Dr. Oran Smith

What if Education Was Football?

November 17, 2017

Dr. Oran Smith

The college football season is winding down, and the annual Garnet vs. Orange showdown is looming. So in honor of the big game, here’s a football analogy.

What if college football performance were assessed like education performance?

Or to put it another way, have you ever heard education insiders talk about education the way they talk about their favorite football team?

I heard some passionate opinions about education in the Statehouse this week that I have never heard in the football stands of any of the three South Carolina universities with which I have been associated. For example, imagine hearing:

“Hey, we aren’t perfect, but we really need to focus on the good things about our team.”

“I don’t think we even need to look at the scoreboard. It just makes people sad and the other team is controlling it anyway.”

“We really can’t be truly great because our team is in a poor Southern state.”

“There is no reason to expect that we can recruit good talent to come here.”

“Yeah, some of the coaches aren’t really that good, but they really love those kids!”

“We can’t get rid of bad coaches or pay them less.”

“We really need to focus on a beautiful stadium. All the rest will take care of itself.”

“Other teams are out there throwing the ball. That’s really cool, but it just won’t work here.”

It’s common knowledge that South Carolina’s current K-12 education performance makes these comparisons spot on. But a presentation this week by South Carolina’s premier independent economist, Dr. Rebecca Gunnlauggsson, to the House’s School Finance Study Committee, uncovered some less apparent problems that you may have never heard:

“Yes, we know it takes a long time for the coaches to get the plays to run. That’s because they are phoned in from Columbia.”

“We haven’t been able to afford to wash the team uniforms since the first game, but the band has a new uniform each week. (Did I mention that the Athletics Department has 70 little funding pots?)”

“Our skinny little kicker is on the offensive line and our speedy defensive back is the long snapper. That’s what The Manual says we have to do!”

“Most of our alumni aren’t paying a dime to support the team.”

“Did I mention we have three sets of coaches? All are giving separate instructions to the team.”

Here’s the decode:

As Palmetto Promise has been saying for years, and as Dr. Gunnlauggson explained to the Committee this week, our system of managing and financing public education is broken in some respects and fractured in others.

Compared to similar states, South Carolina spends more per student with worse performance outcomes. The 9 billion in combined federal, state and local dollars spent in 2017-2018 were not aligned to optimize student outcomes.

We would never accept this situation with our respective football teams as football fans. We shouldn’t accept it for our students as parents and taxpayers. South Carolina can do better and still be uniquely South Carolina.

Or in football speak, “It’s not too late to start throwing the ball.”