Hard Knocks is Not Like Public Schools

I've seen two seasons of Hard Knocks.  I've worked for two public school systems.  What I can tell you is that Hard Knocks is nothing like public schools. 

Hard Knocks is a program about an NFL football team.  The featured team changes each season, but the coverage is the same.  A film crew follows the players and staff of an NFL team from the start of the preseason until final cuts.  Preseason begins with 90 players, but the final official roster only allows 53.  Hard Knocks is the journey of different players trying to make an NFL team.

Public Schools are educational facilities paid for by taxpayers.  All children between the ages of 5-16 are required to attend.  Public school spans the childhood of a person trying to earn a degree and become a productive person in the United States of America.  

Both Hard Knocks and Public Schools use data and statistics to track these journeys, and are judged upon the success of these numbers.  The most important number for an NFL team is Wins.  The most important number for a school district is graduation rate*.  You win a game of football by scoring more points than your opponent, within the allotted time.  You graduate from high school by earning at least a certain number of credits within a certain amount of years.  

Factors play into the numbers.   100% is not expected, nor is it realistic.  These numbers are dependent upon the quality of person in the program, the extent to which they're developed, the reception of the people to feedback, the work ethic toward improvement, the belief in the importance of the outcome, the passion for the task at hand, the tie-in of current situation to desire for real-life output, the competence of the ownership, the budget for improvement, the quality of feedback; throw these variables into a proverbial blender, mix 'em up, and you get some blend of success.

In anything performance based, much practice and effort goes on prior to performance: coaching, teaching, learning, studying, work, trial, effort, failure.  The results are what is shown through the numbers.  And up until the results, schools and sports teams have a lot in common.  It is once the final numbers are determined that they differ.

In football, a team cannot lie about its wins and losses.  The W/L column is a number that cannot be argued.  Sure, a call here or there can be debated, there may be something that didn't go your way; but it's final score that determines the win or loss, and that never has an asterisk**.  There is an acceptable amount of wins and loses.  No team expects to win every game.  Only one team has ever done that.  Though you don't expect to lose an individual game, and you enter each game as if you'll win it, fans and players all know they'll lose at some point.  The goal is a Win-Loss tally that gets you a chance for success.  

Each NFL team plays 16 games.  If you win 10 of those 16, you'll probably be in the playoffs.  If you win 11 or more, you're almost sure to be in.  If you lose more than half your games, your team was bad.  The fans aren't happy, and look to next year.  There are obvious exceptions.  If the team has won between 0-4 games for years, and then they win 8, that's a sign of progress.  If they win 6, and then win 9, that's a good sign.  It keeps the fan base looking forward to the next year, but it isn't good enough.  It is improvement, but everyone wants better.  They want 10 wins.  They want playoffs.  

Public schools offer 13 grade levels, K-12.  Each grade has standards that must be met for completion, and a certain level of knowledge is expect at each grade.  These grades are broken into levels; K-5 is considered Elementary School, 6-8 is considered Middle School, and 9-12 is considered High School***.  High School is the level when things like grades and credits start to matter.  In 9th grade, a student's individual performance begins to be computed and goes into their record.  (The things that matter are credits, attendance, grades, and standardized test scores.)  Graduation rate is determined by the number of students that earn a diploma, divided by the number of students that were enrolled in the school.  To be fair, these numbers aren't quite as straight forward as a 16-game schedule.  The reason for this is that it depends on what numbers you count.  Do you count the number of freshman enrolled at a school, and compare that to what percent of those freshman graduated?  Do you take the number of seniors in the fall of a given school year, and then compare that number to the number of seniors graduating in the spring? It's tricky due to what you count****.  And what you count does matter, but it seems that our nationwide graduation rates are somewhere between 70-80%.  

Though schools and the NFL have many parallels in how they're run by statistics, they couldn't be more different in how they deal with them.  In Hard Knocks, the coaches sit with the data.  The look at the wins and losses, look at what goes in to each position on a roster, what person will bring what to the team.  For that 53-man roster, they think through all elements of each decision, because the difference between cutting this guy or that guy could be the difference between a W and an L.  All those little factors factor into the bigger factor of team play.  The coach, knowing this, does through a whole team analysis from top to bottom, which includes their own self and their coaches.  They know that if they don't do anything about deficiencies, they'll get fired, the fans will be upset.  But the element that is most obvious is that all fans can see when something isn't working.  If something isn't working, but a coach were to say it were, we'd all know they were wrong.  We'd consider it laughable.  Because they have the end result in mind, and because they know that every piece of work goes to that W-L, there is no need to lie.  The results speak for themselves.  If a coach, GM, or player were to speak to the press and say something along the lines of: we almost won a lot of games, or we were close a lot, or at least the eleven losses were by less than they were the year before, or but our defense was really good except for on deep coverage, they'd be laughed at.  It would be obvious to all that these statements were excuses.  No one would care.  The thought would be that the bottom line was not met, and therefore they'd be right to totally look at the system and see what they could fix.  That makes sense.  The goal is the W.  To have the W unattained, to have things left on the table, is unacceptable.  It means that something must be done.  

Many public schools, on the other hand, do not do this at all.  Rather, than looking at the bottom line, they look at improvement as the highest importance.  Improvement is considered the greatest of things.  Even if a district is way below the national average, or even if they're quite a way from where they should be, they pretend like minimal gains are major deals.  Like if they stay the same or go forward by a little bit, they've done a ton.    

If a school system was on Hard Knocks, they'd do it differently.  They'd use the bottom line to see growth that could be had, see areas that need improvement, and deal with them.  Using relevant numbers, they'd ask what could be done about them, rather than pretend everything that could be done is being done right now.   

Knowing that the end result is of the utmost importance to those involved, the numbers would be used to make top to bottom evaluations of the system, making sure the right people were in the right positions on the roster so that all involved could benefit.  This would enhance the process, and benefit everyone.  

*Debatable.  In football, Wins are the number, no doubt.  Test scores, attendance are both in competition within a school district, although it's hard to go against graduation rates.   

**You are especially aware of this if you're a Detroit Lions fan, where we seem to be close in every game, yet still find a way to lose.  

***This is a very general description, and differs by state and/or program.  But some type of systematic labeling will be in place.  

****An unfortunate reality is that there are a lot of kids enrolled in many public schools that either never come or come only a few times in a year*****.  (******)  Also, the way we count graduation rate is by a thing called The Adjusted Cohort Graduation Rate.  It attempts to take factors such as these into account.  More details of this can be found through basic googling of national educational sites.

*****These students should, obviously, not count against a school district.  This falls solely on the parents.  

******(One principal I worked under for a while began the school year by having an assembly for freshman.  In it, he'd tell them to look around, because half of them wouldn't be there in four years.  And this fifty percent number is mentioned constantly when you look at all high school aged people.)