Does Athletic Success Come at the Expense of Academic Success?

Balancing budgets in austere times requires hard tradeoffs; for schools (especially those hamstrung by restrictive collective-bargaining agreements), this often means nixing extracurricular and non-academic programs like music, the arts, or after-school athletics. This analysis by Jay Greene and his University of Arkansas colleague Daniel Bowen details how such an approach may be short-sighted. In an analysis of 657 Ohio high schools between 2004–05 and 2008–09, Greene and Bowen find that a school’s percentage of students participating in sports is associated with higher overall student performance and increased graduation rates. Specifically, the analysts find that a 10 percentage point bump in a school’s winning record (for football and boys and girls basketball) is associated with a 1.3 percentage point increase in said school’s graduation rate—and a 0.25 point bump in the percentage of students scoring proficient on the state test. Further, adding one sport to the available options for students (and controlling for multi-sport athletes) raised the graduation rate by 1 percentage point and the proficiency rate by 0.2. When ten additional students signed up for an athletic team, the school’s grad rate also increased by 1.5 percent and its percent proficient by 0.4 points (this all after controlling for school size, student demographics, and per pupil expenditures). While these results are relational, not necessarily causal, district leaders should take heed. Cutting sports programs may inadvertently fray a school’s academic prowess.

SOURCE: Daniel H. Bowen and Jay P. Greene, “Does Athletic Success Come at the Expense of Academic Success?” (Journal of Research in Education, volume 22, number 2, Fall 2012).

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