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School of Hard Knocks: the NFL and Teaching

Two months after AFT President Randi Weingarten commented that education can learn a lesson about performance evaluations from National Football League teams, Eduwonk Andrew Rotherham checks in with a couple of experts on the validity of the comparison. In a piece on Time.com, Rotherham interviews Tim Daly, president of the New Teacher Project, and his brother Brendan Daly, a former teacher who is now the defensive line coach for the St. Louis Rams.

According to Tim Daly, the highest-performing schools use some of the same techniques as those used by professional football teams—frequent observation, assessing what's working and what isn't, and focusing on technique. But overall, teachers are not observed enough (and almost never videotaped) in the classroom. "In the worst situations in education, there is very little feedback and very little support. You can go years without anyone telling you you're not doing well," he said.

In football, "we evaluate everything," added Brendan Daly. "When we start training camp, we watch every practice with the players, and at the end of the day, we give a numeric grade to each player, so two practices a day means two grades." Plus, players all see each others' grades, he said.

When it comes to the issue of seniority, football and teaching diverge even more significantly. Brendan Daly says that in the NFL, "veterans get priority in the training room and better parking, but there is not a whole lot of difference in terms of how they're treated in the competition for playing time. To me it doesn't matter if a guy is a 10-year veteran or a rookie. If the rookie is better, he finds his way onto the field."

And in pro football, a coach's background is less important than his skills. "Once you've proved to [the players] that you can help them become better players, you've earned their respect," said Brendan Daly, who played in college but not in the NFL. Do you think administrators with limited teaching experience could earn respect from teachers this quickly?

(As a side note, football/education comparisons are nothing new—a few years ago, Malcolm Gladwell contended in the New Yorker that choosing the right person for the job is somewhat of a crapshoot in both professions.)

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