Why Baseball Is Closer to Education Than You Think

Jose Vilson Education, Jose

Sports Illustrated, Yankees Core Four

When Alex Rodriguez got his first huge Texas-sized contract in 2000, I remember the analogies to education come through published reports hard. “Why is it that baseball players can get these huge, lucrative contracts, and teachers, who work more days, can’t get a reasonable fraction of that in their salaries?” The idea of the American meritocracy stood in contrast to the stark reality that this country doesn’t care much or pay attention much to its public servants and dedicates way more resources to ensuring the success of the 100+ major sports corporations that entertain us rather than educate us.

This comparison can stretch deeper into more fundamental questions about baseball and education. How influential is the union? Where and how do we recruit prospects? What kind of performance enhancers are legal and illegal, and are there loopholes? As far as education’s concerned, baseball seems to have had many of the answers we’re battling with now, with interesting twists that we as thought leaders should heed if we ever want to build better schools in this country.

Baseball teams, more than any other sport, resembles a school structure for the following reasons:

  1. Every player’s individual performance has a big effect on the whole team performance. Every homerun, every error, and every pitch can affect how the other players perform on the field.
  2. Every good team needs a great manager, and he (or she) needs a set of assistant coaches who focus on a particular part of the game, and can give a different view of the game.
  3. Usually, the general manager has to make sure the right players are in place through free agency, but more often than not, it’s actually building the homegrown players that can make or break a ball club.

In baseball, every team gets a chance to meet between innings, but when they’re out in the field, they’re isolated by at least nine feet. While they may be right next to each other, they’re constantly thinking about their positions and how the ball’s going to play off the batter. When they’re batting, it’s just the player, the bat, and the ball. When there’s a player on base, the next batter’s individual performance on the next at-bat determines whether the team scores, and ultimately, whether they win.

In the same way, the best schools think of themselves as a team. Each class may have open doors, but the teachers often work individually. Between periods, they’re meeting, talking, and planning. The principal’s also looking at the big picture and putting the pieces together, putting the right coaches and staff in the right places to support the teachers in the building. Every teacher isn’t only responsible for their students in their grade, but responsible for the classes’ performance in coming years as they build their content and skill set knowledge. It’s more than building the school for that year, but for the next few years.

The deans, the specialists, and the custodial staff all play an integral role as well. Some of this staff comes externally, hired from various sources, the core of the school has to be drafted and developed into great players. They have to scout talent that fits the vision and mission of their team. The teachers and principals in good schools also study the game, practice tons, and train to get in top shape. They’re studying the newest and latest, observing their practices.

That’s how dynasties schools should work.

Then it got me to thinking, however, that it’s different for the very reasons I mentioned in the first part of this essay. Does our culture get in the way of doing the best for all of our students? More tomorrrow …

Mr. Vilson, who wishes more people saw the variables of scoring state tests …