They deride the “tendency to blame families and society for student performance” as “the equivalent of the quarterback pointing to a porous offensive line.” But a quarterback facing down a porous offensive line…will get sacked. And I say that as a former offensive lineman. Without the time ensured by a talented offensive line, a good quarterback can’t throw. And without the raw skills and developmental leaps ensured by a decent upbringing, even a good teacher cannot teach. As it happens, you need both good quarterbacks and good lineman. Just as you need a focus on social and family factors and on teacher quality. It’s a shame that ,in the contemporary education debate, these things have been set in opposition.
Indeed. To extend an already over-wrought analogy, a superlative quarterback can occasionally overcome poor offensive line play with great poise and a quick release. In much the same way, excellent teaching will salvage a few smart kids’ academic prospects. But crossing your fingers and hoping you’ll draft the next Tom Brady isn’t a particularly good way to go about reviving a bad franchise. Brilliant educators are a bit easier to find than future Hall of Fame quarterbacks, but most classrooms are still stuck with teachers who need serious institutional support.
I see (voluntary) universal prekindergarten as a Grand New Party-type approach to systemic poverty. By accepting state intervention at a formative age, we forestall the need for more extensive involvement further down the road. For my own part, I prefer a welfare state that spends intelligently on education and childcare to our current infatuation with incarceration, draconian law enforcement, and the dole.