Chicago Sports Upset: Student-Athletes Edge Out Peers Academically

Published December 1, 2005

Good news about student athletes in the Chicago Public Schools (CPS) was publicized in Mayor Richard M. Daley’s “Principal for a Day” news conference October 27.

In addition to announcing that an anonymous philanthropist had donated $2 million to provide basketball shoes to every basketball player in the city’s public schools, CPS Chief Executive Officer Arne Duncan reported on a district analysis that showed student athletes in CPS high schools, on average, performed better academically than other students.

The student-athletes not only earned higher grade-point averages than the student body as a whole, but they also had better attendance records.

“The myth of the dumb jock is just that–it’s a myth,” said Duncan, according to CPS official Calvin Davis, who was at the news conference. Duncan went on to stress the importance of sports in teaching children about the value of leadership, teamwork, discipline, and hard work.

Integral to Education

Davis, director of CPS Sports Administration and Facilities Management, had spoken about the student-athlete study a week earlier at the second annual Sports Is Education Symposium at Loyola University’s Water Tower Campus on October 20.

“Sports is part of the educational system,” Davis said, noting that in more than 90 percent of CPS high schools, “student athletes had higher GPAs, better attendance [records], and fewer disciplinary referrals” than their non-athlete peers. They also had higher graduation rates, he observed.

Organized by Chicago-Kent sports law professor Eldon Hamm, sports media producer Terry Poulos, and Loyola University athletic director John Planek, the annual Sports Is Education Symposium serves as a forum for school administrators, athletic directors, and coaches–those who work at the intersection of education, law, and sports–to share expert advice on proven practices in that field.

Background Checks Urged

One of the panel discussions at the symposium was about the screening of coaches. Planek urged attendees to perform background checks on all coaches, saying it “will save you a lot of aggravation in the long run.”

In addition to verifying that applicants actually are who they say they are and have the educational qualifications they claim to have earned, background checks fulfill “due diligence” and protect an organization from negligent-hiring lawsuits regarding employees or volunteers who have unacceptable criminal convictions in their past, such as sex offenses or assault and battery.

Davis reported CPS has an extensive in-house process for screening all coaches, including taking fingerprints and carrying out background checks.

Screening Available

An alternative to in-house screening was presented by LexisNexis sales executive Mike Empey, who explained his firm’s Screening Solutions division offers schools and other clients a range of background checks, with the cost depending upon the extent of checking required for due diligence.

Although a low-cost background check doesn’t provide as much information as an expensive one, Empey said checks for coaches cost about $30 to $35 apiece. To determine the appropriate level of screening, LexisNexis provides its clients with guidelines for “Establishing a Best-Practice Background Screening Program.”

Sometimes a background check isn’t done, said Empey, because the applicant fails to complete the first requirement of the screening process–signing a consent form to allow LexisNexis to do the background check. But even a clean background report may show a red flag, such as frequent moves.

“If a coach has moved every year for the last 10 years, he’s probably not a very good coach,” Empey said.

George A. Clowes ([email protected]) is a senior fellow at The Heartland Institute.

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