Monday, July 23, 2012

Feedback regarding Navy SEAL analogy

I got more feedback from my Navy SEAL analogy (see last email) than any in quite a while. Many said that the SEALs aren't comparable to education because the SEALs are so selective, the training and the subsequent job are grueling, everyone except the best are weeded out, etc. To those folks I'd say: you need to visit a KIPP (or other high-performing) school. There are obviously many differences – the teachers aren't risking their lives every day, for one – but I maintain that the very best high-performing schools in this country are the educational equivalent of the SEALs in terms of the caliber of people, how they're trained and organized to carry out their mission, and the achievement of astonishing, heroic results.


Of course only a small number of schools can ever be astonishingly good, just as SEALs are only a tiny fraction of those in the military. They key is to use the specialized resources wisely, where they can have the greatest impact. The military gets this right: it identifies the best people, gives them the most rigorous training and best leadership, and then uses them for the toughest missions. But our schools do exactly the opposite: the least needy kids get the best teachers and schools, while the (mostly poor, minority) kids who need the best teachers and schools to have any chance in life instead overwhelming get the worst. This is insane and immoral.


For more comments, here's Tony Klemmer, Founder & President of the NAATE Program & The Center for Better Schools (


Another interpretation is that Special Operations (including SEAL's) ALWAYS work in conjunction with conventional forces and the combination gets the job done. Special ops personnel are carefully selected, trained and deployed. They are drawn from the ranks of exceptional "conventional forces personnel," who have already demonstrated high accomplishment. No whole school is like a special ops unit. Think of the really exceptional schools as having a special ops unit within their midst, specially trained and deployed. That is more realistic, that is also far more achievable. (we would need less than 200,000 such personnel [basically exceptional teacher leaders] across 30,000 high need schools to accomplish the task – very achievable for the United States of America). Special ops represent <10% of our military service. They can't function without the coordination and support and collaboration of their conventional forces brethren.


We have spent a great deal of time studying military deployment of special ops and its application in public education. See attached paper which we vetted with SEAL team members and instructors and other military personnel. We think it makes a compelling argument for how to identify, train and deploy a kind of special ops teaching force WITHIN each high poverty school alongside "conventional teachers."


We also believe the NAATE program (which will have 70 plus top performing teachers this summer coming in small clusters from high need schools from across the country) is just such a selection, training and deployment effort.  Time will tell. We have given this a lot of thought. Just had another SEAL commander to dinner this week discussing these principles and applications.

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