Are High School Sports Over-Funded?

SONY DSCChildren that move to the United States from other countries are consistently surprised about one unique feature of the American school system, the importance school sports plays in the lives of students here. As one student who moved here from South Korea explained:
“Sports are a big deal here.”
She is talking about her New Jersey high school, Shawnee High. This school, which is typical, has 18 different sports teams, including golf and bowling. They have six tennis courts, beautiful grassy fields, and even a Hall of Fame.

“They have days when teams dress up in Hawaiian clothes or pajamas just because—‘We’re the soccer team!’?” she says.

In comparison, students in South Korea spend a lot more time sitting at their school desks, and it shows. Fifteen-year-olds there rank fourth in the world on a test of critical thinking in math. What do they do for sports? They play soccer on a dirt field during their lunch break. Sometimes they bring badminton rackets from home and fake the existence of a net.

The romance US schools have with sports is almost non-existent in other countries around the world. Yet somehow this huge difference rarely comes up in the debate on how to get our schools’ up to par with the rest of the world. The US ranks 31st on that same critical thinking math test mentioned above. Yes, there are certainly other challenges affecting the academic environment such as poorly trained teachers and poverty. But what about this other huge difference? Is the fascination with sports here in the US sending the wrong message to our children about what school is really for in the first place?