Tuesday, December 21, 2010

The End is Near

I guess that's kind of an ominous title to a blog entry! Actually, I am referring to the end of the first semester and the calendar year! This is our first attempt at putting together a school calendar that has the first semester end before Winter Break. We knew that once it came to semester tests, weather was going to be an concern, and thus we have kept our fingers crossed that we would not lose a day in this last week. As I write this, we have a late start today, forcing us to shorten up the testing periods. Not what we had hoped, but it could have been worse. The lesson learned is that we may want to make a few adjustments in the schedule next year to be in better shape in case we do have a late start.

While this is the first year for this calendar at North Fayette, I have worked with one like it for a number of years. What I do know is that December feels very stressed, but once we finish and everyone goes on break, it is over. There is a huge relief because we don't have to come back and finish up a semester. And, students will perform better on exams rather than getting away from school for two weeks and then be expected to prep for a big test. People are refreshed after the break and once they get back, it is nice to start a new semester.

So, the end is near! And the beauty of this is that in just a couple of weeks, we have a new beginning!

Friday, December 10, 2010

Drinking and Drugs and the Reality of Kids Using Them

I haven’t focused previously on the topic of teenage alcohol or drug use in large part because it is a topic that gets a lot of attention elsewhere, and because quite honestly, I am tired of people giving the problem little more than lip-service. Do we have a problem with alcohol and other drugs at North Fayette High School? Absolutely! We have about 300 students and statistically, we have students that use and abuse alcohol and other drugs. I am not going to condemn or scold. What I want to focus on is a newspaper article from the Des Moines Register that I have been dragging around since November 21 by Rekha Basu. I don’t always agree with her position on issues, but I must say I learned a lot from her article on this day, and have re-read it a few times.

There was a lot to the article that I think is relevant. For example, brain research, which has shed a great deal of light on learning, has also opened our eyes to a number of other things as well. What we now know for certain is that an adolescent brain, since it is still developing, reacts much differently to drug use than an adult brain. Thus, a 15-year old that starts drinking is five times more likely to become addicted than a 21-year old. Young adolescents are “wired” differently and the developing brain is more susceptible to this kind of stimulus. Is your 15-year old drinking? If so, are you prepared to have an alcoholic in your family because you don’t step in and do something about it? Basu attended a conference for journalists in San Diego focused on addiction studies and came away from it with a firm belief that the longer we keep kids away from drugs, alcohol, and tobacco, the better. Just a few years of brain development makes a world of difference and this is one of those instances when we must as parents do everything we can to convince our kids that they can wait, and perhaps save their life.

Addiction is a tough thing, and if the likelihood that we will be addicted increases dramatically based on when we start using a substance, then as parents shouldn’t we pay very close attention to what our kids are doing? Let me demonstrate. I started chewing tobacco when I was in fourth grade. I didn’t chew snuff as my preference was leaf tobacco. My parents were aware of it, and actually I started because my dad started using smokeless tobacco to wean himself from cigarettes. Anyway, when I finally quit, it was after so many attempts that I cannot count. It has been almost three years since my last chaw of Redman, but just this week I had a craving and fought going to the store and buying a pouch. I can imagine what it is like for smokers and drinkers. My point, and the research supports it, is that I was nine or ten years old when I started chewing tobacco. Had I not started until later in my life, perhaps I would not have become an addict. Think about that with children in high school that start drinking at such a young age. Lives are severely damaged due to alcohol and drug use. What might your child’s life be like if you talk to them regularly and take a tough stand against the use of alcohol and drugs. Maybe they will live a long and fulfilling life.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Is 99.9% Good Enough?

A lot has been said over the years in high schools about high expectations, usually accompanied by comments along the lines of how grades today are inflated and the quality of student work isn’t what it once was. I know a number of veteran teachers feel that way, but when one steps back, perhaps there is a lot more to the conversation than what is on the top layer. From my own background, growing up I was always challenged to do my very best. I can still hear my mom tell me “if it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing well.” My dad did a lot of work as a professor with Deming’s focus on total quality and continuous improvement. All this takes me to a list that I pull out every so often to put in front of people when the conversation turns to effort and quality.

In most schools, grading scales are generally somewhere along the lines of 90% and above an A, 80% for a B, and so on. In this scale, 60% is good enough to pass. Now I have real issues with traditional grading, which is something I will address at length in future posts, but regardless of that, can we be satisfied with 60 out of 100 being good enough? Well, let’s take a look at that, and just to make it interesting, let’s look a little higher. How about 99.9 times out of 100? If we get it right than many times, shouldn’t that be good enough? Let’s see!

If we “settle” for 99.9% accuracy, that would mean:
• 22,000 checks would be deducted from the wrong bank account in the next 60 minutes.
• 12 babies would be given to the wrong parents each day.
• 107 incorrect medical procedures would be performed each day.
• Two airliner landings each day at O’Hare Airport would be unsafe.
• 291 pacemaker operations will be performed incorrectly this year.
• Southwest Airlines would have 702 planes crash annually.
• 20,000 incorrect drug prescriptions will be written this year.
• 32,000 missed heartbeats per person per year.
• 103,260 income tax returns will be processed incorrectly during the year.

So, should we allow our students to settle for 60% correct as a passing grade? I would argue “No!” From my perspective, it isn’t so much about what individuals are capable of doing, and it really doesn’t matter in terms of a grade. What it is about is self-respect and pride; a willingness to do one’s best. I think that is the difference between our current generation and one’s in the past. There needs to be a focus on doing one’s best rather than enough to get by. Otherwise, is it worth doing?