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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?"


Education Reform Starts In The Home

Every once in a while, a comment on a blog, or a blog topic itself, really gets under my skin.  The last time this happened was when UGA Football Coach Mark Richt decided not to discipline 4 players who were arrested for theft and deception and the opinion of some mothers that these kids "deserved to be back on the field immediately."   Now, another situation has me really thinking about education reform and the requirement that a two pronged intervention approach from educators AND parents is what is really needed to fix our education system.

I shared a story with Maureen Downey, editor of the Get Schooled blog for the Atlanta Journal Constitution, about a Florida high school that was charging up to $200 a seat to attend its graduation ceremony.  And for the first time, seniors had to pay a $20 fee to attend their own graduation!   She in turn published a post on her blog about the incident.   However, what really riled me up (I need to stop getting riled up or I'll lose my hair) was the fact that certain readers posted comments suggesting that they told their parents not to attend their own graduations because all they did was "do what they were supposed to do."  And that hit me like a knife to the heart.

Whether it's your first child or your last, as a parent, there is absolutely no good reason to miss your child's graduation, whether from high school or college.  Whether you graduated Valedictorian or graduated last in your class, graduating is an accomplishment, and one that should be celebrated by parents and children alike.   You reached a milestone and you should always celebrate such things with your children.  They need to know that you care, and that you're proud of them.   Now lets just dismiss the folly of charging seniors and their families to attend their own graduation.   There is no debate.  Families should attend graduations regardless of whether or not your child is getting any additional accolades. 

This is why I believe that education reform is so complex in the United States.  Prioritizing education is not just with dollars and policy, it is a MINDSET.   In Finland, they have this mindset.  They also do in Singapore and other countries with best-in-class education systems.   If parents don't feel that attending a graduation is important, then do you really think they're going to be there to help their child with homework, or in building both cognitive and non-cognitive skills?   So again, that is why feel more strongly than ever that education reform starts and ends in the home.   Teachers can only do so much, and if parents undo all of the work that teachers are trying to do in the classroom, then education reform will not succeed.

So do me a favor - attend your child's graduation.