A LYS principal shares the following:The current finance issue in Texas has lead to some very interesting conversations. One of the conversations this week ended for me in a moment of epiphany. Now, before I start describing this conversation, understand I am not against extracurricular activities. Given sufficient funding, I am for funding everything. But like I said, the finance issue is leading to some interesting conversations. For example, let’s say Texas cuts Pre-K funding (SC NOTE: DONE). In a low SES school, which is more beneficial to kids? Extracurricular activities or Pre-K? If we have money I want both, if not, I am going with Pre-K. As you might guess, the athletic director took the opposite argument and I am good with that. I buy into the idea that athletics can be great for kids. It can build character, work ethic, dedication, and all sorts of good things, if the focus of athletics is truly for the good of kids, that is. After all, extracurricular activities make great sense in the Life Adjustment model of education introduced in the 1940’s. Life Adjustment education is still embedded in the foundation of modern schools. During my conversation with the athletic director we were discussing not eliminating athletics, but making significant changes in order to preserve instructional positions. No athletic programs were on the chopping block. Then during a moment of truth the athletic director says, “Fine, I understand principal and superintendent jobs are on the line if we don’t do well on TAKS and STAAR. But coaches lose their jobs if they don’t win. Are we going to make cuts and still expect us to win?” It hit me – athletics isn’t about building character, work ethic, dedication, and other great things. Maybe it used to be, but now it is about the needs and desires of adults. Our accountability and expectations put on coaches drove the focus from the needs of the athlete to the needs of the adult. Yes, athletics appears to be great for kids, but as secondary administrators how many schedule changes do we do for coaches who choose NOT to work with certain kids. The kids that need athletics the most are quite often summarily dismissed. It creates a statistical environment of false positives. I felt good about my observations, until I realized the same process applied to me. Did I always do what was best for ALL kids under ALL circumstances? The answer disappointed me, NO. I too feel the pressure of accountability. Sometimes I play the corners and gutters of the system to remove kids I can’t work with under the constraints of the system we are forced to work within. The things I despise about coaches, I do myself, just in a different arena. I gathered two things from this conversation. One, the athletic director and I had needs that were somewhat in conflict with each other. The coaches needed certain kids removed from their programs. I was expected to magically find places for those kids to go. Coaches needed to miss school more than I wanted them to in order to go to tournaments and to leave early for games. They feel their jobs depend on those issues. My job depends on the opposite of those issues. This is a source of “educational friction.” Two, accountability, athletic and academic, leads to student acceptable losses. Accountability certainly puts adults on a “results or else” course of action, but adults tend to focus heavily on the “or else” side. As a result, adults look for corners and gutters to discard students into. This is another source of “educational friction.” So we have conflicting needs (of adults) within the system and the idea of acceptable losses at all levels within the system that both contribute to “educational friction.” In any real system there has to be a break-even point, a point where more effort/energy/money dumped into the system is simply turned into friction at a rate that is ineffective, inefficient, and unsustainable. I propose that the friction of academic instruction and extracurricular activities have reached to point of producing more inefficiency and ineffectiveness than what is good for the overall good of MOST kids and is no longer sustainable as currently configured. If accountability is not at that point, it is certainly very close. A new model of education is the only solution I can see. We stacked the idea of an academically rigorous education on the back of a school model built upon the Life Adjustment model of the 1940’s. I contend that the models of Life Adjustment and academic rigor are fundamentally incompatible and in fact contribute greatly to internal sources of “educational friction.” In order to correct this problem I think we need to back up to the late 1950’s, a time when Admiral Rickover proposed sweeping changes. Rickover’s suggestion to the US Congress was rejected in favor of easier, gentler reforms to the system. I say easier and gentler has reached its realistic limit given the phenomenon of “educational friction,” and Hymen Rickover was likely correct in the need for total reform. Think. Work. Achieve. SC Response Let start with the, “I’ll get fired if I don’t win.” Yes, that is true. But I will submit that a coach can survive more losing seasons than a principal or superintendent can survive AU ratings. But that isn’t the main issue that I have with high school athletics. My issue is when the AD is allowed to circumvent campus administration to meet his (or her) coaching needs. I cannot tell you the number of struggling high schools that I have worked with where both staffing and the master schedule are essentially run by the AD. I don’t care how many games your team wins, when you let athletics trump academics you are sacrificing the learning needs of students for the entertainment wants of adults. Second, your realization that you have put your needs in front of the needs of kids. Don’t let go of the feeling that punch in the stomach gave you. I too live with the same realization. I was guilty as a teacher (though the system rewarded me). I was horrible as an assistant principal (though the system lauded me). I began to reform as a principal (it’s amazing what being responsible for the big picture will do for your perspective). And once I had influence over the system, I began to work to change the system to prevent my sins from being inflicted by others on others. Just know that now you have credibility. When someone who has never walked in your shoes tells you to do something different, it is easy to blow them off. But when that person has shared experiences, you have to consider their advice. Third is the concept of acceptable loses. I am a pragmatic idealist. Initially, when you begin to change the system, there may be some (students and teachers) that have been so damaged by the prior system (or in most cases the lack of a system) that they cannot be helped. My rule in this case is to work with the person in question as long as they are at least trying to work with you. But by year two, everyone is your responsibility. This means that you don’t measure yourself by your perceived success, you measure yourself by your actual failure. This is an important paradigm shift. If I measure myself by perceived success, all I have to do is beat you. If you have a 50% success rate and I have a 60% success rate, I win and I don’t give a second thought to the 40% that are failing. On the other hand, if I measure myself by actual failure, those 40% matter. And if I don’t reduce that dramatically every year, I’m failing those that need me the most. Finally, I’m not opposed to total reform. You and I both have the scars to prove it. I just don’t trust the agendas of those currently starving the system and they have no viable alternative other than smoking ruins. Do you realize how poorly it reflects on our current leadership when Mark White and Ross Perot represent the high water mark in state government in the past 30 years? Think. Work. Achieve.Your turn…Follow Sean Cain on www.Twitter.com/LYSNationComing Soon! The Fundamental Five: The Formula for Quality Instruction