Education and Athletics

IU basketball is back! Yes, we are ranked #1 in virtually every poll. Yes, we have the odds-on favorite to be national player of year in Cody Zeller. Yes, we have the realizable goal of winning our 6th national championship. But what about student-athlete academics?

Coach Sampson left the program in shambles academically, with a team GPA average of 2.18 after the spring semester of his final year at IU. Coach Crean, on the other hand, has made a commitment to academics. With our men’s basketball team averaging a 3.16 GPA only two years after the departure of Sampson, which compares favorably to the overall undergraduate GPA, especially considering the extra time commitment of our players, it appears Coach Crean has righted the ship. This renewed focus on academics has helped bring back the tradition of IU basketball excellence, both on and off the court.

In response to the common perception that college athletes do not stack up favorably to non-athletes, the NCAA enacted stricter minimum admissions criteria for students who compete for their university.  Starting in the 2016 academic year, the NCAA will require newly admitted students to have a GPA of at least 2.3 in core courses, up from 2.0 in years prior, while also increasing minimum SAT/ACT scores. The logic behind this policy change is to encourage academic achievement in high school by requiring students take at least 10 core courses deemed academically essential while balancing school and sports. Part practice for managing the unique circumstances of collegiate athletics, part weeding out process, the new policy seeks to create an environment in which due attention is given to learning.

There are problems, though. At this point, the NCAA has not announced a plan to help high school athletes meet these new requirements. And unless coaches, teachers, and administrators make a concentrated effort to have students meet the core course requirement, a student might simply not qualify due to a lack of knowledge of the changes.  Student athletes must meet these standards but might not have the means to do so, which is similar to the mandates found in the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB).

A top-down approach, NCLB requires schools, districts, and states meet Academic Yearly Progress standards, measures of improved standardized test scores, to be in compliance with the foundational federal education law or face punitive actions, primarily funding cuts. Of course this is not directly analogous to NCLB—think slant rhyme, not rhyme—given that collegiate student athletes self-select to participate in collegiate athletics, but the principle applies. Requirements without means to achieve them are aspirational and, therefore often ineffective, while possibly leading adverse unintended consequences like teaching to the test or other forms of goal displacement.

A major question, then, is what effect this new policy will have on secondary education. One possibility is explored in a recent ESPN article. There is a growing trend in high school athletics to forgo GPA requirements when determining a student’s eligibility to compete. It is argued that, by allowing academically underperforming students to participate in sports, they will become more engaged in school and less likely to drop out. In many circumstances, this approach will keep students in school, but it may ultimately do a disservice to students on aggregate by lowering expectations or by giving an unfair competitive advantage to students who are athletes, but not student-athletes. With extracurricular activities dominating books in many schools already, lowering or outright eliminating minimum academic standards will, in all likelihood, produce some undesirable, unforeseen consequences.

Thankfully, our Coach, Coach Crean, is committed to basketball and academic achievement. Let’s hope the new NCAA admissions policy keeps the pipeline of top athletic and academic high school recruits flowing into Bloomington. Go Hoosiers!

Mike Poletika


SCOTUS: Fisher v. University of Texas-Austin

Only nine years after Grutter v. Bollinger (2003), the Supreme Court ruling that upheld the limited use of race when considering applications to the Michigan Law School, the issue of affirmative action in university admissions policy was reconsidered  yesterday. While it is not uncommon for issues to be revisited by the Supreme Court, the short time span between cases is unusual, particularly in light of the language used in the Grutter decision which posited affirmative action in higher education would not be needed within 25 years.

Abigail Fisher, the plaintiff, applied to the University of Texas-Austin under the Top Ten Percent plan, which allowed all students in the top 10 percent of their graduating class to be automatically admitted to the university. Not meeting this requirement, Fisher was required to apply for admission for a position in the remaining 20 percent.

The issue argued by the plaintiff was not that the Top Ten Percent percent violated the criteria established in Grutter, as it is considered race neutral, but rather the use of race in the remaining 20 percent did not meet the standards of strict scrutiny.

As the New York Times points out, the two main questions raised by Chief Justice John Roberts were (1) how much diversity is needed and (2) when would the diversity threshold would be met. The defense chose to use a demurrer in response to the Chief Justice’s questions, essentially punting them. Instead, they argued the case should be thrown out because the plaintiff did not have standing after having graduated from Louisiana State University. The counter point made by the plaintiff was that the remaining 20% criteria was in violation of Grutter, as well as failing to be the standard of strict scrutiny.

The ruling, as is typical in many cases, will be most likely be divided between the conservative and liberal blocs. For the conservatives to write the majority opinion, Justice Kennedy will most likely need to join the four member bloc. Otherwise, there will likely be a 4-4 division of the participating Justices; thus, upholding the lower court’s decision.

The implications of the decision are significant. If the lower court’s decision, which did not force the 10 percent plan to be dismantled, is upheld, the Grutter criteria will still be valid. But if the lower court’s decision is struck down, the consideration of race in admissions will be curtailed. The importance of this decision  should make all of us education policy wonks eagerly wait until the summer when we will know the future of affirmative action in higher education.

Mike Poletika

The Global Achievement Gap

America is facing two achievement gaps: one domestic and one international. While the former is often cited as the most pressing issue in educational policy, the latter does not garner as much attention. In a recent Harvard study, Eric Hanushek, Paul Peterson, and Ludger Woessmann review how American students stack up against the world by comparing NAEP scores, the test known as the “nation’s report card”, to P.I.S.A. scores, the international baseline assessment provided to OECD members’ students. Overall, Americans students lag behind behind their foreign pupils, but there is a silver lining–American students are making steady academic gains. An abridged version of the study can be found at

The Future of Education

There’s a lot of uncertainty in education right now. Indiana is contemplating never-before-tried measures such as vouchers for private schools, and is the state is likely to lower restrictions on starting a public charter school. Nationwide, state superintendents’ offices are abuzz with words like “teacher pay for performance” and “common core standards.” Movies like Waiting for Superman and The Lottery are putting education problems — and potential solutions — on the radar of millions of Americans.

Where do you fit in?

No one’s in college as a career (well, hardly anyone, anyway…). We’re all hoping to go somewhere — perhaps somewhere unexpected. One way you can start thinking about where you fit into the education puzzle is by checking out EDPOSA and NMA’s career panel on February 14. Click on the events button to learn more.

Another way to start to make sense of your future is to stay on top of the news. Hear something interesting you think other EDPOSA people should know about? Send us an email (just hit “reply” to one of the weekly emails). We’ll include it on the blog.

Indiana legislature contemplates voucher system

The Indianapolis Star reported Saturday that the Indiana General Assembly is considering a bill to create a school voucher system unlike any other in the nation. Indiana’s system would subsidize private school for low-income as well as middle-class students whose parents wish to remove them from public schools and send them to private schools. The amount of funding available for a student would be commensurate with the family’s income. No other state provides vouchers for families above low-income thresholds.

One especially interesting result of this proposal is that the state would actually save money if higher-income families chose to participate. The amount the families would get from the state is less than what Indiana would pay to educate that child in a public school.

Of course, there’s no saying whether higher-income families will take advantage of the system. And there’s really no saying whether this bill can make it through the House and the Senate without significant amendments.

“The Myth of Charter Schools” by Diane Ravitch

Did I already post this?  I can’t find it in the archives, so I’m posting it now.  I think Ravitch makes some really good points in this article (you may only be able to access it if you have a subscription to NY Review of Books… or if you’re on a campus computer).

Anyway, Ravitch puts into words many of the objections that popped into my head while watching The Lottery, as well as adding many complicating details to the story (as if there is one story) of charter schools .

Some thoughts….

Her section at the beginning asserting that our public schools aren’t that bad seemed to ignore the fact that they are bad for some sectors of society.  I guess she made that up later by writing about the effect of poverty on achievement.

It surprises me that she doesn’t attack the underlying assumption that test scores are a good way to measure the success of schools.  She almost gets to it when she’s promoting a well-rounded curriculum.  What if our students were never at the top in content knowledge compared to other countries?  Labaree asserts that our schools have always been designed to train hustlers, not scholars.  Hustlers are the ones who run the world, and the scholars work under them.  Who needs test scores when we train students to work the system?

But again, it is clear to me that the system fails SOME students.  At a minimum all students should learn how to read at an intermediate level, learn basic mathematics, understand enough about their government and history to be active citizens, and be smart consumers of scientific information.

David Harris and the Mind Trust – Article in the Chronical of Philanthropy

Sorry for copying and pasting such a large article, but, I was afraid folks couldn’t get to this by using a link.  Anyway, here’s background info on David Harris and the Mind Trust….


September 6, 2010

Midwest Group Serves as Magnet for Innovation

By Ben Gose

Many of the innovators in the nonprofit world start in, or flock to, coastal
cities like Boston, New York, Washington, and Seattle. Midsize Midwestern
cities often struggle to attract nonprofit entrepreneurs, even years after
their charities have hit it big. Ohio, for example, has yet to attract a
single Teach for America chapter, despite years of trying by cities like
Cincinnati and Cleveland.

David Harris, who led an award-winning effort to build a network of charter
schools in Indianapolis a decade ago, has firsthand experience with this
problem. His early charter schools were outperforming Indianapolis’s public
schools, but he had trouble recruiting “A-list” charter-school management
organizations to come to Indianapolis and make even greater improvements.

“It became clear that we lacked the human capital to drive change,” Mr.
Harris says.

To spur innovation, Mr. Harris founded the Mind Trust, a charity that serves
as a venture-capital fund for education in Indianapolis. Over the past five
years, the organization has lured to Indianapolis fast-growing education
charities that historically have often overlooked Midwestern cities,
including College Summit, the New Teacher Project, and Teach for America.
The Mind Trust also provides two-year fellowships to education
entrepreneurs, including Earl Martin Phalen, whose Summer Advantage
enrichment program started in Indianapolis last year and will soon move to
other cities.

“What the Mind Trust is doing in Indianapolis is a model,” says Terry Ryan,
vice president for Ohio programs and policy at the Thomas B. Fordham
Institute, which supports efforts to improve education nationally and in

“A lot of the midsize Midwestern cities are really struggling to launch
serious school-reform efforts. That’s why when David says we’re having a
meeting, I go.”

No Big-City Sizzle

And he’s not the only one. In the past few years, foundations and education
activists in other cities have pushed Mr. Harris to franchise the Mind Trust
and take it to new cities.

Instead, the Mind Trust in June created a membership network that includes
mayors’ offices, education-overhaul groups, and private foundations that
want to accelerate educational improvements by bringing entrepreneurial
organizations to their communities.

The network, called CEE-Trust (CEE stands for Cities for Entrepreneurial
Education), has members from 12 cities and two states and is supported by a
total of $330,000 in grants from the Carnegie Corporation of New York and
the Joyce Foundation.

Margo Quiriconi, director of research and policy efforts in education at the
Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, in Kansas City, Mo., says midsize urban
areas without a “handpicked superintendent” like Joel Klein in New York City
or Michelle Rhee in Washington-or the big-city sizzle that immediately
attracts education entrepreneurs-need to have one organization that takes
the lead to push education improvements forward.

“We’re Sisyphus here,” Ms. Quiriconi says. “The same is true in Memphis with
the Hyde Family Foundations.”

Both Kauffman and Hyde, which successfully pushed to bring Teach for America
to their home cities, are members of the CEE-Trust network.

The diverse membership reflects a view that it is not necessarily the
structure of the organization but rather the talents and connections of the
leader that make the difference in spurring improvements and innovation.

“The question is,” says Jason Kloth, executive director of Teach for America
in Indianapolis, “are there more people out there like David?”

Impressive Beginnings

Mr. Harris, who is 40, grew up in Indianapolis, where he attended both
public and private schools. He practiced law in the city for a few years,
before Bart Peterson, who was the mayor of Indianapolis, tapped him in 2000
to oversee the city’s nascent charter-school effort. In 2006 the city’s
charter-school program won Harvard University’s Innovations in American
Government Award, which recognizes excellence and creativity in government.

When Mr. Harris left that year to start the Mind Trust, the Richard M.
Fairbanks Foundation, with assets of $275-million, made a grant to get the
charity off the ground. The foundation remains the Mind Trust’s most
generous backer and has now awarded the charity a total of $4.6-million,
including a grant last year that will cover operating expenses through 2013.

The Mind Trust also has assembled an impressive board that includes Mr.
Peterson; Ariela Rozman, chief executive of the New Teacher Project, which
recruits and trains teachers; Eugene White, superintendent of Indianapolis
Public Schools; and Jane Pauley, the former television anchorwoman.

Ms. Pauley, who grew up in Indianapolis and whose son teaches at a charter
school, learned about the Mind Trust at a dinner party, visited the charity
a month later, and subsequently joined the board.

“For someone who appears as laid back as he does, David just gets it done,”
Ms. Pauley says. “He works so efficiently, you can overlook how much he’s

Perfect Incubator

The Mind Trust’s strategy has two main prongs. Mr. Harris says the
“low-hanging fruit” involves persuading proven charities to start programs
in Indianapolis.

Over the past five years, the Mind Trust has invested a total of more than
$3-million to attract the New Teacher Project; Teach for America, which
recruits recent college graduates to teach for two years; College Summit,
which works with high-school students to improve college-going rates; and
Diploma Plus, which operates alternative high schools.

“We’ve seen a huge increase in the overall talent dedicated to education
reform in our community over the past couple of years,” Mr. Harris says.

The Mind Trust’s most unusual program is its fellowship program for
education entrepreneurs. The fellowships provide a salary of $90,000 per
year for two years and cover another $10,000 per year of start-up expenses.
The charity has received more than 900 applications for the fellowships and
selected six winners.

One fellow is Mr. Phalen, who nearly two decades ago co-founded BELL
(Building Educated Leaders for Life), an after-school program and
summer-enrichment program, and wanted a fresh start to focus only on summer

The Mind Trust fellowship seemed like a perfect fit-with one exception. “I
loved everything about it but the fact that it was in Indianapolis,” says
the Boston resident.

As it turned out, the fellowship didn’t require him to live in Indianapolis,
only that he start a program in the city.

During a visit to Indianapolis in early 2009, Mr. Harris coordinated 31
meetings for Mr. Phalen over a few days. Mr. Phalen met with five
school-district superintendents, two executives in the Indiana Department of
Education, the Lilly Endowment, the Central Indiana Community Foundation,
and editors at the Indianapolis Star, among others.

By April of 2009, Mr. Phalen had landed a $1-million contract to provide
summer programs for 1,000 kids in Indianapolis. This summer, his charity has
expanded to some rural areas in Indiana and is serving 3,500 kids under a
$3-million contract.

Now, the city that he thought lacked “sex appeal” seems like the perfect
spot for incubating a new idea.

“Quite frankly, because there aren’t 1,000 other nonprofit groups doing the
same thing, if you are really good at what you do, this city will line up to
help you succeed,” Mr. Phalen says.

Some Successes

Mr. Harris says the CEE-Trust will provide a platform for expansion for his
fellows. Mr. Phalen, who attended a meeting of the organization in June,
says he is talking to members from five more cities about starting Summer
Advantage programs in 2011 or 2012. Another Mind Trust fellow, Celine
Coggins, is the founder of Teach Plus, which trains teachers to become
public-policy advocates.

The Joyce Foundation learned about Teach Plus through the Mind Trust and
gave the charity a grant to take its program to Chicago. Last October the
Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation gave Teach Plus a $4-million grant to expand
its program to three new cities (making a total of six).

“That organization has really taken off in large part because of Mind Trust
support,” says John Luczak, the Joyce Foundation’s education program

The Mind Trust will soon unveil a campaign called Grow What Works to
persuade individuals and foundations to invest in the kind of groups it has
brought to Indianapolis. Mr. Harris says he can’t yet offer many details on
the campaign, such as the local company that is supporting the effort. Among
those participating is Teach for America, which eventually wants to bring in
100 new corps members per year (up from the current 75)-an effort that would
increase the chapter’s total annual costs to $3-million or more. .

The Mind Trust’s recruits can point to some successes. A pilot program by
College Summit at Emmerich Manual High School led to a 50-percent increase
in the number of students applying to college. Michael Anderson, the
“teacher of the year” in Indianapolis Public Schools in 2010, joined the
district through the New Teacher Project. A year ago, Summer Advantage
improved the math and reading levels for its participants by about three
months; most students lose progress during the summer.

Yet much work remains to be done in Indianapolis, which has 11 school
districts. The biggest district, with 31,000 students, is Indianapolis
Public Schools, which has graduation rates that range from 30 to 49 percent,
depending on the study.

Mr. Harris calls those numbers “catastrophic” and understands his
organization needs to make a more direct thrust into improving the district.
In December the Mind Trust received a $100,000 grant from Joyce to study the
governance of the city’s school districts. The study is not yet done, and
Mr. Harris declines to talk about it in any detail.

“Clearly thousands and thousands of students are much better off as a result
of this work,” he says. “But is public education fundamentally different
today than it was before? The answer to that is no. We need to radically
accelerate the pace of change.”

More on Leadership

To follow up on the Fordham Foundation’s focus on leadership, I noticed an EdWeek article on central offices.  Central district offices can be places of gross waste of government resources — in other words, typical government bureaucracy.  But does this mean they should be done away with?  What role can central offices play?

The authors of a new study argue in this article that central offices should be slimmed down and refocused on providing leadership support and training.  Instead of getting bogged down in human resources and endless paperwork, central offices should focus on providing training and resources so principals and school leaders can do their jobs better.

I like this because it’s closer tied to student achievement.  It also can allow greater freedom at the school level, which I favor because school environments vary so widely.  Even within a single city, the needs of schools can be widely divergent.