Prep Sports

Des Moines on board with Dan Sabers' Iowa high school sports classification model

Iowa's largest district has sent resolution to IHSAA, IGHSAU seeking a system based on more than enrollment

Iowa City West's Trumell Roberts (6) holds off West Des Moines Dowling's Jack Bertram (43) during the 2017 Class 4A state football championship game. Dowling has won the last six 4A state championships, and is one of several Central Iowa suburban programs that has beaten up on Des Moines public schools in recent years. The Des Moines Public Schools have sent a resolution to the Iowa High School Athletic Association and the Iowa Girls High School Athletic Union, seeking a new method of classification for all sports. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)
Iowa City West's Trumell Roberts (6) holds off West Des Moines Dowling's Jack Bertram (43) during the 2017 Class 4A state football championship game. Dowling has won the last six 4A state championships, and is one of several Central Iowa suburban programs that has beaten up on Des Moines public schools in recent years. The Des Moines Public Schools have sent a resolution to the Iowa High School Athletic Association and the Iowa Girls High School Athletic Union, seeking a new method of classification for all sports. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)

IOWA CITY — Dan Sabers’ plan for a classification overhaul for high school sports in Iowa has a major advocate.

Des Moines Public Schools, the largest school district in the state, has sent a resolution to the Iowa High School Athletic Association and the Iowa Girls High School Athletic Union, “calling for a commitment ... to convene a committee to seriously evaluate the competitive needs of students and schools in order to experience success and the inequities inherent in a system based solely on enrollment size.”

The DMPS board of education unanimously approved the resolution last Tuesday.

“When you look around the state at which schools tend to win the championships, their level of students who qualify for free and reduced price lunch, a leading indicator of a district’s general socioeconomic profile averages around 6 or 7 percent,” DMPS Superintendent Tom Ahart said in a story posted on the district’s website.

Ahart noted that the free and reduced rate in the Des Moines district is 76.2 percent.

“There are models in other states where socioeconomic status is factored into how schools are classified for athletics,” he said.

And that’s what Sabers has been pushing, a new model of classification based on enrollment, as well as free and reduced lunch rate and recent success.

Sabers’ football model, originally revealed in The Gazette on May 24, calls for 16 schools in the largest class, the majority of which are from affluent suburban areas.

“I’m certainly pleased to see the action (the Des Moines district) has taken,” said Sabers, the football coach at Iowa City High. “They’re the ones that have to have the state associations’ ear. That’s a significant number of students."

The DMPS contains five high schools — East, Hoover, Lincoln, North and Roosevelt.

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According to research conducted by Sabers, those five football programs have an 0-92 record against seven suburban schools (West Des Moines Dowling, West Des Moines Valley, Ankeny, Ankeny Centennial, Johnston, Waukee and Urbandale) in the past 10 years, with an average score of 51-10.

The IHSAA and IGHSAU classify schools based on enrollment only, using figures of the previous school year. For instance, the total of grades 9-11 for the 2018-19 school year are listed in the “BEDS Documents” and serve as official numbers for 2019-20 classification.

According to the story on the DMPS website:

“Ahart described the status quo as nothing less than ‘an ethical quandary,’ one that’s an important but overlooked aspect of the district’s emphasis on providing equity of opportunities across the whole spectrum of the high school student experience.”




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Ahart said, “Our first big ask is to shop this (resolution) ... to districts around the state to put pressure on the athletics’ governing bodies to look at how we organize our activities.”

Des Moines Public Schools Resolution

WHEREAS, the Des Moines Public Schools Board of Directors feel the need for the IGHSAU & IAHSAA to begin the process for modifications of how schools are classified for district and state tournament competitions, and,

WHEREAS, Iowa has changed, with the growth in poverty among students in urban communities and throughout the state significantly increased since 2011, at which time the percentage of enrolled students eligible for the free and reduced price lunch program was 27%, now statewide in the 2018-19 school year is 43%. In the largest school districts in the state with enrollments greater than 7,500 students, now more than half, 52.4% of enrolled students, come from low-income families eligible for free and reduced price lunch, and,

WHEREAS, the growth in students from other countries and continents has grown over this same time period, once 2.3% of total student enrollment in Iowa schools in 2000-01, most recently reported in the Iowa Department of Education Annual Condition of Education Report, as 6.1% of enrolled students in the 2017-18 school year. Iowa’s largest school districts with greater than 7,500 students now have 7.9% of total enrolled students served in an English-language learner program, and,

WHEREAS, unlike the experiences of similarly sized private schools and some suburban districts, urban poverty and cultural barriers in serving ELL students create additional challenge. Those challenges are seen every day in the instructional environment, but also spill over into extracurricular participation. Urban schools and students experience barriers such as lack of transportation, waiver of student fees, stretched school district resources, lack of community capacity, and lack of parent ability or capacity to invest earlier in skill development for students, to contribute resources, and to get students to practices, camps and competitions, and, WHEREAS, extracurricular activities make a difference for communities and students quality of life, provide opportunities for families, neighbors, and communities to celebrate their students, provide additional motivation for student academic success, teach students about goal setting, hard work, communicating with others, team work and tenacity. These are critical skills for successful citizens, and all students deserve to experience success in these endeavors, and,

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WHEREAS, all students deserve a level playing field and fair opportunity to strive for success at a competitive level, and,

WHEREAS, significant differences in skills and ability create unsafe playing conditions for students, who, at no fault of their own, are not developed to a competitive level, and,

WHEREAS, recruitment of students and engagement in activities is further hampered by continued lack of success due to an unlevel playing field, and,

WHEREAS, there is a state and community public purpose in ensuring that students from low-income families and communities have every opportunity to engage in activities at school that build confidence, competence, teamwork skills, goal setting, leadership abilities, and caring adult relationships and peer supports that inspire motivation to succeed academically, and,

WHEREAS, the IGHSAU & IAHSAA must recognize that enrollment size alone is not a sufficient predictor of creating a competitive experience, that low poverty levels of students and community impact the ability of school districts to be competitive with other similar sized schools on a regular basis to deliver those ends to all students, and,

WHEREAS, poverty alone does not prohibit success or create an inability for students to be successful given adequate supports, such that past experience of success should also be considered as a relevant factor in determining competitive classifications, and,

WHEREAS, Iowa public school leaders request leadership and action from IGHSAU & IAHSAA to begin to address these inequities in school classification in a way that is transparent and fair for Iowa public school districts,

NOW, THEREFORE, be it resolved by the Board:

The Des Moines Public Schools Board of Directors call for a commitment from the IGHSAU & IAHSAA Board of Control and Executive Directors to convene a committee to seriously evaluate the competitive needs of students and schools in order to experience success and the inequities inherent in a system based solely on enrollment size without consideration of family and community capacity for support and make a recommendation to a joint board of both associations to resolve this issue in the 2019-2020 school year.

l Comments: (319) 368-8857; jeff.linder@thegazette.com

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