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Science or Soccer? -- How Important Are Extracurricular Activities?


Research suggests that extracurricular activities can benefit all students. John H. Holloway, a consultant with the Educational Testing Service, explains those benefits for Education World. Included: An extensive list of online resources for exploring the value of extracurricular activities.

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.


  • Utilizing Available Resources at the Local Level -- Fact Sheet A digest version of a 1983 report from the ERIC Clearinghouse on Rural Education and Small Schools, this summary argues that extracurricular activities can be an important tool for integrating migrant children into the school environment.
  • Enriching Children's Out-of-School Time This digest from the ERIC Clearinghouse on Elementary and Early Childhood Education addresses two types of enrichment programs -- academic and extracurricular -- and concludes that "the sense of competence and affiliation that can flourish during out-of-school time provides the best reason for enrichment programs."
  • Integrating Students with Severe Disabilities (ERIC Digest #E468) This digest concludes that extracurricular activities can be an effective way of integrating students with disabilities into the school environment.
  • Opening Doors to Latchkey Kids This article from the Northwest Regional Educational Laboratory tells the story of a successful after-school program at a middle school in Oregon. When the school's safety officer discovered a group of students practicing break dancing after school, he organized them into a formal school club with rules that required the participants to attend class, be respectful, and stay out of trouble.
  • - extracurricular The Place of School in Adolescents' Lives This is an excerpt from To Sum It Up: Case Studies of Education in Germany, Japan, and the United States. The U.S. Department of Education conducted several case studies to provide in-depth information on education in the three nations. Students in the United States told researchers that they felt a sense of pride in the work they performed for extracurricular activities and in the friendships that grew out of shared interests. They believed extracurricular participation would strengthen their resumes and college applications.
  • Extracurricular Activities This page from the College Choice Website of the UCLA Graduate School of Education and Information Studies advises high school students planning for college that college admissions officials look for applicants with extracurricular activities on their resumes.
  • Extracurricular Participation and Student Engagement This June 1995 report from the National Center for Education Statistics concludes that "participation [in extracurricular activities] and success are strongly associated as evidenced by participants' better attendance, higher levels of achievement, and aspirations to higher levels of education."
  • Minorities in Sports. The Effect of Varsity Sports Participation on the Social, Educational, and Career Mobility of Minority Students, with Policy Recommendations This ERIC abstract of a study from the Center for the Study of Sport in Society examines the benefits of sports in the lives of minority youth during the 1980s.
  • Extracurricular Activities in Children's Lives Prepared by the askERIC service for its Parent News series (November-December 1999), this document focuses on "the impact on children's development of activities that occur outside the school curriculum." Activities addressed are foreign language instruction, athletic involvement, and music instruction. The document includes an extensive list of resources.
  • The Role of School in United States Adolescents' Lives: Time Use in Adolescents' Lives This report is from The Educational System in the United States: Case Study Findings (March 1999). It suggests that adolescents participate in extracurricular activities for a number of reasons: to pursue and nurture individual interests, to interact socially with others, to build a resume, or to bolster a college application.
  • Sports Lift Esteem in Young Athletes This brief from the American Psychological Association says that sports contribute to self-esteem, motivation, and academic success.
  • The November 1998 issue of School Administrator, published by the American Association of School Administrators (AASA), contains two articles that examine extracurricular activities. Unless you're a registered member of AASA, you will have to use this roundabout method to access these articles. Go to the AASA site, click on Search the Site, and then enter extracurricular as the search term. This search will bring up more than 60 items. Scroll through the search results until you find the following two articles, then click on Full to bring up the articles:
"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.

  • The report "Statewide Mandates on Student Extracurricular Activity" (No Pass/No Play) lists the academic eligibility requirements for extracurricular activities in 21 states. To access the report, visit the home page of the Education Commission of the States, then search for extracurricular.
  • No Pass/No Play At this message board on the FamilyEducation Network, postings from adults and students present interesting points on both sides of the issue. Visitors may also participate in a reader poll. (This poll is not scientific; anyone who visits the Web site can cast a vote. Similarly, anyone willing to register with a user name may post to the message board.)
  • Extracurricular Academic Task Force: Final Report and Recommendations (October 1, 1998) This report offers the findings of a task force appointed by the superintendent of Richland County School District One (Columbia, South Carolina). The report recommends adoption of a C average requirement for participation in all extracurricular activities.
  • Everyone Gets To Play at Indiana Middle School This article from Education Week on the Web (May 26, 1999) describes a middle school outside Indianapolis that has a no-cut policy; everyone who is willing to come to practice gets to participate.
  • The Case for High School Activities The National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) states its belief that such activities as sports, music, drama, and debate support the academic missions of schools, are inherently educational, and foster success in later life. The site offers an extensive listing of surveys and studies about the value of extracurricular activities. (The NFHS site also contains many other sections about school activities.)
  • Research Notes: Sports and School Success This short article from Education Week on the Web (May 5, 1999) summarizes results of two studies presented at the annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association in April 1999. Both studies suggest that "[p]articipating in high school sports is good for children."
  • Extracurricular Activities: Specifically, How Have Extracurricular Activities Influenced Gender Roles? The Web site on which this document appears is the project of four master of arts in teaching graduate students for a history of education course at the College of New Jersey. Click on Back at the bottom of the page to go to the study's main page; from there you can access the authors' sizeable list of references.
  • Overscheduled Kids: Too Many Extracurriculars Can Hurt Child-development and behavior specialist Jan Faull advises parents on selecting extracurricular activities for their young (preschoolers through primary students) children.
  • Planning Your Kids' After-School Activities: Extracurricular Activities Can Help Make Kids Well-Rounded Adults This site lists various activities parents might consider for young children and suggests ways to determine which activities are appropriate for a particular child.

Mary Daniels Brown
Education World®
Copyright © 2000 Education World


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