Sunday, August 16, 2009


This morning, an article in the Cincinnati Enquirer caught my eye: “Playing Field Still Not Level.” Basically, it exposes the fact that the state of Ohio does not enforce Title IX (1973), the legislation which mandates that public high schools offer male and female students an “equal opportunity” to participate in sports. Although I am both an avid “sports nut” and a supporter of gender equity, I am nevertheless puzzled by our disproportionate emphasis on sports in public high schools and the costs that are passed on to taxpayers; especially when most public schools are struggling to offer decent academic programs. Obviously, some sports are more expensive than others. Although I am a football fan, there is no good reason to offer this expensive sport in cash-strapped public schools (or any public school!). Without boring you with numbers I’ll merely point out that it’s very expensive to: build and maintain a football stadium, transport 75-100+ students to and from practice and games, buy equipment, pay coaches, and pay liability insurance premiums. It is the king of deficit sports. Unfortunately, football is also a “Y Chromosome sport,” and therefore any school that has a football team of, say, 150 male students, equality of opportunity would require 150 opportunities for females. This usually means that any school that takes Title IX seriously will not be able to offer other male sports such as wrestling, track and field, or lacrosse. If Ohio’s level of seriousness in respect to title IX is indicative of what’s going on elsewhere, public high school athletics is still overwhelming male dominated.

My basic argument is more subtle. I would argue that it makes more sense to offer athletic opportunities through private, non-profit voluntary associations than tax-supported schools. In fact, most communities already offer sports for pre-high school children outside of school, especially Pee-Wee Football, Little League Baseball, and AAU soccer, basketball, and track. In order to pay for these opportunities, parents pay a fee and/or raise money via bake sales, candy sales etc. Most coaches are parents that volunteer. The beauty of this arrangement is that the costs are incurred by those who receive the benefits. But today, these private endeavors are crowded out by public, tax supported high school teams. (Talk to any “select soccer coach!”) Now I can’t guarantee that football would survive privatization. It’s probably too expensive for most parents. In other words, football would not survive exposure to the free market, which is precisely why it is socialized. Think Amtrack…

One reason why I am a critic of public schools is that an inordinate amount of coercively obtained tax money is expended on sports and other extra-curricular activities. In fact, many schools that lack science laboratories, and/or air conditioning have a full array of expensive athletic teams. But then again, labs and air conditioners do not provide subsidized after-school adult supervision for mischief-prone teenagers!

Now back to title IX… If Cincinnati decided to eliminate all high school sports, parents that want their children to participate in sports would have to pay directly for these activities. Interested parents and students would have to set up these voluntary associations and volunteer to help coach, sell concessions, wash uniforms, mow lawns, etc. If the parents of female students are less-willing to get involved, that is not “discrimination.” It’s called “parenting.”

Unfortunately, the cultural drift of American society makes it difficult for high schools to cut back on extra-curricular activities, because colleges and universities now base admission and scholarships on participation in these kinds of activities. High schools that merely offer top-notch academic programs do not compete very well based on this mindset. How many student play high schools sports, cheerlead, or march in the marching band hoping to earn a college scholarship? When the stakes are that high, those voluntary coaches and band leaders are quickly replaced by paid “professionals.” And finally, many public schools are so bad that students won’t show up for school unless they can play sports, cheerlead, or play in the marching band. Well, Professor Serafini, what do you have to say about all of this? And “HAPPY BIRTHDAY!”


Dr. Frank Serafini said...

The original intent of the Title IX amendment was to "to eliminate discrimination on the basis of sex in federally funded educational institutions." The three prong test to determine an institution's compliance requires equal access or decreasing discrimination practices. What is actually did was eliminate non-revenue sports for men. Not only were women discriminated against, but men who were involved in gymnastics, wrestling and the like saw their programs eliminated to provide scholarships for football, which sometimes carries as many as 120 athletes on their roster. Is this fair? No. Do white men run the governing boards and love football? Probably.

So, Ron suggests that sports should be on a volunteer basis. Which is certainly a justifiable remedy. But, why stop there? Since I send my kids with a lunch from home, can we do away with lunch at school? Certainly closing the cafeteria would save even more money than closing football. What about art, music and foreign language? You can see where I am going. Though a long supporter of public ed, it certainly has been asked to do what it doesn't do well. Teachers are asked to teach sex ed, gang violence, tolerance ed, and so many more things that have been dumped onto schools. Add in sports and the required extracurricular activities and schools are overburdened. Do we see schools as a socializing mechanism determined to equal the playing field? If so, they haven't done very well with achievement gaps increasing in all areas.
I think more choices would help, if there were good choices available for all students. I know Ron thinks open competition would improve the quality of all schools through eliminating the bad ones. But I am not so sure. It takes more than taxpayer money to create a good school.
So we can take out sports and save some money and let parents choose. But what else do we eliminate?
Until we get highly trained teachers with support and some degree of autonomy in schools we will continue to see mediocre teaching. Rich people have more options already available and are choosing to drive their kids where they need to go to get a better education. If getting rid of sports opens up chances to hire better teachers with more resources and support, it is hard for me to argue against it, except for one thing: we are an obese nation. Here is the connection to health care I have been trying to avoid. But schools may provide in some neighborhoods the only chance for students to be active. Is this worth the risk to the health of our children? I'm sure Ron has a better response than my early morning ramblings...

Freedom's Philosopher said...

You have identified one of the major problems inherent to all all institutions, but more common with governmental institutions. It's called "mission drift;" or "mission creep:" the tendency for an institution to set reasonable goals for itself, and then gradually add to that agenda. Sometimes these additional goals are taken on without regard to additional costs thereby diluting available resources. Often the accumulating goals are simply overly idealistic (unrealistic). The ultimate terminus of "mission drift" is "mission failure." Other than sports, driver education, and religious instructions (remember that?) There are two especially glaring examples of mission drift: busing for racial desegregation (or any other reason) and school lunches. Anyone in their right mind agrees that these are worthy goals, (and maybe even "good for the community!") but they are idealistic beyond comprehension and very expensive.

SCHOOL BUSES. Historically, one of the unanticipated consequences of tax supported busing for any reason, is that school districts had to purchase buses, hire bus drivers, hire mechanics, purchase insurance, and gasoline. Consequence? I recall riding the bus home from school. It took an hour each way! I could have walked or rode my bike but my mom would'nt let me! She could have driven me herself, if I didn't have four little sisters at home. And of course I often (deliberately) missed the bus, for various reasons.

SCHOOL LUNCHES Once schools decided to feed students at school, they had to include a cafeteria in the building plans, hire cooks, purchase dishes, dishwashers, buy food (that students would actually, ice cream etc). I recall going through the lunch-line where 6 or 7 workers (hired by the school district) dished out notoriously lousy food. Many schools now also offer breakfast. Consequently, in many communities the school districts are still the largest employers.

My solution to all of this is to allow public schools to be put out of business by private schools. Because of mission drift and moral hazard they've become way too expensive and dysfunctional: over $6000 per student, poor attendance, low student achievement. That process is already well on it's way with school levies being shot down left and right, and home schooling via the Internet. The beauty of private schools is that you get what you pay for. If you want your kid to go to school to learn to be an athlete, musician, religious fanatic, or a rocket scientist send your kid to a school that specializes in that area. If you want your kid to go to school for four hours a day (to avoid the school lunch problem) great. Better yet, if you are a profoundly stupid parent and really do not care if your kids go to school or not, then keep them home. Or let them run around the neighborhood until they get arrested. Personally, I hate parents that do that, but it's profoundly naive to believe that compulsory education laws and public schools can undue the social ills wrought by incompetent parenting.

For another example of mission creep see my article IRB committees.

APLS said...

Check this out!