One of the great rewards of high school football is the interesting matchups during the playoffs. For example, the recent WPIAL Class AA playoff football game between Washington High School and Shady Side Academy brought together two groups of athletes from opposite ends of the educational and economic spectrum.
After the Prexies won the contest in convincing fashion, sending the prep boys back to make their early Thanksgiving plans to exotic locales, I started thinking about the inequalities of secondary education in Pennsylvania.
Small city high schools along with cities like Washington are dying institutions. The tax bases are shrinking, and home buyers want to live where their children can attend well-funded suburban schools. The older and poorer taxpayers in small cities fight tax increases that would provide adequate education. Counties like Washington ensure troubled and/or special education students, who cost more to educate and bring down success rates, will proliferate in city schools by cramming public housing and other welfare resources within its urban areas.
On the other hand, Shady Side Academy represents the most privileged students in our society. According to its website: “Virtually 100 percent of our students attend four year colleges and universities.” Prep scholarships are offered, often to large, bright students who have a fondness for football.
I am told that until recently, Washington had no official weight room. Shady Side has facilities that are among the best. Washington has disadvantages in staffing, transportation, equipment and alumni support. Yet, somehow, with student bodies of similar size, Washington was ranked No. 3 ahead of Shady Side, No. 14 coming into this playoff game.
Some would say it is not fair to compare Washington’s resources next to an elite private school. The truth is, I could substitute Shady Side for public schools like Fox Chapel or Upper St. Clair and make the same argument. Ironically, only the underfunded city schools, parochial schools and wealthy private schools have comparable student populations to compete against each other.
Football and basketball have always been leveling fields for disadvantaged athletes and small disadvantaged public schools. This has been particularly true in Western Pennsylvania, in places like Washington and Aliquippa. In sports, a small city school can make up a lot of ground with good coaching and a dedicated group of upper classmen. There is a great sense of community pride in seeing these kids succeed and be the best despite economic disadvantages.
However, we must not lose sight of the larger, more significant issue. Inequalities in academics are not as easy to overcome as those in sporting programs. All public school students deserve equal educational opportunities, across the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, regardless of where they live.
Equal educational opportunities for all