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Researchers Rebut 'The Case Against High School Sports'

Earlier this month, The Atlantic published an article from author/journalist Amanda Ripley that makes a case against the importance placed upon sports in U.S. high schools. Long story short, Ripley argues that the costs of school sports (both in terms of time and money) outweigh the benefits.

On Wednesday, two education researchers refuted Ripley's article with their own Atlantic piece in which they highlighted studies about the positive relationship between school-sponsored sports and academic success.

The main study they bring up to support their point was published earlier this year in the Journal of Research in Education. Based on data from 657 public high schools across Ohio, the study authors discovered a positive correlation between a school's commitment to athletics and academic success. Specifically, a 10 percentage-point increase in a school's overall winning percentage was associated with a 1.3 percentage-point increase in an estimate of its high school graduation rate and a 0.25 percentage-point increase in the number of students achieving academic proficiency or better.

"Winning on the field and winning in the classroom tend to go hand in hand," the study suggested.

The researchers also highlight a study on the classroom results of high school coaches, which finds athletic coaches in Florida largely perform as well as their noncoaching peers in terms of raising students' test scores.

That leads them to conclude:

"If schools allow student-athletes to regularly miss out on instructional time for the sake of traveling to athletic competitions, that's bad. However, such issues would be better addressed by changing school and state policies with regard to the scheduling of sporting events as opposed to outright elimination. If the empirical evidence points to anything, it points towards school-sponsored sports providing assets that are well worth the costs."

The two researchers weren't the only ones this week to poke holes in Ripley's recent article. EdWeek opinion blogger Peter DeWitt took aim at the piece, too.

In a post published Wednesday, DeWitt suggests that while Ripley makes valid points about schools needing to prioritize academics over athletics, he also believes sports have certain benefits for students.

"Perhaps the issue isn't about playing sports, but it's more about why kids are playing sports. If they are playing a sport so they can exercise and find something they can play throughout life, then they are playing for the right reasons. However, if they are playing because they, or their parents, believe they will be the next big thing in professional sports, they should take a step back and reflect."

If there's one source of consensus among Ripley, DeWitt and the two Atlantic writers, it's this: Schools do need to get their priorities straight when it comes to academics and athletics.

That doesn't necessarily mean that athletics need to go entirely by the wayside, though.

Want all the latest K-12 sports news? Follow @SchooledinSport on Twitter.

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