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Author Makes Case Against High School Sports in The Atlantic

TIME Magazine journalist Amanda Ripley, author of the new book, The Smartest Kids in the World, penned an article for The Atlantic last week examining what role high school sports might play in the United States' dismal academic international standing.

She leads off the article with this question, based on her research into other nations' schools:

"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 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?"

Her central premise revolves around a cost-benefit analysis of school sports, both in terms of time and money. To make her point, she highlights a small rural district in Texas that decided to suspend all sports, including football, after the state threatened to shut down the district for financial mismanagement and academic failure.

"Football at Premont cost about $1,300 a player. Math, by contrast, cost just $618 a student. For the price of one football season, the district could have hired a full-time elementary school music teacher for an entire year. But, despite the fact that Premont's football team had won just one game the previous season and hadn't been to the playoffs in roughly a decade, this option never occurred to anyone."

When the district took the radical step of dropping all sports, it began experiencing immediate benefits. A significantly higher percentage of students passed their classes compared to the year before, and the district used the money saved from sports to give teachers raises.

Beyond the financial challenges of fielding school sports, Ripley tackles the intangible "constant, low-level distraction" caused by athletics. She writes that "during football season in particular, the focus of American principals, teachers, and students shifts inexorably away from academics." And, as she notes, the commitment isn't just limited to high school football players; it extends to band members, cheerleaders, pep-rally planners and more.

As a former varsity tennis player and member of my high school's marching band, I can personally attest to this last point. Twice-a-week, two-hour band practices in the fall and daily two-hour tennis practices in the spring left little time to complete the piles of homework I accrued each night, especially while taking Advanced Placement classes. (Add school play practices to the mix and you've got a recipe for academic disaster.)

In short, despite the academic benefits that come from physical fitness, Ripley argues that U.S. high schools should divert their "obsessive intensity" about high school sports to academics instead.

Which side do you fall on in this debate? Chime in below.

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