Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Most Likely To Succeed

My alma mater, Miami University, hired a new head football coach today.  His name is Chuck Martin who most recently was the offensive coordinator at Notre Dame.


Over the years there is no university in the country that has a better track record of hiring successful football coaches than Miami.  That is why it is called "The Cradle of Coaches".

Here is a sampling of some of those who coached or played at Miami and later went on to bigger and better things.

Paul Brown, Earl (Red Blaik), Woody Hayes, Weeb Ewbank, Sid Gilman, Ara Parseghian, Bo Schembechler, Paul Dietzel, Jim Tressel, John Harbaugh, Sean Payton, John Pont, Ron Zook, Randy Walker and Terry Hoeppner.

However, over the last eight years, Miami football has fallen on hard times. The program just ended the 2013 season with a 0-12 record.  It has a combined record of 29-70 in the last eight seasons with only one season with a winning record.

How do we know if Chuck Martin is the right man for the job?

Is there anything that can help us predict success?

After all, Miami thought they had it right a couple of other times over the last few years.  The most recent coach, Don Treadwell, was a Miami graduate who was the offensive coordinator for Michigan State before getting the Miami job. He had even stepped in and been successful as the interim head coach at MSU when Mark Dantanio had to take a medical leave.  And yet, he was an utter failure as the head coach of Miami.

Shane Montgomery was the top assistant to Terry Hoeppner who had six straight winning seasons for Miami after replacing Randy Walker who left to take the Northwestern job. Hoeppner's 2003 Miami team finished 10th in the final national polls.  Montgomery went 7-4 his first year and then went 2-10, 6-7 and 2-10.

On paper Treadwell and Mongtomery looked good.  In reality, they could not do the job.

Malcolm Gladwell, in his book, What The Dog Saw, calls this the "quarterback problem".  Why?  Because there are certain jobs where almost nothing you can learn about candidates before they start predicts how they'll do once they are hired.  If you are an NFL fan you will understand immediately if I mention a few names.  Ryan Leaf. Joey Harrington. David Klingler. Tim Couch.  They were considered "can't miss" prospects.  And yet, they all missed.

Gladwell believes that hiring a great teacher is a lot like finding a top quarterback. Do we know what a person with the potential to be a great teacher looks like before they step in a classroom?  This is critically important.  Just as hiring the right head football coach is. Why? Because recent research indicates that the difference in educational outcomes between a good teacher and a poor teacher is vast.

It is easier to see the damage a poor football coach can do to a college football program.  It is harder to see it with students.  However, there are measures in place based on what is called value added analysis to quantify how much the academic performance of students in a given teacher's classroom changes between the beginning and end of the year.

Eric Hanushek, an economist at Stanford, estimates that the students of a very bad teacher will learn, on average, half a year’s worth of material in one school year. The students in the class of a very good teacher will learn a year and a half’s worth of material. That difference amounts to a year’s worth of learning in a single year. Teacher effects dwarf school effects: your child is actually better off in a “bad” school with an excellent teacher than in an excellent school with a bad teacher. Teacher effects are also much stronger than class-size effects. You’d have to cut the average class almost in half to get the same boost that you’d get if you switched from an average teacher to a teacher in the eighty-fifth percentile. And remember that a good teacher costs as much as an average one, whereas halving class size would require that you build twice as many classrooms and hire twice as many teachers. (emphasis added)

Does that get your attention?  How about adding this to your thinking?

Hanushek recently did a back-of-the-envelope calculation about what even a rudimentary focus on teacher quality could mean for the United States. If you rank the countries of the world in terms of the academic performance of their schoolchildren, the U.S. is just below average, half a standard deviation below a clump of relatively high-performing countries like Canada and Belgium. According to Hanushek, the U.S. could close that gap simply by replacing the bottom six per cent to ten per cent of public-school teachers with teachers of average quality. After years of worrying about issues like school funding levels, class size, and curriculum design, many reformers have come to the conclusion that nothing matters more than finding people with the potential to be great teachers. But there’s a hitch: no one knows what a person with the potential to be a great teacher looks like. The school system has a quarterback problem. (emphasis added)

So what do we know about what it takes to be a great teacher?  What are the qualities of a successful teacher?

The current system is set up to hire based on certifications and degrees.  In fact, the system is purposely skewed to exclude a vast number of potential teaching candidates because they may have "degrees" but they don't have teaching degrees or certifications.

Test scores, graduate degrees, and certifications—as much as they appear related to teaching prowess—turn out to be about as useful in predicting success as having a quarterback throw footballs into a bunch of garbage cans.
Gladwell notes that great teaching has little correlation with certifications and raising teaching standards and much more to do with how the teacher relates in the classroom to the students.  One educational researcher called this quality "withitness".

“Withitness,” ... is defined as “a teacher’s communicating to the children by her actual behavior (rather than by verbally announcing: ‘I know what’s going on’) that she knows what the children are doing, or has the proverbial ‘eyes in the back of her head.’ ” It stands to reason that to be a great teacher you have to have withitness. But how do you know whether someone has withitness until she stands up in front of a classroom of twenty-five wiggly Janes, Lucys, Johns, and Roberts and tries to impose order?

This suggests that we should be hiring teachers using a complete different model and system than we are doing today. Something more akin to how financial advisors are hired.

Perhaps no profession has taken the implications of the quarterback problem more seriously than the financial-advice field, and the experience of financial advisers is a useful guide to what could happen in teaching as well. There are no formal qualifications for entering the field except a college degree. Financial-services firms don’t look for only the best students, or require graduate degrees or specify a list of prerequisites. No one knows beforehand what makes a high-performing financial adviser different from a low-performing one, so the field throws the door wide open. 
In the financial advisory field a firm may interview 1,000 candidates to find 50 they are willing to put into training. Perhaps only half of those will make it through a four-month training period where they have to demonstrate they can develop and pursue leads and bring in clients.  In four years, maybe only third of those prove they can sustain themselves.  As a result, the financial firm ends up with real all-stars in the end.  The others find something that is better suited to their abilities and to their ultimate benefit (and to the firm's clients) over the long-term.

Gladwell asks why don't we use similar thinking in hiring teachers?

In teaching, the implications are even more profound. They suggest that we shouldn’t be raising standards. We should be lowering them, because there is no point in raising standards if standards don’t track with what we care about. Teaching should be open to anyone with a pulse and a college degree—and teachers should be judged after they have started their jobs, not before. That means that the profession needs to start the equivalent of Ed Deutschlander’s training camp. It needs an apprenticeship system that allows candidates to be rigorously evaluated. Kane and Staiger have calculated that, given the enormous differences between the top and the bottom of the profession, you’d probably have to try out four candidates to find one good teacher. That means tenure can’t be routinely awarded, the way it is now.
Pretty radical thinking and surely not the type of thinking that the teachers' union would embrace.

Such a system would also require a radical change in the way teachers are compensated.

Currently, the salary structure of the teaching profession is highly rigid, and that would also have to change in a world where we want to rate teachers on their actual performance. An apprentice should get apprentice wages. But if we find eighty-fifth-percentile teachers who can teach a year and a half’s material in one year, we’re going to have to pay them a lot—both because we want them to stay and because the only way to get people to try out for what will suddenly be a high-risk profession is to offer those who survive the winnowing a healthy reward. 
Of course, college presidents and their boards of trustees have already recognized this fact with regard to head football coaches a long time ago. That is why head footaball coaches are usually the highest paid position on campus.

I can only hope that my alma mater got it right this time.

They appear to have taken account of the "quarterback problem" with Chuck Martin.

He is another offensive coordinator being promoted like Montgomery and Treadwell.  However, he also was the head coach at Grand Valley State, a Division II school, for six years before taking the assistant job with Notre Dame.  He was 74-7 in those six years at the helm.  He won two national championships and was the runner-up in another year.  In effect, he has been at the front of the classroom and been tested there before.

Great coaches are great teachers.

Chuck Martin, please be both.

And get the cradle rocking again.

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