Fast Break: a program to get ready for the season
There’s so many reports these days on the unresponsiveness of schools to expensive efforts to reform them that it might be time to kick back and reflect on the most important thing going on in the country this weekend — -the NCAA “March Madness” basketball tournament. I suggest we run schools for teenagers much like coaches run the four teams that made it to finals.
Imagine, for example, an educational program called Fast Break that applies the principles of sports teams to learn fundamentals and keeps getting better as the players (instructors and students) coalesce as a team. The program would be a module in the school curriculum, an intensive 5-8 hours a day pre-season training that gets students ready for the “season”. To ensure rapid learning and develop in students a compelling vision of success, courses would be team taught, cross-disciplinary, computer-assisted, highly experiential and applied. Coaches (teachers) would always would be available to counsel and give pointers. Like members of a sports team students would help one another succeed. Indeed, even if they made good academic progress, they wouldn’t graduate unless they demonstrated good teamwork and willingness to exceed expectations.
Actually, Fast Break exists. This 300-hour model concentrated into 8-12 weeks was developed by Focus:HOPE in Detroit in 1990, replicated in Los Angeles with a National Science Foundation demonstration grant in 1995 and expanded in Michigan and Alabama in 2000 with state funding. Students typically make 2+ grade-level gains in reading and math (1-2 WorkKeys levels) in just 2-3 months, and they obtain employable skills in computer applications, as well as teamwork, customer service, conflict resolution and other job readiness skills. The model has been very successful in helping young adults in Detroit, Los Angeles, Flint and other communities move ahead to career entry positions or college. Employers and colleges are highly satisfied with the graduates, describing them as “self-starters” who learn fast and can collaborate effectively within and across work groups both ‘live’ and virtually.
Fast Break attracts young people and persuades them to work hard because it operates much like a high performing sports team. The program emphasizes teamwork, daily practice of fundamentals, daily feedback on individual and team performance, effective time management, continual communication among staff and students on how and why to do better the next day, continual opportunities to integrate theory and practice and to apply skills in game-like (“real world”) settings, expectations of helping fellow teammates to improve, and the targeted use of technology to diagnose and improve abilities and communicate results instantly to those professionals who are accountable and to owners (boards and taxpayers) who foot the bill.
Members of the best teams like the best companies want to be driven, want discipline, want to exceed expectations, and want to be part of a group with a higher purpose and winning mission. Moreover, they want to stay together long enough to produce excellence. Sustained time together in search of a noble cause also helps teenagers and young adults develop what they want most of all—good friends.
The Haberman Educational Foundation (www.habermanfoundation.org) invites school districts to team with us to change the lives of thousands of young people in the next 18 months. Write us or reply to this post if one or more of your high schools is willing to leave the factory model behind and try Fast Break instead for the target group(s) of your choice.