Why do we in the USA have sports programs in our public schools? Surely that’s not something we should have. Surely what we should have our schools doing is teaching kids math, science, history, and things like that. We don’t need them playing organized football or anything like that, do we? It’s something that almost no other country in the world does, and all the countries that regularly beat us academically do not have organized sports at their schools.
I write about this because of an article published by The Atlantic. In it, the author wonders why we have school sports and whether or not we might be better off without them. In addition to making the “aren’t schools about education?” argument, she also brings up cost.
In many schools, sports are so entrenched that no one—not even the people in charge—realizes their actual cost. When Marguerite Roza, the author of Educational Economics, analyzed the finances of one public high school in the Pacific Northwest, she and her colleagues found that the school was spending $328 a student for math instruction and more than four times that much for cheerleading—$1,348 a cheerleader. “And it is not even a school in a district that prioritizes cheerleading,” Roza wrote. “In fact, this district’s ‘strategic plan’ has for the past three years claimed that math was the primary focus.”
She also discusses, at length, a high school in Texas that got rid of most sports, up to and including football. To those who don’t get the importance, that’s like if the Pope said, “This whole resurrection of Jesus business. Probably not a thing.” The author goes on to say:
Football is, far and away, the most expensive high-school sport. Many football teams have half a dozen or more coaches, all of whom typically receive a stipend. Some schools hire professional coaches at full salaries, or designate a teacher as the full-time athletic director. New bleachers can cost half a million dollars, about the same as artificial turf. Even maintaining a grass field can cost more than $20,000 a year. Reconditioning helmets, a ritual that many teams pay for every year, can cost more than $1,500 for a large team. Some communities collect private donations or levy a special tax to fund new school-sports facilities.
Now imagine that schools did not have sports programs. What would happen? You’d likely see what you see in other nations. You’d have private clubs form up, probably with sponsors, and there would be youth leagues and such. Those who are interested in paying for such things would pay for them. Meantime, the money that was going to these things in schools would be going, presumably, to more scholastic things.
The article is pretty long, but well-worth reading.