Learning leadership

Don’t cut sports to save money, urges Jay Mathews in the Washington Post. Students learn leadership and responsibility through extra-curriculars.

He cites education analyst Craig Jerald’s report on “life and career skills,” which are said to include “flexibility and adaptability, initiative and self-direction, social and cross-cultural skills, productivity and accountability, and leadership and responsibility.”

(Jerald) quotes a 2005 paper by economists Peter Kuhn and Catherine Weinberger for the Journal of Labor Economics: “Controlling for cognitive skills,” they said, “men who occupied leadership positions in high school earn more as adults. The pure leadership-wage effect varies, depending on definitions and time period, from 4 percent to 33 percent.” A Mathematica Policy Research study also shows that although math had the biggest impact of any skill on later earnings, playing sports and having a leadership role in high school also were significant factors.

But perhaps active, healthy students who take leadership roles start with more leadership abilities than their coach-potato classmates.

Kuhn and Weinberger found evidence, Jerald said, “that leadership is not just a natural talent, but one that can be developed by participation in extracurricular activities.”

I’d hate to see sports go, but let’s protect the mock trial team, the robotics club and the theater program too. There are lots of ways to learn life skills.

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  1. It always amazes me that there are no inefficiencies in school districts since this is never a part of these discussions. The “cutting sports and after school activities” ploy is used by all superintendents as a great way to get parents totally up in arms and protesting to the county for more money for schools. Since the parents of the kids that participate in these activities are usually pretty involved, the supe can get the response they need to get more money from the district.

    In Loudoun County, where we live, they are going to charge $100 per student to participate in sports. I have no problem paying that since that investment is certainly well worth that price. And if students can’t afford it, they are bringing back fundraisers.

    The businesses in America that survive this recession will have done a total review of all spending and make the necessary cuts to increase efficiency. Is it too much to ask for school districts to do the same rather than resorting to the irate parent ploy.

  2. I disagree. If one must cut, then cut sports. Why? Well, at our public high school, you aren’t playing on a team if you haven’t spent years developing your skills on private, club teams. Thus, thousands of dollars from the school budget is devoted to preserving the pastimes of the children of the rich.

    “Controlling for cognitive skills” doesn’t control for the family’s socioeconomic status. Most high school students I know seek out leadership opportunities, because they know that the colleges with competitive admissions like to see students who are editor of the yearbook, head cheerleader, etc. Thus, occupying leadership roles means you have ambition. It’s a signal to colleges that you have ambition. That doesn’t mean that leadership roles cause higher adult earnings. Correlation is not causation.

    If participation on high school teams were open to all, I’d be in favor of it, as long as the academic opportunities were fully funded. However, when access is restricted, and the academic budget is pinched in order to allow a small minority of the student body to pursue athletic glory, that’s blatantly unfair.

  3. At our high school, we have both modified and club sports in addition to varsity. This levels the playing field for everyone. And most places also have rec leagues which are within the reach of all socio-economic classes.

    Team sports are excellent for building the team aspects of so much of life. Non-team sports (i.e., individual events such as swimming instead of teamwork events such as soccer) don’t build the team aspects as much, but do build discipline and group effort skills.

    Sports reach many many more kids than other activities such as theatre, chess club, etc.

    And like it or not, most kids need a physical activity to reduce their stress level and function more or less normally.

    And I’m not even getting into how many kids stay in school to play sports rather than drop out.

  4. Students need sports to “learn leadership and responsibility?” This makes about as much sense as having college non-core course requirements designed “to provide students with life experience.”

  5. Cut sports? NO WAY!

    Cut libraries? Instructional aides? NO PROBLEM!

    Jay Mathews is the perfect example of an “expert” for journalists too lazy to do any work for themselves.

  6. mutecypher says:

    “Coach-potato classmates,” is a great image. I picture a pasty and rotund student brow-beaten by Lee Ermey.
    Or was that a typo?

  7. Get rid of administrators and central office personnel. That ought to be more then enough to pay for the sports programs and chauffeured limousines for the teams for “away” games.

  8. Richard Aubrey says:

    It is interesting to see the differences in the admin overhead per student from one district to another.
    Usually the higher the overhead, the worse the school district.

  9. If you get rid of the CO, who is going to produce the reams of accountability documentation?

  10. What I don’t understand is how these sports are required to be against other schools, have expensive equipment and uniforms, have transportation budgets when the schools often have enough students to put up five or six teams in most sports and could play at the same school, and all the other expensive things that are “required” to enter into some statewide system. If it’s about leadership, then shouldn’t the schools have more teams? Cut the budget but save the sports: put on a bunch of intramural soccer, flag football, basketball, volleyball, and other teams and let the leadership blossom.

    If the goal is leadership, find the most efficient way to get more teams playing and more kids having fun and learning. Somehow I think the current system isn’t the model I’d design.