The World Cup and Education

I was listening to sports radio today when I heard a few callers demand that the head coach for USA soccer be fired. I thought, “why?” The United States is leagues away from even being a real contender in soccer on the world stage. It’s the 4th or 5th choice of most Americans when choosing a life-long team sport, and our best athletes don’t play soccer. The best athletes play soccer in Brazil, Argentina, Spain, Germany, and so on; however, our best athletes play football, basketball, hockey, and baseball.

Imagine if Bo Jackson, Herschel Walker, Michael Jordan, Cal Ripken, Jr., and others played soccer! If our best athletes of today played soccer, imagine the possibilities. How about Dwight Howard in the goal, or Kobe Bryant playing midfield, or Adrian Peterson as a striker. How would USA soccer change?

Ultimately, it comes down to this: is the coach going to be able to overcome the lack of having the top athletes in the country while others use only the best athletes?

When I thought this question in regards to soccer, I then thought about all of the comparisons made between the USA and other countries of the world. How about changing the question above to this: is the school system going to be able to overcome measuring all of the students in the country (not just the best) when other countries only measure their best students’ progress?

Years ago when I lived in Germany, students would take tests to determine which schools they would attend. Aptitude tests decided whether or not Gustav was going the university way or the trade school path. In Korea a buddy of mine detailed how he taught and a disciplinarian remained in the room at all times to assist, and that the schools there began to separate the kids from an early age into ability groups to decide their future schooling. In this way only the top students are assessed in the comparative tests. I’m sure not all countries do it this way, but many do.

So, who are the coaches in education? Those in charge making the decisions or those in the classroom, the teachers? This is a critical question.

However, I get the sense that the rhetoric is challenging the teacher rather than those in charge. From President Obama to my state legislature, the verbage seems to center on more stringent requirements for licensing teachers, more comparisons based on test scores to award pay, more competition between classrooms for pay, more raised standards for continuing education courses, and so on. Is the teacher really the crux of education’s woes?

I can’t say I have a definite answer, but I don’t know very many teachers who don’t give their all to their students. From where is this anti-teacher rhetoric stemming? Then, this rhetoric quickly turns into calls for competition in schools.

In fact, I’d say that the more competition brought into education, the more isolated classrooms and schools will become. If teachers and schools have to compete for pay, what happens to collaboration? Will you want to share your best lessons with your neighbor when it could cost you financially? Will schools share their best programs with neighboring schools? Will we begin to create schools of haves and have-nots?

The one thing I do know is that firing the coach may not change Team USA’s outcomes in soccer, and making it more difficult to hire and keep teachers is not necessarily going to improve student scores either.


3 thoughts on “The World Cup and Education

  1. Nuss

    “Is the teacher really the crux of education’s woes? I can’t say I have a definite answer, but I don’t know very many teachers who don’t give their all to their students. From where is this anti-teacher rhetoric stemming? Then, this rhetoric quickly turns into calls for competition in schools.”

    It’s because we’re the only ones they can get to.

    We can agree that there are three basic components to education — teacher, student, family. When all three are working in concert amazing things happen, right?

    Of those three, who can the regulators hold accountable? They can’t get to the kids to make them work or try harder (although they try to with standardized testing that ultimately penalizes schools more than the individual students), they can’t get to the parents to make them parent better, but they darn sure can get to us to make us jump through more hoops to make us “better” or hold us more “accountable.”

  2. drpezz Post author

    I’ve always felt a lot of this is political posturing on the part of legislators and rationalizing on the part of communities. Very few people seem to own any responsibility for the state of education, but many people “know” who to blame.

    I still feel education is a community issue, and only when we begin to solve many of the social ills will we begin to solve the educational difficulties. While there are scant exceptions, schools reflect their communities.

    My biggest issue on a personal level regarding the additional accountability for teachers is that every new standard or hoop for me to jump through is one more distraction from my classroom. If we could eliminate all of this extraneous minutia and we could focus solely on collaboration and our kids, I truly believe we would see advancements in achievement.

    Plus, one mantra I repeat at many meetings is that “happy teachers make happy students.”

  3. The Science Goddess

    I seem to remember reading that even comparing our top 5% of students with the top 5% of other countries still shows that our students lag. But there is more at play than just teacher quality and family involvement, too. Curriculum and instruction vary…school ages and time spent at school…value of education within the culture…and so forth. I really think that the best we can do is focus upon what is within our locus of control for each kid and just keep moving him/her forward in their learning.


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