Friday, April 20, 2012

What is Good Enough?

A few years ago I ran across a document that I have used in a number of different situations when discussing expectations and quality work.  The data is a little old, but what I have read on web sites is that many of the numbers would actually be higher.  However, the point is made when one looks at accuracy and excellence.

Over the years there have been numerous arguments regarding grading.  Issues like grade inflation different types of scales have been debated at length.  Teachers have often struggled with defining grades and quality standards.  There is no question in my mind that significant changes need to be made in the way we grade, and in fact, that is happening in a number of places.  However, that is a discussion for another day.

One aspect of the conversation is the issue of quality.  I hear teachers, parents, students and others make the comment “he just wants to pass” or “she is satisfied with getting by.”  I have students tell me “it’s good enough.”  I don’t understand the philosophy, but I also don’t understand why anyone would shoot any lower than the absolute best they can do.  This takes me to the data.  To introduce it, I will suggest that on a 100-point scale, a grade of A should be given for 99% and above.  Hey!  That’s too high, isn’t it?  Well, that actually may be a little low.  Why?  Let’s take a look.

If society, bosses, institutions, or whoever is in power is satisfied with 99% accuracy, then:

·      12 newborns will be given to the wrong parents daily.
·      114,500 mismatched pairs of shoes will be shipped each year
·      18,322 pieces of mail will be mishandled each hour of each day
·      2.5 million books will be shipped with the wrong covers
·      103,260 income tax returns will be processed incorrectly this year.
·      Two plane landings daily at O'Hare International Airport will be unsafe.
·      291 pacemaker operations will be performed incorrectly this year.
·      880,000 credit cards in circulation will turn out to have incorrect cardholder information on their magnetic strips.
·      55 malfunctioning automatic teller machines will be installed in the next 12 months.
·      20,000 incorrect drug prescriptions will be written in the next 12 months.
·      114,500 mismatched pairs of shoes will be shipped this year.
·      107 incorrect medical procedures will be performed each day.
·      315 entries in Webster's Third New International Dictionary of English Language will be misspelled.
·      Every minute 1,314 telephone calls would be misdirected by telecommunication services.
·      22,000 checks would be deducted from the wrong bank account in the next 60 minutes.
·      12 newborn babies would be dropped on delivery each day.
·      Southwest Airlines would have 702 planes crash annually.
·      32,000 missed heartbeats per person per year.
·      268,500 defective tires would be shipped this year.
·      2,000,000 documents would be lost this year by the IRS.
So, when we look at expectations and set standards, where should the bar be set?  If we settle for anything less than the best, is that acceptable?  Certainly the words “I can’t” need to be removed from our language, but what can we expect from students who are stretched by taking eight classes and involved in a multitude of different activities?  By the same token, is that a good thing?  In education circles, the focus is on depth not breadth, with an emphasis on quality of learning over quantity.  At one time, Made in America was the best one could get.  If we are going to sustain our place in the world economy, that bar needs to be raised.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Taking Away The Fat

In some people’s eyes, the title of this entry may not be politically correct. The truth is that I really couldn’t figure out what to call it, and this is what kept coming back. So, if my lack of sensitivity offends, I do apologize. Though understand, in some respects I am pointing my finger at myself! Not long ago in the Journal of the American Medical Association, an argument was made to place extremely obese children in foster care, taking them away from their parents and the environment that some believe contributed to their obesity.

There is a quiet, but increasing number of people from the medical profession and other individuals who are stating that in extreme cases the government should act in the child’s best interest and remove them, and that the idea is to not only support the child, but the whole family. The goal would be to reunite once the child was healthy and the parents took part in a parenting program so that they could provide for a healthier lifestyle for their child. To some, this puts the blame on parents, and maybe it should be, though genetic factors play a role in obesity as well. However, when one looks at the statistics, about two million children in this country are extremely obese. While most are not yet in imminent danger, some already have serious conditions, such as Type-2 diabetes, breathing difficulties and liver problems that could kill them by the time they are 30.

Doctors and researchers cite numerous examples of children that are extremely obese and the complications that have entered their lives. A 90-pound three-year old that by the time she was 12 weighed 400 pounds, had diabetes, cholesterol problems, high blood pressure, and sleep apnea. Many parents, like the ones of the previously mentioned girl, are not equipped to care for a child, especially one with the problem of obesity. Some legal professionals point to neglect and state that there is already legal authority to take these children from an environment of abuse. A 14-year old in South Carolina that weighed 555 pounds was taken from his mother and placed in the custody of an adult sister. Others say that the government has no right to tear apart families. One thing that I have not mentioned is the out of control medical costs in our nation due to issues related to obesity.

So why do I include an article on this topic here? There are a number of reasons. First of all, while we are fortunate that there are very, very few young people in our area that fall into this category, there are some. And, there are others that are overweight and like a lot of us (me included) need to live a healthier lifestyle. They are our children and we have to be concerned about their welfare, just as we are about all of our kids. We have a group of people that have taken a lead in our school in efforts associated with the Healthy Kids Act. One teacher has initiated a walking club in the mornings, and more time in PE is being dedicated to physical exercise. Our coaches run a morning strength and conditioning program three days a week that is open to anyone, and we have another coach working with young people after school that have a desire to workout. The Food and Fitness group has been doing a number of different things to promote healthier eating, with school gardens being planted, promotional activities around the school, and new food choices being served at lunch. As educators, we can provide opportunities within our programs to help with this problem. What about others?

In our health curriculum, we are making changes to include content that addresses personal health, including diet and exercise. As mentioned previously, we have before and after school programs available for our students, but not nearly enough students take advantage of them. We have tossed around the idea of putting a much heavier focus on fitness in our PE program. We have done some of that this year but could do more. But then, will students take that serious and put forth the kind of effort necessary to improve their fitness? What about teaching “life-long recreational activities” that are currently in the curriculum, like badminton? All of these are questions that we face. There will be some interesting decisions in the future. I just know that it is sad that we are at a point where we are taking kids out of the home because they are so obese.