Who is D. Scott Schwartz, M.Ed.?
The Story of One Teacher Who Quit And Then Came Back to Fix America’s School System
Did you know that all the problems your school faces has a real world solution?
It’s hard to believe, I know, but it’s true.
My name is D.Scott Schwartz, I have over 20 years in the field of education, I have a Masters Degree in Educational Leadership, a Bachelor’s Degree from Brandeis University in American Studies and a Professional Certificate from N.Y.U. in Film Production and Studies.
The reason that I’m on social media, and publishing articles on Medium is to spread the word and communicate how I fixed the K12 system — and how you can do the same thing in your local school.
“Change does not happen overnight, but positive change is coming.”
How I Became a Teaching Statistic
“I was ashamed and embarrassed. All I could think was “I couldn’t hack it as a teacher.” And this shame was fueled by the K12 system and the culture of teaching.”
I began my career as a teacher. The administrators of the district I worked for didn’t think I was a strong teacher, so instead of assigning me a classroom teaching high school social studies, which is what I wanted to teach, they sent me to an elementary school to teach the tech/computer lab.
For two school years, I ran the tech/computer lab. On my teacher evaluations, I would receive notes and feedback that I was improving in their eyes. Before the start of my third year teaching, I was told I was being transferred to the high school to teach American History — I couldn’t have been happier.
Both my parents were life-long teachers and they also were happy and proud that I was getting my own classroom as well.
But that’s where the positivity ends.
By the end of my third year of teaching I quit the profession. I had run into the biggest obstacle any teacher faces — the K12 system itself. I know I’m not alone. According to the US Department of Education, nearly 35% of new teachers quit teaching before the end of their third year.
The K12 system keeps beating up highly qualified and enthusiastic young professionals without any remorse. In fact, over 1 million teachers have quit teaching in the last decade.
I was ashamed and embarrassed. All I could think was “I couldn’t hack it as a teacher.” And this shame was fueled by the K12 system and the culture of teaching.
Once you quit, no one cares. I had become a teaching statistic.
The Student Who Would Be a Dog
Millions of people wonder why teachers decide to quit. Even the teachers who stay in the K12 system often wonder — what made that person quit, since I continue to stick it out?
The reason I quit wasn’t one specific thing, but the problem started in mid-September of my third year. I was in the middle of teaching a lesson on the 13 colonies and introducing students to a college level theory of the origins of American culture and expansion. (Theory based on Albion’s Seed, written by Pulitzer Prize winning historian David Hackett Fischer).
When suddenly, one of my students began to growl at me from their seat. All teachers are taught a technique called “planned ignoring,” which states you ignore the behavior, while keeping an eye on the student. The reason behind this technique is that it respects the student, while also telling them non-verbally that you are not going to feed-in to “attention seeking” behaviors.
The problem is my “planned ignoring” didn’t work. And the student dropped to the floor and began barking and growling on the floor by their desk.
I didn’t know exactly what I should do, so I decided to continue to ignore the behavior, hoping the student would stop and get back into their seat. That was not what the student had in mind, though. Instead, they decided to start crawling around the floor and going up to the other students and sniffing their shoes and sneakers — like a dog would.
I was upset. My lesson was interrupted, I couldn’t continue to teach because the student who would be a dog had taken all attention away from me and put it directly on them.
I went to the phone in my classroom and called the Main Office to come get the student and remove them until they calmed back down.
The office responded, “What do you want us to do about it?”
That was the first stab in the back from the K12 system. I felt alone and isolated, stuck in a classroom with 15 students and one student crawling around the floor acting like a dog.
The problem was that I didn’t know what to do. If I had received training, research, support, etc — maybe I could have figured out what to do, but at that moment, I was lost and confused.
Eventually, the Main Office sent someone to my class and removed the student. But that didn’t prevent the start of my anxiety issue. Before that day, I never wondered “what might happen today in class?” After that day, that consumed a lot of my thoughts.
My anxiety didn’t get better over time. A few other incidents happened in class and I got the same reaction from the administrators and the other teachers in the school. “What do you want us to do?”
It infuriated me. The K12 system has been around since the late 1800s, and I was in my third year of teaching — in my mind, “you’re telling me that no one in this school has a clue??”
I felt I was surrounded by fools and incompetence. I was asking every teacher in the building, what they did in every situation they faced and they all said the same thing my mother told me, “you have to learn how to survive!”
So at the end of the third year of teaching, I quit. I couldn’t “learn how to survive” — I wanted to work someplace where I was going to be treated with more professional respect.
The Long Road Back
My mother was pretty upset with me for quitting. And the only thing to make her happy again was to go back to graduate school. So I enrolled in a Masters program for Educational Leadership.
In the meantime, I became a reporter for a major daily newspaper in NJ.
I was surprised to realize in my Master’s courses that we would not be learning how to change the K12 system, but learn how to manage a school “within” the restraints of the system itself.
It was no longer a surprise to me why the K12 system continues to persist to this day. If no one works to change it — it will never change.
Eventually, I finished my Masters and got a job as a building administrator. For the first two years, I spent a lot of time reading, researching and learning the ins and outs of what teachers do in class and the mistakes that happen.
I found expert teacher best practices and read every educational theory and philosophy I could get my hands on. I was building a foundation of knowledge and expertise in my head.
I thought I wanted to be able to answer teacher questions. I quit teaching because when I went to my building administrator, they were unable to answer my questions — so I thought this was a good strategy.
But reality hit me — teachers don’t like to ask questions. The K12 system and the culture of teaching prevents teachers from asking valid and legitimate questions because of fear it makes them look “weak or less qualified.”
The depths of negativity of the K12 system never cease to amaze me. But I wanted to overcome the problems of the system. I wanted to empower my teachers and I also wanted to boost student achievement, so I began developing a program to teach my staff.
In 2009, I developed the most effective teacher training program in the country. It’s called the Teacher Development Program and it’s a formal 2-year teacher support program that shows teachers how to become experts in the classroom.
How to Beat the K12 System
The Teacher Development Program was so effective at showing my teachers how to be experts in the classroom, that I was able to implement a 21st century curriculum into my entire K12 program in 2011.
And I became one of the first Superintendents in NJ to use a 21st century curriculum.
The key difference between the 21st century curriculum we were using and the curriculum your local school uses is that it stops teaching 19th century skills (reading, writing and math) in the high school grades.
Instead it shifts student learning focus towards 21st century skills (leadership, team building, problem solving, sales and communications), so students will be more prepared for adulthood and college and career readiness.
If you want to read about one of my student’s success stories because he learned a 21st century curriculum, follow this link:
After a student graduates high school, there is no expectation they will come back to visit, so when Jaylen knocked on…
As you can see, I had created two highly effective programs that were overcoming the systemic problems the K12 system forces schools to follow and fail.
I have written in much more depth and detail, a 3-part Series on Medium for anyone that wants to go deeper than this article will cover. Here’s the link if you want to read Part-One:
Is it Possible to Fix Academic Achievement in Our Schools?
Finding the Secret Key
But the K12 system was still winning the war.
The Teacher Development Program allowed me to be an administrator in charge of a group of expert teachers. Because every teacher working for me was an expert teacher, we could implement a better and more modern 21st century curriculum, but there was still one more problem the K12 system wouldn’t back down on.
By 2013, I was an expert administrator. I was a bona-fide expert in the field of education, but none of my administrators could behave the same way. Here’s why the K12 system keeps winning and forcing teachers to quit and students to fail.
When you have a building full of expert teachers — those teachers need an expert administrator. Expert teachers know a lot — that’s why they are considered experts. If an inexperienced administrator tries to give advice or guidance to an expert teacher — they look foolish.
But that’s not the problem. Administrators have legal authority in school buildings. If an inexperienced administrator tells an expert teacher what they “should” be doing — the teacher must comply.
That’s what I wanted to avoid.
Great leaders empower others — in other words, great leaders listen to their experts and collaborate with them.
When I supervised my teachers, I would present the problem or dilemma I was contemplating and gave them the authority to come up with solutions. Listening to what they might do, helped all of us come up with a collaborative solution.
By 2013, every public and charter school within a 50-mile radius of my K12 program knew who I was and about the success of our innovative ideas. I was receiving hundreds of emails and requests from teachers, principals and superintendents to visit my school, and also to talk to their staffs.
A group of principals from the Newark Charter School Network were emailing me questions every day about situations they were facing in their schools. I couldn’t keep up with the demand. So I decided to launch an education think tank in 2013 and I asked if all the principals would meet me once a week at my building for a weekly chat.
They agreed. And that’s how the Principal’s Academy was born.
You Have the Power to Change Your Local School
“The answer is read, learn and speak up.”
It might seem impossible that you could turn around your school or district. It might seem impossible that all the teachers in your building could become expert level teachers. It may seem even more unrealistic that every principal and administrator in your system can become a great leader and empower teachers, students and parents to improve the quality of education.
But all of those things are not just possible — you have the power to make them happen.
I get asked all the time, “what can I do, I’m just a parent? or a teacher? or a student?”
The answer is read, learn and speak up.
Right now you are doing the first thing — you are reading about how to fix the K12 system. I have published over 100 articles on Medium. (Not all of them are the greatest piece of writing, but if you read them all, you will know 100% more than you do right now).
The next thing you need to do is learn who makes the decisions in your school and district. When you identify the people who have all the “power” then you know what to do next.
Speaking truth to power does not mean yelling at people. It doesn’t mean complaining to people in positions of authority. Speaking truth to power means showing them why their decisions are moving in the wrong direction and presenting to them solutions with proven results.
Here are the Proven Results
If you want any chance of changing your local school, you need to be able to show the people in power that these three programs work. But I need you to be aware, that a school or district must commit to doing all 3 programs. They work side-by-side, and if you don’t address all three of them — you won’t change any outcomes.
- Empowering Teachers
America’s leading educational data expert Dr. Robert Marzano and his team of researchers have proven with statistical evidence that the quality of a teacher is the single biggest direct factor in student achievement.
Unfortunately, most schools think that means holding teachers “accountable” for performance is the way to elevate teacher talent. This is the opposite approach your school and administrators should take.
And here’s why:
I quit teaching in my third year, not because I wasn’t a smart teacher. I hope you can see that I have beat the K12 system at its own game, so clearly I had the capacity to become an expert teacher.
The reason I quit was because the K12 system and the school refused to show me the PATH TO EXCELLENCE.
And that’s what the Teacher Development Program does. It shows teachers exactly what they need to do, in order to become an expert teacher at the end of the 2-year formal program.
In the end, any school that implements this groundbreaking program, will have a building full of expert teachers in 2–years. That’s a game changer for your school.
- Boosting Student Achievement
We know the news headlines. Student test scores have been steadily declining since the 1960s, there is a 32 point gap in scores between white and black students, and nearly 40% of college bound students NEVER finish college.
If you add up all three of these major issues, and add on the hundreds of smaller student issues, you come to one conclusion — our K12 system is failing to adequately prepare students for adulthood and college and career readiness.
How many local businesses want to hire high school graduates? The bottom line is the high school diploma has lost a lot of value in 2022. Our elected officials want you to believe that FREE college is the right path, except making college free doesn’t address the 40% of college bound students who never finish college.
The underlying problem is student achievement. So how can your school boost student achievement?
The answer is by implementing a 21st century curriculum.
Without going into too much detail, the curriculum your school uses right now relies entirely on 19th century skills learning. (There are three 19th century skills: reading, writing and math).
I have analyzed student test scores and what most people do not know is that test scores for elementary students is actually higher than it was 20 years ago. What this proves with statistical evidence is that most students have learned all three 19th century skills by the end of the 5th grade.
The reason test scores decline and there is a gap between white and black students is because all test scores drop after the 5th grade — across the board. I have written about why this happens (refer to the Rotary Phone Mandate).
Therefore if you want to boost student achievement, we need to engage students higher order critical thinking skills after 5th grade. The best way to do that is to use a 21st century skills curriculum, especially in high school.
If you have a school filled with expert teachers, teaching a modern 21st century skills curriculum — it’s nearly impossible for student achievement to go down.
- Finding Great School Leaders
If you want to make positive change happen in your school, you cannot ignore the necessity of having a great school leader in charge. Without a great school leader, the best of plans will fail and falter. Ineffective and bad leaders ruin positivity.
Great leaders empower others. Great leaders know how to listen effectively and great leaders push organizations forward and actively solve problems.
If you want to learn more about leadership, I offer a 100% Free Beginner Leadership Course on the Leaf Academy Website, you can follow this link:
Learn 21st Century Skills
The reason people fail in the 21st century is not because they have the right degree or grew up in the right…
As you can see, there’s plenty of evidence these three programs work.
The key is making sure that when you SPEAK UP — you don’t speak down to people. Don’t make people feel defensive about their positions, otherwise you will never change their minds.
If you want to make change in your district — it’s important to hear their goals first. And then ask them these three questions:
- “Do you want to boost student achievement?”
- “Do you want to hire expert teachers?”
- “Do you want expert principals running your schools?”
If their answer to those three questions is “YES” — then send them a link to this article, share with them the Leaf Academy website — and tell them about me. D.Scott Schwartz, the teacher who quit after three years of teaching, who came back to fix America’s schools.
About the Author:
D. Scott Schwartz, M.Ed. is the CEO and Founder or Leaf Academy, which provides consulting support to school and businesses that want to thrive, not just survive, in the 21st century. For more information, go to the Leaf Academy website and follow the Programs Page. (Link in bio)