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We need to stop obsessing over school sports

Tuesday, January 29, 2013 - 12:01 am

Until we do, efforts in the classroom are bound to suffer.

How long are we going to keep letting the athletics tail wag the education dog? Until we calm down our obsession with the courts and fields, the classrooms will continue to suffer.

Last week, the U.S. Department of Education “clarified” the legal obligations school districts face in the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. Disabled students must be given an opportunity to benefit from sports programs equal to that of students without disabilities. That will involve deciding which disabled students can be fit into existing programs and which will need entirely new programs, an expensive and complicated process. That will mean a lot of time, effort and money that will not go into the primary education mission.

And this week, we learned more details about the Indiana High School Athletic Association’s new requirement that its recruitment bylaws will no longer apply just to high school students. Students as young as 10 could lose their athletic eligibility if it is found they were recruited for certain schools, so the parents of fifth graders are going to be as paranoid about who they talk to as the parents of high schoolers.

Now, it could be said that this is an attempt to clean up sports so that student athletes and their parents make their school choice decisions for the right reason. But it can also be said that it pushes the single-minded focus on sports down to a younger age. What’s next, requiring the athletically inclined to memorize the IHSAA bylaws in first grade?

In the meantime, members of the Indiana education establishment continue to defend flawed common core standards despite the efforts of some legislators to back the state out of them. The standards, which are in effect in all states for math and language arts and are coming for science and history, have been rightly “panned by many experts,” notes Andrea Neal of the Indiana Policy Review. They are weaker than the standards Indiana had in place and are “wordy, redundant and poorly organized.”

Top Republicans and Democrats have begun the new General Assembly session with a consensus to make education the top priority. And they agree that more money is needed, although they don’t even agree on how much, let alone on how to spend it. Some want modest increases, and some want to repay the whole $300 million cut during the recession. Some want to expand the bold choice initiatives of the last four years, and some want to scale back. Should we concentrate on improving vocational education or expanding early childhood education? There are too many options and, so far, not enough sifting of them.