Could high school football stadiums drive economic development?

Among other reasons, the construction of impressive new high school football stadiums in Texas is justified by the idea that they will promote economic development:

School officials have responded to critics by pointing out that the stadium would also be used for soccer games, band competitions, and some state football games; there’s also the hope that retail and restaurant development will spring up nearby. A high school football stadium serves the community in ways other than just bringing in visitors, business, new residents and more tax dollars. One of them is clearly Texas pride in the game-day spectacle.

The evidence is pretty clear with sports stadiums that the public money spent on them tends to go back to the owners and teams, not the community. Could high school stadiums – paid for with tax money yet serving the community – be different?

One point of skepticism is to ask how many significant events these stadiums would hold each year. The biggest crowd events are football games. But, a high school team plays roughly five to eight home games each year. While these stadiums are bigger than the average high school stadium, are there enough fans to support local businesses? It seems like the stadiums need to hold a lot more events to truly bring in people. (Perhaps some of them could attract concerts or festivals?)

A second question is how to directly link the football stadium to economic development. As the article notes, a number of these communities are expected to grow. At least some of this growth would have happened without the flashy new stadium. Are the communities going to survey new residents and businesses to see if the stadium factored into their decision? Or, having built the stadiums, will they attribute positive changes to the stadium?

Finally, it sounds like these communities are locked into competition for stadiums (and other amenities as well as general growth). Is it necessarily the case that building a great stadium would give one suburb a significant leg up on another suburb? If this is a zero-sum game or an arms race, someone will lose. A different view might be that Sunbelt suburban growth will continue in a number of these communities and may not be strongly related to the construction of high school stadiums (or other public amenities).

High schools with larger student bodies, more academic freedom more likely to have cliques

A new sociology study suggests two factors influence whether cliques and segregated groups form in high schools:

Cliques form because people are often attracted to people of the same race, class, gender, and age as themselvesthis is not a novel idea, and in sociology, this concept is called homophily (“love of the same”). But Daniel McFarland, an education professor at Stanford and the lead author of the study, discovered that this tendency to segregate is much more prevalent in large schools and schools that provide students with more academic freedom. A news release about the study explains: “Schools that offer students more choicemore elective courses, more ways to complete requirements, a bigger range of potential friends, more freedom to select seats in a classroomare more likely to be rank-ordered, cliquish, and segregated.”…

The researchers used two datasets for the study: one to examine friendships on the classroom level, and the other to explore schoolwide relationships. The classroom-level dataset compared two extremely different schools. One was a traditional, tracked, Midwestern high school made up of mostly white students. The other was a magnet school in a “distressed” neighborhood of a large city that was diverse along racial and economic lines, but “homogenous in achievement.”…

McFarland and his team found that, in contrast with the larger more flexible schools, schools with a more rigid academic atmosphere usually fostered friendships based on intellectual interests and common activities. (This was true both on the classroom level and on a school-wide level.) Throughout the study, large schools are often equated with less rigid schools, because most of these more stringent institutions were private schools, and thus were smaller…

The takeaway, McFarland said, is that “the way we organize schools will have repercussions” for students’ interpersonal relationships. Teachers and administrators may think they cannot influence their students’ social fabric, but they can. Schools can “indirectly direct” the way that social networks form, by providing more or fewer choices for students. This influence can be used to promote student friendships across intellectual or academic commonalities, rather than external traits. McFarland thinks this knowledge can be used for the better: By designing schools that encourage students to associate based on common interests, we can avoid “creating boundaries that correspond with inequities that already exist in society.”

In other words, giving students more choices – whether of potential relationships or between classes – allows them to form or join groups in the ways that many people do: along existing race/ethnicity and social class lines. Of course, students are likely to lobby for more choices as might their parents because (1) choice is often seen as a good in itself in American society and education and (2) high school is viewed as a place where students should be making more of their own choices and expressing independence. Yet, it sounds like structures can constrain them in certain ways for their own good.

It would be interesting to know the long-term consequences of being in more constrained high schools. Once students hit college or leave the education system, do they revert back to cliques or is there some lasting effect of these structures?

The value of bringing gripping sociology into a continuation high school

Sociologist Victor Rios was recently invited to a Sacramento high school where students were engrossed by his story and book:

When Erin McChesney went to her principal with a new book for her high school English students, he was skeptical.

Consider the cover. The title, “Street Life: Poverty, Gangs and a Ph.D.,” is scrawled in a graffiti-style font. A cartoonish drawing depicts a man half-dressed in graduation regalia, half in trademark gangster attire.

But Bob Wilkerson, principal at Vista Nueva Career and Technical High School, agreed to read it. Not only did he give McChesney the green light to use it in her classroom, he assigned it to his entire staff to read during last year’s summer break. And after McChesney scraped together funds to bring the book’s author, Victor Rios, to campus, Wilkerson relished a day of watching his students engage so deeply in an educational opportunity.

“You know what? I’ve got to get these kids to read. I’ve got to help them read better,” said Wilkerson, a longtime educator. “What I have to think about – within reason – is what is best for my students. And if they’re going to read that – if they’re going to read the autobiography of Derek Jeter – I’m OK with that, because they’re reading.”

On Wednesday, Rios – a former Oakland gangster who teaches sociology at the University of California, Santa Barbara – spent the morning at the continuation high school sharing his story and fielding questions about his path from gangs to academia. Speaking to an audience primarily filled with students of color from the impoverished neighborhoods surrounding the East Del Paso Heights campus, Rios spoke of his family’s struggles spanning from Mexico to a drug-infested Oakland neighborhood. He talked about poverty, racism, lack of opportunity, dropping out of a school system that did not engage him – and the teacher from that system who ultimately inspired him.

Sounds like a good learning experience. Additionally, it is good to see a sociologist using his work and life to help inspire others.

What other sociology texts might be similarly inspiring to high school students? Perhaps books of a similar ilk, ones that are both personal and interesting in terms of explaining social phenomena not easily understood, would work. Is appealing more to high schooler’s sense of identity formation and construction the way to go or can some of them understand a more structural approach? If I remember correctly, the sociology class offered at my high school (which I did not take) tended to rely on pop sociology books like Fast Food Nation.

Sociologist Charles Tilly honored in Elmhurst, IL

It is not often that you see renowned sociologists acknowledged by their high schools in the Chicago suburbs: the late Charles Tilly is being honored by York High School in Elmhurst.

York High School finally has its first group of hall of famers—or as they are referred to in District 205, Dukes of Distinction.

This well-deserved group was culled from nominations submitted by Elmhurst community members, District 205 staff, alumni and others early this year. These eight honorees have distinguished themselves through significant and extraordinary accomplishments, service and an outstanding contribution to society…

Dr. Charles Tilly, Class of 1946

Dr. Tilly was a a comparative and historical sociologist, analyst of social movements, and a social theorist, political sociologist and methodological innovator. Dr. Tilly authored 51 books and over 600 articles, as well as directing over 200 doctoral dissertations. He was a member of numerous scientific academies and a lecturer at universities all over the world. He was called “an intellectual global powerhouse,” whose contributions led to the development of seven subfields in sociology. Dr. Tilly died in 2008.

Perhaps I’m alone in this but I would be intrigued to hear how well-known sociologists made it from high school to an academic career in sociology. Is there anything about Lombard and Elmhurst that pushed Tilly toward sociology? I recently saw another suggestion that the lives of adults tend to mirror their lives in high school, which is highly reductionistic and depressing, but perhaps future sociologists were different?

Also, given the history of sociology in Chicago, how many other sociologists are from the Chicago suburbs? How about a per capita look at which major US regions produce the most sociologists?

Has the rise of football harmed male educational attainment?

With data in recent years suggesting that men are falling behind at the college level, Gregg Easterbrook suggests this may be due to football:

Women are taking more of the available slots in college at the same time boys are spending more time playing football. Are these two facts related?

The main force must be that girls as a group are doing very well in high school, making them attractive candidates for college. But perhaps the rising popularity of football is at the same time decreasing boys’ chances of college admission.

Having ever-more boys being bashed on the head in football, while more play full-pads tackle at young ages, may be causing brain trauma that makes boys as a group somewhat less likely to succeed as students. In the highly competitive race for college admissions, even a small overall medical disadvantage for boys could matter. More important, the increasing amount of time high school boys devote to football may be preventing them from having the GPA and extracurriculars that will earn them regular admission to college when recruiters don’t come calling…

Neurology aside, most likely the largest factor in the possible relationship of rising football popularity to declining male college attendance is that teen boys who play the sport spend too much time on football and not enough time on schoolwork. When they don’t get recruited, many may lack the grades, board scores and extracurriculars for regular college admission.

Easterbrook is suggesting a correlation between two pieces of data: the declining performance of men in school compared to women and a rising interest in football. (To really get at whether this is the case, we would need to undertake an analysis where we can control for other factors.)  He suggests two possible ways in which football might be having an impact: neurological damage and time spent playing and practicing the sport. Out of these, the second sounds more plausible to me.

But I wonder if there isn’t a lot more we could say about this second possible explanation. Why would high school and college males want to spend so much time playing football? Why is it such an attractive option? Perhaps this attraction to football suggests that society doesn’t present too many other attractive options to young males. Perhaps younger males lack good role models in their personal lives or in society who do other things, respectable males who would say that getting an education is an important step in order to participate in today’s society. Do we have cool scientists or academics or do we usually highlight celebrities (particularly those who are famous for being famous) and athletes? Perhaps “manliness” is now defined by football: across the positions, it requires speed (running), violence (hitting), decision-making, and competition. Plus, everyone has been playing this on Madden for years so how hard could this be?

I’m guessing it wouldn’t be too difficult to find some data regarding high school students to see who plays football and perhaps even indicates why they play.

ACT scores suggest most students not ready for college

The ACT has released a report that says the majority of students who take the test are not ready for college:

Only one in four college-bound high school graduates is adequately prepared for college-level English, reading, math and science, according to report released Wednesday by the ACT college admissions test.

Some 28 percent of the members of the high school class of 2011 failed to meet readiness benchmarks in any of the four core subject areas.

“ACT results continue to show an alarmingly high number of students who are graduating without all the academic skills they need to succeed after high school,” the report stated…

Readiness was defined as a student having a 50 percent chance of getting a B or a 75 percent chance of getting a C in first-year courses English Composition, College Algebra, Biology and social sciences.

Additionally, there are some pretty big gaps between racial and ethnic groups.

Here are some possible courses of action in response to this information:

1. Tell colleges that they need to offer more remedial classes and get students up to speed.

2. Add to the argument that perhaps college isn’t for all students.

3. Tell high schools that they need to keep their standards high and improve their ability to prepare students for college.

3a. Push the issue further down the educational ladder before high school.

4. Attack the ACT test. Perhaps it isn’t a great predictor of success, perhaps it is culturally biased, perhaps the students who take the ACT are not the same who take the SAT, etc.

I wonder how colleges will respond to this information. I would guess that this really doesn’t impact more elite schools who have their pick of students who have higher ACT scores. But where does this leave schools that accept a broader range of students?

Friday Night Lights (TV version) missed chances to deeply explore issues of race and social class

The TV series Friday Night Lights recently came to a close after five seasons. I have read the original book, seen the movie, and watched all the episodes of the TV show. While the book was one that gained some popularity as an Intro to Sociology text, I think the TV series missed opportunities to tackle two subjects rarely tackled in mainstream movies and TV: race and social class.

Even as critics lauded the show for more honest portrayals of family life and teenage relationships (and football faded into the background), the show only hinted at these two issues. There are clearly some people who were more wealthy than others: some of the main characters, like Matt Saracen, Tim Riggins, and Becky Sproles come from humble and/or troubled backgrounds while others, like Jason Street, Lyla Garrity, and JD McCoy have more privileged backgrounds. But these issues, which surely would have affected interpersonal relationships, were usually downplayed in favor of football issues. Take JD McCoy for example: he lives in a big house and his dad has lots of money. But it’s not their relative wealth that matters much but rather their arrogance and interest in taking over the Dillon football program that makes them the villain. We do see characters struggling to work and get ahead: Billy Riggin’s wife works in a strip club, Smash Williams sees a football scholarship as the way out of his family’s circumstances, and Jess Merriweather has to work hard at her father’s restaurant and as the football manager. Race wasn’t addressed directly though it simmered under the surface, particularly after the split into the East and West Dillion football programs. The East Dillon Lions were clearly on the wrong side of the tracks because of race and relative wealth. Particularly as Coach Taylor moved away from the relatively opulence of the Panthers program to East Dillon, the us vs. them mentality was developed but it was a package deal revolving around beating the other side of town in football.

One key feature missing out of the book is the Latino population. Odessa, the town in which the original book was based, was 48% Latino in the 2000 Census. The TV show made Dillon out to be split between blacks and whites with little to no Latino characters. Perhaps this was because it is easier to work on the contrasts between two groups but the book’s depth was enhanced by these relationships. I would have enjoyed seeing the show tackle this as many areas of the country, such as Texas, are now adjusting to a growing Latino population.

A second issue involves the future lives of these high school students. A number of the main characters are portrayed as being fairly successful, particularly Jason Street who quickly transforms into an agent or Tyra Collette who goes to UT-Austin, while the less successful characters simply fade away. Perhaps this is a good illustration of what happens after life in high school football: the students who were once stars often fade into the sunset. But, on the other hand, the show could have found a way to follow these characters through the ups and downs after football. Tim Riggins is the main character we get to follow as he drops out of college and his football scholarship, ends up in jail, and then hopes to start a new life. We could have seen more of this and how one’s background in high school and before affected one’s life chances in the adult world in and out of Dillon. This is yet another show that suggests high school life is a peak and life afterwards is of lesser interest.

A third issue: how much interaction was there between the players and their families outside of school? We see gatherings for football but little else. Were there other institutions in the community, such as churches, that either bridged some of these divides or reinforced gaps between groups? In the end, should we think that high school football was the one and only institution in the community that was able to bring people together?

Perhaps the show should be applauded for even hinting at these issues but at the same time, it could have really explored these important concerns and how they affect high school, football, and community life. Instead, the show settled into more comfortable high school drama territory with a revolving set of relationships with a background of winning football teams. Like most shows, the series was about the lives of the individual characters, not about the town of Dillon or the impact of high school football in the community. I still the enjoyed the show but it could have taken some clues from the book and been that rare TV show that is able to entertain and address difficult social issues.