Like Football, Education is Optimized by Options

pageheadshot.JPGIt certainly was a disappointing year for Tiger Town football fans such as me.  Prognosticators across the land predicted this was the year that Clemson would get over the hump, and early wins suggested they were right.  But, after a strong start, the team began to fizzle.  The coaching staff failed to make needed adjustments and the season ended with players and fans longing for more.

After an embarrassing loss in the bowl game (and to arch-rival South Carolina I might add), there were literally thousands of posts on Internet message boards devoted to examining the reasons for failure, looking for answers, and offering up solutions. 

One comment in particular jumped out as being analogous to the effort to help solve South Carolina’s education woes.  That analogy:  the triple option.

The triple option has been used for years by college coaches who boast a stable of talent at the running back position.  This single play gives the quarterback several choices for getting the most yardage on any given down in virtually any situation.  He has the “option” to keep the ball himself, hand it off to one running back, or to pitch it to yet another running back.

So how would the triple option work for South Carolina schools? 

In this scenario, parents would be the quarterback with several options for providing their children with the best possible education.  They can keep the ball and run it themselves – we call this option “home schooling.”  They can hand it off up the middle –this option is “public school.”  Or, if those options are not optimum, they can pitch it outside to “private schools.”

It’s a basic concept, but one that has consistently worked over the years – in both football and in education.  The quarterback (i.e. the parents) takes the best option (i.e. public, private or home school) based on the variables present (i.e. the child’s needs, where they live, school programs and rankings, etc.).

As with the Clemson football program, our education system’s failure to “get over the hump” is not about money.  Despite ever increasing budgets, as well as new and improved facilities, decision makers are so focused on doing things their way that they are under utilizing surrounding talent that can help us reach our goal.   

In the case of Clemson football, that very achievable goal is a conference championship and an invitation to a major bowl game.  Likewise, with regards to education in South Carolina, it’s to better prepare students for college and/or life beyond high school.  Eight and five records are not good enough to win football championships, and neither is a 53 percent graduation rate, proficiency levels of 25-30 percent, or being 49th in the SAT.

Will the triple option solve all of Clemson football or South Carolina’s education woes?  Of course not.  There is always a need for new plays, formations and strategies – particularly as the players change.  But, in the case of both Clemson football and the debate over education reform, continuing down the same path is not right approach. 

A change in policy is both needed and warranted.  With “the option,” parents, students and my beloved Clemson Tigers can’t lose!

Randy Page is president of South Carolinians for Responsible Government, a statewide grassroots group that promotes limited government, lower taxes, and increased educational options. Page may be reached at

Printed in the 1/22/07 edition of the Greenville News.



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