Today marks the last day of the Nebraska State Basketball Tournament. Hats off to the participating teams and all student athletes throughout Nebraska as this season comes to an end, as well as the families and coaches who make it all possible.
Organized sports are a great American tradition. In Nebraska, drive by a soccer field on a Saturday in the spring, a baseball field in the summer, or a football field in the fall, and you’re sure to see swarms of kids as young as four and five years old running around, bleachers full of families cheering them on.
Only a fraction of those five-year olds are likely to play at the high school level. Even a smaller percentage will play college sports. And a very finite number of students may go on the play at the professional level. And, inevitably, all athletic careers come to an end.
Unlike in sports, all five-year olds will go on to attend high school. Each should be prepared to enter and succeed in college. And all must be ready for life after school. Just as great coaching and rigorous training leads to success on the court, great teaching and rigorous standards lead to success in the classroom. We owe it to students to provide the necessary conditions for such success.
Coaching and Teaching:
Imagine that a coach who failed to win a single game for years was guaranteed that job for life. Would you want your child to play on that team? Imagine if a young Tom Osborne was fired because a different coach with a lousy record who had been coaching for a few more years wanted the job. Would you still go to Husker games? Would you even be a fan?
Just as coaches are critical to success on the field, teachers are critical to success in the classroom. Like great coaches, teachers push students to be their best. They recognize each child’s individual strengths and build upon them. They inspire students to reach their full potential through hard work and determination. They give students the tools necessary to achieve at high levels, celebrating success while encouraging continued growth.
Yet, in Nebraska, unlike coaches, teachers are compensated and retained based on years of service, not effectiveness. A teacher whose students gain only ½ a year of learning in one academic year will keep his job even when a teacher with one year less experience attains two years of learning. This is not a fair way to treat teachers and it’s not an acceptable way to treat students.
Teachers, like coaches, deserve to be treated like professionals and celebrated for leading students to success. We would not keep our children on a team with an ineffective coach, so we should not accept that some children attend schools where some teachers show little ability to teach.
Imagine shortening a field or widening a net: athletes are more likely to score, but will be less prepared to do so under regulatory conditions. The same goes for success in the classroom: when K-12 standards are low, students are more likely to receive a passing grade, but will be less prepared for success in college and career.
Today, Nebraska has among the lowest academic standards in the country. From 2011-2015, Nebraska was one of only two states to lower K-12 standards. Whereas the Nebraska Department of Education reports that 81% of 4th graders are proficient in reading, the National Assessment for Educational Progress reports that number at only 40%.
High standards, like great coaching, improve performance and, ultimately, lead to better outcomes. We would not want our children to prepare for basketball tryouts using a hoop at 40% regulation height, so we should not accept it when schools tell students they’re prepared to graduate from high school, knowing they’re unlikely to succeed in college.
Winning off the Court
Nebraskans must value every child’s opportunity to succeed through access to a high quality education more so than a high performing sports team (yes, even in the land of the Huskers). We can tolerate losing a championship game from time to time, even grow from it, but we should not tolerate keeping children from receiving the education necessary to become champions off the court.