Friday, September 14, 2007

We ALL pay to play

Here’s an interesting decision.

Oakland Press: No more paying to play sports in Oxford (09/14/07)

Oxford’s projecting a revenue windfall due to the fact that they had an increased enrollment of 90 students. This presumably generated an extra $600,000 or more in extra, unexpected revenue.

The board decided that the best choice of where to place some of that money was in athletics.

That’s certainly their prerogative and it’s not without precedent. Earlier this year the school board for Van Dyke Public Schools chose to layoff teachers rather than chop funding for athletics. (I wrote about that here last April.)

My initial thought was that this district must’ve had some pretty impressive results if the board is choosing to invest it’s additional dollars in athletics instead of academics.

So, I took a look at Oxford’s MME high school test results,
found here on the Michigan Department of Education’s website. The percentage of students that passed math, science, and English was in the 60% - 63% range.

This means that of their 300+ high school students:

122 students (39.2%) did not pass Math.
115 students (37.3%) did not pass Science.
115 students (37.7%) did not pass English.

The ACT scores provide additional
measurement data (found here). Comparing ACT test results to the ACT College Readiness Benchmark is one more way to evaluate the effectiveness of a school. From the ACT website:

“A benchmark score is the minimum score needed on an ACT subject-area test to indicate a 50% chance of obtaining a B or higher or about a 75% chance of obtaining a C or higher in the corresponding credit-bearing college courses, which include English Composition, Algebra, Social Science and Biology. These scores were empirically derived based on the actual performance of students in college.”

Here are Oxford’s average scores, and how they compare to these benchmarks:

English Benchmark: 18
Oxford’s Average: 19.7

Reading Benchmark: 21
Oxford’s Average: 20

Math Benchmark: 22
Oxford’s Average: 19.8

Science Benchmark: 24
Oxford’s Average: 20.3

So, in three out of four subjects, Oxford’s average student is not prepared to do college level work.

In the article, Superintendent William Skilling points out this investment in athletics will improve education. He also says, “we’re not going to have pay for play this year and in the future. We’re not bringing it back. We’re not going to do it. It hurts kids.”

Looking at this from a “hurting kids” perspective, I’m curious if there is any minimum test score level that would prompt them to reinstate pay for play in order to direct more resources to academics.

I’m not trying to single out Oxford. Out of all Michigan high schools, only 66 had their average scores exceed 22, indicating that their students were prepared for college level math. And of those, half are private schools.

And I do believe pay for play should be waived for some children. Those that qualify for free and reduced lunch should also be able to play sports for free.

And I’m not opposed to athletics; I know it helps children learn about teamwork and commitment. It also provide them with activities, which can help to keep them from straying into trouble.

My point is that Michigan’s educational leadership seems too preoccupied with non-academic high school experiences, such as athletics and electives. There is nothing wrong with supporting athletics and electives, but it should not come at the expense of academics, especially when the data clearly shows poor results.

There’s no doubt that the money being used to eliminate pay-to-play could’ve been used for curriculum development or new intervention strategies designed to help struggling students. When people read articles like the one I've referenced here, they need to understand the board is making choices.

I posted this entry because it serves as a great example of the type of well intentioned but misguided choices that are being made by school boards around the state. I believe this type of approach is one of the leading factors in the decline of Michigan’s K-12 education system.

Here is the full article in case the link doesn’t work.

No more paying to play sports in Oxford

By KEITH DUNLAP Of The Oakland Press

At a time when most school districts around the state are taking away, Oxford Area Community Schools has decided to give money back to its athletic participants and their families.

At a meeting Tuesday, the Oxford Board of Education eliminated the district’s pay-toplay requirement by a unanimous vote of 7-0, allowing middle school and high school students to play sports for free.

The district hopes to send out refund checks to any student or family who paid to play a sport this year within the next few weeks.

High school athletes had to pay $150 per year to play a sport, while middle school athletes had to pay $90.

“I think it has great impact on our kids and our families,” Oxford Athletic Director Pat Ball said. “I’m thrilled for our kids and families for what the board has done. I regretted when we had to start it four or five years ago, and I’m glad we can eliminate it.”

The move was spearheaded by Oxford Area Community Schools Superintendent William Skilling, who was eyeing eliminating pay-to-play when he took over as superintendent July 1.

Skilling said the district planned to eliminate pay-toplay next year, but decided to do it this year when there was an enrollment increase of 90 students in the district, something that wasn’t projected in the district’s 2007-08 budget.

Skilling also said the move wasn’t temporary. There won’t be any pay-to-play requirements for athletes next year and beyond.

“With the increased enrollment and all that brought, we just said, ‘Let’s give the money back,’ ” Skilling said. “That’s a big decision. It’s a statement that we’re not going to have pay for play this year and in the future. We’re not bringing it back. We’re not going to do it. It hurts kids.”

Previously the superintendent for Webberville schools, Skilling said eliminating pay-to-play led to a dramatic increase in athletic participation in that district, and hopes it will not only benefit the athletic programs in Oxford, but the district as a whole.

“By improving on what we have, the result is that not only will you have better education, but more students entering your district because you’re doing the opposite of what everyone else is doing,” Skilling said.

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