What Public Education Could Learn From David Bowie

I watch the ripples change their size
But never leave the stream
Of warm impermanence and
So the days float through my eyes
But still the days seem the same
And these children that you spit on
As they try to change their worlds
Are immune to your consultations
They're quite aware of what they're going through

(Turn and face the strange)

 - Excerpt of lyrics from "Changes" by David Bowie

Today we lost one of rock and roll's greatest musical artists.   David Bowie was the consummate chameleon.   He constantly reinvented himself, and this song eloquently captured that essence.

Public education has shown an acute aversion to change - to reinvention.    This is due in large part to injection of politics in policy, the result of funding a system through taxpayer dollars.    I pray that in the year 2016, our policymakers, educators and other key stakeholders can find common ground and continue to fine-tune the existing program of reforms, and not send public education back decades.   Current proposals are in need of corrections, not removals, and I truly hope that for the sake of our children's future, we continue to make progress, and that progress will be in the form of student achievement, college readiness, and economic competitiveness.  

Lets show David Bowie we can make this happen. 

Where's the "fair" in college fairs?

There's a reason why public schools have ongoing challenges.    They can't even organize a college fair without doing something wrong.

Last week, a high school put on a college fair for students that included more than 150 colleges.   Apparently, it was organized by the parents, NOT the school.   The school system decided that all of the high schools in the system should be allowed to send students, which makes sense.   But here's the problem.    The high school didn't have sufficient space to include all of the students from the other high schools in the school system.    So what did they do?   Instead of looking for a larger facility, they forced other high schools to cap their numbers to only 30 students per school!   What's more, they left the other high schools to decide how the 30 students were selected!

Some schools required students to be in the Top 10% of their graduating class in order to attend the college fair.   How is that fair?   Many of the colleges admit students far beyond the Top 25%.  I just don't see how this school system could get away with such a policy.   I know that the admissions officers were not too pleased with how this was implemented.   For a school to say, "you're not academically proficient enough to talk to these schools" is just plain wrong.  And I know that this school system is working VERY hard to increase the college graduation rate, not just the high school graduation rate.   This type of situation sets a bad precedent, and I am appalled that the administration has not made a public statement about this matter, nor has the local media covered the story.  

How can a public school screw up such a simple event?    Was the "fair" in this college fair?

Should Kids Play Only One Sport To Achieve Athletic Excellence?

I have written several posts about the role of youth sports in our society, and the impact parental decisions have on our children's social development.   When I was a child, I played multiple sports.   I played soccer in the fall, basketball in the winter and baseball in the spring (as well as tennis socially but could not play competitively due to the overlap with baseball).  I even picked up golf in high school and continue to play from time to time.   I played travel baseball in the summer and could still play for my school in the spring.  I chose not to play club soccer until late high school, but many of my soccer teammates played on a club team yet could still play for their school team.   Our soccer team was one of the top teams in NJ, and one of my teammates who was an All-American/NJ Player of the Year, played multiple sports as well.  We all did it, and I was fortunate to have a successful Division I baseball career.

Keep in mind that these are all team sports, not individual ones.   So this writer has no experience watching someone develop as a track star, a gymnast, a tennis player, or even a golfer.   However, as a parent, I have been troubled by the increasing emphasis on only one sport.  Several parents tell me that it is their kids that make the decision to do this, and we are seeing the European model of soccer, for example, now championed by Jurgen Klinsmann, taking hold in the United States.   We are creating "development academies" which are supposed to act as a feeder into the MLS or national team.   Their caveat:   they "own" you for 10 months, where you are not permitted to play for your school or play any other sport.

For a long time, I felt my concerns about focusing on one sport were simply my own opinions, nothing more and nothing less.   But earlier today, an article appeared on one of my social media feeds about this exact issue.  Written by a personal trainer, it presents a compelling case about the moral hazard of one sport focus.   Take this quote by Wayne Gretzky:

I played everything.  I played lacrosse, baseball, hockey, soccer, track & field.  I was a big believer that you played hockey in the winter and when the season was over you hung up your skates and you played something else.

Many of our most successful athletes:   Tom Brady, Michael Jordan, Deion Sanders, Bo Jackson to name a few - all played multiple sports.  What I found interesting about the article was that it talked about the "carryover" that certain sports have on others; for example, the favorable impact of sprinting on your golf swing.   In addition, Ohio State Football Coach Urban Meyer recruits nearly all multiple-sport athletes!

I worry about burnout with one sports athletes.  I worry about injuries.   Could focusing on one sport have any correlation to the alarmingly high increase in Tommy John surgeries with pitchers?  Or the number of torn ACLs in high school.

Kids need to a diverse set of experiences in their formative years.  Sports should first of all be fun, not a chore.   But yet we are all guilty of facilitating this cycle of one sport focus if you want to reach the pinnacle of the sport.  That is simply not true.   Perhaps we should take a hard look at this issue and get some empirical research to support such concerns.  I have no doubt the research will corroborate my opinion.    It's time to act on this, for the sake of our kids.

Teaching Students About Commitment And Tenacity

This past week, I had the privilege of hearing a motivational speech by former NBA star Jerry Stackhouse.  In a very conversational, lighthearted tone, Stackhouse delivered a very important message to youth everywhere.  While trying to add levity to a rags-to-riches, meteoric rise to stardom due to superior basketball skills, he enforced the importance of listening to your parents and finding a support network to help you navigate the twists and turns that life throws at you.   He concluded his talk with a poem, written by Edgar Albert Guest, titled See it Through, which I'm posting here.   All kids should adhere to this message - too many run away from adversity.  That needs to change.

When you’re up against a trouble, 
Meet it squarely, face to face; 
Lift your chin and set your shoulders, 
Plant your feet and take a brace. 
When it’s vain to try to dodge it, 
Do the best that you can do; 
You may fail, but you may conquer, 
See it through! 

Black may be the clouds about you 
And your future may seem grim, 
But don’t let your nerve desert you; 
Keep yourself in fighting trim. 
If the worst is bound to happen, 
Spite of all that you can do, 
Running from it will not save you, 
See it through! 

Even hope may seem but futile, 
When with troubles you’re beset, 
But remember you are facing 
Just what other men have met. 
You may fail, but fall still fighting; 
Don’t give up, whate’er you do; 
Eyes front, head high to the finish. 
See it through!

The Complicated Legacy of Thomas Jefferson

On the day of his birth, I thought I'd write a post about the legacy of one of our Founding Fathers - the author of the Declaration of Independence and the godfather of "states rights" and a weak Central Government.

I am not a Jeffersonian, but I cannot deny his intellect.   A brilliant man who left so many legacies - founding the University of Virginia, and his inventions in areas of gardening, architecture, science, etc.  And of course, the Presidents who followed him in office; James Madison and James Monroe.    He acquired the Louisiana Territory and significantly expanded American sovereignty on the continent.

But Jefferson left another legacy - in some respects, he was the original Tea Party member.   He tried to convince Americans that the old man (George Washington) was senile.   Instead of civil discourse with Alexander Hamilton about the role of the federal government, he decided to resign as Secretary of State rather than to follow the consensus of the administration - and eventually working with James Madison to create the "yin (Democratic-Republican Party)" to the Federalist Party's "yang." 

As John Adams' Vice President, he decided to leave Washington because he disagreed with the Alien and Sedition Acts.  He then secretly plotted with James Madison to write the "Kentucky and Virginia Resolutions," an attempt to nullify these acts and thus an act of insubordination.  Jefferson decided to build his own opposition party instead of working in a bi-partisan administration.   And lest not forget Jefferson's role in the XYZ Affair - where he sabotaged Adams' negotiations with the French to avert a war.  Eventually, Adams was able to avert a war, but the political price was the loss of a second term in office.

Jefferson was about limited government and states rights.   But his politics were as underhanded as they are today.   Jefferson was a slaveowner, and he knew that the only way to ratify the Constitution was to skirt the issue of slavery, which came back to haunt America for 200 years.

Jefferson was brilliant as were all of our Founding Fathers.  But he was not a collaborator, not by any sense of the word.  Our nation is at a crossroads - a very fragile balance between federalism and state control.    Can we maintain equilibrium?   I do not know.   But we can thank Thomas Jefferson for ensuring the battle wages on.


Is America Facing Another Kind Of Civil War?

I've been thinking for several weeks how to pen the post I'm about to write.  I know the title is provocative and will make readers a little uncomfortable.   But hasn't the rhetoric in our country been quite uncomfortable the past few years?

In the 19th Century, the United States fought a bitter Civil War due largely to the fact that the Founding Fathers elected to skirt the slavery issue when crafting the Constitution.  The issue finally came to a head after the 1860 election.   Sadly, our country did not integrate the South until the Civil Rights era of the 1960s.     As we have seen from recent events that took place in both Ferguson and New York City, many would argue that racial tensions still linger.

Today, I feel we are facing another kind of Civil War - an ideological one.   Our form of government is a Republic, not a democracy as many choose to believe.   It is a representative form of government where you elect officials to represent your interests.   The two branches of Congress were constructed to ensure that both big states and small states had an equal say in government, and checks and balances were established in order to prevent the establishment of another monarchy, or one branch from usurping excess power.   Our constitution was well crafted - Benjamin Franklin made this eloquent reflection as he encouraged delegates to approve it:

When you assemble a number of men to have the advantage of their joint wisdom, he reflected, you inevitably assemble with those men, all their prejudices, their passions, their errors of opinions, their local interests, and their selfish views. From such an assembly can a perfect production be expected? It therefore astonishes me, Sir, to find this system approaching so near to perfection as it does.

However, it was John Adams who showed such clairvoyance when he made the following warning (of which George Washington agreed):

There is nothing which I dread so much as a division of the republic into two great parties, each arranged under its leader, and concerting measures in opposition to each other. This, in my humble apprehension, is to be dreaded as the greatest political evil under our Constitution.

I fear we are reaching an ideological test to our Republic like none we have ever seen.   Some facts to support my hypothesis:

  •  Harvard Law Professor Lawrence Lessig has demonstrated how special interests and money has driven elections and taken away the voice of the individual. 
  • Efforts to create a formidable third political party have failed.
  •  Ideological extremists have invaded political parties (I will discuss this later).
  •  The branches of government are not respecting each other nor the Constitution

Ideological extremists such as the Tea Party have reignited the debate between Federalism and State autonomy (i.e., Jeffersonian philosophy).  We are seeing legislation that reasserts state rights (e.g., Anti-Common Core bills) and also trying to permit discrimination under the auspices of "religious freedom."  Further, these factions are attempting to rewrite U.S. History under political biases, not too dissimilar to what Vladimir Putin is enacting in Russia with his "Anti-American" propaganda largely surrounding their aggressive Crimea annexation.

Our branches of government have recently engaged in very disturbing behavior.   For example, Congress attempting to sue the POTUS for his Immigration Executive Order, the genesis which was due to the lack of collaboration in Congress to enact a strong immigration reform policy.   We see Congress skirting executive branch protocol and not only allowing a foreign Head of State to speak to members of Congress without executive consent, but also publicly damaging the administration's fragile, yet critical negotiations with Iran.   We see almost daily public statements of a personal nature attacking the President, and then seeing members of Congress assail one another almost regularly.   The discourse is not "civil" anymore.   All of this aggression places enormous pressure on the judicial branch who must play "King Solomon" around issues including health care and same-sex marriage.   The Supreme Court has arguably been forced into an activist posture (which it detests) never before seen since the Bush vs Gore decision that settled the 2000 Presidential Election.

Many people though that the election of a well spoken black President would help unite our country, but instead, it appears the ideological divide has widened.   Do we face a constitutional crisis, and has our Republic ever been tested more severely than it is now?   As an American, this is what keeps me up at night.   Can't we just find a way to get along, respect differences, and work together to reinvent America as the greatest country in the world?


The Importance of Positive Role Models for our Youth

Last night I received a very harsh tweet from some person who took issue with my comment that I felt the Tampa Bay Buccaneers risk destroying their franchise by making Jameis Winston the face of it.   We all know that Winston has proven he lacks maturity and has not handled fame well - in some ways like Johnny Manziel.  We have seen major sports leagues prioritize winning over everything else, and are not concerned with slapping players on the wrist for criminal behavior that would likely terminate them from most other jobs.   These are the players whose fans will buy jerseys for their children to wear proudly.   It is dangerous to idolize professional athletes.   However, sometimes we see these athletes demonstrate true leadership and welcome the fact that they are considered "role models."   Examples  of positive role models include Derek Jeter, Peyton Manning, and possibly Russell Wilson (too soon to tell but he shows promise, as does Marcus Mariota).  But for those few gems out there, we see so many bad eggs whose off the field behavior makes front page news and oftentimes the police blotter.   We must be careful who we let our children idolize or look up to.  And they should look up to folks other than professional athletes.

There was a boy who played many sports but really liked baseball the best.  When he was 12 years old, he attended a summer baseball camp.  At the camp one day was a very special guest:  baseball Hall of Famer Monte Irvin.   Irvin was one of the first African Americans allowed to play in the major leagues.   He played with Willie Mays on the San Francisco Giants and before that had a a heralded Negro League career with the Newark Eagles.   He was a sensational hitter who was also a great ambassador for the sport.  

At the camp, Monte Irvin watched the boys take batting practice.   After this one boy took his swings at the plate, he hears Monte say, "son, come over here for a minute."   The boy walks over to Irvin and Monte says to him, "Son, I wanted to tell you that you have a great swing."  The boy is speechless.  A hall of famer is telling him that he has a great swing.   That was the day that the boy decided he wanted to not only learn about the Negro Leagues and Monte Irvin's life, but also wanted to work as hard as he could to become a major league baseball player.

That boy was me.

Lets Teach Historical Empathy In Schools

What is historical empathy? Here's a textbook definition (from "Empathy:  A Historical Concept):

In the historical context, the concept of empathy is much more than just seeing a person, idea or situation through the eyes of another, but rather is a much deeper understanding of the circumstances and concepts surrounding the event. Questioning how and why someone acted in a particular way would need to involve knowledge circumstances and an understanding of bias. Moreover, there would need to be an inquiry into the author of the text and an idea of the time and place in which the event occurred, while also considering changing social practices and ideals over time. Evidently, it is an empathetic understanding rather than just an emotional understanding; an individual must instead adopt a third person view where it is not what they personally would do in the situation, but what the individual in question did in relation to their own circumstances. Such positioning would encourage a more balanced, equitable view of history, which allows for a greater depth of understanding and insight into the content which is being discussed.

I am a history buff.  I have read all of the major biographies on the founding fathers and other famous American historical figures (e.g., Abraham Lincoln).  Recently, I read a biography about Robert E. Lee that was written by Jonathan Horn titled, The Man Who Would Not Be Washington.  In school. we didn't learn much about the General of the Confederacy, other than he led the secessionist forces and ultimately surrendered to General Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox Court House in Virginia.   However, Lee is an intriguing historical figure.

The title of the book is the ultimate juxtaposition - as Washington was "the man who would not be king."   I don't want to give the details away, but Lee married into the Washington bloodline and he was forced to choose between the Union he fought for and the state he called his home (Virginia).  He did not support secession, and he was forced to make a choice that ultimately sealed his fate.  I could not begin to understand the conflicts that people had in the Civil War era.  Families were divided, and not just by geography.   The Union was on the verge of collapse.   You have to read the book to understand to a small degree what Lee was dealing with, how his views were shaped, and why he made the decisions he made.  The reader may not support those decisions, but if you use historical empathy, you can understand them.

This is how our children must be taught history - why choices were made in the circumstances afforded them.   This is why history should not be taught through a politically biased lens.   And we must tread cautiously when taking steps to amend an AP U.S. History Curriculum so that we do not forget the concept of historical empathy.

In Case You Didn't Believe Me About The Moral Hazard of Youth Sports....

I have written several posts in the last few months about the concerns I have with youth sports.   I have discussed the risks of a "winning at all costs" mentality, the lack of consistency with discipline, and the poor role modeling done by adults.  I encourage you to read the last few posts on my blog about this topic.

I was in my car this morning listening to the local sports radio hosts, and I was unfortunately not surprised to hear that the Jackie Robinson Little League Baseball Team (Chicago, IL) was stripped of its 2014 world title because they recruited players from outside their zip code - a clear violation of Little League rules.   The parents and coaches cheated the kids here.   Not only does this embarrass the United States, but lets not forget that the POTUS is from Chicago!  

This is yet another example of how the "winning at all costs" mentality is starting at such a young age.   Where is the uproar?   When did our priorities get so screwed up?   We are forgetting the role of youth sports, and winning is NOT the primary goal.   Yes, you play to win, but you play to learn, you play to be a good teammate, a good athlete and a good son or daughter.  You play to develop tools to live a life that is healthy in mind, body and spirit.   When you do that, you win in life. 

Why does this keep happening in our youth sports programs, our college sports programs, and our professional sports programs?   See the common link, everyone?   What you teach kids stays with them through their lives.  It's going to take a generation to fix this program, so we better start now.

Our Youth Must Learn The Power of Kindness

Today's youth expect things to be given to them.   Their mindset in most cases is that "if I do someone a favor, it will help me gain an advantage or that person will be expected to do something for me down the road."   Our youth are not being taught the power of unconditional generosity - and more specifically, "random acts of kindness."   I had this happen to me yesterday.

I was on a business trip out of town and spent several hours with a company there.  You'd think that the first thing I would remember about the trip was the interesting people I met and the exciting outcomes that resulted from the interaction.   And you couldn't be more wrong.

What I remember most emphatically was what happened BEFORE the meetings.   I arrived early, and stopped at a nearby coffee shop to get a drink and prepare for the day.   Unfortunately, there was not a free parking lot and you had to park on a city street with a parking meter.   I was not prepared for that and didn't have any coins laying around to put in the meter.   A driver pulls up and I told him I was going to give him the spot because I was from out of town and didn't have any change for the meter.   Without even hesitating , this guy rips out some coins and offers to give them to me - no questions asked.   I thanked him repeatedly for his kind gesture.  

When I went into the coffee shop, he comes in behind me, also wanting to get some coffee.   I asked him his name (which was "Jerry") and I offered to buy him coffee and told him that I am not used to folks going out of their way to offer a small gesture of kindness.   He said he didn't even think twice about it, and was happy to help out someone from out of town.  

This is what our kids need to learn - being kind disarms others and makes them more willing to listen, to befriend, and to love.   In the words of Charlie Chaplin:

“We think too much and feel too little. More than machinery, we need humanity. More than cleverness, we need kindness and gentleness.”

Jerry, I know you don't want anything in return, but when you visit Atlanta, look me up.

Sports Continues To Damage Our Youth

I spoke about the problems with youth supports at the end of 2014.   But sadly, no one is sounding the alarm bells.   And yet, the damage continues to proliferate.

  • A girls high school basketball coach runs up a 161-2 score and gets suspended, although the school has not been sanctioned in any way whatsoever.  Why not suspend the game via mercy rule in order to prevent the opposing players from suffering such an embarrassment?
  • The New England Patriots are being investigated for deflating footballs which gives quarterbacks, running backs, and other players a competitive advantage.  This is analogous to a pitcher doctoring a baseball or a hitter corking a bat.
  • We continue to see a "winning at all costs" mentality in amateur and professional sports.  It's all about "the ends justifying the means" a la Machiavelli.
  • While I am not a fan of Ohio State Quarterback Cardele Jones, some in the media criticize his decision to remain at Ohio State and not enter the NFL Draft.  The player had a total of 3 college starts but everyone is quick to push this kid into the pros.

What is going on here?

We see a moral hazard in sports - that is, people are trying to game the system.   College athletes forget they are students first, yet the big business of sports has shifted priorities.    We see young people looking at these athletes and coaches who engage in criminal and unethical behavior, both on the field and off the field, and believe "if they can act that way and not be punished, then I guess it's acceptable."   

It's time we all look at ourselves in the mirror.  What lessons are we teaching our kids?   How do we instill positive coaching philosophies when those in the national spotlight who have the bully pulpit do not believe this to be a major social issue?

I worry about my kids and your kids.   I want them to grow up and be responsible, caring, compassionate, ethically-minded adults.   But in a world where gaining an edge at all costs and rewarding criminal behavior is the norm, this job gets harder and harder.

Happy New Year From ReinventED Solutions

Thanks to everyone for reading my blog.   The great thing about the Internet is that everyone has a voice.   My view may not be your view, but freedom of expression is one of the foundations of a democracy.   Civil discourse is another, and I hope that civility continues to rule the day as together, we try and shape ideas to reinvent our public education system.

In the words of the late Nelson Mandela, "Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world."

Happy New Year, and wishing everyone a happy, healthy, and successful 2015.

Sports One Factor In The Degradation of Youth, But It Can Be Fixed

Again I wanted to explore the role of sports in youth development, and society as a whole.   I am a former athlete.  I know firsthand how important sports can be in molding a person's character.  In my playing days, I was fortunate to be a part of several championship teams.   Sports can be a unifying agent.   It can unify schools, communities, and, most importantly, people.   Regardless of whether we were winners or losers, our teams always represented our communities and schools to the highest standard.  And finally, I have friends for life.  Regardless of geography, we are connected by what we accomplished collectively on the field.   Sports was not about winning or losing - it was about learning non-cognitive skills such as commitment, teamwork, respect, leadership and sportsmanship.   

What I see now, even as a sports parent, is a most troubling development in youth/amateur sports that has manifested itself over decades.   With the growth of television broadcasting and other forms of distribution, players can now get national, perhaps global exposure that they never had before.   Even if they have not yet built the maturity to deal with such attention, they are forced to deal with it now.  If they fail, it's not a local failure.  It could be a global one.   Sports rights deals at the college level are at unprecedented levels.    College sports is a big business now.   We see football coaches in particular being fired for not winning championships, even if they have a stellar won-loss record.   Bo Pelini at Nebraska won 9 games this year, yet he was fired.   The only exception I can fathom to this distorted criteria is if a coach is fired "for cause."  It could also be inept coaching on the field, as we have seen countless times at schools such as Georgia.

I only bring up these two examples not to single out these schools, but rather to demonstrate that something has gone awry in amateur sports.   Let me give you another example.  At Ohio State, they are on their third quarterback this season due to injuries.   This student-athlete, Cardale Jones, is being asked to start his first game in perhaps the most important game of the year for the Buckeyes:  the Big 10 Championship.    And what does he say on Twitter? 

"Why should we have to go to class if we came here to play FOOTBALL, we ain't come to play SCHOOL, classes are POINTLESS".

Notwithstanding his horrific sentence structure and use of grammar, doesn't this student have his priorities backwards?   Cardale, you go to college to get an education FIRST.   You're offered an opportunity to get a free education and play football at an elite program while getting your college degree.   Yes, you're getting an audition to hopefully make it to the NFL, but you're a student-athlete, not the other way around.

We have created a culture where you are forced to specialize in one sport at a young age, and that "winning is everything."  So what happens when you lose?  How do you deal with not winning?   Have our sports programs trained its coaches well and created support systems to ensure that our kids are developing character and learn how to deal with missteps?   What do the deluge of criminal acts taking place our high school sports programs, our college programs and our professional franchises tell us about the direction our society is heading?   Am I the only one who is saddened by the fact that we seem to live our lives around the sports event, and forget about life in general?

I believe we can fix this at the youth/amateur level very quickly.   We must reset our expectations at what the purpose of youth sports is and what it is NOT.   My kids' school is a member of the Positive Coaching Alliance ("PCA").  Positive Coaching Alliance is a national non-profit developing “Better Athletes, Better People” by working to provide all youth and high school athletes a positive, character-building youth sports experience.  I recently heard one of their representatives speak and received a complimentary copy of one of their books, titled, "Positive Sports Parenting:  How Second-Goal Parents Raise Winners In Life Through Sports." It's a brief read, and it may seem obvious.  However, it is extremely important for EVERY parent to read it cover to cover.   It reminds us as parents to focus on life lessons and let the players focus on competing and let the coaches focus on instruction.  It reminds us that winning is not the primary purpose of youth sports.  It reminds us that many of these coaches and referees are either volunteers or doing this NOT for the money.    Finally, it reminds us that we as parents have a responsibility to ensure our youth athletes focus on what's really important about youth sports:  not winning, but on self confidence, physical fitness, grace in both victory and defeat.

All of us - parents, coaches, educators, and children can refocus efforts to instill the true values that are derived from sports.   It's time we stop this "winning at all costs" mindset and start teaching our kids the true meaning of sport.  Sports is not about "ends justifying the means."   Sports is a tool, just like the arts, that build character.   And strong character makes you successful not only on the fields of sport, but also the fields of life.

It's time to reset our priorities and start building successful student-athletes.   I want my kids to grow up in a society where our athletes do not regularly dominate the news cycle for off the field conduct.   I hope you do as well.


The Unintended Societal Effects of Ineffective Social & Emotional Learning Programs

Frankly, I didn't really know how to title this post, which I've been contemplated for quite some time.   Lets look at a few very serious issues that have happened in our country over the past several months, and while they do not appear to have any common threads, perhaps they do?

  • Despite the increased awareness of cyber-bullying, bullying and other hazing activities in sports, we have seen troubling incidents in high school (Sayreville High School Football, Central Bucks West Football)
  • We have also seen hazing incidents in professional football, with last year's troubling Miami Dolphins locker room culture causing irreparable harm to rookie Jonathan Martin.
  • Several high profile criminal investigations in college football, which include 2013 Heisman winner Jameis Winston leading the list of college athletes who have either been suspended or removed from their universities.
  • An alarmingly high number of NFL athletes who have been charged and/or indicted on criminal charges.   These include domestic violence (i.e., Ray Rice), physical harm to a child (i.e., Adrian Peterson), and many, many others that have exposed the alternate reality that professional athletes face versus the general population.

What is going on here?

I have a few theories, and I believe it is important that our communities and our schools take a good, hard look in the mirror and see what we can do to address them.

  1.  We have forgotten what the role of sports is in our society.   Sports has become big business, and the lines have blurred significantly between amateurism and professionalism.  As such, our sports programs, even as early as high school, are being built with the false notion that "winning isn't everything, it's the only thing."  That's a real quote, and although it was wrongly attributed to Vince Lombardi, it was really from the words of former UCLA football coach Red Sanders.  Sports is supposed to be about building many non-cognitive skills, such as character, leadership, sportsmanship, teamwork, persistence, and many others.   It's about doing your best, and sometimes you win, but sometimes you lose.   It seems we are all guilty of taking our eye off the ball and drilling into these young, impressionable minds, that if you don't win, you're a failure.   This mentality may be one factor in why hazing and other activities are still alive and well in many sports programs.  We need to do a better job training our coaches because they are supposed to be important role models in our children's lives, just like a classroom teacher.   John Wooden wasn't just a great coach of basketball, he was also a life coach.
  2. The lack of social and emotional learning in the home and the classroom.  I believe that we are not doing enough to expose our youth to sensitivity training around how you interact with others.   Poverty can only be blamed for so much.   As parents, we still have a fundamental responsibility to teach our kids right and wrong.  Many of them take out their lack of values in the home on the world around them, and ultimately, this emerges in our schools.  So while parents do share some of the blame, our schools do as well.   Don't just put up signs saying you don't tolerate hate.   The mindset has to permeate through your entire school culture in everything you do.   We need to remember to treat others the way we want to be treated.   Why should we expect our children to listen to and respect their teammates and coaches if they don't mimic these same behaviors in the classroom and in their homes?
  3. Who are good role models for our children?  This one speaks for itself.   If we allow our youth to idolize these professional athletes and then we do not punish them for moral and/or criminal transgressions, then they will believe it's ok to do wrong.   We should absolutely give second chances, but we need to take a hard look at how we discipline wrongdoers.   Many scholar-athletes feel the "rules don't apply to them."  Do you want your child to idolize Jameis Winston, or do you want them to idolize Nelson Mandela or Oprah Winfrey? 

The media plays a major role in this ecosystem as well.   Don't just gloss over the off-field transgressions and focus on the winning.   It's time that we all work together to try and address what I believe is a growing problem in our societal fabric.   Sports are supposed to be fun.  They are supposed to build character.   They are supposed to build the skills you will need to succeed not only on the field of competition, but also the field of life.  

Lets not assume that all of these issues are not related.   I hope that our society takes a good hard look in the mirror and starts identifying a practical approach to addressing them.   The long-term health of our society depends on it.

New Innovation Tool For Schools Shows Promise

Yesterday, a new publication published by 2Revolutions and The Learning Accelerator was released to the public.  It's worth reading, and it's titled, "So You Think You Want to Innovate: Emerging Lessons and a New Tool for State and District Leaders Working to Build a Culture of Innovation."   It's 55 pages long, but it contains a robust planning tool that can help schools to not only assess but also to strengthen their infrastructures to ensure it is one that embraces innovation.    I hope that school districts take the time to review the material and consider completing the scorecard to take an honest assessment of their school environment.  They might find that it helps them identify the barriers to change and uncover strategies to alleviate them.


Welcome to the newly designed ReinventED Solutions blog!  I hope you enjoy the simpler blog layout and appreciate your continued interest in my thoughts about how to reinvent public education.   I hope you continue to read and comment and feel free to suggest ideas for future blog posts.

Why Youth Sports Are Essential To Public Education

Now that many of our public schools are back in session, I'm sure we'll be hearing more about budget problems and the philosophy of "addition by subtraction."   Time and time again, we hear from educators and education journalists that we should spend more money on core curriculum and that sports and the arts are non-essential activities that can afford to be eliminated should funds not be invested effectively. And there will be people like me who will be the first to immediately refute these ignorant points of view for not thinking about how critical these activities are to a child's social and emotional development - their "non-cognitive skills" so to speak.

Let me start out first by saying that I don't think everything is copasetic with youth sports.   We focus too early on winning and losing, all star teams, and not enough time on having fun, learning the game, and most importantly, sportsmanship.   Too many coaches have their priorities backwards and are psychological bullies on the field.   Negative reinforcement is the worst thing you can do to a youth athlete.  I should know.  I lost my son to the sport that gave me much success in life, baseball, because of a terrible coach.   Instead of fielding more teams, we need to field less teams that have well trained coaches.  

I don't watch the Little League World Series.  I haven't watched it in years.  Why?  Because it pains me to see 12 year olds throwing curve balls, splitters, and other junk that puts too much torque on their underdeveloped arms.   By the time these young pitchers reach their late teens or early 20s, many of them will experience serious arm issues and perhaps even Tommy John Surgery.   It's wrong - plain wrong.  When I was twelve, I went to a prestigious baseball camp in New Jersey and learned how to throw a "safe" slider by a former major league pitcher who eventually became the head coach of a Division I Baseball Program.   I never learned how to throw a "real" curve ball.  I used this pitch my entire career.

But as I was watching sports highlights last night, I saw for a brief moment that there is still good in youth sports.    Despite the over-exposure these youth face with the increased telecasts of the Little League Regionals as well as the Little League World Series, we sometimes see a coach whose priorities are right where they should be.   We see a coach who understands that there is agony in a tough defeat, but that it's important to put it all in perspective for these impressionable young minds.   We see a coach who realizes that it is his responsibility to be a coach first - not to get caught up in the moment and live vicariously through his players.   Yes, there are some coaches who understand that sports build non-cognitive skills in our youth - things like teamwork, persistence, and sportsmanship.   Youth sports are essential to a child's development, and if we spent a little bit of time training our coaches to be like Rhode Island Little League Coach Dave Belisle, we'd all realize that youth sports, like music and the arts, builds social and emotional skills.  These youth will remember this coach for the rest of their lives, and while they may be heartbroken at first, they will eventually look back with pride.  Why?   Because Coach Belisle taught his players, as well as youth coaches and players around the world, that a good coach is like a good school teacher - they shape your character and prepare you to not only excel in sports, but more importantly, excel in life.

Watch the 3 minute speech and judge for yourself.   We could all learn from this honorable man, who didn't memorize a speech.  He simply spoke from the heart, and at least for this occasion,  I was glad that there were cameras to capture the moment for the world to see.

The Verdict is in: Ed Reform in Georgia At Risk

Now that the recount on the GOP side of the election for State School Superintendent has been completed, it is clear that Georgia's recent ed reforms are at risk.   Richard Woods, the GOP nominee, brings a base of Tea Party conservatives and an anti-common core, local at all costs platform.   The Dems chose teacher's union darling Valarie Wilson, who, while supporting the common core,  has demonstrated a blatant disregard for public school choice and charter schools.   Both parties are seeing their education policies driven by a strong extremist base of support.   What does all of this mean?

The state has spent many millions of dollars implementing a system of reforms largely driven by its $400M+ Race to the Top grant award.  While it enacted a Common Core platform, it has recently seen its support of Common Core assessments shift to a vendor that is not part of the state consortium known as PARCC.  Instead, it is developing its own assessments and while saving roughly $25 million in the process, they have given the business to one of the major textbook monopolies, McGraw Hill.  In addition, the state has invested heavily in new teacher evaluations, new performance metrics, and a system to provide an alternate charter approval process should the local school districts not demonstrate a willingness to collaborate with new charter school options.

In a state that is still largely Republican, it is highly unlikely that Valarie Wilson will win the election; however, a Woods victory will take Georgia further away from a common framework that allows academic performance to be measured across states, and will also continue to wreck havoc with traditional public schools who already feel they are being short-changed in the wallet.   Wilson, on the other hand, would likely shift democrats towards an anti-reform stance that aligns with the current platforms of the AFT and NEA.  Charter schools will see their resources put at risk in a Wilson administration.  

But here's the rub.    In Georgia, the State Superintendent is not a position of power.  Why?  Because the governor controls the budget.   If Deal wins re-election, perhaps he can keep Woods' agenda in check, as he'll be a lame duck governor.   A Carter administration would make for an interesting duel should the GOP win the top education post.

At the end of the day, Georgia's citizens have made one thing perfectly clear.   They don't want the current reform process to continue, and instead, they want to cause more pain and stress in an already dysfunctional system.  Teachers have been put through the ringer - they just want to stay on the current path.  More change will not be welcomed.   

Ed reform in Georgia is certainly at risk.  How much we won't know until the November election when some of the uncertainties will be resolved.

GA State School Superintendent Election Is Moment Of Truth for Ed Reform in Georgia

This year's election for GA State School Superintendent is not getting the same microphone as the races for Governor and US Senator - nor should it.

However, for those of us who follow national, state and local education policy, this election is representative of the national conflict around reforming our public education system.   We can debate the pros and cons of whether this position should be an elected one or a position appointed by the governor another time.   As much as it creates unnecessary redundancies, bureaucracy and instability in our education system, Georgia has created this monstrosity by virtue of its outdated Constitution for which an amendment would be necessary to fix this dysfunction.  And we know from the Charter School Amendment two years ago that it would be a painful and destabilizing process for the state.

So lets return to the question at hand.   There were so many candidates in both parties running for this position, that Georgia is not faced with a runoff in each party on July 22nd to see who will run in the general election.   Turnout will likely be terrifyingly low and it will be these few voters who will determine which candidates secure their party's nominations.  

The election is pitting the Tea Party against the Common Core, and pitting an DFER against a status quo candidate supported by the nation's most powerful unions:  the NEA and AFT.  These organizations are now undermining President Obama's efforts to reform public education in this country.

The anti-Common Core faction is very strong in Georgia.   They almost rammed through a bill in the General Assembly that would have rolled back education reform efforts and set this state's education system back at least a decade.  What's good for America is obviously not what's good for Georgia - hence the strong forces against any national efforts that folks will presume without evidence will tread on state's rights.  Georgia has already moved forward with major education reforms and while change is never easy, it is way too soon to claim that they are not working or will not work.   Miracles don't happen overnight.

So what will Georgia do?   Will Georgia vote for more influence from teacher's unions?  Will they vote to unravel the Common Core and wreck more havoc in a system that is in the midst of major policy transitions and where educators are getting comfortable with such changes?   Will Georgia's voters vote for a candidate who will work across party lines to continue to reforms that Georgia signed up to enact based on its $400 million Race to the Top grant award?

This is the moment of truth for Georgia.   I hope they let the current reforms take root and not put our parents, teachers and children through more policy changes.    Only two candidates fit that bill:   Mike Buck and Alisha Morgan.    If those two win the runoffs, then Georgia should win regardless who you like amongst the two.  I know who I'm voting for - do you?

A Plea For Common Ethics: The Final Chapter

This is my final post in a series about the importance of ethics in public education reform.

Conveniently, I received a note from a reader of my blog post  that was republished in the AJC about the situation with the UGA football program.   Head football coach Mark Richt chose not to discipline 4 student athletes who were arrested in a check fraud scheme involving stipends received from the athletic department.  They dressed in full pads for practice the next day, and no discipline was ever announced.   UGA's discipline policy states that such discipline for misdemeanors is "at the discretion of the coach."   I was wondering if we would ever see resolution on this matter.

Yesterday, a story came out that one of these four student-athletes, safety Tray Matthews, was dismissed from the team because of additional, more recent infractions.  However, we do not know what these other infractions were.   Making matters worse, the player immediately tweets "Auburn or Louisville will be my home."  Why would he say such a thing?  (An aside:  we still don't know if the other three students were disciplined at all).

Let me refresh everyone's memory who may not be familiar with this issue.   Auburn, and even more importantly, Louisville, seem to be more than willing to immediately admit 4 star recruits who were cast aside by Georgia solely for disciplinary issues, regardless of their criminal nature.   You see, the former Defensive Coordinator for UGA is now in the same position at Louisville, and works for none other than our nation's ethical compass, Bobby Petrino.   Just recently, Louisville immediately scooped up disgraced UGA defensive back Josh Harvey-Clemons, who was dismissed by Coach Richt for drug-related incidents. 

So what does this all mean?   It means that there is a moral hazard on college sports because there is not a consistent disciplinary policy across programs.  Another story recently came out that talked about Georgia's efforts to push for a uniform drug policy in the SEC.  Unfortunately, the efforts appear "dead" because at a recent SEC meeting, the issue wasn't even brought to the table and discussed.  And so Georgia's efforts to take the moral high ground will continue to place it at a significant disadvantage, at least on the field, until such time as there is sufficient backlash to force the issue to be reconsidered.

This topic goes way beyond sports if you read my previous posts.   In a  recent blog on Ed Week, the author makes the claim that "ethics are caught, rather than taught."   I think it's a combination of both, and it's not only taught by educators, but more importantly, parents and other family members.   This goes far beyond whether a student-athlete should be punished for criminal behavior and be allowed to play, and whether schools should have consistent policies so that students aren't rewarded for making such mistakes.  If we want our students to be successful in life, they need to know right from wrong.  They need to know that "integrity is doing the right thing when no one else is looking."  So before we get all wound up about common core standards, I say again, "how about common ethics first?"