What football can teach school reformers
Super Bowl weekend seems like an appropriate time to look at the football-school reform connection. The man to do it isLarry Lee of Montgomery, Alabama, former executive director of the Covington County Economic Development Commission and the West Central Partnership of Alabama. This appeared in the Birmingham News.
TFA is a privately run program that recruits recent college graduates, gives them five weeks of training in how to teach and sends them across the country for two years to work in largely under-performing schools.
In addition to paying their salaries, the Birmingham school system will also pay $5,000 per year per new hire to TFA for training.
On Jan. 15, I sat with my son, and 70,000 others, watching Auburn University celebrate winning the BCS national football championship because what my alma mater has just done could be a great example for Superintendent Witherspoon and members of the Birmingham school board.
In just two years, coach Gene Chizik took Auburn from a losing record to being the best team in the country—not so much by bringing in new players—but by changing how the players he inherited were coached.
Yes, Chizik did recruit Cam Newton, the nation’s top quarterback and Heisman Trophy winner. But when Newton ran the ball, four of the five linemen blocking for him were not recruited by Chizik. And when he threw a pass, his top receiver was Darvin Adams, who was on the Plains when the new coach got there.
The same was true on a defense lead by Lombardi Trophy winner Nick Fairly, linebacker Josh Bynes and safety Zac Etheridge. Ditto for kicker Wes Byrum whose last second field goal won the national title.
Coach Chizik has said repeatedly that the heart and soul of this team was its 24 seniors, none of whom he recruited.
Obviously when the new coaching staff assembled at Auburn two years ago, they didn’t throw up their hands and say, “We don’t have talent.” Instead, they determined they needed to roll up their sleeves and make the players they had better.
In a country that has grown accustomed to instant gratification, we too often go looking for band aides, rather than trying to find out why we’re bleeding. And Teach for America may well be much more of the former than the latter.
Two years ago I lead a study of 10 high-performing, high-poverty rural schools in Alabama that we called "Lessons Learned from Rural Schools." We learned that each of these schools has an outstanding principal and that each has created a culture of expectations.
And I have to wonder if a new teacher with just five weeks of training, regardless of how dedicated and motivated they may be, can really affect school and community culture in two short years.
I have to wonder about some other things as well. Like why the Texas legislature sought an evaluation of whether the $8 million it allocated to Teach for America over two years is a worthy expenditure of taxpayer money?
Like have Birmingham’s education leaders looked at a study by Stanford University, conducted over six years and including more than 4,400 teachers and 132,000 students, that concluded that “TFA recruits do not educate students as well as teachers who have received rigorous methodological instruction and practice?”
Spend more than a few minutes with any good principal or teacher these days and the subject soon turns to the ever-increasing emphasis on testing and the negative impact they see this having in classrooms today. Given this, I wonder at the statement by someone who spent two years as a TFA recruit when they say, “TFA often overemphasizes the importance of test scores, driving corps members to narrow the curriculum to what’s on the test to prove that they are effective teachers.”
I commend Dr. Witherspoon and the school board for seeking innovative ideas. To this end, let me offer some.
*Take the $5,000 you will pay Teach for America each year per teacher, find outstanding students from Birmingham who are studying education in college and pay their tuition in return for a commitment from them to teach in your system. After all, they are much more likely to “take root” in your community than someone who sees two years in Birmingham as their time on the mission field.
*At the end of the 2009 season Coach Chizik told his team they needed to go from “good” to “great.” Take the $5,000 and put it into a professional development program that will help make good teachers great teachers.
While you may have some outstanding teachers in a weak school, you can not have an outstanding school with a weak principal. Invest the $5,000 in professional development designed specifically for principals of high-poverty schools.
On Feb. 8, Wilkerson Middle School in the Smithfield section of Birmingham will be recognized in Montgomery as one of the state’s 11 Torchbearer Schools. This program recognizes outstanding achievement by high-poverty schools. This is the third such recognition for Wilkerson.
Spend lots and lots of time with principal Constance Burnes to learn from her and her staff.
*Load up the superintendent and all the members of the school board and head down Highway 280 to go see Coach Chizik.
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| February 5, 2011; 9:30 AM ET
Categories: Guest Bloggers, Sports, Teachers | Tags: Gene Chizik, The Answer Sheet, auburn champions, auburn football, auburn university, birmingham school board, birmingham schools, cam newton, education, football, heisman trophy, professional development, schools, super bowl, teach for america, teacher development, teacher training, the answer sheet
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