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Is No Pass- No Play Ethical?
Transcript of Is No Pass- No Play Ethical?
By: Lori Maldonado
Final Presentation/ Project
Dr. G. Jones
August 3, 2013
No Pass- No Play Explained
"Texas was the first state to enact No Pass/No Play law into law, based on recommendations from a 1984 commission on school reform led by Dallas businessman H. Ross Perot" (Mumby, p. 1) The commission's findings led to House Bill 72 signed into law in 1984 by then Texas Gov. Mark White. It contained sweeping education reforms including teacher pay raises and a reduction of the teacher-student ratio to 22-1 up to 4th grade. It provided for full day Kinder programs and Pre-K to low income families.
The most controversial part of the bill was the no pass-no play rule that required students to pass all classes in order to participate in extra-curricular activities. Failing students become ineligible for six weeks.
The University Athletic League defines extra-curricular activities as any competitive event, one that the general public is invited to and/or an admission price is paid including public performances, contests, demonstrations, displays and club activities (http://www.uiltexas.org/academics/resources/eligibility).
No Pass- No Play
Originally HB 72 stated that students must maintain an average of 70 or better in order to participate in extra-curricular activities including dance, sports, theater, band, choir, etc. If a student scored below a 70 at the six week grade report, he/she became ineligible to participate for six weeks. About 10 years after the bill went into law some changes were made. Advanced and AP classes were exempt from the 70% passing standard and the ineligibility period was reduced to three weeks from six. These have been the only major changes in almost 30 years and, as of 2007, 32 states have followed Texas' lead and adopted similar legislation.
Advocates of No Pass- No Play
Supporters of the bill agree with the message it sends; academics come first, above all else, no matter what. They argue students will be more motivated to focus on their studies to maintain their eligibility. Some advocates even state that extra-curricular activities are a privilege, and as such, should be earned.
Those opposed to the bill list many reasons including discrimination against low socio-economic students who may be encouraged to stay in school because of their participation in extra-curricular activities like sports. Others argue that one failing grade out of six to seven classes taken isn't enough reason to be sidelined. And still others wonder if special education students or those with other types of disabilities should be held to the same expectations.
A Simple Poll
I was curious how the people around me felt about no pass-no play. For about two weeks I randomly asked friends, family members and colleagues to tell me if they supported the rule and why or why not. This was not intended to be serious educational research, I was just curious. Out of the thirty-three people I asked, twenty-six supported it, five were opposed to the rule and one was in the middle. (I'll talk about her in a minute.) Only two of the people I talked to had actual experiences related to the law. One person I asked wasn't even aware of the law.
The 26 Supporters:
Reasons given for supporting the rule from my poll included:
1. an emphasis on academics above sports or other forms of competition
2. the importance of good grades in setting a path towards college
3. encouraging students to give as much effort in the classroom as they do on the baseball field, basketball court, etc.
One person shared an experience her son faced in high school. He didn't like math and wasn't very good at it. He slacked off in his geometry class and failed on the first report card. Because of this he missed a band performance he had been preparing for. He was so upset about the missed performance that he gave 110% the next reporting period, even doing extra credit, in order to bring up his grade. In this case, the rule provided incentive for the student to improve his academic performance in order to participate in his extra-curricular activity.
Those Five on the Other Side
Reasons given in my informal poll against the no pass-no play rule included:
1. It is unfair to lower achieving students, those who struggle academically.
2. Failing only one class shouldn't be the end of a season for a student who has worked so hard.
3. Sports and other extra-curricular activities are important on college transcripts too.
4. Becoming ineligible to participate in a beloved activity does not motivate a student to improve; it actually has the opposite effect.
One person shared their personal experience with no pass-no play as a high school senior. He was very ill during one six weeks and did poorly in a couple of his classes. Because of his long recovery period, he was unable to complete make-up work in time to bring up his grade. He was forced to miss six weeks of his senior basketball season, including much of the play-offs. Even though this event was twenty-five years ago, it was clear he was still very upset about it.
The One in the Middle
One person said she was in the middle on the issue, she could see it both ways. She said it would depend on the circumstances for her to make the decision. One on hand, a student who goofs off and doesn't even try in class, doesn't complete assignments or skips class should not be allowed to participate. But, if you have a student who is trying, and still struggling, it isn't fair to sideline him/her, especially if he/she has a disability or something else preventing him/her from performing or learning at a normal level.
The Ethics of it All
So, is no pass-no play fair? Is it ethical?
Consequentialists would argue under the principle of benefit maximization that the no pass-no play rule is unethical. It can potentially harm too many to be considered good. For example, the star quarterback fails science and therefore misses a number of games during the season. The team suffers several losses in his absence and attendance at the games begins to decrease. This decreased attendance could result in a loss of revenue for the school or district. The principle of benefit maximization would then say this rule is unethical because it does not have a good outcome for all those involved.
Almost all of us would agree that discrimination is unethical, no matter what. Some argue that no pass-no play is discriminatory and therefore unethical. They say it discriminates against those in lower socio-economic areas who may not have had the same educational support or opportunities as others. They may live with a single parent who works late hours and doesn't provide much homework support at home. Detractors of the bill also say it discriminates against struggling students, those with lower IQs or learning disabilities. These students may be working at their maximum ability and still unable to pass certain classes. Some would say that it isn't fair to hold them to the same standard as general ed students.
On the other hand, supporters say the bill is ethical. They say students should earn the privilege of participating in extra-curricular activities. They don't think it's ethical to allow students who don't complete their work, don't pay attention in class or even skip class to get the same privileges as those who work hard in school.
Ethical Teaching Comes into Play
Another argument against no pass-no play is that it may cause teachers to be unprofessional. Under pressure from coaches, administration, or even the community as a whole, teachers may do things to ensure that the starting point guard passes their class. Teachers may feel pressured to change grades, lighten coursework, or excuse missing assignments. The opposition to no pass-no play would argue that the rule is unethical because it may cause teachers to act unethically.
My Position on the Issue
I would generally support no pass-no play and agree with those who argue that academics should come first. But I can also see the other side of the argument. I think I can understand, in some cases, how no pass- no play could be viewed as unfair.
My Case For No Pass-No Play
This is a made-up example of a scenario in which I would find no pass-no play ethical:
John is a track star for his high school, competing in several events almost every weekend. He practices every day after school and is tired when he gets home. He rarely does his homework and when he does, it's very poor quality. He argues with his teacher about his lack of time to focus on his school work because all his time is spent on the track. He barely pays attention in class and puts forth very little effort. He acts as though he expects his teachers to just pass him no matter what. At the end of the six weeks he finds himself failing two classes and ineligible to run at the next track meet. In this case, I would be in agreement with no pass-no play. John goofed off and doesn't seem to value his academics and therefore has not earned the privilege to participate in extra-curricular activities.
When I Think No Pass- No Play may be Unethical
Here's a made-up situation when I believe no pass-no play may be unethical:
Kate has dyslexia. She was diagnosed in 4th grade. Now, as a 10th grader, Kate still struggles with her reading. She attends tutoring after school and works at home with her parents nightly. Kate is also in the choir. She loves to sing and has a beautiful voice. Singing helps her to forget all her school troubles. A big performance is coming up and Kate has been practicing a lot. She's also been reading a novel and preparing for a test in her English class. Kate winds up failing her final in English and thus failing for the six weeks, despite her extra focus and hard work. In this case, I don't think no pass-no play is ethical. Kate has a learning disability and tries very hard. Her inability to pass her English exam is due to her dyslexia and not a lack of focus or effort. Making Kate ineligible to participate in choir is unethical.
Is no pass-no play effective? Is it serving its intended purpose?
No pass-no play started at the same time as many other education reforms and that has made its effectiveness difficult to determine. Some districts have reported lower drop-outs rates and rising passing rates, but clear statistics on no pass-no play are difficult to find.
Davis Jr., O. L. (1996). "No pass, no play" and no research: A look into a bare cupboard. Journal of Curriculum and Supervision, 11(2), 107-109. Retrieved from http://www.ascd.org/publications/jcs/winter1996/"No-Pass,-No-Play"-and-No-Research@-A-Look-into-a-Bare-Cupboard.aspx
Hewitt, P. (2001, July 23). No pass, no play law affects many students throughout texas. Houston chronicle. Retrieved from http://www.chron.com/news/houston-texas/article/No-pass-no-play-law-affects-many-students-2025852.php
Mumby, C. (2010). No pass, no play, no problem? do school activity eligibility requirements help students?. The Dagger, 1. Retrieved from http://www.daggerpress.com/2010/02/07/no-pass-no-play-no-problem-do-school-eligibility-requirements-help-students
Strike, K., & Soltis, J. (2009). The ethics of teaching. (Fifth Edition ed.). New York: Teachers College Press.