A number of traditional public high schools in Chicago have dropped their football programs, a casualty of declining enrollment, waning student interest, and a move away from football nationwide.
The Chicago Tribune reported that a planned student walkout yesterday at one of the schools, Hirsch High School in the city’s Grand Crossing neighborhood, didn’t get very far because of cold weather but made students’ opinions known about the district’s plan to put a charter school right inside the existing school building. “I care about Hirsch,” the paper quoted one senior as saying. “I want more programs here, not another school.”
By “programs,” she was referring to things like band, other arts classes, maybe some computer science classes or at least training, and so on. And football. These are the things that lead to enjoyment for students of their high school experience and to their devotion of boundless energy and too-short attention spans to something they can be proud of, like school.
But the budget at Hirsch and several other schools in the nation’s fourth-largest school district has been slashed over the years. Programs in classes or extracurricular activities that aren’t part of test scores get cut. That drives kids away, to look for “better” schools. By that, I don’t mean schools with better teachers, because the teachers at Hirsch are good and truly care about the kids there. Rather, I mean schools that let kids get more or better things out of school.
“We want to see CPS start investing in these schools,” the Tribune quoted Erica Clark, a member of Parents 4 Teachers, as saying. “If these schools are so bad, why are there 60 students in the lunchroom fighting for (Hirsch) right now?”
Because kids want to like their school—they have a high motivation! Don’t get me wrong: I’m no big fan of football, with kids banging their heads around, but I am explicitly opposed to schools that offer football when there aren’t enough students to play it safely.
In the game, 11 players are on the field at all times, but offensive players typically rest while the team’s defensive squad is on the field. If teams have fewer students going out for football, whether because enrollment at the school is down or because students have lost interest, more players have to play both offense and defense. Then they don’t get enough rest, and that increases the probability of getting injured.
So, as the words of that senior Hirsch student speak to how students universally feel at all schools in the city, the suburbs, and in rural areas all across the country, step up the programming for students at the school. Better to invest in programs in existing schools than to create brand new ones that start over and effectively abandon students there now.
Those are the “choices” I like when I say “school choice” and I definitely don’t mean charter schools, especially those that won’t offer students any more programming.