Do extracurricular activities contribute to students' success at school? Yes, answers John H. Holloway, a consultant for the teaching and learning division of the Educational Testing Service (ETS) in Princeton, New Jersey. In a 1999 column Extracurricular Activities: The Path to Academic Success? for Educational Leadership, Holloway examined some of the research into the potential benefits of extracurricular activities. Last week, Education World asked Holloway to elaborate on his findings.
Much of the research into extracurricular activities suggests that they have positive effects on students who participate, said Holloway. Those effects can be particularly important for students who belong to ethnic minorities, students with disabilities, and students at risk of dropping out of school. Holloway told Education World that research indicates "participation in school activities, especially athletics, leads to higher self-esteem and an enhanced status among peers. Some have argued that a positive self-esteem is a deterrent to antisocial behavior."
Steve Duncan of Montana State University, who has a doctorate in family studies, sees value in extracurricular activities too. "Recent research confirms that involvement in extracurricular activities is more than just child's play," Duncan wrote in Family Matters: What is the Role of "Extracurricular" Activities? "School extracurricular activities and involvement in community clubs and organizations are important in fostering the strengths of youth, strengths that help young people steer away from undesirable behavior."
At what age can extracurricular activities be most effective in preventing students from turning off to or dropping out of school? "In most states students cannot drop out until they are at least 16 years of age," Holloway told Education World. "So the research indicates that the strongest direct effect that participation has on dropout prevention is during the high school years.
"The research goes on to say, however," Holloway continued, "that participation in activities during the middle school years has a profound positive impact on those students who project to be most at risk for dropping out when they do arrive in high school. Activity participation strengthens the school connection for all students, and it begins to promote those positive characteristics in the middle school."
Despite the research findings that extracurricular activities can benefit all students, even those who struggle academically, there is a growing movement to tie extracurricular participation to academic performance. Many states have enacted "no pass/no play" laws and, where no such state laws exist, school districts often impose similar regulations themselves.
"Educational decision makers must look at the consequences of denying students the right to participate in order to get them to 'work harder in the classroom,'" Holloway wrote in Educational Leadership. "These kinds of exclusionary policies may well damage overall achievement and work against those students who could benefit most directly from involvement."
When school districts face financial crises, extracurricular activities -- particularly art, music, and drama but sometimes sports as well -- are often the first programs cut. What can students and parents who find themselves in that situation do?
"This is a dilemma, especially since many of these activities are viewed as 'frills' by some," Holloway told Education World.
He went on to offer this advice: "Students, parents, teachers, and school administrators must use the available research to begin a process of educating the public about the importance of these activities in the overall education of the children and their value in increasing student academic performance."
For your own research into the benefits of extracurricular activities, we offer the following resources.
"Legislative Gamesmanship: From eligibility standards to on-field behavior, state legislators are muscling their way into how school sports are conducted," by Kerry White, examines the involvement of state legislatures in setting eligibility requirements for participation in school extracurricular activities.
"Athletic Eligibility: Right or Privilege? Minimum standards for participation, illegal recruiting and parental pressure combine for administrative migraines," by Kimberly Reeves, provides a thorough analysis of "no pass/no play" regulations for extracurricular school activities, including the ramifications of those regulations for school administrators.
Mary Daniels Brown
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