So last night, the older Jazzboy got his first varsity letter (as a sophomore, running X/C - yeah, I'm a proud papa). The school had a bunch of kids on stage from all the fall teams get up and accept their letters. Mrs. Jazzman remarked how differently the football players dressed than the soccer players...A handful of authors, primarily in non-peer reviewed and think tank reports posit that poor urban school districts have more than enough money to achieve adequate student outcomes and simply need to reallocate what they have toward improving achievement on tested subject areas. These authors, including Marguerite Roza and colleagues of the Center for Reinventing Public Education encourage public outrage that any school district not presently meeting state outcome standards would dare to allocate resources to courses like ceramics or activities like cheerleading. To support their argument, the authors provide anecdotes of per pupil expense on cheerleading being far greater than per pupil expense on core academic subjects like math or English.Imagine a high school that spends $328 per student for math courses and $1,348 per cheerleader for cheerleading activities. Or a school where the average per-student cost of offering ceramics was $1,608; cosmetology, $1,997; and such core subjects as science, $739.These shocking anecdotes, however, are unhelpful for truly understanding resource allocation differences and reallocation options. For example, the major reason why cheerleading or ceramics expenses per pupil are highest is the relatively small class sizes, compared to those in English or Math. In total, the funds allocated to either cheerleading of ceramics are unlikely to have much if any effect if redistributed to reading or math.Further, the requirement that poor urban (or other) districts currently falling below state outcome standards must re-allocate any and all resources from co-curricular and extracurricular activities toward improving achievement on tested outcomes may increase inequities in the depth and breadth of curricular offerings between higher and lower poverty schools – inequities that may be already quite substantial. That is, it may already be the case that higher poverty districts and those facing greater resource constraints are reallocating resources toward core, tested areas of curriculum and away from more advanced course offerings which extend beyond the tested curriculum and enriched opportunities including both elective courses and extracurricular activities. Some evidence on this point already exists.
I can tell you first hand how being on the team kept the Jazzboy on the straight-and-narrow this fall, when he had his first AP course to deal with and all the other challenges 15-year-olds face. I knew many of the other kids up there, and how playing tennis or cheering has taught them vital lessons they are going to need if they are to become successful adults.
For me, it was music. It could be drama or student council or woodshop or whatever, but those of us who have teenagers or have taught them will tell you that most kids are not intrinsically motivated to study Shakespeare or algebra. They need something to get them through the door each morning.
It's appalling that we are taking these opportunities away from poor kids. It's stupid that we have created schools so large that we can't spread the opportunities around (12 kids make the varsity basketball team at Elizabeth HS, with a student population of over 5,000. There should be at least three varsity teams coming from a school that size - they'd all probably be really good.)
The wealthier 'burbs will be fine: we're already training the parents to look down their noses at public school athletics (although I would argue the loss the American culture - no more "Be True To Your School"? - could be enormous). They will form more youth orchestras and dance companies if needed, or they'll expand student activity fees.
It's the rest of the kids we should worry about. Would you have liked to go to a school where your day is spent drilling for a high-stakes test that will determine whether or not your teacher gets to keep his or her job? Would you wonder, while you see the kids in the 'burbs out playing club soccer, whether society thought you really had potential?
I don't think that's what any of us would have liked in our school days; most of us have at least some fond memories of those parts of school other than math and reading...