80% and +2: Don’t always believe the media hype!

I had the opportunity this fall to visit many of the schools in northwest Iowa as they began their school year. One of the stories that I shared with educators across the region was about our Secretary of Education, Arnie Duncan. I don’t always agree with Mr. Duncan, or the Administration’s Race-to-the-Top mentality in which there are winners and losers in the educational field, but I was impressed by his effort to promote "80 percent."

I asked the question when I was out in the schools, "Why did Arnie Duncan wear the number 80 in the NBA Celebrity All-Star Game last spring?"

If you are a basketball fan, you know that you cannot have a number eight on a basketball jersey because the referee needs to be able to call fouls and signal the number on the jersey to the officials table using only one hand. So, there are no numbers past the number five. So, why did Arne Duncan wear the number 80 on his jersey?

Well, for the first time EVER, the high school graduation rate in the United States is over 80 percent! This is an extraordinary accomplishment, since, for the first time ever, 50 percent of the students in our schools are on free-and-reduced lunch. So, at a time when students are experiencing poverty and hardship more than ever, the achievement level has NEVER been higher—EVER!  

People can focus on the negative aspects of anything. Either your glass is half-empty or half-full. As educators, we entered this profession thinking that we would help society by believing that glasses were half-full for the students we served. Over the past 30 years, we have been bombarded, as educators, in our noble attempt to help students has been a half-empty effort. I totally disagree with this position.

Now, what about the plus-two? At Northwest AEA, I have a Leadership Council of 35 members on our staff who help me make decisions and keep me abreast of what's happening in the field. We recently watched a video called “Every Kid Needs A Champion,” which highlighted Rita Pierson, a 40-year veteran teacher, and how she focuses on the glass being half-full. The link to the video is here. Please take a look as she CHOOSES to mark a paper that had 20 questions on it as a "+2," instead of "-18." When her student asked her if that was an “F,” she indicated to her student, "Yes, it is an F, but you got plus-two, and I know you can do better!" The student indicated he would, and he did later.

The point is, the media and society right now do not want to focus on the successes of education. We can always improve, but we are not getting credit for having our test scores at an all-time high; our graduation rates are at an all-time high; the number of students taking AP classes are at an all-time high; the number of students taking college courses are at an all-time high; among many more "all-time highs."

I would like to congratulate our educators on the effort they have made to meet these all-time highs and thank them for CHOOSING to look at the glass half-full.

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Educationally yours,

Dr. Tim Grieves
Chief Administrator