Academics only

To balance the budget, a Massachusetts superintendent cut all non-academic activities. Saugus schools will offer no sports teams, cheerleading, bands, clubs, student council, nada. The public is howling. Jeff Jacoby of the Boston Globe wonders if a town’s quality of life requires tax-funded extracurriculars.

One news story quoted a Saugus High senior who plays on the soccer and lacrosse teams.  “If there is nothing to do after school,” he said, “I’ll probably just go home and do homework.”  At the risk of uttering heresy, I can’t help wondering: Would that be so terrible?
. . . Whatever the merits of team sports or cheerleading, they are not essential to a high school education.  Math and English are.  Yet how many American communities muster even a fraction of the fervor for math and English instruction that they lavish on their high school sports programs?  While Saugus High boasts a championship hockey team, 47 percent of its 10-graders performed at the two lowest levels — “needs improvement” or “failing” — on last year’s statewide English exam.  On the math exam, it was 56 percent.  How often do parents and students ever take to the streets to protest academic mediocrity?

Saugus spends $6,700 per student. Plenty of California schools manage to offer sports and marching band — but not small classes — on that kind of budget.

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  1. “. . . Whatever the merits of team sports or cheerleading, they are not essential to a high school education. Math and English are. Yet how many American communities muster even a fraction of the fervor for math and English instruction that they lavish on their high school sports programs?”

    . . . Whatever the merits of playing games, they are not essential to growing up. Cleaning your room is. Yet how many children muster even a fraction of the fervor for cleaning their rooms that they lavish on playing games with other children?

    Yipper, that superindent is wasting a great mind. If only we could convince him to turn his attention to questions such as the origins of the universe or cold fusion. Anything that doesn’t involve understanding human nature.

  2. Tim from Texas says:

    Playing games with other children is important, especially for the K-7th grade ages, but after that not nearly as much. At any rate, the way team sports have evolved in our schools benefits only the few for they have become training teams for professional sports. I am tired and sick of paying taxes to support training teams for professional sports. Sure it is claimed by secondary school districts and colleges that they pay their own way, but it’s just not true. Team sports in our schools is a farce and doesn’t need to be there and shouldn’t be there. Why heck, I would say keep the cheerleaders and have them lead cheers for academics but that isn’t even practical for the cheer-leeding squads are just training squads for the elite college team squads.

    Everything to do with sports in our schools has become just a farce and benefits the few only.

  3. Extracurriculars have become more and more important for college applications despite their non-essential nature.

    Thinking back on all of the good memories that I had in high school, few took place inside class time. Though this might be a result of desperate budget cuts, I can’t help but think that students will be missing out. If cheerleaders are getting cut off, then so are the mock-trial and science bowl teams.

  4. They’re not saying kids shouldn’t do these things, just that it shouldn’t be through school. Nothing wrong with private skating lessons or city-league football.

  5. Craig Howard says:

    I about spit out my coffee when I read that Saugus spends $6700/student.

    The City of Buffalo spends over $12,000/student and doesn’t have any extra-curricular activities either. No music and no art to boot.

    Gee. I wonder where all the money goes.

  6. john lucia says:

    The lavish facilities and extreme cost of high school sports is not geared to the best interest of the students, but to the administrators looking for a school championship to brag about and the teachers unions who are looking to add union coaching jobs.
    If the students came first, then no cut policies and full paticipation would be the rule. That it is not speaks volumes.
    Spending millions on high school facilities is a waste… just compare them to div III campuses that must pay their own way. If sports are important raise funds through donations, not coercive taxation.

  7. Sounds like the classic, “We’ll have to close the Washington Monument” game that the National Parks Service plays everytime their budget is threatened.

    Our school district used to say, “We can’t afford to water the lawns.” With brown front lawns and brown playing fields, the community took notice.

  8. Tom West says:

    I was under the impression that in the US, and especially less urban areas, the sports teams in someway justify the existence of the school. I remember seeing high school staduims (and I was told attendance at sporting events) in Texas that would make many professional teams envious.

    If the school doesn’t give anything back to the community that the community values (and I get the impression academics tend the validate the successful individuals, not the community as a whole), then what incentive is their for the community to spend its funds for the school?

    Certainly the same is true for post-secondary institution, where the ability to obtain funds from alumni (and the cooperation of the town) often quite directly depends on the performance of the sports team.

  9. And why should the students bother showing up for another day of boring classes if there are no sports at the end of the day? That’s all that kept me going to high school, but that was before the days of G & T instruction, so maybe things ahve changed.

    On a more serious note, sports give a school (and the students) an identity and sense of belonging. These are two very important items that people don’t pay enough attention to.

  10. Andy Freeman says:

    > Thinking back on all of the good memories that I had in high school, few took place inside class time.

    So what? The good memories of the kid across the street took place at Disneyland. Why should your memories be tax subsidized and not his?

    In case there’s any confusion, you’re not entitled to “good memories” at public expense.

    > On a more serious note, sports give a school (and the students) an identity and sense of belonging. These are two very important items that people don’t pay enough attention to.

    Very important to whom?

    If you want them to have “an identity and sense of belonging”, you pay for it.

    I’m willing to pay for the three Rs, and only if that’s what I actually get. (In other words, promises don’t count.)

  11. I have to disagree Andy. Sports, and all extracurriculars for that matter, help to round a person out, grow their sense of identity and contribute to their mental development. Hence, a more grounded, motivated, disciplined adult usually emerges. Andy, he may not be YOUR kid, but he is certainly your neighbor, your boss, your employee, or your burden while he sits on the welfare rolls. Every single one of us has a stake in the development of the next generation of adults – it benefits all of society to help them develop well. We aren’t just publically funding the students’ hobbies, we are publically funding their overall development. I personally think there is a strong return on that particular investment.

  12. Tim from Texas says:

    Sports in the schools don’t round out a person’s character. Maybe it did in the past somewhat. Well, that was the argument in those days for spending so much effort and money on sports. However, the little bit of rounding-out and character building dwindled each year. Now we have the athletes separated from the rest of the school population, given special privilges and consideration and this starts in middle school. Yeah, that builds real character, and yeah, they’re well rounded.

    The manner in which team sports and all that goes with it is organized now, this includes band, cheer squads, etc, has nothing to do with a well rounded education nor character building, quite the contrary, it has become detrimental.

    One example of the harm it inflicts upon academics is class scheduling. All classes are scheduled in one way or another in middle-schools and high-schools to accommodate the team sports and whatever they need. The size of the classes in the afternoon are considerably larger because of team sports. For instance, the teachers in a school are reported to have class sizes of 27. Fine, but what happens is they will have considerably smaller classes in the morning than in the afternoon and in most instances the last class of the day is the largest. I don’t think it needs to be explained here that if any class should be larger it shoudn’t be in the afternoon, much less, the last class of the day. The band’s needs and the cheer and pep squads’ needs are considered also before academics in class scheduling. Class scheduling is damaged by sports in other ways as well, but won’t go into it now. Is this good? I think not. Besides this is not the only area or manner in which harm is done.

    I will repeat myself here again. The team sports in our schools benefit the few and only the few.

  13. In the end, it seems it is all a matter of where you went to school and how motivated you were to participate. In my graduating class, 65% of my class participated in a sport, and the percentages were high for other extracurriculars as well. Participation was the culture in my school. Having that outlet at the end of the day was very satisfying. If you needed to leave early for an “away game”, you made up the work later. If anything, it created more of an academic challenge for athletes, band members, etc. If your G.P.A. dropped, you were disqualified from participating, and it was enforced.

    A school can commit to effective, efficient management of the balance between academics and extracurriculars. The point is, it can be done, and should be done for the benefit of our adolescents. I am sorry, Tim, that you had such a bad experience (though you haven’t said why), but there are those of us that had a great experience and lend much credit to it for helping us be who we are today.

  14. Educators make a big deal about teaching cooperative learning and teamwork. The only places in school where these concepts are essential for success are in team athletics, drama and musical ensembles. I hated gym and have little musical talent, but I think it is a mistake to drop the team activities. They should not be just for those who want to go professional. If they were not treated as farm teams maybe they could be run more cheaply. It is just as important that those with exceptional athletic, musical and dramatic talent be literate and numerate. I find it hard to believe that we must sacrifice one for the other. Is this another case of bureaucrats shutting down a high visibility service to get more money out of the tax payers?

    Yes, school does not have to be fun, but when we take great stores and thrilling ideas and make them dull we are doing something horrible to our children. Education should not be like medical care, where we inflict pain to preserve the health of the patient.

  15. Tim from Texas says:

    I’m ok with sports in school, if a realistic true balance can be achieved. We are pregnant with team sports and as someone said along the way that there’s no such thing as half pregnant. So it’s not going away and I know it. I am in agreement with George and others that team sports shouldn’t be dropped, if they’re not farm teams, but the truth of the matter is that in most schools they are. The entire sports thing became entrenched in the minds and memories of people from the “good old days” and in those days there existed somewhat of a balance, but not today.

    I played football in middle-school and in high-school and baseball in the summer, for in those days, from 1955-1961 the schools didn’t have baseball teams. I enjoyed it too and of course, there are lessons that team sports teach. However those lessons in most of the schools aren’t taught anymore. Now anyone can look at the situation as it is today through rose-colored glasses and think all is well and fine and dandy, but it isn’t. It’s a monster that gobbles up way too much money and effort in the schools to benefit a few and benefit pro sports and if that’s wonderful, only a few of the few get that far.

    Alas, I know I speak heresy here, especially so, since I live in Texas. One could see me swinging from a Texas oak, if I could be found whilst tempers were still burning. Of course, I’m exaggerating and joking here, but not by a long distance.

  16. Tim from Texas,

    Which high school sports are training players for professional leagues? In men’s basketball, 9 high school players entered the NBA draft this year out of more than 540,000 male high school basketball players. 0 high school football players went into the NFL out of more than 1 million players. There are more than 450,000 high school baseball players, but the number drafted by Major League baseball teams is in the hundreds, with less than 1500 players total drafted this year, including college and foreign players. I don’ think there are any high sports which really serve as training teams for pro sports.

  17. Tim from Texas says:

    Well, Brian, most of the best go to the next farm teams which are college teams. I didn’t speak to that because I thought it was obvious. The colleges and universties are pregnant with it also and only a very few of them are barely able to make it into the black with it all, and the remainder are bleeding green profusely with their programs. There also, it benefits the few and creates detrimental ramifications.

  18. Okay, I can agree with that for Division I schools in major sports, but I still don’t think the numbers add up at the high school level to say that HS sports are farm teams for professional sports or even for college sports. There are millions of students involved in high school sports and only a very small number will play in college and an even smaller number will play professionally. Maybe Texas high school football is the exception?

  19. Mark Odell says:

    Robert Wright wrote: Our school district used to say, “We can’t afford to water the lawns.” With brown front lawns and brown playing fields, the community took notice.

    . . . and promptly fired the incompetent administrators (yeah, I know: dare to dream).

    Rex wrote: On a more serious note, sports give a school (and the students) an identity and sense of belonging.

    Given the coercive nature of government schools, somehow the phrase “panem et circenses” springs to mind.