Extracurricular learning

Extracurricular activities could be the secret to U.S. economic success, writes Mike Petrilli on Education Gadfly.

While it’s lousy at producing academic achievement, as measured by math and science tests, perhaps (the U.S. school system is) great at producing individuals with the skills, attitudes, and habits that drive the economy toward higher levels of growth.

. . . That’s right: our athletic programs, student councils, debate clubs, school newspapers, orchestras, theater troupes, FFAs, and the rest of the panoply of after-school activities might be boosting America’s economic output. While Asian kids are cramming at “exam cram schools” and European youngsters are smoking Gitanes in sidewalk cafés, our students are engaged in activities that give them the confidence to achieve in myriad ways — a taste of achievement they then carry into the world of work.

While Petrilli suggest the school of tomorrow could be a social center for online learners, Checker Finn wants to keep the focus on raising achievement, building on early signs that math and reading scores are rising.

Yet read closely the inaugural address of Randi Weingarten as president of the American Federation of Teachers, in which she promises to obliterate NCLB and the culture of testing (all the while professing allegiance to “standards” that have no meaning or traction if performance in relation to them isn’t measured). Instead, she seeks a massive new program of federal aid to “community schools…that serve the neediest children by bringing together under one roof all the services and activities they and their families need.” (Dental care, legal assistance, you name it, just about everything except high-level teaching and learning of important skills and content.) . . .

Just as the push for academic excellence could be paying off, educators and political leaders want to ease the pressure and go back to worrying about the “whole child,” Finn laments.

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Comments

  1. Mrs. Davis says:

    our students are engaged in activities that give them the confidence to achieve in myriad ways — a taste of achievement they then carry into the world of work.

    Which begs the obvious question, if students are learning little in the academic portion of school, why not release them to actually achieve in the world of work far earlier?

  2. While it’s lousy at producing academic achievement

    The US is in fact NOT lousy at producing academic achievement, but I’m not surpised someone from the Fordham Foundation would make this kind of inflammatory claim without backing it up with facts. It makes for good print.

  3. Mark Roulo says:

    While it’s lousy at producing academic achievement

    The US is in fact NOT lousy at producing academic achievement, but I’m not surpised someone from the Fordham Foundation would make this kind of inflammatory claim without backing it up with facts.

    Mike, the full quote is, “While it’s lousy at producing academic achievement, as measured by math and science tests…”

    It isn’t just the Fordham Foundation that worries about the US TIMMS (or is that TIMSS?) scores. To pick one example.

    -Mark Roulo

  4. Mark,

    Pre-NCLB the US was in much better shape when it came to science and math scores.

    In addition, the US has compulsory attendance until age 16, while many of the other countries have use testing to filter kids into vocational programs at a much younger age than 16. U.S kids are not being compared to the average groups of kids from these other countries.

    Meanwhile, in the US, which supposedly produces such poor academic achievement, more than 99% of the population is literate, a fact you can find in the CIA World Handbook.

  5. Catch Thirty-Three says:

    Mike, the term “literate” is very difficult to measure, so that is quite disingenuous. How YOU define literacy is different from how I or anyone else will define literacy. How the CIA defines literacy is different from how other organizations define literacy.

    And it seems that contradictions collapse here. You blast one study for not providing facts, yet you make this statement without anything to back it up: “Pre-NCLB the US was in much better shape when it came to science and math scores.”

    But fact of the matter is that the whole emphasis on extracurricular activities is what makes high school such a joke. Wouldn’t it be nice if high schools actually emphasized learning and their faculty lived under the assumption that they have four years to fully prepare the students for adulthood, instead of focusing seemingly exclusively on athletics and providing a GREAT social environment?

  6. Catch-ThirtyThree,

    You won’t get any arguements out of me over US overemphasis on athletics.

    As for the other things, the info. is readily available.

    US PISA scores for 2006 in Math
    http://nces.ed.gov/pubs2008/2008016.pdf
    In 2006, the average U.S. score in mathematics
    literacy was 474 on a scale from 0 to 1,000

    PISA 2000 in Math.
    http://nces.ed.gov/pubs2002/2002116.pdf
    United States 493

    Science, 2006
    http://nces.ed.gov/pubs2008/2008016.pdf
    Fifteen-year-old students in
    the United States had an average score of 489 on the
    combined science literacy scale,

    Science, 2000
    http://nces.ed.gov/pubs2002/2002116.pdf
    United States 499

    Unless I’m messing up the arithmetic both of those are DECLINES after the implementation of NCLB.

  7. > The US is in fact NOT lousy at producing academic achievement, but I’m not surpised someone from the Fordham Foundation would make this kind of inflammatory claim without backing it up with facts.

    Written with nary a fact in evidence in the role of up-backing. Time to scurry about and find a very authoritative editorial from a union web site.

    > Pre-NCLB the US was in much better shape when it came to science and math scores.

    Yes, in those halcyon days the US was practically an educational utopia.

    But then those wicked capitalists sought to seize control of the public education system which, when not suffering from a chronic shortage of funding, was a rich vein of gold just waiting to be plundered by Attila the Hun’s descendants. And their weapon of choice? *N*C*L*B*!!!! Oh those scurrilous Democrats! John Kerry, Hillary Clinton and Ted Kennedy are clearly in the pay of the exploiters of the working class!

    > more than 99% of the population is literate, a fact you can find in the CIA World Handbook.

    Well jeez, with results like that we must be fully-funding public education, right?

  8. TIMSS tests young people in vocational programs as well as academic high schools, using age as the determiner rather than grade level. The scores are comparable for developed countries.

    I don’t know how PISA does it.

  9. Ragnarok says:

    IIRC, what TIMSS and PISA test are quite different. Don’t remember the fine details, but in broad terms TIMSS tests for abstract concepts as well as for everyday math (making change, etc.), while PISA tests mostly the latter.

    There was a detailed discussion on this blog some time ago.

  10. Catch Thirty-Three says:

    Mike in TX: as one poster already beat me to the punch, I can safely say as a student fully ensconced in a pre-NCLB world, education was a joke then too. So is education even MORE of a joke now?

  11. Richard Aubrey says:

    I agree with the article.
    The number and breadth of “co-curricular” (as our system puts it) activities is astounding.
    I include athletics. One function of athletics is a connection with the real world. You either perform or you don’t. No wishing. You either practice and work out on your own, or you don’t. The results will show, either way. You either have the knack or you don’t. Wishing won’t make it so, and complaining won’t fix it.
    The non-athletic activities also teach accountability (you said you’d have the article in time for this edition….)and excuses don’t cut it. Your fellow students will be harder on you than the sponsor.
    When you have a leadership position, you learn planning and allowing for grit in the machinery.
    You learn confidence. Accomplishing something, even a school extra-curricular-level something, leads to more confidence than not having anything to try.
    I say this as one whose children were extraordinarily successful in both academic and co-curricular fields. It was a big help in making them as mature and successful as they are today.

  12. Parent2 says:

    Yes, well, I call it hogwash. To argue that students who participate in extracurricular activities are better prepared for adult life (with no evidence, may I add), ignores the class differences which bedevil US education.

    Who’s more likely to have a full schedule of extracurriculars, Suzy the Bank Chairman’s daughter, or Jane, the part-time, single mother teller’s daughter? Who’s more likely to be able to pay for the fees, equipment, transportation and private tutoring which many competitive extracurriculars require? Our local club travel teams at the elementary and middle school level are not chock full of low SES kids. They’re full of the kids who get a leg up in every other aspect of life. Correlation is not causation.

    At the high school level, those kids who are able to participate in sports, drama, community service, debate, etc, are not working serious part-time jobs. The kids with extracurricular activities on their resume are not working to put food on the table, or to save enough to pay for a few classes at the local community college. In Daniel Golden’s book,_The Price of Admission_, he points out the great advantage college recruiting for certain sports hands the upper class. Horseback riding, swimming, diving, skiing, squash, and golf all require skills developed through years of expensive training. The kids who can check those boxes on their college application are fortunate in many ways. Parental support, guidance, and income improve the children’s chances for a successful life, not the time spent in student council or cheerleading.

    The european countries which are cleaning our clocks in international tests don’t set up their schools as centers for fun as well as learning. They concentrate on education. I think our results would be better, and certainly more equitable, if our schools did too.

  13. Richard Aubrey says:

    Parent2.
    Our schools would certainly look better if we only tested the college bound, as do some European schools who’ve turfed out the vocational kids before that. We test everybody, including those who are too dumb to duck the truant officer.
    I worked with exchange students for more than twenty years and asked them about their various countries. The ed level in Europe is not exemplified by their seventeen-year-olds’ scores.