Making the cut: Would dropping athletic programs improve American education?

Football players
On The Daily Circuit, we'll look at the benefits and drawbacks to school-sponsored sports programs.
MPR photo/Tom Weber

The amount of time, attention and money American high schools allocate to sports suggests athletic programs far outweigh other priorities in education, argued Amanda Ripley in The Atlantic last month.

Speaking to foreign exchange students who come to the United States, Ripley, an Emerson Fellow at the New America Foundation, compared other countries to America on academic performance and school-sponsored sports.

She interviewed a student from South Korea who attended a New Jersey public school that offers 18 different sports. South Korea's 15-year-olds rank fourth in the world on math critical thinking.

More from Ripley's Atlantic piece:

Sports are embedded in American schools in a way they are not almost anywhere else. Yet this difference hardly ever comes up in domestic debates about America's international mediocrity in education. (The U.S. ranks 31st on the same international math test.) The challenges we do talk about are real ones, from undertrained teachers to entrenched poverty. But what to make of this other glaring reality, and the signal it sends to children, parents, and teachers about the very purpose of school?

When I surveyed about 200 former exchange students last year, in cooperation with an international exchange organization called AFS, nine out of 10 foreign students who had lived in the U.S. said that kids here cared more about sports than their peers back home did. A majority of Americans who'd studied abroad agreed.

Even in eighth grade, American kids spend more than twice the time Korean kids spend playing sports, according to a 2010 study published in the Journal of Advanced Academics. In countries with more-holistic, less hard-driving education systems than Korea's, like Finland and Germany, many kids play club sports in their local towns — outside of school. Most schools do not staff, manage, transport, insure, or glorify sports teams, because, well, why would they?

On The Daily Circuit, we look at the benefits and drawbacks to school-sponsored sports programs.


Football rosters dwindle with concussions as culprit
For the past few years, the number of high school football players around the country has dropped dramatically. An annual survey by the National Federation of State High School Associations showed that more than 25,000 fewer kids played football in the U.S. last year than only four years before. About 10,000 fewer kids played last year than 2011. (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)

At a College, Dropping Sports in Favor of Fitness
Officials at the college, whose 2,100 students make it the size of some high schools, decided last year to eliminate the athletic department. The college had 80 athletes spread across seven sports, but the athletic budget was roughly $900,000 for the 2012-13 academic year — from an overall operating budget of roughly $100 million. (New York Times)

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