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.

Schools excel in sports — and academics

Ohio high schools that invest in athletic success also produce more academic success, concludes a study by Jay Greene and Dan Bowen published in the Journal of Research in EducationA winning sports team and higher student participation in sports correlated with higher test scores and a higher graduation rate, writes Greene in Education Next.

A 10 percentage point increase in overall winning percentage is associated with a 0.25 percentage point increase in the number of students at or above academic proficiency. When we examine the effect of winning percentage in each sport separately, once again winning in football has the largest effect. Girls’ basketball also remains positive and statistically significant (at p < 0.10), but boys’ basketball is not statistically distinguishable from a null effect.

Adding one winter sport increases the percentage of students performing proficiently by 0.4 of a percentage point, while an additional 10 student able to directly participate in sports during the winter season relates to a 0.6 percentage point increase in students at or above proficiency.

A winning sports team may create a sense of pride in the school and bond students and parents. Playing on a sports team may inspire students to show up at school every day, keep their grades up to maintain eligibility and learn responsibility, teamwork and goal setting.

Study: Parents matter more than schools

Parents who value education have more impact on student’s achievement than attending a school that’s a “positive learning environment,” concludes a new study, Does Capital at Home Matter More than Capital at School? 

“The effort that parents are putting in at home in terms of checking homework, reinforcing the importance of school, and stressing the importance of academic achievement is ultimately very important to their children’s academic achievement,” Dr. Toby Parcel, professor of sociology at North Carolina State University in Raleigh, N.C. and a co-author of the study, told Education Week.

Measures of family social capital included:

• Does the parent check the student’s homework?
• Does the parent attend school meetings?
• Does the parent attend school events?
• How much trust does the parent have in the child?
• How often do students report discussing school programs, activities, and classes with parents?

To measure school social capital, defined as a school’s ability to serve as a positive environment for learning, the researchers evaluated:

• Student participation in extracurricular activities;
• Whether the school contacted parents;
• The level of teacher morale;
• The level of conflict between teachers and administrators;
• Whether teachers responded to individual student needs; and
• An overall measure of school environment that tapped delinquency, absenteeism, and violence.

This is not surprising.

Unexceptional success

My book, Our School, is about Downtown College Prep, a San Jose charter high school that enrolls primarily low-income Mexican-American students who will be the first in their families to go to college. (Quite a few are the first to complete high school.) This year, for the first time, a DCP senior is headed for the Ivy League. Julia chose Brown over Princeton, NYU and other colleges, writes Jennifer Andaluz, the school’s co-founder and executive director.

In the college-going space we are fascinated with the “against-all-odds” success story. In truth, Julia’s story is rather predictable: she worked hard, established goals for herself, had the support of her mother, played by the rules, and had a mentor who ensured she made a “right fit” decision when it came to her college choices. Whether a student attends San Jose State or a select university like Brown, DCP aims to make college-going unexceptional.

What is worth noting is why Julia chose Brown. One of Julia’s closest mentors is a DCP teacher who is also a first-generation, Latina graduate of Brown. This teacher passed down the “social capital” gained from her college experience by sharing her journey. In the end, Julia believed she could be successful at Brown her teacher was successful.

And this is why DCP is valuable: every year a new cohort of DCP alumni graduate from college. They go from being the one who was inspired to being the one who inspires.
DCP reports that 96 percent of graduates complete the college-prep sequence required by California’s public universities and 96 percent enroll in a two-year or four-year college. The retention rate is 90 percent and the graduation rate is four times higher than the national average for Hispanic students.
 Our School is now on sale at a bargain price at Amazon.