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Playing for keeps

"Playing for keeps" Continued...

Issue: "Bird flu," June 10, 2006

Dr. Martin says those newspapers weren't looking very hard. "With all the patients I see, I've never met a fan of no-pass, no-play," she says. Her specialty is ADHD students, a group she believes no-pass/no-play hurts disproportionately. She remembers the op-ed pages of newspapers in 1984 when Texas was debating the new education-reform idea that Texas billionaire and former presidential candidate Ross Perot was pushing. Most editorials and letters, she recalls, didn't like it, but Mr. Perot at that time had cachet.

Schools send a message, Dr. Martin says: "If you're good at mathematics, then you're better than the person talented in music or sports. Once people get that message, once it becomes part of their core being, it's difficult to get rid of. It can destroy a whole life." Some educators argue that extracurricular activities are as important as core classes for developing the whole student, because they build teamwork and camaraderie the classroom cannot.

Dr. Martin wants the Texas no-pass/no-play law reformed but is not optimistic that one-size-fits-all state mandates will change: "When you're working with individual kids and individuality is not taken into account, that bothers me. Something is wrong with the education system."

Meanwhile, Mike Sansone, now an avid blogger in Iowa, has been wrapped up in a fiery debate over a no-pass/no-play law in that state that is scheduled to go into effect next month. Mr. Sansone has an idea for reforming no-pass/no-play that would help future Ricky Lopezes: He calls it "no-pass, no-practice."

Rather than barring from extracurricular activities the students who fail a course, he would send to mandatory tutoring those who had failing marks at progress-report time. Those students would have to miss practice for extra tutoring until grades came back up.

Mr. Sansone says that if, as a consequence, an athlete did not learn new plays in time for Friday night's game, he might sit on the bench-but he would not lose contact with the team and drift off. A no-pass/no-practice system would never ban players from extracurricular activities but would show the school's commitment to tutoring that would help them improve.

"Our educators must be leaders," Mr. Sansone says. "To put it in biblical terms, we have to go get the sheep and bring them back to the herd"-meaning that schools should make an extra effort to help students catch up, and should not merely abandon them via no-pass/no-play mandates. But no system like "no-pass, no-practice" yet exists.

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