What’s the Score in Education?

Published March 1, 1999

“We admire Michael Jordan–not because he got the ball near, over, or in the direction of the basket–but in the basket. If schools lack clear standards, nobody knows the score–not educators, not parents, not kids, not the public.”
Herbert J. Walberg
Research Professor of Education and Psychology
University of Illinois at Chicago

Chicago’s public schools, declared the “worst in the nation” a decade ago, have now been cited for two years running in the President’s State of the Union address as a model for the nation’s public schools. With student learning clearly established as a first priority, Chicago’s schools have put an end to social promotion–even though telling students they have failed to meet academic standards may make them feel bad.

As Walberg’s sports analogy makes clear, the story of the Chicago Public Schools doesn’t end there. When students fail in Chicago, they are sent to training camp–the Summer Bridge program–for more practice in academics so that they can meet the standards and be promoted to the next grade. Sports fans familiar with the benefits of practice will not be surprised that research shows extra homework and spending more time in class lead to more student learning.

Instead of a basketball analogy, education consultants Leon Lessinger and Allen Salowe use football as a model for education in their 1997 book, Game Time: The Educator’s Playbook for the New Global Economy. The authors, senior fellows with the Florida Institute of Education, focus on six themes that apply to success in the National Football League and also serve as models for performance improvement for schools:

  • Focus on the student as the customer.
  • Work from a playbook that contains practices that have been shown to work.
  • Aim for continuous improvement.
  • Technology changes the way the game is played.
  • Both teamwork and competition are needed.
  • Leadership must put continuous learning first.

Noting that we already know a great deal about what works in education, the authors suggest an initial education playbook, describing 33 good practices taken from the 1986 U.S. Department of Education publication, What Works. Those practices include phonics, early writing, direct instruction, science experiments, tutoring, memorization, frequent assessment, rigorous courses, and discipline.

Walberg raises the issue of continuous improvement with the Chicago schools: “What will they do for a three-peat?” he asks.

“Game Time: The Educator’s Playbook for the New Global Economy” (220 pages), Technomic Publishing Company Inc., Lancaster, Pennsylvania), may be ordered from the publisher at 800/233-9936.