Every crisis is an opportunity.
The covid-19 pandemic has put US schools into a crisis. I would suggest that this crisis gives us the opportunity to rethink how we deliver education. Most importantly, what we see as education.
Some questions we need to ask about our school system.
Do students need to attend school 5 days a week?
How do we evaluate whether or not a student is successful in reaching the required goals?
To what extent can we use distance learning?
What about sports and clubs? WHAT? Now you’ve gone too far.
I am now going to suggest the unsuggestable. Heresy. Beyond the pale. An idea on par with a justification for the Holocaust. The end of American civilization as we know it.
Sports and clubs in school. Exterminate them. Eliminate them. Toss them.
An admission. I have coached high school sports and advised clubs. I have coached softball, basketball and soccer at the high school level. I have advised the UN Club, a debating team, for over 20 years. I coached a high school championship chess team.
These kinds of activities have long been considered central to the “high school experience”. And I oppose them.
Why? Because in many schools the extracurricular interscholastic activities drain resources that would be better used for a more rigorous and inclusive educational experience for ALL students. Resources that could reduce class size and increase teacher salaries. Resources that should be used for education, capital “E”.
How do sports programs drain resources? Let me illustrate. In most schools there is a budget for extracurricular activities like sports. This usually includes coaches salaries and equipment. This money (provided, recall, by property taxes) is only a part of the costs of sports, however.
There are many costs for sports programs that are “hidden” in the school budgets. For example, the budget proposal for a school I taught at for over 25 years is linked below. There is a $59 million budget. Nowhere in the budget does it have sports program funding. Yet, the district offers 24 different sports teams. 24. (see links below). Now, I am not singling out this district . It is typical and I use it only to illustrate this point.
School sports costs are seldom broken down so the taxpayer can see what the actual costs are. For example. In the school I am referring to there are the following costs, not expressed as sports costs.
Athletic Director and office staff, devoted solely to school athletics. (Hidden in salaries budget?)
Coaching and in some cases assistant coaches salaries for 24 teams. (Hidden where?)
Pay for all umpires, referees timekeepers, scorekeepers at all home games. How many home games does each team play? (Hidden where?)
Transportation for all 24 teams for every away game. (Hidden in transportation budget?)
Training in CPR and concussion protocols for all coaches. (Hidden where?)
The care of the football field and stadium, the soccer fields, the baseball and softball fields, the track and field facilities, for all varsity and JV and modified programs. This includes cutting grass, lining fields, clean up, etc. (Hidden in Building and Grounds budget?).
Uniforms and equipment for all 24 teams. (For example, the cost for just one football player is between $800-1200 per person. You can do the math). An aside: As a classroom teacher I was given less than $200 a year for all supplies for all my classes. Total.
I have taught in schools when there are “budget crunches”. Which is just about every school every year. I have watched schools drop social studies, math, science and English teaching positions to “save money.” I have seen a district drop programs for gifted and talented students. I have seen yearly teacher contract battles over health care costs. But in all these districts and all these “crunched budgets” I have never, NEVER, seen a district drop a varsity sports program. Cut teaching? Yes. Cut sports? Never.
This current school crisis is an opportunity. Do we really need to spend resources on interscholastic sports programs? Do we need to take the time and expense for these programs? A district could run a very good intramural sports program for a fraction of the cost. In a time when we need to prioritize should we be prioritizing athletics over basic or innovative educational programs?
But. But. But. Kids love sports. And so do parents, a few of whom live vicariously through the imaginary exploits of their progeny. I love sports. But I don’t think taxpayers should be funding them. There are other options.
As in many things, we should look to Europe. European schools do not have sports teams. Some places, like Germany, do have a few schools specifically devoted to athletics, but those are exceptions. In Europe athletics are privately funded by clubs. Professional soccer teams have their own youth academies, paid for by the teams, not the tax payers.
So, let us use this crisis to rethink how we spend very limited school resources. It is not a matter of ending sports for kids, but rather a rethinking of who should pay for those sports and how they should be organized. Should tax dollars for education continue to be funneled to sports programs ? I think not.
(See the eftours link for an interesting look at European schools and how they are organized.)
Focus On: The European high school experience