The Public School is the New League
There are a lot of metaphors that could be applied to the educational system in America today. Many popular tv shows have showcased the nuisances of the system from Saved by the Bell to The Wire over the years, with the ultimate consensus being that the lives of teachers and students are interesting.
One I’m sure you’ve never heard though is how the educational system in America resembles professional sports. The teachers and administrators who keep the system going are the guards and centers while the superintendents and lawmakers are the owners. The fans are the students asking to be entertained.
A good deal of people may feel as if the school system and its functions are unlike anything else much less the arena of professional sports. But there is no other system in America that has been experienced by all and misunderstood by more people than the education system.
Think about it: No matter how disconnected we are from professional sports, we all know someone who has played it either intramurally, collegiately or professionally. We watch it with our families in the comfort of our homes and critique it voraciously.
That is how most people in America treat educators. They sit around and watch their highlights on the news and lament how much the sport has changed.
In a lot of ways, public, charter and private schools resemble the NBA and WNBA. While they all serve the same role, the way they are viewed, and rewarded differs drastically. Regardless of the classification, they can teach us several things.
Equity Isn’t Equity
WNBA agrees to 53% pay raise, maternity benefits for players in new collective bargaining agreement
The Women's National Basketball Association agreed to a new collective bargaining agreement that includes a 53% pay…
Recently the Women’s National Basketball Association won a major victory in getting the WNBA to raise the base salaries of their players. We see the increase to a standard of six figures for the players as a landmark step, but in the grand scheme of things, the increase is still minor in comparison.
One of the central arguments made by opposing players and owners is that the lack of viewership is why female professional ballplayers can not earn the same amount. What is interesting, however, is knowing how much viewership and ticket sales determine salaries.
In the public school system and in higher education, they base the salaries for teachers and others on certain metrics, most notably the number of students enrolled. More affluent schools with a higher tax base can afford to recruit, keep, and offer more to star teachers and that increases their viewership. The more people that see your success the more it increases your brand.
While these schools may not always get offered as much in government funding as other schools in need, they have the brand so to speak to continue to attract what they desire.
Schools with a smaller tax base typically fight to attract and keep good teachers. The need for more funding for struggling schools is how we get federal funding through what we call Title I funding.
Title I schools are schools with a significant amount of need be it because of reduced or free lunch or other metrics. But the classification of a Title I school is broad and can refer to affluent school systems as well which is yet another advantage as they can take advantage of the federal funding.
That is why I will be more specific. Schools with a significant minority population (Over 50% ELL, African American) typically fight to find highly qualified teachers who can handle increasing class sizes and academic deficiencies. They are the schools at the bottom of their conferences so to speak and fight to make their brand a more respectable name.
So imagine you are a teacher or administrator working in one of these schools. You make a goal to be the best player on your team and in the conference. You attend summer training, stay after practice, watch the film, and train hard with your coach. When you get on the court which is the classroom, you play the best basketball of your life. You get assists, play good defense and work to improve your weaknesses.
Now imagine playing the best basketball of your life only to find out that you will still not make enough to make ends meet. You put in more work than your counterparts during the year and still had to play overseas ball in the offseason just to pay for your expenses.
When you ask your general manager about a pay raise, they inform you they base the pay scale of years of experience and college degrees, not performance. So the only way for you to get more than what you have is to incur more debt and keep playing ball at a high level.
When the year is over and standardized testing is complete you glance at the conference record. When the records came out, you find that your counterparts in another conference got in the playoffs with a high seed while you saw your team miss the playoffs again with a losing record.
This is the reality for many teachers working in urban and rural districts.
You can be a superstar teacher and still find yourself on the losing side of the College and Career Readiness Performance Index or CCRPI as we call it in Georgia.
Small Ball Rules Us All
The emphasis by the National Basketball Association on leading with guards and smaller players over forwards and center is in a lot of ways comparable to the public school system.
In Georgia where I work, the government is focusing heavily on the quality of education for younger students, with particular attention being given to head start programs.
The most important and often neglected piece of the puzzle is the elementary school system. I say system because it is a world. It is a world I have no experience in but am growing to value more than ever.
If you knew that this one phase of life is the toughest to teach and manage professionally and intellectually you’d agree and pay them more.
The Campaign for Grade-Level Reading
A national study released last week shows that students who do not read proficiently by third grade are four times more…
Research tells us that students who exit it out of third grade below their prescribed reading level face the greatest likelihood of being behind and failing their classes. The challenges to read and comprehend compound after those years until it gets to a point where it is virtually impossible to fix.
Yet and still many of us in our ignorance look down on the people who teach our children how to do everything from count, read, tie their shoes, open up a book, and use the restroom. The people who teach kids to recognize shapes and sounds and lay the foundation for their whole lives.
They are the point guards setting our kids up for success, and the shooting guards shepherding our kids into gifted and special education classes with their decisions. They see the court so to speak.
Yet we devote the most attention to graduation rates, standardized testing scores in the middle and high schools and college acceptance tests to gauge the success of our schools.
The years where we can make the most significant impact, the years where kids are highly inquisitive and motivated, the years where academic excellence and creativity are the most entertaining are the years where we must direct our attention. Small ball is the way of the world.
Forwards and Centers
In the NBA and WNBA, the forwards typically stick out the most, but in a field where there are so few skilled players, it becomes more necessary for these players to get additional training. The forwards, in this case, are the middle school teachers and administrators. Their job is to take the players from elementary school and make them better.
Often we have star teachers and administrators on this level who shine out of their peers, but more often than not, they lack the skill needed to fill in the gaps of the students they teach. In a lot of cases, the gaps increase, and middle school is the beginning of the decline. That is why we must pay significant attention to the professional development offered to middle school teachers.
If I were to prescribe the perfect workout plan for forwards, it would like this: Professional development on how to teach phonics, decimals, and fractions, and help with understanding the social, emotional dynamics in play. This factor alone would help ensure students come to high school more prepared.
The centers are the high school teachers and because of how the game’s emphasis has changed they are the least flexible pieces on the team. Think Dwight Howard. These are the players who have not changed their mindset on what needs to be done as opposed to what they want to be done. They complain about the work they face and never examine how they have played no other position but that one.
But then you have teachers and administrators like Anthony Davis. These people have played guards in their past and never lost that touch. They understand how you must structure a school and classroom.
They put in place routines and procedures that mimic the environment of elementary schools and are methodical about delivering high-quality content that prepares students for college and careers.
Ultimately, in this ever-growing and competitive world, all of us have a vested interest in seeing the kids become their best selves. The way we can get there is by remembering that our educators are the ones responsible for mining the gold that is our children.
So the next time you discuss James Harden’s stats with your friends, ask yourself when’s the last time you discussed your child’s school statistics? When’s the last time you showed up to see your child play as opposed to watching a replay after the game ended? When’s the last time you tweeted about your favorite player?