Two educations


Marcus Burke, author of Team Seven, went to college on a basketball scholarship, but chose writing. Burke talks about Why Every Writer Needs Two Educations in The Atlantic as part of the magazine’s By Heart series.

See jocks run — but not read

Some college athletes play like adults, but read like 5th-graders, reports Sara Ganim for CNN. Tutors help them, as long as they can play.  Then they drop out or graduate with a degree they still can’t read.

At the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill, 60 percent of football and basketball players admitted in 2004 to 2012 read at the fourth- to eighth-grade level, reports Mary Willingham, a former tutor for the athletic department.  Eight to 10 percent read below a third-grade level, according to her research.

Some were enrolled in “laughably lax” African-American Studies classes. Professor Julius Nyang’oro now faces fraud charges: He was paid $12,000 to teach a class that never met. 

It’s not just UNC, Ganim writes. About 10 percent of University of Oklahoma athletes in revenue-generating sports read below a fourth-grade level, according to Oklahoma Professor Gerald Gurney.

At most schools, seven to 18 percent of football and basketball players read at an elementary level, a CNN investigation concluded.

Intensive tutoring can close the gap by junior year, said Robert Stacey, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at the University of Washington.

Former and current academic advisers, tutors and professors say it’s nearly impossible to jump from an elementary to a college reading level while juggling a hectic schedule as an NCAA athlete. They say the NCAA graduation rates are flawed because they don’t reflect when a student is being helped too much by academic support.

“They’re pushing them through,” said Billy Hawkins, an associate professor and athlete mentor at the University of Georgia. “They’re graduating them. UGA is graduating No. 2 in the SEC, so they’re able to graduate athletes, but have they learned anything? . . . To get a degree is one thing, to be functional with that degree is totally different.”

Some universities refused to cooperate with CNN, but others provided more details on football and basketball players’ SAT or ACT scores and other data.

Many black male athletes end up with no degree and few job prospects, writes Isiah Thomas, a former pro basketball player now working on a master’s in education at Berkeley. “Only 65 percent of African American basketball student-athletes graduated in 2013,” writes Thomas and co-author Na’ilah Suad Nasir, an associate professor of African American Studies and Education.  Berkeley’s graduation rate for black male basketball players in 2013 was 33 percent.

Basketball-spinning physics teacher

To demonstrate angular momentum, AP physics teacher Dave Hovan showed students how to spin a basketball on the end of a pen while writing with the pen. A student’s video went viral.

Hovan, 31, teaches physics and astronomy at St. John’s College (Washington, D.C.) High School. He learned the trick from his high school English teacher, a former Harvard basketball player named Patrick Smith.

Harlem Globetrotters star Handles Franklin will visit Hovan’s AP physics class on Thursday. The teacher has been invited to demonstrate his spinning skills at a Globetrotters’ game on March 15.

In a word, yes

Is it fair to put the total blame on a student’s academic performance on his or her coach?

That’s one of the questions with which Valerie Strauss (it must be a Strauss sort of day; my last post was spurred by her as well… so many thanks to Ms. Strauss) ends this blog post, which discusses some comments from our nation’s Secretary of Education.

The larger question at issue is whether college coaches — particularly public university coaches — should be fined for athletes’ failure to graduate.

I say that the answer is obviously yes. And the reason is this: it’s not that the coach has control of the student’s academics… but the coach does have a surprising amount of control over who gets admitted to the school on the basis of athletics. If coaches know that they’ll be held responsible, there will be an incentive not to recruit students who don’t have a realistic chance at graduating.

That’s where you’ll see the effect of this sort of policy.

The trick is that you need to make it so that the penalty for having non-graduating students is bigger than the payoff for having a winning team. Otherwise, the behavior will still persist, because it’s just a smaller incentive pointing in the same direction.

Now, maybe that means that you end up “pricing out” all the best coaches from public universities, so that only private schools like Notre Dame (football) and Duke (basketball) can afford the best coaches. Eh… so what if that happened?* That doesn’t seem like such a bad outcome to me. I’m all for college sports. But they’re called college sports and not just “the minor leagues” for a reason.

I don’t begrudge coaches their millions; I’m a fan of free markets. But a coach is a university employee, and that means that one of their jobs is (or should be) upholding the mission and reputation of the university. And that mission should — and I say “should” in the most skeptical sense — be about turning out educated minds, not about hanging championship banners.

Coaches are also hired to do that, but that job should be tempered by their broader institutional commitments. The job of a university isn’t to make money. That’s simply something universities have to do in order to accomplish their mission.

* (I’d note that neither Notre Dame nor Duke really has the same sort of problem with sports and academics that many big public universities seem to have.)

U of Phoenix blocks community college degrees

In Arizona, the University of Phoenix worked to stop community colleges from offering low-priced bachelor’s degree programs. That allowed the for-profit chain to continue to advertise that it offers more degrees and options than community colleges.

A 6-foot, 8-inch woman — formerly a man — is playing on the women’s basketball team at a California community college. Gabrielle Ludwig, 50, played briefly on a men’s team decades ago.

Title IX: Is there a right to equal cheering?

Title IX guarantees girls an equal right to play sports, but does it guarantee a cheering crowd? Joshua Dunn and Martha Derthick, writing in Education Next, are dubious.

In a 2009 lawsuit, Indiana parents complained that nearly all boys’ basketball games, but only half of girls’ games, were scheduled for Friday or Saturday nights. Girls drew smaller crowds, creating “feelings of inferiority,” plaintiffs charged.

The school’s athletic director, Beth Foster, said she’d tried to schedule more girls’ games in prime time but could not because she “can’t get anybody to come play us on those nights.”

The case was thrown out, then revived on appeal by a Seventh Circuit panel.

The court started its decision with the image of a typical Indiana Friday-night game: “A packed gymnasium, cheer-leaders rallying the fans, the crowd on their feet supporting their team, and the pep band playing the school song.” Without similar support from the community, the court speculated that “girls might be less interested in joining the basketball team because of a lack of school and community support, which results in the perception that the girls’ team is inferior and less deserving than the boys’.” As a result, girls might feel like they are “second-class.”

“The appellate judges seemed to be very close to announcing a right” to large, cheering crowds, write Dunn and Derthick. “What if the school schedules more girls’ games in prime time and the fans still don’t come? Or don’t come in the same numbers they do for boys’ games? One glance at the Nielsen ratings for women’s and men’s NCAA tournaments would suggest that this could occur.”

A lesson in respect

After the Gunderson High basketball coach suspended five starters for tardiness, back talking and disrespect in late December, the whole team walked out. The San Jose school’s coach, Mike Allen, called up freshmen and sophomores from the JV squad. The team is losing every game by large margins, reports the San Jose Mercury News. That’s not important, says the coach.

Allen said he had given his players “two, three, four chances” to turn around their attitudes and prove their commitment to the team before suspending the five for what was supposed to be the winter break.

Instead, he said, they continued to talk back, disregard his instruction and showboat on the court.

“These kids nowadays feel they are privileged and have a right,” Allen said. “But they fail to realize what being part of a team is about.”

The mutineers blame a “power-hungry” coach.

“We weren’t being that disrespectful,” said Eddie Perez, a senior who walked out with the suspended players. “He wants to run the team his way and doesn’t listen to our own opinions.”

Lesson not learned, apparently.  Good luck in your first job, Eddie. And your second job. And, if you continue to be a slow learner, your third job.

100-2 victors may lose basketball season

After a 100-2 victory in a preseason basketball game, a Kentucky middle school team’s season may be canceled for poor sportsmanship.

Pikeville, a large middle school, played Kimper, a small K-8 school with students as young as 11 on the squad.

Pikeville led 25-0 just 1:48 into the game. The team dropped its full-court press and Coach Bryan Johnson removed all five starters. But the subs were too good for Kimper. Pikeville lead 70-0 by halftime. In the second half, the coach put the starters back in but told them to “stop playing defense” and give the opponents a chance to score.

Pikeville is scheduled to play Kimper during the season. Johnson says he’ll leave his eighth-grade players home.

The 2-credit senior

Basketball stars who don’t have the grades for college can try the NBA’s Development League. In a New York Times’ story on D-Leaguers with a shot at the pros, we meet Latavious Williams, who spent four years in high school in Starkville, Mississippi. As a senior, he’d passed only two of 16 core courses required by the NCAA for an athletic scholarship. “I didn’t go to school a lot,” Williams told the Times.

When asked how he got to be a senior in high school with only two core courses, Williams said: “You know when you’re at a school and you’re the best player, they’re going to work something out. It was just like that.”

He earned 14 credits in one year at Christian Life Center, a private school in Texas, but the NCAA wasn’t likely to accept those credits, so Williams went to the D-League, skipping the college-student pretense.

Via Eduwonk.

Duncan: 40% grad rate for March Madness

Education Secretary Arne Duncan wants to require NCAA basketball teams to graduate at least 40 percent of players or forfeit participation in postseason play.

If the rules were in place for this year, 12 teams including top-ranked Kentucky, which graduated only 31 percent of its players, would not be eligible.

The other teams are Arkansas Pine Bluff, Baylor, California, Clemson, Georgia Tech, Louisville, Maryland, Missouri, New Mexico State, Tennessee and Washington.

Duncan played basketball at Harvard.