Rob Douglas: An Olympic approach to education |

Rob Douglas: An Olympic approach to education

In less than two months, many who call the Yampa Valley home will gather in Steamboat Springs to show their support for the local athletes who will compete in the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia.

Among the thousands who will gather that day to celebrate those who are among the best in the world at their sport will be hundreds of children with dreams of someday becoming an Olympian.

And because Ski Town USA is home to more Winter Olympians than any other community in America — friends and neighbors who personify what can be attained physically through hard work and perseverance — those children will leave the rally thinking they, too, can compete athletically with anyone in the world if they train as hard as their local heroes.

Still, one thing is certain. The overwhelming majority of Steamboat kids who dream of competing at the international level as a member of the U.S. Ski Team will fall short of their goal.

But it’s the dedication to the goal that matters.

It’s the dedication to competing on the world stage that will lift young athletes who pursue that goal to attain a level of achievement that wouldn’t have been possible if they’d set their sights lower.

To the point, children won’t leave Steamboat’s Olympic sendoff plotting how to become the best skier in Routt County. Nor will they fantasize about being the best in Colorado. On the way home, they’ll imagine competing at the level attained by those with names like Spillane, Lodwick, Carmichael, Lalive, Fletcher or any one of dozens of other local Olympians.

Arguably, more than anywhere else in the country, those fantasies can become reality here because Steamboat thinks big and pulls out all the stops when it comes to supporting winter athletes.

Imagine if Steamboat took the same approach to education.

Imagine what might be within the reach of more local children if communities across the Yampa Valley placed the same value on education as they do athletics.

For some reason, when it comes to education, the benchmark is another school just down the road or across the state. Rarely, if ever, do school systems compare themselves to their international counterparts. To the contrary, we create awards for our students and school systems that trumpet excellence while masking the truth.

This week, the truth raised its ugly head.

“U.S. students lag around average on international science, math and reading test,” the Washington Post reported:

“Scores in math, reading and science posted by 15-year-olds in the United States were flat while their counterparts elsewhere — particularly in Shanghai, Singapore and other Asian provinces or countries — soared, according to the results of a well-regarded international exam released Tuesday.

“While U.S. teenagers were average in reading and science, their scores were below average in math, compared to 64 other countries and economies that participated in the 2012 Program for International Student Assessment, or PISA. That pattern has not changed much since the PISA test was first given in 2000. …

“Education Secretary Arne Duncan called the scores a ‘brutal truth’ that ‘must serve as a wake-up call for the country.’

“The test scores offer fresh evidence for those who argue that the United States is losing ground to global competitors and others who say a decade’s worth of school reform has done little to improve educational outcomes.”

The PISA test results, along with other tests dating back to the 1970s, show American children are treading water academically. In the global environment that the children of today will have to compete in as adults, treading water means being left behind when it comes to the competition for quality higher education and a rewarding career.

In the coming months, this column will examine possible solutions for ending the educational stagnation that threatens the future of the U.S. But one thing is certain. As with most societal problems, local changes can have faster results than waiting for a dictate from the state or federal level.

For the Yampa Valley, a template for excellence can be replicated from that used by our world-class winter athletic programs. The goal should be to prepare students to successfully compete on the international stage with the same vigor we exert to prepare athletes.

To reach Rob Douglas, email

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