Has the current explosion of interest in high school sports lead to a "general dumbing down of public education?" So asks Steven Conn, a professor of history at Ohio State University, in an article in the Chronicle of Higher Education.
From the Chronicle of Higher Education:
There is a widespread consensus that our public-education systems are in serious trouble. But amid the conflicting diagnoses of the problem—teacher training, standardized testing, socioeconomic conditions—we have missed this obvious one: The growth of high-school athletics over the past generation has necessarily meant fewer resources devoted to academics, especially in the zero-sum budgetary environment of so many school districts. How many other educational systems pay for sports out of their education funds?
The issue isn't simply money. Perhaps more important, the growth of high-school athletics has resulted in more time than ever spent by students in practicing and competing. Basketball games played on school nights (with travel time, if they're away games), swimming and gymnastics "invitationals" that draw kids from hundreds of miles and last all weekend. And the proliferation of summer sports camps. In one of his pleadings as president of the NCAA, even the late Myles Brand complained to The New York Times, "The youth sports culture is overly aggressive."
Certainly the commercialization of youth sports is at an all-time high. Over the past several years high school sports has seen the construction of multi-million dollar high school football stadiums, an increase in the number of year-round camps, tournaments and showcases, and an explosion of recruiting magazines, services, websites, and "street agents.”
… To balance the time necessary for sports with academic demands, how many students are opting for easier classes? How many districts are not offering a more rigorous curriculum because there is not enough student demand for AP calc but plenty for JV football? To what extent has the growth in seriousness of high-school athletics contributed to the general dumbing down of public education?
Education Week's Bryan Toporek agrees:
That point got some backing from ESPN analyst and former Duke basketball player Jay Bilas on Thursday, according to the Chronicle's Players blog. At the annual conference of the College Sport Research Institute, Bilas spoke out against the NCAA's academic progress rate, saying, "I would have chosen different classes if there were an APR in place. I wouldn't have wanted to put my teammates at risk."
Conn also writes,
As professional sports grew into a multibillion-dollar enterprise, colleges followed suit. Small programs grew big; big programs grew huge, all chasing ESPN glory and cash. So, in turn, high-school athletics programs grow, emulating their big siblings on campuses.
If that is truly the case then the news from Florida, outlined in this Forbes.com article, should alarm everyone:
The University of Florida announced this past week that it was dropping its computer science department, which will allow it to save about $1.7 million. The school is eliminating all funding for teaching assistants in computer science, cutting the graduate and research programs entirely, and moving the tattered remnants into other departments.
... Meanwhile, the athletic budget for the current year is $99 million, an increase of more than $2 million from last year. The increase alone would more than offset the savings supposedly gained by cutting computer science.