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July 29, 2004


School Sports +

The LA Times reports on a disturbing and growing trend in public education: kids are being intentionally held back a grade by their parents, so they will be better high school athletes. The rationale is that if students are a little older and a little bigger than the other kids in their grade, they'll have a better chance of playing varsity sports for four years, and a better chance at getting a college scholarship. One administrator who oversees sports in Texas public schools says, "There was almost an entire class of youngsters held back in one of our schools. All the kids repeated seventh grade. It was a collective decision on the part of the parents. They just sort of decided together."

Not only does this practice encourage unfair advantages in sports, it also wastes a year of children's lives, disrupts their social development, and most of all, sends the message that academic achievement should be sacrificed for a chance at being a successful athlete. The kids interviewed in the article complain about being bored in a year of school that they had no academic reason to repeat. And, of course, the kids who are held back don't all end up winning athletic scholarships. Their parents might be misjudging the likelihood of winning a sports scholarship, and may stand a better chance by encouraging their kids to excel in school. "You run into this whole issue of, 'My kid's going to get a college scholarship,' and if he can't play varsity right away, he won't go to college," said Dan Gould, the new director at Michigan State's youth sports institute. "Statistically, you're better off sending him to the library five hours a night. When you look at the number of academic scholarships, your kid has a much better shot."

One family studied in the article has held back all of their children, either in sixth grade or in kindergarten, and they all went on to be big sports stars in high school or college. Their father says, "Even in third grade, my kids were a little older, a little bigger, a little more mature... We thought it was important for our kids to be leaders instead of followers." Of course, this only works if you're the only one holding your kids back. If kids really do perform better as slightly older students, and if this phenomenon leads to an education policy change in which kindergarten starts at six instead of five for everybody, that's great. Otherwise this is unfair competition and use of public resources, and sends the message to students that they can't succeed on their own merit among kids their own age.

Experts from the Amy's Robot Educational Psychology Desk add: "Keeping kids at home for an extra year doesn't always work. Those big, older kids who are supposed to be more mature are often the ones who end up maladjusted and acting out. It can be a serious problem when an unhappy first grader is physically larger than his peers. Not to mention the problems that teachers have tailoring a lesson plan for a classroom with an age range that spans three, four, even five years (and all the accompanying ability levels.)"

categories: Education, Sports
posted by amy at 1:14 PM | #