Football And Report Cards
Last updated 12/5/2016 at 5:18pm
Who did the best job of coaching football this fall: Nick Saban at Alabama or Chris Peterson at Washington?
Saban has led Alabama to a Southeast Conference Championship, an undefeated regular season and No. 1 ranking. Peterson has led Washington to the Pacific 12 Championship, a 12-1 regular season record and No. 4 ranking. Obviously, both coaches have done an excellent job, but who has done the better job of coaching this season?
Alabama has a tradition of football excellence. It has won 16 national championships since 1892. Under Paul “Bear” Bryant, the Crimson Tide won six national championships. Under Saban, Alabama has won four national championships.
Due to the coaching and the winning tradition, Alabama lately has had an easy time recruiting many of the nation’s top high school players. Alabama had the No. 1 recruiting classes in 2012, 2013, 2014 and 2016. In 2015 it had the No. 2 recruiting class. Its facilities, which include a full-length indoor practice field, weight room, sauna, swimming pool, recreation room, living quarters, etc., remind one of five-star hotels.
On the other hand, Washington has had some good teams and bad teams. Washington has won two national championships, but was mediocre for much of the early part of this century. The two Washington coaches prior to Peterson had a combined record of 45-66. As far as recruiting, Washington’s best class was ranked 18th in 2013. No class since then has cracked the Top Twenty. And its facilities are nowhere near Alabama’s.
Based on those facts, it would appear as if Peterson has gotten more done with less talented athletes this year. This year he has done an exceptional job of coaching, possibly better than Saban. That, of course, does not mean Washington will defeat Alabama when the two meet on Dec. 31.
The coaching question posed above is also analogous to teaching. In North Carolina, the state Department of Public Instruction recently released the school report cards. Those report cards are based 80 percent on achievement and 20 percent growth.
Much like Alabama in football, the North Carolina schools with modern facilities whose students come from wealthy or upper middle class homes in which education is a top priority are the ones who often receive an A. It’s no surprise that schools in the Chapel Hill area rank as the best in the state. And those top-ranked schools often attract some of the best teachers because they want to work in schools with good facilities and bright students who value education. There are also fewer disciplinary problems. These schools rank high on the achievement scale.
There is, however, a question as to how much academic growth these students make. Like Alabama’s All-American recruits, these students would do fairly well with mediocre teachers due to all of the other variables that impact their lives and ability to perform academically. (Some of their teachers might admit that a few of these students know as much or more than they do.( This is particularly true in computer sciences.)
High achievement does not necessarily mean that students are receiving the best instruction. The best teaching may actually be occurring in schools, somewhat akin to Washington in football, that lack modern facilities and whose students face several disadvantages, such as not having had enough food or rest, or coming from a home environment in which education is not deemed important. Some of those students may also struggle with learning disabilities and some may have a native language other than English. These students may not reach the highest achievement bar, but over the course of a year they may learn more in a year than they are supposed to learn. That growth, or lack of it, will be reflective of the quality of teaching they have received.
Just as it is unclear as to who may have done the better job of coaching this year, it is not always clear based on the current structure of the state report cards as to which schools and teachers have done the best job of teaching. In both cases, however, it makes sense to look at the type of facilities and the students (players) a teacher (coach) has to work with and how much of a difference the latter makes.