For high school students, involvement in extracurricular activities has always added bonus points to a college application, but these same activities might be a predictor of increased earning power, academic achievement and development of healthy social skills and work habits. That’s the good news. The bad news is that the implementation of No Child Left Behind (NCLB) and shrinking state and local budgets have reordered priorities of schools struggling to make yearly progress on mandated standardized tests, leaving many after-school programs on the chopping block.
Money once allocated to after-school activities for “3:05ers,” as students engaged in after-school programs are called, has now been shift-ed to help schools improve academically. And some school systems are putting up barriers to after-school activities, making some students who would benefit most from these programs ineligible. Further, minorities, Hispanics in particular, are not fully engaged in extracurricular activities for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is cultural resistance to them. Latinas fare even worse than Latinos in this regard.
According to a USA Today analysis of Department of Education data, about 36 percent of Latina high school sophomores participate in sports, compared to 52 percent of their non-Hispanic counterparts. The argument has been made that this is an economic issue, rather than a cultural one. It is argued that Latinas are expected to help out the household by babysitting or maintaining a part-time job, but that point of view is challenged by the fact that Latinos participate in sports to the tune of 50 percent, com-pared to 57 percent of their non-Hispanic counterparts. But there is, in part, an economic and cultural factor at work here, according to the USA Today article, which points out that Hispanics whose family comes from Mexico have no point of comparison when it comes to after-school activities. These programs do not exist in Mexican schools. The article also notes that participation in extracurricular activities takes coordination and money, and Hispanic parents might not be able to drive children to practice or shell out the cash for equipment and supplies.
According to the NCAA, Latinas make up less than 4 percent of college athletes – the lowest rate of participation of any ethnic or racial peer groups. The Women in Sports Foundation links academic persistence and success with college participation in sports activities. Its Minorities in Sports report found that Latina athletes are twice as likely to go to college and receive a degree as Latinas who do not participate in these activities.
The College Board report Everyone’s Game: Extracurricular Activities in High School holds that nationwide, students who participate can see a jump in their SAT scores. The report cites a Harvard Educational Review article,“Extracurricular School Activities: The Good, the Bad and the Nonlinear,” that concludes in part,“Whereas most school activities exacerbate the already substantial gap in academic outcomes between socioeconomically advantaged and dis-advantaged students, ESAs (extracurricular school activities) appear to actually reduce the inequality gap. Although the ESA benefits generalize widely, the benefits tend to be larger, certainly not smaller, for more disadvantaged students.”
This report concludes that there is “compelling evidence from the SAT, a national high-stakes test, that participation in extracurricular activities provides all students – including students from disadvantaged backgrounds, minorities and those with otherwise less than distinguished academic achievements in high school –a measurable and meaningful gain in their college admissions test scores. The important reasoning abilities measured by tests like the SAT,evidently, are indeed developed both in and out of the classroom.”
Report authors Herbert W. Marsh and Sabrina Kleitman write that “participation in extracurricular activities in high school appears to be one of the few interventions that benefit low-status, disadvantaged students – those less well served by traditional educational programs– as much as or more than their more advantaged peers.”
All of this brings us full circle back to NCLB and the impact it is having on extracurricular activities. These activities are receiving less funding, thereby offering the 3:05ers fewer activities from which to choose. And more and more schools are setting up eligibility requirements for participation that deny access to these pro-grams to students who could benefit from them the most.
According to Gazette.net, a Maryland online community newspaper, Montgomery school system administrators are trying to overcome a school board policy that shut a disproportionate number of Blacks and Hispanics out of any after-school program. The policy made students with a GPA of less than 2.0 ineligible for after-school activities, which include sports, band and clubs.Whether this standard was established as a way to deal with a shrinking budget or provide an academic incentive, the school system took a second look and concluded that students deemed “chronically ineligible” for extracurricular activities (ineligible for two or more marking periods) were more likely to tune out when it came to programs that prepared them for college and the work force. The report, released by the school system’s Office of Shared Accountability, also concluded that ineligible students ran a greater risk of dropping out of high school.
The previous year, 27 percent of the Montgomery County Latino and 25 percent of Black high school students were chronically ineligible for extracurricular activities, and 6percent of both Whites and Asian-Americans. And in the middle schools, 15 percent of Latino and 16 percent of Black students, and 2 percent of both White and Asian-American students.
Yvette Butler, chair of the Montgomery County NAACP Parents’ Council, told the Gazette that students who can’t become involved in extracurricular activities typically are “going to be in the streets. If you don’t have some place for children to release energy, you’re going to have to do something with them; otherwise,they’ll go down that wrong path. The schools ought to provide something for these students.”But those activities don’t come without a price.
n Kansas, at least 50 schools charge students to participate in certain after-school activities. Those activities don’t exist, then, for disadvantaged youth whose families cannot afford the price of admission.
Yet the importance of extracurricular activities is not news for the education professionals making the decision to de-emphasize these activities. In 2003, a report, Critical Hours: Afterschool Programs and Educational Success (commissioned by the Quincy, Mass.-based Nellie Mae Education Foundation and conducted by Dr. Beth M. Miller, affiliated with the Center for Research on Women at Wellesley College),said that “children who participate in after-school programs are more engaged in and have a better attitude about learning, perform better academically, and enjoy an increased sense of accomplishment, competence and self-esteem.Participation also lowers children’s risk of becoming depressed, using drugs and alcohol,and experiencing other behavioral problems.”
According to studies from the University of Southern Illinois and University of Chicago, students left to their own devices for three or more hours after school because of parental absence at work or otherwise tended to use drugs and alcohol or were prone to higher degrees of stress and anger. They were also more likely to experience depression and behavior problems, have lower self-esteem, and achieve less academic success than those involved in supervised activities.
Cornell University compared 250,000 students in grades 5-12, dividing them between those who participated in New York’s 4-H program and those who did not. Their study found that participants “showed stronger motivation to achieve,higher educational aspirations, greater capacity to develop friendships, and a higher level of interaction and communication with adults.”
The Nellie Mae report noted that 83 percent of the 18,000 students in LA’s BEST Program said they enjoyed their academic experience more as a result of being involved in the program. And that enthusiasm had a major impact on the GPAs of those students. In that instance, their GPAs in math, science, social studies, reading and writing rose between 24 percent and 32 percent.
The enthusiasm factor expressed in this report is easily correlated to graduation and dropout rates. In the middle of this past decade, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, 60 percent of Hispanics age 25-plus were high school graduates, com-pared to 89 percent of non-Hispanic Whites.Compare these statistics with those of a NCES survey of 10th-graders that found that students from“high-income families were twice as likely to spend five or more hours per week in extracurricular activities as students in lower-income families. Students who spent time in extracurricular activities were six times less likely to drop out of school by senior year; two times less likely to be arrested by senior year; and about 75 percent less likely to smoke cigarettes or use drugs.”
What is surprising, then, is that when NCLB and other education initiatives are debated,much is made of the importance of passing standardized tests, yet little emphasis is placed on the important role extracurricular activities play in helping students develop the attitude and skills that could improve those same test scores. And while high school students are encouraged to become 3:05ers to get into college, participating in those same activities could actually improve their chances of succeeding if and when they get there.