High school sports support academics

Schools with strong athletic programs have higher test scores and lower drop-out rates, write Daniel H. Bowen & Collin Hitt in The Atlantic. Amanda Ripley’s cover story, The Case Against High-School Sports, is a lot of hooey, they argue.

Success in sports programs creates “social capital” — or reflects the fact that it’s already there, they theorize.

The success of schools is highly dependent on social capital, “the norms, the social networks, and the relationships between adults and children that are of value for the child’s growing up,” wrote sociologist James Coleman.

The need to build trust and social capital is even more essential when schools are serving disadvantaged and at-risk students. Perhaps the most promising empirical evidence on this point comes from a Chicago program called Becoming A Man–Sports Edition.

In this program, at-risk male students are assigned for a year to counselors and athletic coaches who double as male role models. In this partnership between Chicago Public Schools, Youth Guidance, and World Sport Chicago, sports are used to form bonds between the boys and their mentors and to teach self-control. The usual ball and basket sports are sometimes played, but participants are also trained in violent sports like boxing at school.

Applicants were chosen by lottery.  According to a 2013 evaluation, the sports program “creates lasting improvements in the boys’ study habits and grade point averages. During the first year of the program, students were found to be less likely to transfer schools or be engaged in violent crime. A year after the program, participants were less likely to have had an encounter with the juvenile justice system.”

If schools dropped sports teams, middle-class kids would have opportunities to play sports out of school, Bowen and Hitt conclude. Affordable access would be limited for low-income students.

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Comments

  1. Perhaps if the eligibility of the sports teams was made contingent upon the school’s net academic performance, the jocks would encourage the nerds instead of looking down on them.  Sneers about “acting White” might be a thing of the past.

    • That used to be true of fraternities (and sororities), so even the jock houses had to have enough high-achievers to keep the house GPA above the minimum required for staying on campus. That was even without big-money basketball and football programs.

      Perhaps the school sports are indeed important in low-SES schools, but I’m very wary of extrapolating from strong correlations in high-SES schools. My kids played sports in two of them and the HS sports were merely a sideline, since all varsity athletes in swimming, soccer, lacrosse, tennis, golf, wrestling etc. were full-time elite athletes in their sports.( and maybe in others, except football, which doesn’t seem to have much club structure) The social capital already existed, so I don’t think the correlation means much. The sports may create more of it, but it really happens outside of school. Just because something is a good idea doesn’t mean it should be done by the schools – the facilities could be used by city rec, on a partnership basis.

  2. I think that there is also a difference between urban and rural environments. In small towns, the elite sport teams may be an hour away and inaccessible. In those environments, people are more invested in school teams and some kids have to keep their grades up to play.

    • Richard Aubrey says:

      While it may not be in the stated mission of the schools, in the burbs–near and far–and the rurals, the schools, especially the HS, function as a community institution. Some of the games–football, bball, soccer and lax–are attended by people who have no kids in school. Drama and music presentations are, as the saying goes, the best ticket in town.
      I suspect this helps with voter support of the schools.
      If there’s one thing you learn at this blog, someplace there’s a study correlating something with something else, world without end, amen. And it usually smells like a conclusion seeking validation.

      At dusk, years ago, my father and I were driving through a small town, and discovered people walking in small groups, couples, moms with strollers. As we passed through the town, a detour took us away from the main street. And there we saw people heading on a different azimuth. And then another turn and another azimuth. Creepily–very creepily–they were all heading toward the center of town. It was like a zombie flick.
      Turned out their HS had just won state Class B football.
      Fortunately, we weren’t in Texas.
      I don’t see anything wrong with this system, unless it can be definitely proven, with huge studies not funded by activist groups or advocacy groups or self-important, self-righteous busybodies, that it substantially interferes with education.

  3. cranberry says:

    The Chicago example does not support their argument. As far as I can tell, the program was funded by a non-profit organization, not the school system. Thus, the program was not drawing resources from the budget for classroom instruction.

    Also, many children are not at-risk, fatherless young men. You would probably see just as strong results for junior ROTC, or church youth groups.

  4. “While it may not be in the stated mission of the schools, in the burbs–near and far–and the rurals, the schools, especially the HS, function as a community institution. Some of the games–football, bball, soccer and lax–are attended by people who have no kids in school. Drama and music presentations are, as the saying goes, the best ticket in town.”

    Totally true. My wife and I attend the local high school football games every now and then for fun – and we have no kids. Also, a princpal told me once that if it weren’t for these extracurriculars that we acadmeics loathe money being spent on – sports, band, etc. – that the dropout rate would be much, much higher at most school districts. For many kids, those activities are what keeps them just interested enough to stick around and (often as a side effect) end up with that high school diploma…

    • Richard Aubrey says:

      elim.
      The prin is probably correct. And we’ve discussed the educational qualities of extra-curriculars.