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Learning Curve

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The Belichick effect

Blogging at, Rick Hess of the American Enterprise Institute scores a touchdown with his comparison of turnaround efforts in the NFL and public education. He follows the efforts of franchises trying to replicate Bill Belichick's success, comparing them to school reform efforts trying to replicate Geoffrey Canada's success with the Harlem Children's Zone.

"Even in the NFL, where coaches are largely free to hire, fire, and operate, we see how poorly a fancy pedigree can predict success," Hess concludes. "If educators can take one insight away from the NFL as the calendar turns, let it be that an excited search for 'best practices' or successful turnaround models is more likely to fuel faddishness and churn than consistent excellence."

Indiana, of course, is fueling faddishness with its proposed turnaround bill, one that would convert a school into a turnaround academy after falling into one of the state's two lowest performance categories for a fifth year, or in some cases, after just three or four years. The state could hand operation of such a school off to a management organization headed, no doubt, by the educational equivalent of a Jim Schwartz or Josh McDaniels ­– just two of the former Belichick assistants who couldn't achieve miracles for their new franchises.

Karen Francisco, editorial page editor for The Journal Gazette, has been an Indiana journalist since 1981. She writes frequently about education for The Journal Gazette opinion pages and here, where she looks at the business, politics and science of learning as it relates to northeast Indiana, the state and the nation. She can be reached at 260-461-8206 or by e-mail at