Semi-Noteworthy Links

1.) Prescription only cigs. I’m down with it. As long as the State never regulates my mega-sized peanut butter chocolate chip cookie intake.

2) National Funk Congress deadlockedTo move forward, we’ve got to get on up, and stay on the scene, like a sex machine. I want to write for the Onion.

3) A sure-fire way to raise students’ test scores. I’ve been highly critical of all of the sticks associated with high stakes end-of-year standardized tests. But to try to explain away the cheating based on the pressure created by those tests strikes me as disingenuous. Some teachers, like some people, always act with integrity. Others rarely do.

4) January 6, 2012. Meryl Streep as the Iron Lady. Is there a living actress with more range?

5) Pawlenty of love for Gaga.

In Your Face Country


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Most Effective Value-Added Fill-in the Blank

Convinced that greater teacher accountability is a panacea for improving schools, The Los Angeles Times uses K-12 students’ standardized test scores to assign teachers to one of five categories: 1) Most effective value-added teachers; 2) More effective than average value-added teachers; 3) Average value-added teachers; 4) Less effective than average value-added teachers; and 5) Least effective value-added teachers.

Then they publish the results. The hell with cooperation, teamwork, and a collective identity.

An idea this good should be applied more broadly. I’m picturing college sociology students canvassing our neighborhood interviewing the wives (in two parent, hetero homes) about their husbands.

This morning I fixed my wife’s computer and purchased her some things on-line. Last weekend I wrestled a couple of her dead bushes out of the ground, trimmed the live bushes, and basically kicked ass throughout the yard. And since she’s been injured for awhile, I’ve been going the extra mile in the kitchen. I’m almost always charming, watch romantic comedies, and make her chuckle. Dare I dream? Most effective value-added husband. Can’t wait to see the shame of my neighbor friends whose evaluations don’t turn out nearly as well.

On the other hand, apparently I teased my daughters too much about boys sometime in the past, and so now, when it comes to their love lives, they’ve completely frozen me out. The dreaded least effective value-added father. At least I’ll make other fathers feel better about themselves.

And since what’s good for the goose is good for the gander, what about a cubicle-by-cubicle assessment of each ed bureaucrat’s performance downtown at the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction? I see, spend more time at Starbucks and playing hackysack in Sylvester Park than in classrooms. Continuously churn out undeveloped teacher and teacher education standards without ever consulting living breathing teachers? I anticipate the state’s ed bureaucrats filling up the least effective value-added column.

What about our members of Congress? Let’s see, they’ve lowered taxes, increased spending, grown the deficit, and failed to balance the budget. They refuse to work with anyone on the opposite side of the aisle, and for good measure, they tweet their junk (I’m anticipating the next scandal). While mathematically impossible, I’m thinking 538 least effective value-added politicians which of course means least effective value-added citizen designations for all of us.

Applying this framework to other contexts has convinced me that all we really need is a two-part, most and least effective value-added assessment.

When you forward this post to others, remember to say it’s from your favorite, most effective value-added blogger friend.

Happy Interdependence Day

If someone said to me that I could only read one person for the next ten years, Atul Gawande would be among my finalists.

His May 26, 2011 New Yorker essay, Cowboys and Pit Crews, is the transcript of his recent commencement address at Harvard’s Medical School. As always, it’s insightful and important.

Here’s an excerpt:

     The core structure of medicine—how health care is organized and practiced—
emerged in an era when doctors could hold all the key information patients needed in
their heads and manage everything required themselves. One needed only an ethic of hard
work, a prescription pad, a secretary, and a hospital willing to serve as one’s workshop,
loaning a bed and nurses for a patient’s convalescence, maybe an operating room with a
few basic tools. We were craftsmen. We could set the fracture, spin the blood, plate the
cultures, administer the antiserum. The nature of the knowledge lent itself to prizing
autonomy, independence, and self-sufficiency among our highest values, and to
designing medicine accordingly. But you can’t hold all the information in your head any
longer, and you can’t master all the skills. No one person can work up a patient’s back
pain, run the immunoassay, do the physical therapy, protocol the MRI, and direct the
treatment of the unexpected cancer found growing in the spine. I don’t even know what it
means to “protocol” the MRI.

     Before Elias Zerhouni became director of the National Institutes of Health, he was
a senior hospital leader at Johns Hopkins, and he calculated how many clinical staff were
involved in the care of their typical hospital patient—how many doctors, nurses, and so
on. In 1970, he found, it was 2.5 full time equivalents. By the end of the 1990s, it was
more than fifteen. The number must be even larger today. Everyone has just a piece of
patient care. We’re all specialists now—even primary care doctors. A structure that 
prioritizes the independence of all those specialists will have enormous difficulty
achieving great care.

The problem according to Gawande is “We train, hire, and pay doctors to be cowboys. But it’s pit crews people need.

In my field, teacher education, we train, hire, and pay teachers to be cowboys. But students need pit crews. Increasingly, the world of work require employees to function as team members.

Older docs, Gawande points out, don’t like the changes because they miss their autonomy, independence, and self-sufficiency.

Just like those older docs, I dislike the forced teaming that’s increasingly required of me. For pit crews to work, Gawande argues, “you must cultivate certain skills which are uncommon in practice and not often taught.”

The problem at my workplace is everyone else dislikes the forced teaming at least as much as me. And we’re lacking the skills Gawande alludes to. Given that increasing interdependence is a reality, it behooves us to first identify and then cultivate the “certain skills which are uncommon in practice“. To do that, we can either wait, probably for a really long time, for formal leadership to take the initiative, or we can, as I propose, take the bull by the horns ourselves.

First, a trusting, caring work culture must be created where all the team members are willing to talk openly and honestly about whatever misgivings they have about proposed group projects. Too often some of my colleagues choose not to participate in planning meetings, and then, as soon as the meeting is over, vent to one or two people about the direction of the conversation in the privacy of their offices. The technical term for this is passive-aggressive bullshit.

Another fundamental problem is people commit well in advance to being at certain places at certain times to help the team out in specific ways, only to say they can’t make it once the date draws near. Sometimes they work with the team to reschedule, other times they don’t. When a few people aren’t dependable and don’t pull their weight, conscientious team members become bitter about having to do more than their fair share of the work.

Bitterness builds, trust is eroded, teamwork suffers, and people’s negative associations with teaming harden.

Then the question is whether we should press pause and revisit people’s past frustrations in an effort to get to the bottom of why some people are resentful. Like a troubled couple that refuses to enlist the help of a counselor, the answer is always no, “If we just do the work, people’s frustrations will subside.” But they don’t, instead, they build.

Until trusting, caring communication becomes a group norm, my three team essentials—1) actively participate in team planning; 2) show up when you say you’re going to and do what you’ve committed to; and 3) at least try to have a sense of humor—won’t make a bit of difference.

What Recession?

The World Wealth Report was just released. In 2010, the wealthiest 103,000 people on the planet controlled 36.1% of the world’s wealth up from 35.5% in 2009. The minimum for membership in that club is $30m. Imagine if those 103,000 people’s percentage of world wealth continues increasing .6% annually.

40,000 of the 103,000 are U.S. citizens. The number of “high net worth” people with more than $1m to invest (excluding primary residence, collectible items, and consumable goods) is 10.9m, up 8.3% in 2010. The net worth of those 10.9m peeps is estimated to be $42.7 trillion, up 9.7% in 2010.

The U.S. has the most families with more than $100m, 2,692. China has 393 families with more than $100m, an increase of 30% in 2010.

The number of “high net worth” people in Asia (3.3m) surpassed the number in Europe (3.1m) for the first time. China is fourth behind the U.S., Japan, and Germany.

The wealth train has left the station and it’s rolling. And if we’re to believe the Republicans in Congress, the passengers can’t afford a modest bump in their marginal tax rate.