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.

E-tutoring gets personalized

Learning from Facebook and Netflix, e-tutoring technology adapts to the learning needs of remedial college students.

Also on Community College Spotlight: At-risk college students need structure, real-world connections and accountability, writes an adjunct instructor.

Graduating and churning

On Community College Spotlight: Only the private sector has the capacity to raise the number of low-income students earning college degrees, writes Tom Vander Ark on EdReformers. Private-sector providers serve more at-risk students. Compared to the public sector, they “do a better job graduating students, deliver superior income gains, and do so at a societal cost comparable to public institutions,”a report finds.

Public colleges have a perverse incentive to churn students — bringing in new ones to replace the dropouts — rather than to do the hard work of helping struggling students complete a degree, writes Michael Kirst of College Puzzle.

What to do with off-track students

Teachers would love to send failing students to alternative schools — aka “transition schools” or “recuperative schools — writes John Thompson on This Week in Education.

Thompson likes the Gates Foundation’s, This Works for Me series, “much of which could have been written by teachers and their unions.”

Neighborhood schools end up with the hard-to-educate kids, Thompson writes. “More than three fourths of teachers and principals supported what researchers described as alternative learning environments as a way to reduce the dropout rate,” a Gates-funded Public Agenda poll reports.

(The) poll also shows that 90% of teachers believe that discipline problems are serious impediments, and 68% believe that alternative placements for those students would be effective.

Researchers say very good instruction “will reduce, but not entirely eliminate, student behavioral problems,” Public Agenda reports. “There is evidence that average student achievement (i.e., overall teacher effectiveness) is higher in schools where student discipline issues are addressed.”

No kidding.