If a school system overburdened by costs cuts drama programs, celebrities get on television and lament the loss.  Athletics gets support from boosters if their programs are in danger but if a gifted program goes on the chopping block, the presumption is 'they are smart, they will do well anyway'.

Obviously, athletics has one advantage; no unions.  Schools are allowed to go out and hire the best coaches to cultivate, train and coach student athletes but the educational unions will not allow better teachers to be paid more money. But not only can schools not hire the best teachers and fire the worst, society doesn't have a way to trust teacher performance.   A great band program wins competitions, a great football program has a great record, but few teachers are allowed to judge great science. Say Rena Subotnik of the American Psychological Association, Paula Olszewski-Kubilius of Northwestern University and Frank Worrell at the University of California, Berkeley,"Academic areas however, rarely rely on demonstrated achievement, but rather on standardized tests because K-12 teachers' judgments tend not to be sufficiently trusted." 

First, of course, is recognition that some children are intellectually elite, a no-no in modern pedagogy where that is bad for the self-esteem of others.   No one complains if a student baseball player is considered superior to others or a teenager becomes a rock star but education frowns on superior intellects being recognized for that. What should happen instead of falsely insisting everyone is intellectually equal, is 'psychological strength training', the same mental preparation athletes and artistic performers go through to help deal with the pressure that comes with both challenge and success.

If education is recognized as a meritocracy also, we wouldn't need to waste $5 billion a year on STEM outreach programs where various fields try to compete for the attention of the smart kids. The smart kids would be well-known and scouted by universities who would have more to go on than a standardized test, which is as silly a metric for a scientist as a 40-yard dash is for a baseball player.

Schools groom athletes for college and colleges groom athletes for the professional game.  This make sense for education also, and certainly for science.  However, there is no professional 'let's frame education through social justice issues' league and therefore education would have to become more consistent and better able to compete against students elsewhere - the very thing President Obama criticizes as he attempts to dismantle No Child Left Behind.

"Our schools have cabinets and hallways with athletic and cheer-leading trophies that elicit school-wide pride. Academic abilities, viewed by some, as resulting from natural abilities and no effort, are rarely acknowledged for fear of reinforcing the idea that the success of some students highlights the impossibility of success for other students," the authors say in conclusion.

Editorial published in Psychological Science in the Public Interest