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Friday, September 3, 2010

Labor Day Leads to Labor Year

Labor Day is upon us. The end of summer has drawn near. The school bell awaits the end of its slumber - and hundreds of staff members and learners will begin a challenging school year with the collective intent of asserting improved levels of achievement. This progress will require labor throughout the 180 days of the school calendar. It will be hard work, but we can avoid exhaustion by pinpointing where to apply our efforts.

There is a story. I'm not sure of its authenticity, but it certainly makes a point about labor.

It seems that a large company in the capital district region was an early entry into the electronics field years ago. At the time, the research and development necessary at the start-up of an industry required a great amount of investment and trial and error.This company had spent hundreds of thousands of dollars in sponsoring an electrical engineering wizard's creation of what amounted to be a huge collection of wires, switches, tubes, and many assorted components that miraculously worked in harmony to generate power. It was an impressive feat of scientific work that remained a mystery to all but the genius who invented the equipment.

The unit continued to function after the scientist retired. However, there came a day when the generator broke down. Despite the efforts and energy of several different scientists from the company's stable of electrical engineers, the machine sat idle. Finally, the company invited their retired star engineer to return and examine the large piece of equipment. The old man walked around the generator and looked here and there, nodding his head every so often, and scribbling notes. He stood transfixed for a while as he contemplated the issue. And then, after ten minutes of diagnosing the problem, he reached in and made a single adjustment to bring the machine to life.

His triumph was met with cheers by the owners of the company because the retired scientist had salvaged their significant investment. They were elated and patted the scientist on the back and then asked him how much the repair would cost them. He calmly replied that his fee would be $10,000. That figure astounded the owners. They noted that the scientist only worked ten minutes and made a solitary adjustment, which prompted them to declare the bill exorbitant. They demanded an itemized bill. The scientist casually jotted down a few strokes of the pen and issued the itemized account of his services. "Labor = $1.00. Knowing where to apply the labor = $9,999.00." The scientist left the building soon thereafter with a wad of bills.

Our staff and learners have to concentrate their efforts to leverage success and optimize their potential. Working smarter will trump working harder and longer. Good intentions are not enough to meet high performance standards, we have to exercise effective strategies and apply focused skills. That process will start with a plan to conduct a review of available test data that would be comparable to instructional forensics. Data is inert until someone looks for a difference that makes a difference and converts it into information that can be used to produce power, just like the scientist did when he performed one simple adjustment and restarted the generator. We have been studying test data this summer to develop a map for progress by examining an item analysis of the responses to individual test questions to find out how many learners missed each question, what strands of learning standards had the highest percentage of missed questions and subsequently discovering areas which require further attention, refined curriculum, and alternative methods of delivering the knowledge and skills needed to make gains on our performance on the annual state mandated tests.

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