through keynotes, workshops and interviews.

Dr. Respect’s latest project is the completion of his forthcoming book “The Way of Respect” scheduled for release in the summer of 2014.

To find out more about Marcus “Dr. Respect” Gentry and his messages of awakening and

Transformation: www.marcusgentry.com

Further Comparisons


The fixation on measurement, tracking, sorting, and reporting is understood as a function of management and efficiency. Reformers means are dependent on factors of competition and comparison that have very little to do with learning and nothing to do with children. The best way to distinguish a Reformer from an Innovator is whether the solution is tied to a price tag, product, sales or service. Reformers advocate for online for-profit schools, external school management companies, virtual learning, consultants, data systems, bubble tests, curricula, standards, and product lines that fall somewhere in the alignment equation. They define human success in terms of compliance, rewarding the top and punishing those who do not, or cannot conform with narrower options and barriers to future education and advancement. Corporate executives with the Business Roundtable, lobbyists, and policy leaders such as the National Governor’s Association, and the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) comprise the reform leadership. Education reform, although opponents argue ineffective by all measures, has proven to be a profitable endeavor. Schools have less money, corporations more money and children are left with empty bubbles instead of educational resources and opportunities for advancement.


Innovators view education not as a function of management and efficiency but as a function of culture and experience. Innovators share the philosophy that the public education system should emphasize not “what to think,” but instead nurture the innate human quality of “how we think.” Innovators respect human individuality and the differences in the way we learn, the varied talents with which we are endowed, and the unique ways in which individuals experience and express life and learning. They define human success in terms of curiosity, creativity, initiative, and social contribution. They direct their attention to building trusting relationships, enriching experiences, shrinking inequalities, growing opportunity, personalizing practices, improving conditions, expanding resources, nurturing inspiration, prevention and intervention, and supporting people — factors often beyond the measurable, yet essential to learning and children.

Understanding the Differences

The back to school night activity conducted at The Washington Park Early Learning Center in Denver, Colorado best illustrates the difference between Reform and Innovation. Teacher, Christina DeVarona, broke parents into two groups for a pumpkin-creating activity. Group one was given prescribed instructions with common outcomes. The outline of the pumpkin was drawn and the shapes already cut. Group two was directed to a table with a variety of materials – construction paper, beads, paints, feathers, glitter, ribbons, etc.

As the two groups worked, DeVarona took notes recording their conversations. Group one was disengaged and had to be continuously re-directed. Group two worked enthusiastically, collaborating, discussing earlier experiences and sharing ideas. At the end of the exercise, the pumpkins were lined up on the front wall. As she pointed to the elaborate and original pumpkins from group two, she emphasized how unique we are as individuals and how human capacity is unlimited.  She looked at Group one’s pumpkins and pointed out the obvious – they had duplicated her pumpkin.

The factory analogy describes the reform pedagogy – identical materials (inputs) are uniformly processed through a quality-controlled system and result in identical outcomes or outputs. The aluminum can is one example – metals are combined, the can is shaped, labels are painted, cans are washed and the product is packaged for filling and distribution. The factory model emphasizes lower operating costs, increased production, faster processing, and higher revenues. Reformers consider the “business approach” efficient and cost-effective. Control is easier to exercise centrally through a uniform system designed with the singular goal of counting, quantifying progress, and measuring the outputs of learners. Improvement is determined by making the process faster with less money and time.

Innovators believe the factory model does not apply to human beings. Materials (learners) are never identical, the learning process is not uniform, and the output is always completely original, despite manipulations. Differences in economics, talents, interests, experiences, culture, genetics, chemistry, and living environments render comparisons irrelevant and competition counter to the needs for collaboration and cooperation. Knowledge is not packaged, learning cannot be prescribed, and human development is a goal, not a measurement.

The concern on the part of Innovators is that manipulating the nature of something often leads to the destruction of that nature. Children are natural learners and innovators promote education policies and practices that honor a student’s individual ways of learning and knowing without imposing theirs. Unlike reformers, Innovators are neither the “shaper” nor the “shape.” They facilitate learning through experience, exploration and critical analysis that fosters natural development and unique outcomes.


The parents of the preschool children in Christina DeVerona’s class learned more in that one pumpkin exercise than education reformers have learned in three decades of failed mandates – children and human beings cannot be mechanized, industrialized, and standardized. As Yong Zhao, distinguished professor at Michigan State University, writes in his book, Catching Up or Leading the Way, China in its pursuit of innovation, creativity, and cooperation is trying to model its education system after America at the same time we are using standards and tests to demolish ours.

Most devastated by Reform initiatives have been poor and minority students. Since the passage of No Child Left Behind poverty has increased by 9%. In the decade following the War on Poverty and the Original 1965 Elementary and Secondary Education Act poverty dropped by 6%. The achievement gap between rich and poor has widened; college tuition rates have increased faster than at any other time in history; the need for remediation has risen dramatically; and every school that has closed has been in a low-income community. Reformers have sought to maintain dominance by defining knowledge and controlling education opportunity as to fulfill their own ideals and increase their capital.

In his article titled, “Gated Intellectuals and Ignorance in Political Life: Toward a Borderless Pedagogy in the Occupy Movement,” Henry Giroux writes:

“A gated or border pedagogy is one that establishes boundaries to protect the rich; isolates citizens from each other; excludes those populations considered disposable; and renders invisible young people, especially poor youth of color, along with others marginalized by class and race … The gated intellectual works hard to make thinking an act of stupidity, turn lies into truths, build a moat around oppositional ideas so they cannot be accessed and destroy those institutions and social protections that serve the common good..”

In the words of Jonathon Kozol, The prevailing “Reform” paradigm has led to racial isolation and a narrowing of civic virtue. The majority of today’s high school graduates know learning in terms of what can be measured on a standardized test. Their experience of achievement is realized only in their comparisons with others and only in the context of prescribed benchmarks. These young students are denied the opportunity to think critically, create solutions to the most challenging problems and build something worthwhile. Their education is being hijacked for purposes besides their own. As opportunities for college, employment, self-sufficiency, and the pursuit of happiness continue to diminish, students are recognizing that they are giving something for nothing. Parents are discovering increased demands and declining budgets have led to overworked, underpaid teachers in overcrowded and underfunded classrooms. Attempts from Reformers to maintain and sustain power and control through all means necessary have dehumanized classrooms, fractured communities, trivialized the American education system, and corporatized the public trust.

Two choices

In the most distilled sense, Innovators stand for freedom – freedom of thought, emotions, faith, speech, and freedom from fear, oppression, discrimination and exploitation. Innovators recognize that freedom is inextricably tied to equity. In Finland, where there are no private schools or colleges, the main driver of education policy has reflected the commitment to equity. Safe and healthy schools are the objective and free school meals, easy access to health care, psychological counseling, and individualized student guidance are provided to every student. Since 1980 when the Finnish addressed social inequity through their education system, Finland has emerged as a premier model in education.

Data centered, profit motivated reforms have done extreme damage to American education leaving traditional industrial school models near collapse. What has resulted is an opening for Innovators to create learning communities truly reflective of a democratic society, committed to the development of each human being, representative of validated research and professional integrity, safe, equitable, affirming and invigorating examples of possibility and innovation. Ultimately it is our money and these are our children and the future of education is still to be decided. We can continue with the current reforms of standardization and high-stakes testing leaving student’s malleable and complacent enough to conform to the world around them. Or we can revolutionize the education system; inviting students to question the systems and assert their rights as learners and future citizens in order to create a world we have yet to see.

Educational Leaders and Organizations



ALEC (American Legislative Exchange Council)

McGraw Hill (Curriculum and test publishers)

Pearson (Curriculum and test publishers)

Democrats for Education Reform, (DFER)

The Walton Foundation

Common Core National Standards

Foundation for Excellence in Education

KIPP Schools and Foundation

National Governors Association

Stand for Children

Students First

Americans for Prosperity

Teach for America

Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation

The New Teacher Project

New Leaders for New Schools

Edison Schools

Institute for Justice

In Bloom

Reformers represent members from both the secular and non-secular community. Individuals from both the Republican and Democratic party identify as reformers. Most are corporate executives while others work in the political arena. None have originated from the classroom.

National Education Policy Center


Rethinking Schools

Parents Across America

Fund Education Now

Economic Policy Institute

Fair Test

National At Risk Education Network (NAREN)

Save Our Schools

Alternative Education Resource Org (AERO)

Coalition for Better Education

Leadership Center for the Common Good

United Opt Out

Coalition of Essential Schools

Innovators also include members from both political parties and represent both secular and non-secular beliefs. The shared commonality among Innovators is marked by their experience in education. Innovators are school founders, administrators, scholars, researchers, professors, parents and educators.


Angela Engel, MAE

Angela Engel, MAE

Angela Engel is the Co-Founder, and Executive Director of Uniting 4 Kids. She is the acclaimed author of Seeds of Tomorrow: Solutions for Improving our Children’s Education. Angela earned a masters degree in curriculum and instruction and has spent the past twenty years in teaching and administration. In 2008 she led the Children’s Action Agenda, organizing children’s advocacy groups from around Colorado on a common legislative platform. Most recently she designed the “50 State Resolution” to end No Child Left Behind and authored legislation to reduce high-stakes testing, protect parental rights, and improve prevention and early intervention services for low-income children. She is a veteran facilitator for the Family Leadership Training Institute. Prior to teaching, she founded a mentoring and tutoring program for at-risk children and lives in Colorado with her two daughters Grace, 16, and Sophie, 14.

Differentiating “Reform” and “Revolution” in Education

Angela Engel

Education has become the hottest battleground for political and economic interests. Two divisions are predominant in the current struggle for media attention, money and control. The debate over how to improve public education is best analyzed and distinguished between the two distinct paradigms – “reformers” and “revolutionaries” which I prefer to call Innovators.

Reformers tend to accept the traditional methodologies and underlying assumptions of education, and advocate for change that supports knowledge and skills imposed on students. They commonly assume that what can be measured has the most value. Their agenda includes high-stakes testing, performance pay, and a nationalized curriculum. The leaders include foundations such as Gates, Walton, and Broad: funders of Common Core; Michelle Rhee, CEO of Students First and proponent of teacher pay based on test scores; Wendy Kopp, CEO of Teach for America – a for-profit six week teacher training program, George W. Bush Jr. and No Child Left Behind; Pearson and McGraw Hill – top publishers of state standardized tests, curriculum and consulting services; and President Obama’s administration with the Race to the Top initiative.

Innovators – true educational revolutionaries – tend to question the purposes and underlying assumptions of education that drive the current system. They seek answers to promoting all levels of diversity including diversity of ideas. They work to address the inequities and create equality in opportunity; they champion educator autonomy, student empowerment, and parent engagement; they promote learner-driven education and the un-measurable qualities of determination, creativity, imagination, and collaboration.

Innovators represent a varied assortment of perspectives, and while some have created alternatives in education, others have worked to reducing childhood poverty. The long history of innovation includes those well-known leaders recognized in the education world. They include Rudolf Steiner founder of Waldorf Education, Maria Montessori, founder of Montessori Schools; Lyndon B. Johnson led the War on Poverty and the original Elementary Secondary Education Act (ESEA) of 1965; Sir Ken Robinson author and lecturer on creativity and innovation; Deborah Meier known for her leadership in democratically run public urban schools, Howard Gardner, for his theory of multiple intelligences, and Daniel Goleman and his work on Emotional Intelligence .

In examining these differences, this analysis compares reformers and innovators across the following categories:

Purpose – Central motivation

Values – Underlying common beliefs

Goals – The desired result that validates their values and purpose

Policies – Legislative actions taken to achieve those goals

Practices – The application of the values, goals, and policies

The education of our children shapes society today and well into the future. Our responsibility as parents, teachers and citizens requires that we explore who is doing the shaping, for what purpose, and through what means. Education can lead a person in many paths and can transform a society in many directions.

Education Purpose



Educate to shape students to the world

Educate students to shape the world

Education Values



  • The desire to direct people’s ideas and behavior

  • Centralized – authority is concentrated

  • Hierarchical – power and responsibility is ranked and increases at the top

  • Conformity to (predetermined) expectations

  • Standardization

  • Market oriented perspective – institutional approach
  • The desire to ensure freedom of thought and ideas

  • Decentralized – authority is dispersed

  • Egalitarian – power and responsibility is shared

  • Liberation from political, social, and economic constructs

  • Diversity

  • Human perspective – personalized (cognitive, psychomotor, social/emotional)


Education Goals



  • Create punishments and incentives that enforce compliance throughout the system, manage teachers, students, and parents

  • Expand Federal involvement, grow U.S and state departments, grant Mayoral control; federal and state grant monies conditioned on adherence to federal and state requirements

  • Reinforce predetermined common definitions of performance and growth, impose those criteria from policy to practice, adjust variables and demand equality in outcomes regardless of inequalities in resources and opportunities

  • Narrow objectives to completely align instruction, curriculum, and assessments to the prescribed standards and common performance objectives of students and teachers in all subjects from preschool through college

  • Identify deficits in achievement and address those gaps through expectations, uniform curriculum, standardized tests, performance evaluation tools, and punishments and incentives

  • Capitalize on education market opportunities, create new product lines, expand new business, and increase revenues and profit margins for corporations and revenue generating non-profits
  • Expand student and parental rights, promote diversity, and engender personal reflection and responsibility

  • Rely on proven scientifically valid research, reduce standardized testing, engage local communities, model critical thinking and create safe, trusting cultures for learners and professionals to experiment and take risks

  • Think beyond the standard parameters–promote wonder, question norms, imagine possibilities, experiment, solve problems, debate ideas, challenge solutions, create, reflect and refine

  • Broad mission to expand and enrich the learning and educational opportunities of each child. Student learners are complex and unique: to optimize capabilities, education is personalized rather than standardized

  • Build on student strengths. Mitigate barriers to advancement such as poverty by targeting state and federal resources towards prevention and early intervention

  • Balance political, economic, and social trends with the rights of the individual and the interests of the community. Ensure public education dollars are spent for the benefit of the public

Education Policies



  • Direct outcomes – Increase tools for monitoring, scoring, rewarding, and punishing

  • Centralized – Education guided by politicians, evaluated by test publishers, enforced through government agencies and for the benefit of private corporations. (2002 NCLB, Race to the Top, Common Core)

  • Hierarchical – Top down decision making where accountability is imposed and responsibility assigned without authority. (Adequate Yearly Progress, (AYP), conditional waivers for NCLB, performance pay/merit pay for teachers, retention and exit exams for students. Hedge Fund charters and private Education Management Organizations (EMOs) takeover schools that serve low-income students.) Under the model of reform, students, educators and schools serve test corporations, and state and federal mandates

  • Conformity – Compliance is rewarded and non-conformity punished.Achievement objectives are prescribed, knowledge is defined, measurable indicators determined, and matters of consequence enforced. (High-stakes include turnaround, firing, pay freezes, lower learning tracks for students of color and low-income and higher learning tracks for students of privilege)

  • Standardization and uniformity – Impose a nationalized curriculum (Common Core) and mass standardized testing: state tests, MAPS, PISA, TIMMS, NAEP, SMARTER and PARCC.Revise standards, re-align curriculum and re-write the measurement and curriculum tools creating an education monopoly for corporate publishers. Utilize virtual and online products to educate a faster and cheaper monoculture

  • Market oriented perspective – Free market principles such as privatization and profit models are expected to improve the system. Examples include revenue generating alternative teacher training programs (TFA), for- profit online education, virtual learning, text book and testing monopolies, and consulting industries

  • Promote Freedom – Expand opportunities and resources with multiple pathways to success

  • Decentralized – Education guided by the individual student, their parents, and professional educators(1965, ESEA, staff development, library and media services, targeted resources to children at-risk.)

  • Egalitarian – Accountability is derived from within and carries both responsibility and authority. (Schools reflect a democratic system of governance, real-world assessments, family partnerships, citizen elected school boards/ community based decision making, accreditation, and individualized school improvement plans specific to their strengths and needs.) Under the model of innovation, state and federal agencies serve the individual student diverse communities and the public education trust

  • Liberation – Remove barriers to learning and advancement. Strong voice of parents, teachers, and students. (Desegregation, IDEA, Civil Rights Act of 1964, GI Bill, Pell Grant, Equal Protection Act, Increased access to higher education, scholarships, free and reduced lunch programs, public libraries, civic engagement, and counseling services)

  • Diversity – Protection of the differences of individuals and communities. Innovators work to eliminate practices of discrimination and exploitation and remove system inequities. Critically-thinking citizens engaged in leading, questioning, investigating, filtering and challenging systems ensure a vast culture of ideas, values, expression, experience, leadership, and innovation

  • Human perspective - Allows each student an opportunity to realize his or her talents, interests, and dreams. Social/emotional development, art, music, PE, vocational experiences, apprenticeships, and mentoring. Educational investments ensure public dollars remain in public schools with public oversight for the benefit of students

Education Practices



  • Power and control is concentrated on those with current power and control – government and corporations

  • Knowledge is prescribed and intended outcomes are pre-determined. Districts, schools and administrators align curriculum, instruction, tests, report cards, parent communication and school policies to meet federal, state and district reporting and accountability mandates. Reformers define education in terms of “what students know”

  • Standards-based: rigid and uniform approach to instruction. Content is divided into subjects and learning activities are tied to short term measured outcomes. Students are sorted by age and address. Students develop in the same way at the same time along grade level tracks

  • One-size fits all – Every school, classroom, teacher and student designed to look the same: school ratings/labels, compulsory testing, exit exams, educators evaluated and compensated based on test performance


  • Choice, opportunity, and decision-making are directed by educators, families, and students collaboratively

  • Knowledge is expanded – students are constantly introduced to real world experiences, scrutinizing information, altering beliefs, refining behaviors, and creating new knowledge. Innovators define education in terms of what students become” and recognize wisdom cannot be prescribed and real learning is not pre-determined

  • Learner-centered: personalized, eclectic, flexible, intuitive, integrated and multi-sensory approach to instruction, curriculum and assessment – borrowing the best from a variety rather than being limited under one model. Students develop independently and uniquely

  • Many sizes for many students – Increase opportunities and expand resources. Varied education alternatives create multiple pathways for individual triumph and social advancement beyond existing institutional barriers. Special attention given to addressing poverty and system inequities