My brother-in-law has, on occasion, pontificated on how blue-green algae is the most efficient organism on our planet, and it hovers somewhere around ninety-four percent. I don't know a lot about the science there, but it echoes all the physics that I learned, specifically the laws of thermodynamics that suggest that some force outside your machine will eventually wear it down and so there is no machine that is one hundred percent efficient. We live in a world of chaos and friction, so while we may set out to create a perfect system, there is no such thing.
It is significant to note that my brother-in-law and I are both teachers, and our high-minded science talk is really veiled justification for our dismay about NCLB, or "No Child Left Behind" for those of you who live your lives less connected to acronyms. This is the government's assertion that "all" students will be reading and doing math at or above their grade level by the year 2014. Even if you were teaching blue-green algae in a frictionless environment, you would be unlikely to meet that goal. Since we're teaching kids, and there seems to be no end to the friction we encounter, one hundred percent seems like science fiction.
This was the week that my principal announced that we, as a staff, had at last emerged from "PI," no relation to Thomas Magnum. Those letters stand for "Program Improvement," and they meant that we were under constant pressure to catch our scores up to schools like ours. It took several years and a lot of extra hours and hard work on the part of teachers, parents and especially students. At the lunch that we were given to celebrate our emergence from PI, a number of our teachers asked, "what does this mean?" "Can we stop doing after school tutoring?" "Can we go back to our regular math program?" "Can we stop working so hard?" The answer was "No."
The steady, glacial movement of the state and federal standards toward that mystical "all" keeps us from letting down our guard. It is quite likely that within the next year or two, we will be swallowed up once again by the PI swarm. Certainly, by 2014, when one hundred percent of the kids in our school need to be at or above their grade level. I won't list all the factors that intrude on this dream, but instead leave it to you and any other reasonable person to imagine all the things that might interfere with this high-minded goal. But for now, I'm enjoying the accomplishment, and will mark it with a big steaming plate full of blue-green algae.