Fran Tarkenton: Treat teachers like quarterbacks

Categories: Education

Tarkenton_square.jpg
Fran Tarkenton thinks teachers should be treated like he was -- without the tackling.
Fran Tarkenton made his name as a scrambler and a gambler in a Vikings jersey. The quarterback winged risky passes into traffic and ran like his life was in danger -- which, at only 6 foot, 190 pounds, it probably was.

But because Tarkenton's risk-taking paid off, he got paid, to the tune of something like $300,000 when he played for the Vikings in the mid-1970s.

Now, Tarkenton's arguing that American schoolteachers deserve that same risk-reward system, writing in a Wall Street Journal Op-Ed that everyone would benefit if teachers were treated like football players.

"Teachers' salaries," Tarkenton writes, "have no relation to whether teachers are actually good at their job -- excellence isn't rewarded, and neither is extra effort."


It's worth pointing out that Tarkenton hasn't been sitting around chatting about football in the 30 years since he retired from the game. The Hall of Famer has serious experience in the private sector, having started nearly 20 successful businesses in the last three decades, and once sitting on the board of directors at Coca Cola.

200px-Fran_Tarkenton_January_2010.jpg
These days, Tarkenton is still productive, if less agile.
​But, never shy to use his better-known career to his advantage, Tarkenton instead leans on his football experience in arguing for merit pay at public schools. Tarkenton begins with a clever conceit in his Wall Street Journal Op-Ed, which is titled, "What if the NFL played by Teachers' Rules?"

Imagine, Tarkenton writes, that NFL players were paid based not on success but on tenure, with each year adding a bit more salary, and, perhaps most pointedly, a lot more job security.

"[I]f a player makes it through his third season," Tarkenton writes, "he can never be cut from the roster until he chooses to retire, except in the most extreme cases of misconduct.

Under these conditions, he argues, the league product would suffer from bloat and stagnation, but the players' league would refuse to give an inch on its terms. The metaphor, of course, is that this is how America's public schools are currently run, and that they're suffering because of it.

Beyond compensation issues, the muscle of teachers' unions is often employed to keep failing teachers on staff, Tarkenton writes:

After a teacher earns tenure, which is often essentially automatic, firing him or her becomes almost impossible, no matter how bad the performance might be. And if you criticize the system, you're demonized for hating teachers and not believing in our nation's children.

Tarkenton also takes a pretty hearty swing at Barack Obama, whose education plan includes billions of dollars for "public school modernization," which to Tarkenton sounds like throwing more money at a deeply flawed system.

In his piece, Tarkenton conveniently leaves out the existence of the NFL Players Association, the players union, which has gotten progressively stronger since the late 60's. The NFLPA is the organ that allowed Tarkenton to switch teams on a whim -- as when he left the Vikings for the New York Giants, only to return to the Vikings -- and negotiate his salary and benefits.

Before players' unions flexed their muscles in the major sports, players were grossly underpaid and thrown out like old shoes. That same NFLPA now guaranteess a minimum salary, which these days is about as much as Tarkenton was paid at the height of his career. The players union is also arguing with the owners for increased health benefits and pensions for retired players, like Tarkenton.

As any old-timer Vikings fan remembers, Fran threw lots of touchdowns in his day -- but he also threw lots of interceptions. He clearly did lots of legwork and a bit of improvisation on this Op-Ed piece, and the ball is now in the air. It's unclear if this one's a score, or if he's given the ball away -- but, like the old days, it's always interesting to watch him try.


My Voice Nation Help
10 comments
Sort: Newest | Oldest
Jane
Jane

I'm a teacher. There's no tenure at my school.  And I'm just fine with that.

gee
gee

Mr. Tarkenton is the same as the majority that want added accountability for the teachers ... there is no mention of accountability where it has the most effect - student accountability.  Until that happens, they can do pay-for-performance all they want, student achievement will remain low.  In addition, I doubt there's a shortage of athletes who would play for million dollar salaries.  Start paying math teachers less than they can get in the private sector (which would be entirely possible for math teachers in difficult districts) and you won't have replacements that can perform better for less pay.

Plus, the analogy is not correct ... if anything, the teachers are like coaches that rely on players (e.g. students) to perform.  

steve
steve

Tarkenton is right to point out problems teacher unions have created in education.  Too often the teacher unions use people's concern for education to get benefits for teachers, not to improve edudation.  The teacher unions violently resist teacher evaluation.  Lifetime tenure?  Who else has it?  It was cute to try to compare the players' union to the teacher unions but there is one clear difference.  The teacher unions, as other public employees, have an advantage over private sector unions, they have a great deal of leverage, i.e., money, in selecting the people with whom they negotiate.  So, if the politician's choice is to resist the union and risk not getting relected or to acquiese to the union and pass it along in increased taxes for 'better' education, what do you think it will be?

Johnny
Johnny

"If an unfriendly foreign power had attempted to impose on America the mediocre educational performance that exists today, we might well have viewed it as an act of war."

From a US Department of Education Report, 1983.

Things have not improved since then.........

JACC
JACC

So by his logic the Vikings should not be getting paid this year?

HurdyGurdy
HurdyGurdy

While I agree that teacher's union demonizing has got to stop, I think we're missing Tarkenton's greater point, which is that we don't compensate teachers fairly for hard work. We can't deny that there are bad teachers who have stopped caring about children a long time ago, but we also have to admit that punishing schools by stripping funding is just more damage. It might be lost in Tarkenton's clumsy and old-mannish lecturing, but I think he's arguing for higher teacher salary and greater financial incentives. What he conveniently ignores is how we measure teacher/student success, something that No Child Left Behind should have taught us a little about. Bottom line, (in my opinion): We have to pay teachers more, fund athletic programs less, and funnel that money into encouraging kids to actually want to learn.

Our culture actively discourages critical thinking skills because it would diminish the strength of advertisements (and political propaganda) if kids knew how to read the bullshit. And summer vacation just needs to stop. We're not a farmer nation any more, and schools take at least a month to catch kids up on all the stuff they forgot over the 3-month break. So that's essentially 4 months (1/4 of the year) where our children aren't learning anything. Not to mention that the concept of a summer vacation "reward" only enforces the sentiment that school is a punishment, like eating your vegetables so you get ice cream after. When that kid becomes an adult, he's not forced to eat vegetables any more, so he goes straight for the ice cream, then becomes governor of New Jersey.

Michelle Bachmann
Michelle Bachmann

What a jerk.   Teachers are human beings and no system is perfect but I'm pretty sick of people demonizing teachers.  Teacher's get pretty low pay for a pretty important job.  It's sad Fran didn't have better teachers growing up because maybe he would have learned that no one gives a shit what a brain damaged ex nfl player thinks.    Maybe if I want to know how to lose a Super Bowl I will ask him for advice but on school matters I trust the teacher's union a little bit more.    Has this asshole ever taught school before?   What has he done to fix the problem except bitch?  I've never taught a class either, that is why I leave it up to the professionals.   I think its human nature to want to help children, I doubt teachers are a pack of greedy scumbags like conservatives and the media like to pretend they are.  No offense City Pages, you guys rule.   Mullen obviously had a good teacher because it didn't take him long to come up with Fran's union hypocrisy. 

Mary de Leon-Denton
Mary de Leon-Denton

Fran, like most of the public, needs a lesson (or several for that matter) on what unions are really all about AND about what tenure in the teaching profession really means!!! Shame on you, Fran!!!

David Foureyes
David Foureyes

Heh, Mary...please enlighten us.

To make it a bit challenging (since no one has been able to do this as I've seen, yet), don't quote, verbatim, snippets of horseshit found on conservative blogs...give us THE REAL lesson.

I'll even give you a counterpoint with my lesson for my kids: Of the people that have had the biggest impact on my life (that are not my parents) and have helped me accomplish the things of which I am most proud, four of them have been teachers. I believe if you ask your mother, she will have a similar percentage. Help to pay them as much as you can and let them decide together what they need to do it. School boards and PTAs exist for a reason, son. Without unions, public and private, this country would be an even bigger corporatised shithole than it already is.

Alrighty Mary! Let's have our "lesson" now...

vitajex
vitajex

Hey, as long as teachers:got paid like professional football players (avg. sal.= $1.9M, median sal.= $770K),got pampered like professional football players,got to run over traffic enforcement officers like professional football players,got to have sex on a boat in public with strippers,got to sexually assault people (multiple times!) while only losing 25% of one year's pay,etc., ad nauseum,then, hey!, I'm all for it!

Now Trending

Minnesota Concert Tickets

From the Vault

 

Loading...