PROFESSOR PAUL PETERSONS FRIEDMAN LECTURE-LONDON

Choice, charters and vouchers

Vouchers in school reform programmes have made little headway over the years.  Mainly due to opposition to vouchers from powerful teachers unions in the United States. Indeed,  Private School vouchers are illegal in some states although nationwide, around  141,000 students use a voucher to attend a private school. Democratic  politicians  tend to shy away from vouchers because of the unions position.

Professor Paul  Peterson reminded us in last  week’s Friedman lecture at Church House (organised by CMRE think tank) that it wasn’t Milton Friedman who first championed school vouchers , it was our own  JS Mill who  In ‘On Liberty’  wrote:

‘  If the government would make up its mind to require for every child a good education, it might save itself the trouble of providing one. It might leave to parents to obtain the education where and how they pleased, and content itself with helping to pay the school fees of the poorer classes of children, and defraying the entire school expenses of those who have no one else to pay for them.’

But although school vouchers are seen as an issue supported by the political right  (Milton Friedman etc) quite a few thinkers on the left are sympathetic to the idea of using vouchers to help the disadvantaged to get access to the best schools. More often than not disadvantaged families have to send their children to the worst sink schools, sustaining the cycle of disadvantage. Some have a way out now in the States ,with access to Charter schools-around 5 % of the student population in the States are in Charter schools. And there are some notably good charter chains -KIPP springs to mind.   But there are  also some not so good, and this applies to some private schools as well.- although  more rigorous vetting has had beneficial effects. If charters dont perform,  of course, then they lose their contract. Poor state schools tend to carry on regardless of performance and student outcomes.   Charters do appear to have had a significant impact in certain areas on attainment ( for example, in  Post- Katrina New Orleans  although a recent voucher scheme  that was  evaluated in the state had less than stellar results-the lucky ones were in fact the  students who didnt win the lottery ) Professor Paul Peterson  pointed to  evidence that Charter schools,  overall, do have a  positive effect on attainment, particularly with disadvantaged students and their record for  improving college enrollments , for example,  compares well with other local schools.

There is also some evidence out there on vouchers and their effects. Professor Peterson has tracked the impact of a voucher programme all the way from kindergarten (in 1997) to college enrollment (in 2011).  His study compared students who won a voucher lottery with students who didn’t—the only difference between the groups was the luck of the draw, the gold standard in research design.

The study shows that an African-American student who was able to use a voucher to attend a private school was 24% more likely to enroll in college than an African-American student who didn’t win a voucher lottery.

The voucher programme took place in New York City. Its initial impetus came in 1996, when Archbishop John J. O’Connor invited New York City schools Chancellor Rudy Crew to “send the city’s most troubled public school students to Catholic schools.”  That didn’t quite work out but a group of private philanthropists—including prominent Wall Street figures Bruce Kovner, Roger Hertog and Peter Flanagan stepped into the breach —creating the New York School Choice Scholarships Foundation.

The foundation offered three-year scholarships—that is, vouchers—worth up to $1,400 annually (in 1998 dollars) to approximately 1,000 low-income families with children of elementary-school age. A recipient could attend any of the hundreds of private schools, religious or secular, in New York City. The city’s largest provider of private schooling was the Catholic archdiocese, which reported average tuition at the time of $1,728 per year. Total expenditures at these schools, from all revenue sources, came to $2,400 per pupil (compared to total costs of more than $5,000 per pupil in the public schools). Over 20,000 applicants participated in the lottery.

Of the 2,666 students in the original study, necessary information was available for over 99%. To see whether those who won the lottery were more likely to go to college, Peterson and his research colleagues linked student Social Security numbers and other identifying characteristics to college enrollment data available from the National Student Clearinghouse, which collects that information from institutions of higher education attended by 96% of all U.S. students. The reserachers said that they were not aware of any other voucher study that has been as successful at tracking students over such a long period of time.

Although the study identified no significant impact on college enrollments among Hispanic students (and too few white and Asian students participated for us to analyze), the impact on African-American students was large. Not only were part-time and full-time college enrollment together up 24%, but full-time enrollment increased 31% and attendance at selective colleges (enrolling students with average SAT scores of 1100 or higher) more than doubled, to 8% from 3%. These impacts are especially striking given the modest costs of the intervention: only $4,200 per pupil over a three-year period. This implies that the government would actually save money if it introduced a similar voucher program, as private-school costs are lower than public-school costs.

The difference in the effects for African-American and Hispanic students is probably due to the greater educational challenges faced by the African-Americans. Only 36% of them went to college if they didn’t receive a voucher, compared to 45% of the Hispanic students.

Note- Acknowledgements to Wall Street Journal article – Matthew M. Chingos and Paul E Peterson   Aug. 23, 2012 and Paul E Petersons-Friedman Lecture, (CMRE) Westminster 26 January 2016

See also

http://www.adamsmith.org/wp-content/uploads/Voucher%20paper%20web.pdf

Advertisements

ACADEMIES-ARE THEY IN NEED OF A WAKE UP CALL? PROBABLY

 

The Charter school model ,  in the States, was  used, along with Free schools in Sweden, as  an inspiration for academy schools here, in England.

Charters are independent schools run by both for profit and not for profit companies that are independent of the local school boards and have a contract, or Charter , with the local authority. They are mainly small ,operate in disadvantaged areas and are quite  popular with parents. Some  individual schools and chains –such as KIPP-are very good indeed .   Others ,  less so.  I think its fair to say though  that the Charter movement  has   never come    very close to living up to   all the  initial  hype. After several years of experimentation and the expenditure of billions of dollars, charter schools and their teachers proved, on the whole, to be not much  more effective than traditional schools.  Indeed, they haven’t ,overall , established clear blue water between themselves and the local board schools, in terms of student performance . There are a number of reasons  as to why this might be the case.

They  operate in extremely disadvantaged areas,  and are often tasked with  transformung sink schools, which the local district has previously been unable to do. . Generally they are small  with less per capita funding than other  district  schools, (although KIPP tends to spend more per pupil than other district schools)  Initially at least,  proper due diligence, too often, wasnt undertaken  before  the contracts  were  signed. But  the point is that   the variability in their historical  performance  has   been a long running  issue , even for their supporters. (not just Republicans, by the way).  And the movements reputation has  suffered accordingly.

Arguably, the variable performance of academies, here, is in danger of becoming an issue too.

Here 63 % of all Secondary schools are now academies and  around 17% of Primaries. They are  clearly  facing big  challenges .Sponsored academies – of which there are now 1,100 – were intended to improve standards, particularly for the poorest students.

And, sponsored academies, generally, have improved faster than other schools, albeit from a lower base. Many, though still a minority, belong to chains – groups led by an educational charity, a university or a successful school. Sutton Trust analysis in July found that disadvantaged pupils in nine of 31 chains studied had better results than the average for all schools, while improvements in 18 chains were faster than average. Some well-known chains, like Harris and Ark, each with 27 academies, do particularly well. But the study also  confirmed that   the DFE is right to be  concerned that other chains, rather too many, that had grown very rapidly since 2010, are  under- performing.

The key challenge for academies has always been to improve the performance of the most disadvantaged pupils , those on free school meals, and to narrow the attainment gap between them and their peers . But  too many are  failing to perform better than maintained schools ,with similar intakes, despite having greater freedoms.

The DfE capped 14 academy chains in March, including the 77-school Academies Enterprise Trust. They must focus on improving their existing schools before being allowed further expansion. Ministers also forced another academy chain, E-Act, to transfer 10 of its 34 schools to other sponsors.It is not yet a crisis but there are concerns developing about the long tail of underachievers in the academies  family,

In terms of academies  overall performance, the statement from the recent  IOE report to the Education Select Committee  on Accountability, in September, seems fair:

‘’The benefits and impact of academies and academy sponsorship overall remain contested, but there is a strong argument that academy sponsors are mostly working to address underperformance in schools that face real challenges and where the previous Local Authority model has not proved effective’

There is strong evidence from Robert Hill, among others , to show that being part of a formal academy chain can have a significant impact on a schools performance, and  chains, comprising three or more academies, are improving faster than other academies.  However, and this is important  the Sutton Trust found in its report Chain Effects of July 2014  that ‘There is very significant variation in outcomes for disadvantaged pupils, both between and within chains; and chains differ significantly in attainment against different measures’.  And ‘When analysed against a range of Government indicators on attainment, a majority of the chains analysed still underperform the mainstream average on attainment for their disadvantaged pupils.   While some of those below the average are continuing to improve, others are not’

And, remember as we have pointed out  most academies are not part of a chain.

The biggest threat to the future academies is clear. Given they  were created to improve the performance of mainly disadvantaged pupils and to narrow the attainment gap, if  they fail to  deliver  this, or if only a small group of  elite academy chains are delivering this over time, then  it would be rash to assume that their future is  assured.  Make no mistake, politicians made academies so they can unmake them. We know that some academy chains are not performing as well as maintained schools. Not only is this a threat to the respective chains’ existence, it threatens the whole academies enterprise. We know that structures can be changed, over the short term.

Politicians probably don’t have the appetite for more structural reforms and want to focus  now on the curriculum, assessment  the quality of teaching and what happens in the classroom. But, the academies enterprise must take the issues of quality control along with  sound governance, much more seriously ,over the short and medium term,  in  order  to secure their future,.Its not yet a crisis, but there are potential  dangers  forming up on the near horizon.

LEMOVS TEACH LIKE A CHAMPION -TOP TECHNIQUES USED BY THE BEST TEACHERS

Lemovs teaching techniques influencing Charter schools but also academies here

Comment

Doug Lemov, an American teacher and the author of Teach Like A Champion: 49 techniques that put students on the path to college (2010) is having a considerable impact on some US schools in the Charter movement. Lemov is managing director of Uncommon Schools, a chain of 32 charter schools (the US equivalent of academies) operating in New Jersey, New York and Massachusetts. These have become the highest-performing schools in their districts, despite being located in some of the most deprived communities. Lemov’s book has become a “bible” for thousands of teachers in the US . It is also having an impact here. Ark, one of the most successful academy chains here, rather like his ideas .

Teach Like A Champion Field Guide is  a practical resource to make the 49 techniques your own. It claims to provide a detailed look at top classroom techniques used by top teachers -that work. Lemov includes  a DVD of teaching clips that illustrate what these techniques look like in practice. For each technique he  provides enough detail on  the practice  but also seeks to provide an explanation  of the rationale behind it.

The book is not just aimed as a tool for teachers. It seeks to provide  a resource to help school leaders understand the elements of effective  teaching which is vital in both observing and training their own teachers. When Lemov  refers to a  ‘technique’-what exactly  does that mean?  Here are two examples:

Technique 1: NO OPT OUT

In typical classes, when students don’t know an answer, or don’t want to try, they quickly learn the teacher will leave them alone if  they respond to a question with “I don’t know” or shrugging their shoulders. The teacher then moves on to another student. Instead,  NO OPT OUT is a useful tool to get all students to the right answer, as often as possible, even if only to repeat the correct answer.

For example, on day 1 to review you ask Charlie, “What is 3 times 8?” He mutters, “I don’t know” and looks away. Many teachers  don’t know how to respond, and students come to use “I don’t know” to avoid work all year long. Instead, at a minimum, you can turn  to another student, ask the same question, and if you get the correct answer, turn back to Charlie, “Now you tell me what is 3 times 8.”

Charlie, and all of the students, have just learned that they can’t get off the hook and must do the work in your class.  In a more rigorous form of NO OPT OUT you or another student can provide a cue. For example, in a class where a student was unable to identify the subject of the sentence, “My mother was not happy” the teacher asked another student, “When I am asking you  for the subject, what am I asking for?” The second student responded, “You are asking for who or what the sentence is about.” Then  the teacher turned to the first student and said, “When I ask for the subject, I am asking for who or what the sentence is about. What’s  the subject?” This time the student was able to respond correctly, “Mother.” The sequence began with the student unable to answer and ended up with him giving a correct answer. Note that the tone in most classrooms that use NO OPT OUT is positive and academic and using it only reinforces the teacher’s belief in students’ ability to get the right answer.

 

Technique 2: RIGHT IS RIGHT

Students often stop striving when they hear that their answer is “right.” However, many teachers often accept answers that are partially correct or not totally complete. They affirm these answers by repeating them and then adding information to make the answer completely correct. For example, when asked how the families in Romeo and Juliet get along a student says, “They don’t like each other.” You would hope that the teacher would ask for more elaboration, but instead, she might say, “Correct, they don’t like each  other and have been feuding for generations.” By responding in this way, the teacher is setting a low standard for correctness. The key  idea behind RIGHT IS RIGHT is that the teacher should set and defend a high standard of correctness by only naming “right” those  answers which are truly and completely right. There are four ways to use the RIGHT IS RIGHT technique.

1. Hold out for all the way. When students are close to the answer, tell them they’re almost there. While great teachers don’t confuse effort and mastery, they do use simple, positive language to appreciate what students have done and to hold them to  the expectation that they still have more to do. For example, “I like what you’ve done. Can you get us the rest of the way?”

2. Answer the question. Students learn if they don’t know an answer they can answer a different question, particularly if they  relate it to their own lives. If they can’t identify a story’s setting, for example, a student might start with, “That reminds me of  something in my neighbourhood…” Or, you ask for a definition and a student gives you an example, “Eyeball is a compound, word.” Instead, direct the student back to the question at hand, “Kim, that’s an example, I want the definition.”

3. Right answer, right time. Sometimes students get ahead of you and provide the answer when you are asking for the steps to the problem. While it may be tempting to accept this answer, if you were teaching the steps, then it is important to make sure  students have mastered those steps, “My question wasn’t about the solution. It was, what do we do next?”

4. Use technical vocabulary. Good teachers accept words students are already familiar with as right answers, “Volume is the amount of space something takes up.” Great teachers push for precise technical vocabulary, “Volume is the cubic units of  space an object occupies.” This approach strengthens a student’s vocabulary and better prepares  him/her for college.

The TES reported on 12 April that Lemov’s Uncommon Schools are often visited by Future Leaders, which is why the charity is one of the biggest promoters of US teaching methods in England. Once a year, it flies a group of UK teachers to the US to see how particular schools in some of the poorest regions of the country function. Heath Monk, chief executive of Future Leaders, says that the purpose of the US trips is more to do with school culture than pedagogy. The US as a whole, he admits, does not perform well, but there are pockets of brilliance where schools are working miracles.

“We are looking at very small subsets of very successful charter schools; schools that are achieving, by US standards, outstanding outcomes,” Monk says. “And they are doing so with some seriously challenging kids. It shows what can be achieved with an outstanding school culture, even when their pedagogy would likely be judged by Ofsted as requiring improvement.”

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Teach-Like-Champion-Techniques-Students/dp/0470550473

ACADEMIES IMPACT ON PUPIL PERFORMANCE-LATEST RESEARCH

Balance of evidence  finds  Academies have only small beneficial effects on pupil performance

Comment

The latest research from Stephen Machin and Olma Silva from the Centre for Economic Performance asks two basic  questions – does school autonomy work? And does it offer scope to improve the lot of disadvantaged students ie those  in the lower tail of the education distribution? Their conclusion is probably not, or at least not in England . They write ‘ Whilst there is a paucity of robust and coherent evidence to draw upon, it does not seem  unreasonable to say that, on balance, the evidence that does exist at best shows only small beneficial  effects on overall pupil performance and very little consistent evidence of improvements for tail  students.’

They find little evidence that academies up to 2009, helped pupils in the bottom 10% and 20% of the ability distribution. Furthermore, they find little  evidence that late converters (2008 and 2009) had any beneficial effects on pupils of any  ability. The authors conclude their research by comparing the experience of UK academies to that of  US charter schools and Swedish free schools, and by providing some insights into the reasons  why UK academies did not serve ‘the tail’ as is the case for some US charter schools.(the implication here is that charter schools because they have a  performance contract ( ie the charter) are held more directly accountable for performance than are  academy schools)

In conclusion the authors say ‘ it may be that in the longer run the best academies will flourish and spread their  practices across the education market in a tide that lifts all boats and so raises the achievement of  pupils of all abilities. However, in order to guarantee that these more autonomous institutions can  make a difference for the tail, new ‘rules of the game’ should be designed to make sure that schools  have incentives to focus on the most disadvantaged student and, at the same time, are held  accountable for their improvements.’

School Structure, School Autonomy  and the Tail Stephen Machin and Olmo Silva-Centre for Economic Performance- March 2013

Note. The new Pupil Premium is supposed to provide an incentive for schools  to target the  most disadvantaged pupils and to close the achievement gap ,although the challenge is to use this  extra money on interventions that work. One reliable source tells me that technology companies are seeking to persuade schools that the Pupil Premium is best invested in new computers and  education software, although I can find no evidence to  back the  claim that computers improve the performance of the most disadvantaged pupils.Tackling the long tail of underachievers  remains the biggest challenge  in education. One hopes and trusts that Ofsted will  keep a close eye on how schools  use these  extra funds.

GREEN DOT SCHOOLS-THE CHARTER CHAIN ADMIRED BY LABOURS EDUCATION SPOKESMAN

GREEN DOT SCHOOLS

Twigg warms to Charter chain in USA because of its collaborative approach

Comment

The Green Dot  Charter schools  network operates 18 schools in some of the toughest areas of Los Angeles. Green Dot operates a mix of independent charter and turnaround schools, serving more than 10,000 students in Los Angeles County’s highest need areas. Its student body is statistically identical to the Los Angeles Unified School District’s, mirroring the amount of students that are English language learners, who receive free or reduced lunches, and are students with special needs.

The network has caught the eye of Stephen Twigg MP, the shadow education secretary, (speech to ACSL-16 March). It is unusual for a Labour spokesmen to highlight the performance of charter schools in the USA, as they are private operators, both for profit and not for profit, running municipal schools under a contract (or charter). That said ,  some Democrats in the States , including the President, much admire charters  for the leg up they can give to the most disadvantaged pupils,  in the poorest areas.   What  resonates with Twigg is the fact that  Green Dot’s teachers and management worked  closely with the California Teachers Association (ie a Union) to develop a contract for its teaching staff that is  at one with the mission of Green Dot and  also supports a sympathetic  professional environment for teachers. This is all about collaboration, a theme Twigg explored in his  ACSL  speech . He contends that only through collaboration ,within and between schools, can schools and the system  improve. He criticises the current government for creating   what he sees as an  ‘atomised ‘system, although, arguably, he helped lay the foundations of this system , when he was  in the last government.  Green Dot also worked with Randi Weingarten, now president of AFT, and the United Federation of Teachers to create the employment contract for Green Dot New York Charter School.  So here is evidence of collaboration in this case  not just between schools, but  between teachers, students and  parents, including on curriculum innovation. And, unlike some Charter schools, unions are recognised. Research conducted by UCLA showed students significantly increased their test scores and took more challenging subjects. Green Dot Public Schools averaged a 20-point increase on the Academic Performance Index scores released by the California Department of Education, with two of its schools exceeding the state’s API goal of 800 for the first time. The performance marked the fourth straight year of gains across Green Dot’s 18 schools.

http://www.greendot.org/page.cfm?p=1646

Note

In 1996, just 19 states had charter legislation in place, and there were only about 250 charters serving some 20,000 pupils. In 2013- 41 states and the District of Columbia had charter laws on the books, and there are more than 2 million students enrolled in 5,600  charter schools.

MATHEMATICA STUDY OF KIPP CHARTERS-KIPP GIVES SIGNIFICANT LEARNING BOOST TO MIDDLE SCHOOL STUDENTS

Strong statistically significant results for KIPP students that are better than their peers

Comment  

As of the 2012–2013 school year, 125 KIPP schools are in operation in 20 different states and the District of Columbia (DC). Ultimately, KIPP’s goal is to prepare students to enrol and succeed in college.

KIPPs approach is different. It is particularly keen on  structured,  ‘meaningful’  approaches to character development in its schools This is rooted in the research of Dr. Martin Seligman (Universityof Pennsylvania) and  Dr. Chris Peterson (University of Michigan) that identifies 24 character strengths as leading to engaged, meaningful, and purposeful lives. Its not just about academic attainment. Resilience  and character matter even more, if students are to succeed in education and life.

There is a research partnership between KIPP NYC and Dr. Angela Duckworth (University of Pennsylvania), KIPP which informs the focus on seven highly predictive strengths: zest, grit, self-control, optimism, gratitude, social intelligence, and curiosity. They have integrated their own experiences as teachers with the research of Seligman, Peterson, and Duckworth to create a road map for the development of each strength.  So KIPP schools seek to see how they  can integrate a more structured and measurable approach to character development.

Prior research has suggested that KIPP schools have positive impacts on student achievement, but most of the studies have included only a few KIPP schools or have had methodological limitations.

This is the second report of a national evaluation of KIPP middle schools being conducted by Mathematica Policy Research. The evaluation uses ‘experimental and quasi-experimental methods to  produce rigorous and comprehensive evidence on the effects of KIPP middle schools across the  country. The study’s first report, released in 2010, described strong positive achievement impacts in maths and reading for the 22 KIPP middle schools for which data were available at the time.  This most recent  study, conducted by Mathematica,  is  the most rigorous research yet on KIPP schools  and  shows that the Knowledge Is Power Program, provides a significant learning boost to middle school students in multiple subjects. It also found that while KIPP serves more low-income students than public school peers, it serves fewer special education students and English language learners. The report states ‘The average impact of KIPP on student achievement is positive, statistically significant, and educationally substantial. KIPP impact estimates are consistently positive across the four academic subjects examined, in each of the first four years after enrolment in a KIPP school, and  for all measurable student subgroups’.   Three years after students enroll in KIPP schools, they had 11 more months of maths knowledge than their peers, according to the study. The research showed KIPP students had eight more months of reading knowledge, 14 more months of science knowledge, and 11 more months of social studies knowledge.  Charter schools are publicly funded, but can be privately run. KIPP is one of the best known chains. KIPP schools often feature a longer school day, carefully selected teachers, a strict discipline code, parental contract, and teachers available to parents after school hours.  The Mathematica study accounted for the common critique that KIPP’s results are skewed because the school attracts the kids of highly-motivated parents, said Philip Gleason, who directed the research. In 13 of the 43 schools Mathematica investigated, the firm compared KIPP students with children who entered the KIPP lottery, but did not receive slots in KIPP schools. The researchers said the positive results held steady for the KIPP students. The study did find though that KIPP’s ‘behavioural’ modifications contributed to academic performance. KIPP schools that reported a “comprehensive” approach toward behaviour saw greater positive effects than schools that did not.  But ‘KIPP has no statistically significant effect on a variety of measures of student attitudes  that may be related to long-run academic success. The estimated KIPP impacts on  indices of student-reported self-control, academic self-concept, school engagement,  effort/persistence in school, and educational aspirations are not statistically significant.’  KIPP schools that had a longer than average school day had smaller positive effects on student performance. The report says this might be because the KIPP schools with longer days than others often focused their extended hours on non-academic areas.  KIPP students do from 35 minutes to 53 minutes more nightly homework than their peers, yet reported they were more satisfied with school than peers, according to the study.

KIPP Middle Schools:  Impacts on Achievement and Other Outcomes  Final Report- February 27, 2013- Christina Clark Tuttle Brian Gill Philip Gleason Virginia Knechtel Ira Nichols-Barrer Alexandra Resch

http://www.mathematica-mpr.com/publications/pdfs/education/KIPP_middle.pdf

Note

Charter schools are the fastest-growing sector of public education, taking root in most U.S. states, thanks to a big push by the education reform lobby and the federal government’s  ‘Race to the Top’ competition.  One of the defining features of  Charter schools is that they operate on the basis of a  ‘charter’, i.e. a performance contract granted for three to five years, defining the school’s mission and goals,  as well as the type of students it aims to attract. Charter schools are then held accountable to their  sponsor (for example a local school board), which assesses whether these stated aims have been  achieved and – if not – eventually revokes the charter.

TOUGH ON CHARACTER-CHARACTER MORE IMPORTANT THAN IQ FOR SUCCESS

TOUGH ON CHARACTER

‘How children Succeed’-its not just about cognitive skills

Character is what leads to lasting success

Comment

If you do well in exams and pass the tests you are set to succeed in life. Not necessarily. Until recently, most economists and psychologists believed that the most important factor in a child’s success was his or her IQ. This notion is behind the obsession with test scores. Tests, of course, are important, but there is much in a child’s education and learning  that cannot be reliably tested.  It is also the case that confidence in  the testing regime, certainly in England,  is at an all time low.And an individual’s non-cognitive abilities are now assuming  much  greater importance to employers who need them in the workplace

Education policymakers here and in the States have been driven by the need to promote more rigour and robustness in academic standards. Test-based accountability measures have been enacted with the intention of holding schools accountable for reaching these higher standards, measuring pupils cognitive skills. Its nearly  all about content knowledge and testable academic skills.  But in How Children Succeed,  Paul Tough argues that the qualities that matter most for students have more to do with character: skills like perseverance, curiosity, conscientiousness, optimism, and self-control. Economists call these non-cognitive skills. Psychologists call them personality traits. Neuroscientists sometimes use the term ‘ executive functions’. The rest of us often sum them up with the word  ‘character’. Tough offers the revolutionary concept that character, unlike DNA, is not fixed or completely innate in a person. It is, in a word that recurs throughout How Children Succeed, malleable.

This is what Tough says’ … the conventional wisdom is that the big problem for low-income kids is that they don’t get enough cognitive stimulation early on. In fact, what seems to have more of an effect is the chaotic environments that many low-income kids grow up in and the often stressful relationships they have with the adults around them. That makes a huge difference in how children’s brains develop, and scientists are now able to trace a direct route from those early negative experiences to later problems in school, health, and behaviour. The problem is that science isn’t yet reflected in the way we run our schools and operate our social safety net. And that’s a big part of why so many low-income kids don’t do well in school. We now know better than ever what kind of help they need to succeed in school. But very few schools are equipped to deliver that help.’

Tough talked about character in a recent interview, citing the KIPP chain of not for profit  charter schools and its dedicated founder, David Levin. KIPP schools produce report cards for academic performance but also  character assessment. “Dave is doing new and important work,” Tough said, adding:  ‘He has a new vision for character and it’s quite scientific in that he’s trying to figure out which character strengths make a difference in a kid’s success. And at the root of his research and thinking is the assertion that character is… a set of qualities that [enables] kids to change themselves and qualities that parents and teachers can instil.’  The schools Tough  writes about in “How Children Succeed” that are collaborating on a character initiative are those KIPP charter schools in New York City, which serve a mostly low-income student population, and Riverdale Country School, a private school in the Bronx that serves a mostly high-income student population. Together, they have come up with a list of seven character strengths they are trying to encourage in their students. KIPP had discovered that  their most successful students were not necessarily those that came top in tests but those, instead,  that were the most resilient .

Tough points out that protective parents, with the best of motives, might well be harming the longer term prospects for their children: ‘By not giving them the chance to learn to manage adversity, to cope with failure, we produce kids who have real problems when they grow up. Overcoming adversity is what produces character. And character, even more than IQ, is what leads to real and lasting success.’

In the words of a recent academic study  (see below) ‘… there is still much to be learned about how to leverage  non-cognitive factors to transform educational practice from its current focus on content knowledge and  testable academic skills to the broader development of  adolescents as learners.’

The Consortium on Chicago Schools Research report titled “Teaching Adolescents to Become Learners: The Role of Non-cognitive Factors in Shaping School Performance: A Critical Literature Review.’ June 2012