Sunday, November 15, 2009

Murderers' Row

I am a Yankee fan, one in a long line in my family. Ever since I've cared about baseball, I've rooted for the boys in pinstripes. My favorites are Derek Jeter and Andy Pettitte. (Especially Andy Pettitte. I love Andy Pettitte. And not just as a pitcher, ifyaknowwhatimean! Wink wink!) I was driven completely to distraction by the World Series this year, staying up long past my bedtime to watch every game. And I felt a warm, hugging satisfaction when they fielded the last hit by the Phils to seal their 27th championship this year. I felt that they deserved it, and not because of the ginormous payroll and baldfaced ambition, but because they learned this year how to play like a team. Even A-Rod, who I never liked, toned down his attitude and pumped up his game. No more Choketober for A-Rod. Nice job. Way to earn that astronomical paycheck.

Anyway, I got to wondering about the Yankees' success rate. The Yankees, more than any other professional sports franchise, makes it their explicit, singular goal, year after year, to win the championship. Period. "Rebuilding" years are not acceptable. Pennants are not enough. Only the World Series will do. The payroll and the attitude go hand-in-hand: We are spending lavishly, ridiculously, far beyond any other team because we want to win. There is nothing else. And it was frustrating to watch the biggest payroll in baseball implode for these past few years, and implode because of divas and egos and a lack of team spirit (and, some years, a lousy bullpen, but the loaded bullpen this year took care of that). So this particular championship was sweet because the rings weren't going to a bunch of jackasses. Well, A-Rod is still kind of a jackass. But I was happy, on the whole, for this group, especially the Core Four who don't have much time left.

So. Enormous payroll. Major superstars. Some of the most storied players in the entire game, going back over 80 years to the Ruth and Gehrig years. And what is the Yankees' success rate, if you count this current championship, after all that?

25 percent.

Which is still higher, by far, than any other team in baseball.

What does this have to do with school? Stay with me here.

Schools want 100 percent success rates for their students. Teachers do, too. Parents do. Certainly 100 percent of students would like to succeed. And anything less than 100 percent is unacceptable, just like anything less than a World Series is unacceptable for the Yankees.

But here's the difference: The Yankees are willing to spend, spend, and spend some more to make it happen. They don't pretend that success is going to come cheap. They will lay out for A-Rod, Sabathia, Jeter, whoever they need to lay out for at whatever price to win. And then they expect to win. It's not that hard.

So why do politicians and, to some extent, taxpayers pretend that education can be done on the cheap? That "throwing money at the problem" doesn't work? I agree that money alone won't buy success in education, but the Yankees know what politicians and eduwonks don't seem to understand: Success isn't going to come cheap.

Education can't be done on the cheap. Let's admit that. Let's admit that cutting corners results in kids left behind. Let's admit that anything less than a Harlem Children's Zone for all children everywhere is going to result in dropouts and failures and frustration. And, most importantly, let's really wake up to the fact that every dollar we don't spend on education--and by this I mean all kinds of education, from universal pre-K to rigorous vocational education to Ph.D.s in astrophysics--is just fifty dollars we'll have to spend on incarceration and welfare some years down the road.

And if you don't believe me, ask the Yankees.