Monday, February 17, 2014

The New NCLB: No Curler Left Behind

The Denver Post is my local newspaper. I always find it interesting that during the Olympics they prominently run a "medal count" graphic each day, showing which countries have won the most medals. It's always struck me as kind of silly, as if the number of medals says anything about the success and worth - or lack thereof - of both the individual athletes and the countries they represent.

I've also always marveled at how different the Post's (and others') coverage of education comparisons is from their Olympic ones, and wondered how it might look if they covered the Olympics the same way they do education. Thankfully, Richard Florida has come through with a post that does it for me (in a way).

Because, really, it shouldn't be the total number of medals we're comparing, right? After all, does anyone really expect Slovenia to get more medals than the United States? So it was good to see Richard Florida point out that the United States is currently coming in a dismal 22nd place (behind Kazakhstan) in medals per 10 million people at Sochi.

Unfortunately, that's the good news. When you rank countries in number of medals per GDP, the U.S. comes in even worse: 23rd. (Jeesh, even Kazakhstan rose up to 17th).

Where's the outrage in Washington, D.C.? Why isn't the Denver Post writing editorials decrying the state of the U.S. Olympic program? Why isn't NBC holding a day-long "Olympic Nation" (with accompanying website) to figure out what we're doing wrong? I mean, if an unfriendly foreign power had attempted to impose on America the mediocre Olympic performance that exists today, we might well have viewed it as an act of war.

Well, I for one will not stand idly by while our children's future slips away. Clearly we need some changes, and we need them fast. So I propose a Blue Ribbon panel to examine this issue. I think we should get someone eminently qualified to lead this panel. I propose Bill Gates, but I suppose I'd be okay with someone like Eli Broad.

This really needs to be a public/private partnership, however. After all, the Olympics are a national priority and surely the government has a role here. I think we should come up with a new government program with incentives to the States to develop better Olympic athletes. Given the prevalence of racing in the Olympics, I thought Race to the Top sounded pretty good, but unfortunately I found out that was already taken. So instead I propose we call it NCLB: No Curler Left Behind. Perhaps we could get the Governors of all the States together and they could come up with some new standards for our Olympic athletes. (Personally, to be successful in today's world I think that all of our athletes should be well-versed in the four C's: Curling, Cricket, Camel Racing and Caber Toss.)

But it's not enough to create the commission and choose some extremely successful businesspeople and politicians to head it, we need some concrete proposals to get the discussion started. Clearly our athletes are not measuring up to expectations and I think we all know part of the reason - they simply aren't being held accountable. I think we need to have them test their abilities more frequently against the competition so we can find out what's working and what's not, and then make the necessary adjustments.

So my first proposal is to hold the World Championship in each Olympic sport three times a year, once every three months. That will give us some formative data in order to make better decisions. If some athletes aren't performing up to expectations, perhaps we can hold them back and have them repeat a season or something.

My next proposal is so obvious I can't figure out why it's not already in place. Whose idea was it to have the Olympics only once every four years? If we have the World Championship in each sport three times a year (in the first nine months of the year), then at the end of the year we should hold the Olympics. Each year, not once every four years. Surely holding the Olympics every year would hold the athletes (and their coaches and trainers) more accountable?

And since corporate sponsorship is a big piece of how we pay for our Olympic Team,  perhaps we can ask Pearson to get involved in developing the criteria and then performing the judging of the Olympics? Since we're well into the 21st century, I think we should utilize the amazing technology we have available to us and test our athletes on computers. True, it's not quite the same as actually performing on the ski slope or the ice rink, but it is much more efficient and makes it much easier to compare them. We could then develop Performance Leveraging Committees (PLC's) to analyze the data and improve our implementation of NCLB.

Now, some folks will worry about the athletes, coaches and trainers who are struggling a bit but, when push comes to shove, if they aren't cutting it, we should be cutting them. If after a year or two of world championships and Olympic competitions they aren't winning Gold medals (or at least making Adequately Yearly Progress toward the Gold), then we should disband those teams and send them to more successful teams. And, frankly, we shouldn't limit those teams under the umbrella of the United States Olympic Committee, we should get the market involved. I mean, why should Park (PARCC?) City and Steamboat Springs and Lake Placid and Colorado Springs get to hold a monopoly on U.S. Winter Olympics training? A little competition would do Team USA some good, wouldn't it? Who wouldn't want to be part of Team Coca Cola Skeleton Racing in Atlanta?

I haven't though this next idea completely through yet, but it's pretty exciting so I thought I'd share it anyway. What if we flipped the Summer and Winter Olympics? I mean the Russians are basically already trying that by holding the Winter Olympics in the beach resort city of Sochi, why shouldn't we try a 100% flipped environment here in the U.S.? That would be some disruptive innovation right there.

Now these aren't my only ideas, but I don't want to dominate the conversation too much. I think we can all agree that if we would just raise the bar a little bit and hold these folks accountable, their performance would improve. (In the case of the Summer Olympics, I would suggest we literally raise the bar; perhaps to 10 feet in the high jump, and 25 feet in the pole vault. After all, our athletes should be outperforming the rest of the world.) And we should learn from those countries that are currently kicking our butt. If it works in Slovenia and Latvia (I've heard some people refer to it as the Slavic Miracle), it should work twice as well in the U.S., right?

I have a lot more to say, but I'm getting a little tired and my eyes are getting red, so I think I'll sign off for now, but I hope this idea goes viral. If I get some time tomorrow I think I'll extend this idea to the NFL. I hope the Broncos are listening . . .


  1. I think you would find that in medals for the amount of government money spent the US would do pretty well though. Most of those other nations have government funded programs that the US doesn't come near to matching. But you can find numbers to support just about any argument.

    1. That's kind of the point, the comparisons are meaningless - in both the Olympics and in education. Although I do like the suggestion that if we only spent more money . . . :-)

  2. Needed this type of argument/sarcasm when Nation at Risk was being proposed. Reagan's argument has set the "reform" tone all these years.

  3. You had some very interesting outlooks on the performance of athletes. I think you are right and that we should raise the car to encourage the athletes to do better!!

  4. I am a student in EDM510 at the University of South Alabama assigned to review and comment on your blog this week.
    I appreciated the sarcastic tone of your post about how our Olympic athletes should be measured by the standards we use for our students, hence the creation of the No Curler Left Behind government program which would provide states incentives to produce better quality Olympic athletes. Of course your proposals sound ridiculous as they were meant to be satirical. You certainly got your point across about how our society and government's solutions have not shown results they were intended to produce.
    How DO we change this educational system to one that is more learning centered and less "assessment" driven?