Prizes for none — except for sports

A number of Boston private schools no longer give academic prizes and honors “to keep those who don’t get them from feeling bad,” writes Concord Review creator Will Fitzhugh. However, these schools haven’t stopped keeping score in games or honoring elite athletes. It’s OK to excel in sports.

Andra Manson broke the high jump record for high school boys by jumping 7 feet 7 inches.

Andra Manson broke the high jump record for high school boys by jumping 7 feet, 7 inches.

The Boston Globe devotes about 150 pages a year to covering high school sports and one page a year to naming valedictorians at public high schools, he writes.

“We are comfortable encouraging, supporting, seeking and celebrating elite performance in high school sports,” writes Fitzhugh.  “We seem shy, embarrassed, reluctant, ashamed, and even afraid to encourage, support, and acknowledge — much less celebrate —outstanding academic work by high school students.”

When [mid-20th century] I was in a private school in Northern California, I won a “gold” medal for first place in a track meet of the Private School Conference of Northern California for the high jump [5’6”] — which I thought was pretty high.

My “peers” in the Bay Area public high schools at the time were already clearing 6 feet, but I was, in fact, not in their league.

. . . The current boys high school record, set in July 2002, by Andra Manson of Kingston, Jamaica, at a high school in Brenham, Texas, is 7 feet, 7 inches. [high jump, not pole vault].

Knowing that the record was moving up, a large group of high school athletes was motivated to work harder and jump higher, Fitzhugh concludes.

Do school boards matter?

 Does School Board Leadership Matter? asks a Fordham paper.

Districts that are “beating the odds” academically tend to have board members focused on improving academics, as opposed to  developing the “whole child.”

Which comes first? asks Rick Hess. Do high-functioning districts attract focused, coherent board members or do the board members create high-functioning districts? Or is it just that “educated, engaged communities have high-performing schools and elect academically focused boards?”

“Political moderates tend to be more informed than liberals and conservatives and that former educators are less informed about their district than are their counterparts,” according to the researchers. 

Do educators make good school board members? asks National Journal’s Education Insiders.

Is it time to give football the boot?

American high schools care more about sports than academics, charges Amanda Ripley in The Atlantic.

football

Last year in Texas, whose small towns are the spiritual home of high-school football and the inspiration for Friday Night Lights, the superintendent brought in to rescue one tiny rural school district did something insanely rational. In the spring of 2012, after the state threatened to shut down Premont Independent School District for financial mismanagement and academic failure, Ernest Singleton suspended all sports—including football.

To cut costs, the district had already laid off eight employees and closed the middle-school campus, moving its classes to the high-school building; the elementary school hadn’t employed an art or a music teacher in years; and the high school had sealed off the science labs, which were infested with mold. Yet the high school still turned out football, basketball, volleyball, track, tennis, cheerleading, and baseball teams each year.

Football at Premont cost about $1,300 a player. Math, by contrast, cost just $618 a student. For the price of one football season, the district could have hired a full-time elementary-school music teacher for an entire year. But, despite the fact that Premont’s football team had won just one game the previous season and hadn’t been to the playoffs in roughly a decade, this option never occurred to anyone.

Without football, Premont focused on academics. There were fewer fights. Eighty percent of the students passed their classes in the first sports-free semester, compared with 50 percent the previous fall.

Now out of debt, Premont brought back baseball, track, and tennis.

Competitive sports dominate childhood for higher-class families, writes Hilary Levey Friedman.

Grit is good, but academics come first

Stressing character traits such as “perseverance, self-monitoring, and flexibility”  over cognition is a mistake, writes Mike Rose, a UCLA professor. Many so-called “non-cognitive” traits require thinking skills.

Some colleges and universities are trying to measure non-cognitive traits to find “diamonds in the rough,” but so far high school grades, backed by test scores, are the most accurate predictors of college success.

Dan Willingham writes on the challenge of measuring non-cognitive skills.

Career tech ed for all

Stereotypes about Career and Technical Education (CTE) may be crumbling, writes Randall Garton on Shanker Blog. According to a National Research Center for Career and Technical Education (NRCCTE) report, the old distinctions between “CTE” and “academic” students are no longer useful. Nearly all high school students, including high achievers, enroll in some CTE courses.

States classify students as “vocational” or “academic” based on 50-25-25 rule that goes back to the Smith-Hughes Act of 1917.

Vocational education students spent 50 percent of their time in the shop, 25 percent of their time studying closely related topics, and 25 percent in academic subjects. Although the classifications were eventually broadened to include general students (neither vocational nor academic) and dual (both), the underlying concepts remained unchanged.

Over time, “federal and state policy increasingly emphasized” academics, which influenced the Perkins Vocational Education Act of 1984. But even as voc ed became “career and technical education,” the academic-or-vocational divide remained, writes Garton.

Using NRCCTE’s new template, researchers estimate that 92 percent of public high school students take at least some CTE courses. Nearly 17 percent  complete both high-intensity CTE courses and academic requirements in an “occupational area.”

I worry that schools are unwilling to offer pathways that lead directly to work or even apprenticeships, believing that all programs must be — or pretend to be — college prep.

‘We came here to play FOOTBALL’

Ohio State third-string quarterback Cardale Jones tweeted: “Why should we have to go to class if we came here to play FOOTBALL, we ain’t come to play SCHOOL classes are POINTLESS.”

Jones’ comments and his Twitter account have been deleted.

Ohio State ranks in the top 10 percent of Division 1 football teams on the Academic Progress Rate, notes ESPN.

U.S. vs. the world in sports and school

Why is the U.S. so good at athletics — look at the Olympic medal count — and so mediocre in education? Not so fast, answers Mike Petrilli on Flypaper. Sure, the U.S. and China win the most gold (and silver and bronze) medals. We’re also very big countries.  Looking at the per capita medal count (as of Aug. 10) tells a different story.

The U.S. ranks 40th in Olympic medals per capita on the chart, but “an impressive eighth in the world in reading” on PISA, Petrilli writes.

In raw numbers of high-scoring students, the U.S. is number one for math and reading, according to PISA. (Remember that China and India don’t participate.)

It’s good to be big, Petrilli writes.

The reason that the world’s best universities continue to be populated by so many Americans is that (1) most of those universities are here, and (2) we produce more top K-12 students than anybody else. As long as that’s the case, we will continue to lead the world economically and culturally.

But watch out for the Chinese.