The Role of Interscholastic Sport in Public High Schools: A Zero-Sum Game or a Bridge to Success?
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This study examines the impact of interscholastic sport on academic and delinquent outcomes at the school-level. Two theories are used to assess the relationship between schools' interscholastic sport participation rates and schools' academic (i.e. graduation rates and AP enrollment rates) and delinquent outcomes (i.e. Suspension, Expulsion, and In-School Crime rates). Accordingly, the Zero-Sum Thesis argues that participation in interscholastic sport comes at the expense of academic endeavors. Sport operates as a distraction within schools due to the school community (i.e. students, teachers, and parents) investing time and resources that could have been devoted to academics. Alternatively, the Democratizing Effect Model proposes that interscholastic sport is a social resource that connects diverse groups of the school community. School-sponsored sport serves as a social hub that connects various members of the school community into overlapping networks of associations. Sport, as a form of bridging social capital, develops familiarity and trust among the school community and enhances informal mechanisms of social control to help monitor students' academic and delinquent behavior. In order to test the validity of these two competing theories, a nationally representative data set of public high schools was constructed by merging several data sets from the Civil Rights Data Collection (CRDC), Common Core of Data (CCD), and the School Survey on Crime and Safety (SSOCS). Two cross-sectional analyses and one longitudinal analysis were conducted to rigorously test the relationship between schools' sport participation rates and schools' academic and delinquent outcomes. From these analyses, it was found that schools' total sport participation rates were positively associated with schools' total graduation rates and total AP enrollment rates, while schools' total sport participation rates were negatively associated with schools' suspension rates and violent crime rates. These findings regarding the impact of interscholastic sport on the total school environment lend support to the Democratizing Effect Model. However, several supplemental analyses found a negative relationship between schools' sport participation rates and academic outcomes (i.e. graduation rates and total AP enrollment rates) among the African-American student population. These findings suggest that interscholastic sport has differential effects on certain segments of the school population - effects that can actually harm academic success.