Sunday, November 18, 2012

Everything I learned about education reform I learned from college football

They say sports is a microcosm of society. Sports are big business. Big businesses have their own brand: Apple, Microsoft, Ford, Google, Walmart, Coke, Nike, to name a few.

The NFL, NBA, MLB all are big corporations that have their brands that they will worship like the sacred cow and will go to war with anyone who will try to mettle with it.

In the NBA, if a player or coach criticise a referee a huge fine is levied to the offender. Does anyone see this as an authoritative way of silencing free speech?

The commissioner of the NFL, Roger Goodell has been second guessed this season by he handling of a bounty scandal. He was the judge and jury and felt his brand of justice was enough.

Professional sports show how society plays out social life and how corporate behaviors shape our ways of thinking.

I feel the same is true about one of the biggest corporate reforms going on in this country being played out in the public eye, but not where you might think: the college football field.

With standardized tests, Race to the Top, winner take all policies in education, schools will look like college football and that's not a compliment.

In college football there is no playoff. To make it to the national championship (or a very lucrative BCS bowl) you have to be undefeated or a conference champion of one of the "Big 6" conferences. Immediately, right off the bat, exclusionary. If you are not a part of the "Big 6" ( ACC, Big East, SEC, Pac 12, Big 12, Big Ten) you are not given a fair opportunity to get in the money bowls. We have seen two teams in the past, Boise St and TCU get their opportunities but they are the exception, not the rule.

One loss or two loss teams are not considered. A team that goes 10-0 and loses its last game of the season might get left out of an opportunity to play for the money. A 10-1 season should be celebrated but is now seen as a less than stellar.

Improvement is not always taken into consideration.  Look at pro sports and how they are different from college. The NY Giants won Superbowl's with a regular season record that allowed them to BARELY sneak into the playoffs both times. The St. Louis Cardinals MLB team hold the record for fewest regular season wins by a World Series Champion.

In college, in many cases, unless you are Alabama, LSU, or Ohio State, one loss means you are out of the opportunity to win money, two losses for sure, and really, isn't that why major colleges field football teams; to get the money, grow the university, make it visible on a global scale. In short, grow the brand?

When you think of Alabama, LSU, Michigan, Notre Dame, USC, Florida St, one might recognize the school only because of the money spend on branding it.

Research has shown that a college football team that plays for a national championship will see an incredible jump in enrollment applications by students. An increase in applications means greater demand and higher tuition prices. The for profit corporations that are America's colleges and universities use their brand (in many cases their football teams) as the vehicle for attracting students. Remember, we have been seeing college grads who cannot get jobs yet the insistence for a college education is stronger than ever (corporate schooling mantra should be "pay the fee, get a B and that's all you'll see from me.")

The cash grab of college football brings in a whole other world. The world of cheating. Cheating in recruiting, cheating in athletes grades, cheating of the law. The price of failure in college football is so high, coaches and athletes sometimes resort to doing things they otherwise would view as unethical or immoral. A running back who had a rough upbringing knows college football is an avenue to the pros and the pot at the end of the rainbow. Getting a tutor to take a test for them might not be what they would ever do, but they might see that as the way to stay in school and keep the cash grab dream alive.

A coach wouldn't want to have to break recruiting rules, but in order to keep the multimillion dollar contract they have to win and win every year. In many cases donors have way too much control over a coaches fate. In too many cases the donors who influence coaching positions have no knowledge of football and should never have a say over football operations... but they overwhelmingly do.

The worst of our fears this cash grab was realized last year at Penn State. The unlawful abuse of young boys was covered up so as not to hinder the school's ability to get their hands on the money. This showed us that the want of money by colleges and universities was so strong that not just the legal compass was compromised but so too was the moral compass.


If you have been following education  you are then aware of No Child Left Behind. A policy enacted to punish schools that do not have their students pass tests. If children do not pass their tests, the schools are punished with sanctions. If enough years go by without meeting the level of standards the powers that be decide to set, your school can be closed down. By 2014, if your school does not have 100% of students passing your school will be closed down. Knowing that this is an impossible mandate set by people with very little knowledge of education, cheating became the way to save your job or school. Scandals of cheating from some of the largest school districts in the country came to the surface: Chicago, Atlanta, and Washington D.C.

To alleviate the impossible constrains of NCLB, schools could apply for a waiver to remove them from that policy. Instead they have to conform to the new reforms of Race to the Top (RTTT),  corporate based approach to student achievement. Under the program RTTT you get merit pay (see: bonuses for wins), tying teacher effectiveness to students test results (see: contract extensions), and closing schools in favor of charter schools that rob localities of public monies (see: corruption).

For teachers to keep their jobs, the teachers must win at all costs, always live in fear that their students won't perform well on "test day", no amount of improvement over the course of the year will matter, and all of these reforms have been decided by people who should never have a say in how education is run. Congrats to all the teachers out there, you now live the life of a college football coach. Or more accurately college coaches live the life of a public school teacher.

You don't have to follow the education reform game to understand its absurdities and impossibilities. If you are an avid college football fan, you already know.

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