Friday, November 16, 2007

The Achievement Gap, The NCAA, and Us

A few weeks ago, over at Science Blogs, Chad Orzel wrote:

Is it a good thing that only 52% of Maryland's black male athletes graduate? No. But the real tragedy is that only 54% of Maryland's black male students graduate. We should fix that problem first-- by improving public education so that students from poor and minority backgrounds come to college with the tools they need to succeed-- and see if the athletic graduation rates don't take care of themselves.

But it's easy to write self-righteous editorials blasting high-profile sports programs for their academic failings, while fixing the class and race problems of American education will cost real money, and require actual work. And nobody wants that.

I spent some time thinking over the reports that Orzel used to make his point. I make no claim to disagree with them whatsoever. Moreover, I do not disagree with Orzel on his point either. I myself have written in regards to the black-white achievement gap multiple times. The achievement gap is real, and is a cause for wage disparities and other socio-economic issues that impact our country.

However, I still stand by the piece of George Will wrote on the NCAA a few months ago. If the goal of the NCAA would be to further encourage the mission of the student athlete, then I would find it dishonest for anyone to think the 55% graduation rate that Will cites as anything worth of a passing mark. That is to say, I still believe the NCAA to be coming up short of its mission.

Nevertheless, the black-white achievement gap is and still should be the priority to eliminate.

Perhaps Chad Orzel felt that the attention has started to shift away from the achievement gap. With that most likely being his motivator, then Orzel’s post is commendable. Yet, I believe that it is still important to note that a graduation rate of “55 percent of football players and 38 percent of basketball players” is deplorable (taken from George Will’s op-ed).

Since the percentage of NCAA black athletes that participate in the “revenue sports” (football and men’s and women’s basketball) has usually hovered around the 50% mark (the literature and statistics for that can be found at, then there is a possibility that the numbers cited by George Will can be affected by the black-white achievement gap. With that in mind, perhaps the NCAA could soon garner some motivation and support to help tackle the black-white achievement gap for itself.

In any case, the achievement gap is real, and I think for the NCAA to continue to laud the student athlete is dishonest when the statistics behind it show that there’s room for improvement.

Orzel hinted at something else when he closed his blog post. He noted that there may be unwillingness for the public to address the achievement gap, and I believe Orzel to be right. There are cultural implications at stake here. Even over at the Freakonomics blog, Steve Levitt will mention his colleague, Roland Fryer, who continues to work on socio-economic issues, such as the black-white achievement gap. Again, Fryer has surveyed students who denote that being smart is “acting white.” Even recently, Levitt reported that Fryer found the latest euphuism to be “acting Asian.”

When anyone talks about having gender roles or seeing stereotypes forced upon others, then perhaps racial roles and stereotypes are themes peddled on by corporate marketers who choose to make products and profit based on those roles, which our culture accepts.

As someone with libertarian leanings, I hope that people will continue to step out of their own stereotypes, and the stereotypes imposed upon them by others. My hope is that with time, people can choose to be smart for themselves, rather than seeing the roles as fixed.
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