Sunday, July 02, 2000

Prep standards: Realism over idealism

        I was invited to a committee meeting Thursday. Teachers, administrators and community leaders want to do right by the students in the Cincinnati Public Schools. They're asking again this question: Do we lower our educational standards to allow more kids to play sports?

        CPS now demands a 2.0 (C) grade-point average, and no Fs, for students who want to be athletes. At worst that's bad policy, no matter what your lofty idealism tells you. At best, it's unrealistic.

        The state of Ohio lets local education boards set their own GPA standards. At Lakota, for example, the standard is 1.0; no system requires as much as a 2.0. The state requires students pass five subjects a year that count toward graduation.

        Committee members asked me what I thought. Here's what I told them:

        Schools are marvelous places. Teachers are amazing people. But I've never yet seen a school or a teacher help a kid who isn't there. If I'm choosing between higher standards or keeping a kid in school, I keep the kid in school. Every time.

        Some children go to school to play sports. Some stay in school for the same reason. Take sports away, they won't be there. It's that simple.

        Does a 1.0 offend your sensibilities? Mine, too. My knee jerks. I think, “You get what you expect from children. If you tell them a D-average is all they need, that's what they'll give you.”

        In a perfect world, this makes perfect sense. It's solid reasoning in suburbia, where kids live with two parents and play on teams with booster clubs and uniforms that match.

        Probably, the high school jock in Wyoming or Lakota or Ft. Thomas isn't thinking he's better off working at McDonald's than playing soccer. There's a decent chance when he or she plays a game, mom and/or dad is there.

        It's not always that way in Cincinnati. Coaches run programs on a wish and a hope. Apathy is their best teammate.

        School sports are dying downtown. Kids work after school. They prefer club teams, where there aren't many practices and no grade restrictions.

        Taft High fielded no teams last spring. Aiken is always one defection or academic casualty from forfeiting baseball games.

        Now is not the time to stay on the high horse about maintaining high standards. The committee leans toward adopting the state standard. It wants to allow kids to play whose grades are between a 1.0 and 2.0. It suggests additional support for these kids. It's the right thing to do.

        No kid who wants to try even a little should have an opportunity door slammed in his face. I've seen it work too many times to think it won't again. Lenny Brown, Kenyon Martin, Tarrance Gibson. All success stories, in the gym and out. Sports opened the door for them. They walked through.

        Nobody wants lower standards. Nobody wants to be taxed to pay for lower standards. Regardless of how CPS spins it, no one is going to believe standards aren't being dropped if the GPA needed to play goes from a 2.0 to a 1.0.

        But the choice is between a little hope and none at all.

        That's an easy one, it seems to me.

        Paul Daugherty welcomes your comments at (513) 768-8454.


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