Monday, March 22, 2010

What If Education Programs Received the Same Attention Sports Receive?




Basketball fans across the nation are returning to work with lots to talk about after the first weekend of March Madness. Although many are wishing they would have rethought their bracket choices, I am not sure what is more upsetting, the shocking loss of Kansas to Northern Iowa on Saturday, or the thousands and millions of dollars poured into sports entertainment while or educational systems make budget cut after budget cut?

Now don't get me wrong, as a recently retired college athlete I am a huge sports fan myself; currently mourning the losses of hometown favorites, the Minnesota Gophers and Wisconsin Badgers, as well as sulking with the hundreds of people falling in bracket rankings because I too had Kansas taking it all. Nonetheless, my recent interest in following the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), the National Education Technology Plan (NETP)and several other blueprints that plan to increase innovative technologies in the classroom, makes me wonder what it would truly be like if education programs received the same attention and funding that professional and collegiate sports receive?

My curiosity was spurred by ESPN SportsCenter's coverage of March Madness. While tuning in to see who would be picked as the next favorite following the fall of Kansas (which is now believed to be Kentucky), the broadcasters briefly described the lengths to which technology vendors were going to ensure that all systems were working smoothly; so the millions of fans can be connected to the games in any form they choose, from regular old TV watching to mobile updates and much more.

After doing a little research, I discovered that while college players are shooting around, the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) has already made its game-winning shot: a $6.1 billion, 11-year deal with network CBS to air the men's basketball tournament, signed in 1999. Additionally, this year alone, the NCAA expects to rake in $638.9 million from media rights, virtually all of it from men's basketball.

Meanwhile, the media rooms where these games are being played host several very expensive computer stations equipped with video cameras for reporters to file video or audio clips, 40 plus Ethernet connections, tech-support specialists, and a supply of loaner laptops for emergencies.

In addition cell phone companies are bringing in extra equipment to increase service capacity to keep up with the volume of data, from mobile updates to increases in messages from fans who text all their friends while at the games. Apparently, beefing up capacity is a normal thing wireless providers do for sporting events and other vital cultural events. They also bring out extra cell sites on wheels, called COWs, to the parking lot.

Initially, I thought this is pretty cool. However, after further consideration I thought what if we made these kind of investments (or even half of these investments) in our school systems. Imagine you are a school district, population 100,000, including students, faculty, and parents, and you implement a 1-to-1 program. Now imagine if the telecom providers said: You school district customers are so important to us that we are going to bring in a couple of COWs to make sure you have sufficient capacity to provide unlimited streaming video to students in all your classrooms. And, because we know how important it is to link home and school, we are going to install a system that allows perfect connection between home and school and ensures students are connected no matter where they live.

Although I realize this is very far fetched, is the thought of additional funding to obtain broadband for all school districts or mini-laptops for every student really that unrealistic?

As a former student-athlete I am torn as to whether more focus and funding should be directed to our educational institutions. The sports-loving side of me says no way, yesterday was the best day of my life because Joe Mauer signed an 8-year, $184 million contract extension with the Minnesota Twins (my favorite team). Yet, the student part of me, which incidentally is always listed first in the student-athlete title, believes that the ridiculous amount of money being spent in the sports industry could be better directed, starting with the improvement of education programs for future generations.


Information for this blog was gathered from THE Journal and MinnPost.com.
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