art, education, motivation, Personal Success

Sunday: Education Research


The following is a continuation of my notes on Paul Tough’s book, How Children Succeed:



  1. Best Class Ever – 1999 KIPP (Knowledge is Power Program) Academy – 8th grade – all Black and Hispanic, most low-income, earned the highest scores of ANY school in the Bronx (just four years in the program).

Climb the Mountain to College – college was always the goal

But only 8 got a college degree

Culture shock – overwhelmed

While in KIPP, they felt and acted like a family

KIPP did not prepare them for high school emotionally or psychologically

Nobody checks your homework


  1. Learned Optimism p. 52

Levin noticed that the kids who succeeded in high school and graduated from college were not necessarily the highest academically. They possessed other gifts: optimism, social agility, resilience.  Levin called these CHARACTER STRENGTHS.


Martin Seligman – Learned Optimism – it’s a skill that can be learned, not innate

Pessimistic adults and children can train themselves to be optimistic

Will lead to more happiness, health and success

Seligman – depression is simply a severe low mood

Pessimists react to negative events by explaining them as permanent, personal and pervasive

(e.g. failed a test because you’re stupid, not because you failed to prepare)

Seligman yelled a lot, in his class

Levin did a book study with his staff. Why do some of our students feel not well-liked?


  1. Riverdale p. 55

Levin grew up in a ritzy area of Riverdale – he was a standout student in math and science AND the captain of the basketball team; Director of his boarding school believes CHARACTER is missing in today’s qualifications in school (grit, working hard, perseverance).


Daniel Goleman – Emotional Intelligence

Randolph, Seligman and Levin had a meeting – the beginning of a fruitful alliance


  1. Character Strengths  p. 58

Character Strengths and Virtues:  A Handbook and Classification by Seligman and Peterson

A study in character; an effort to identify (concretely) what character is

Finalized 24 character strengths they believed to be universally respected

includes : bravery, citizenship, fairness, wisdom, integrity; love, humor, zest, appreciation of beauty; day-to-day interactions (social intelligence), kindness, gratitude


–These virtues were chosen because they could lead to the “good life” of fulfillment and meaning – had practical benefits

Seligman and Peterson – defined character as malleable – skills you can learn and practice and teach

  • Not finger wagging or blaming, but focus on personal growth (pg. 60)


  1. Self-Control and Willpower

Seligman, Levin and Randolph turned to Angela Duckworth (in her PhD dissertation, after working in schools, she said the problem was not just in schools, but students themselves) “Learning is hard…it can be daunting, exhausting and sometimes discouraging…character is at least as important as intellect.”

Duckworth started her research with self-discipline: 164 8th graders.

Self-discipline levels were more indicative to GPA than IQ.

Collaborated with Walter Mischel, famous for his marshmallow test with four-year olds (delayed gratification study).

Duckworth was intrigued by this study – how did those with more self-discipline strategize or help themselves to delay gratification?

“Children who did best at this test created their own distractions.”  [Talked, sang, covered their eyes, one kid took a nap]

With simple prompts, children were able to think of the marshmallow abstractly, which led to higher success.

After a six week long course to help students develop self-discipline, students believed they improved, but they didn’t.


  1. Motivation


Marshmallows were easy…very clear goals.

High school and college graduation are not as clear or tangible.

Duckworth divided the mechanics of achievement into two: motivation and volition. BOTH are requisites.


What if students just aren’t motivated to achieve the goals their teachers or parents want them to achieve?


All the self-control tricks in the world will not help.


But motivation can still occur. It’s just highly complex. Rewards sometimes backfire.


Reward systems in schools (stickers, candy, prizes) have not been successful.


  1. The Coding-Speed Test  p. 66


No one really knows how to motivate people well.What motivates us is hard to explain and hard to measure.


Different personality types respond differently to different motivations.


The coding-speed test (Segal) actually tested the test-takers’ inclination to force themselves to care about the world’s most boring test.

It was proof that they TRIED harder. The low-stakes, low-reward test predicted how well someone is going to do in life. Over decades, Segal gave the test to the same people and in their forties, he compared their salaries. Those who scored high on this test made considerably higher salaries.


  1. Conscientiousness

What Segal’s study measured was conscientiousness.

Brent Roberts, U of IL (Urbana-Champaign) – reigning expert on conscientiousness

This was not studied much by researchers because it denoted “control” and nobody wants to talk about people being controlled. However, Industrial/Organizational Psychology grew into everyone’s consciousness – because companies want to hire the most productive, reliable and diligent workers they can find. They found that conscientiousness was critical.

Roberts found that people high in conscientiousness:

  • get better grades in high school and college;
  • Commit fewer crimes;
  • Stay married longer;
  • Live longer (fewer strokes, lower BP, lower incidence of Alzheimers)

The Downside of Self-Control (p. 71)

People who are critics of the education setting are not swayed by conscientiousness findings.

“Strength of character” – includes conscientiousness, responsibility, insistently orderly, determined and persevering.

  • This measure was 3x more successful in predicting college performance than SAT scores or college rank
  • Critics believe there is an inverse relationship between high GPA and creativity; that corporations want “drones” to simply follow directions and work
  • Conscientiousness and self-control go hand in hand
  • Critics (Jack Block, UC Berkeley) believes highly conscientious people are “compulsive, anxious and repressed.”
  • A New Zealand study, however, runs contrary to this finding: a three-decade long study following children into adulthood found a strong correlation between lack of self-control to (at the age of 32)- more likely to have health problems, bad credit rating and trouble with the law (3x higher than those who demonstrated self-control as young children). Also, 3x more likely to have multiple addictions and 2x as likely to raise children in a single household.


art, education, Personal Success

Education Research (cont’d)

Circle Doodle


This post is designed mainly to hold myself accountable for research. I hope you can glean something from it at the same time. The following are my notes from Paul Tough’s book, “How Children Succeed”:



  1. Simon p. 19


Data has shown (for a long time) that executive function correlates with family income

But why?

    • Childhood poverty affects executive function (Cornell Univ., Gary Evans, Michelle Schamberg)
    • Working memory – ability to keep a bunch of facts in your head at the same time
    • “Simon” – children’s game
    • Kids in poverty for 10 years did worse than kids in poverty for 5
    • Evans and Schamberg also measured biological stress (They created their own allostatic load data) – BP, cortisol levels, body mass index, etc). Of kids when they were nine and then thirteen
    • When they factored out the allostatic load, poverty factor disappeared. Thus, it is not POVERTY that compromises exec-function abilities, it’s the STRESS that went with it!


  • Why is this important? Because in high school, college, and the workplace, life is filled with tasks where working memory is crucial to success.


  • Prefrontal cortex is more responsive to intervention than other parts – stays flexible into early adulthood.


  1. Mush


Early childhood – bodies and brains are most sensitive to effects of stress and trauma

Adolescence – can lead to most serious and long-lasting problems

The reason teenage years are most perilous: incentive processing system reaches full power while the cognitive control system isn’t matured until early 20s.


Thomas Gaston (“Mush”) kicked out and sent to Vivian E. Summers Alternative HS

He didn’t like it, but he did well

Until he carjacked someone

Potential sentence of 21 years was changed to 8 months of boot camp

Mush took his allostatic load and turned outward with violence (fighting, acting up in class). Some kids turn it inward (fear, anxiety, sadness, self-doubt).

Mush decided to “not care” after his 14 year old brother was shot and killed.

Social, economic and neurochemical factors are at play. A 10 year old vs. a 14 year old: we sympathize with the 10 year old.


  1. LG


There is an antidote to the ill effects of childhood stress!

Good parenting.

It is biochemical.

Michael Meaney (McGill University)

Rats and mothering – some were nurturing, others not.

“LG” – Licking and Grooming (High vs. Low)

It is not necessarily the biological mother, but the REARING mother’s behavior that counts.


  1. Attachment


“Methylation” – the way certain chemicals are affixed to certain sequences on DNA

Showed that subtle parenting behaviors had predictable and long-lasting DNA-related effects

  • Researchers studied brains of suicide victims – some had childhood abuse, some did not
  • Showed that childhood abuse affected DNA
  • Clancy Blair (NYU) is reinforcing the finding that high-quality mothering can act as a powerful buffer to abuse
  • Regular good parenting – being helpful and attentive – can make a profound difference for a child’s future prospects.
  • “Attachment Theory” (Bowlby and Ainsworth) 1960s and 70s – The Strange Situation: mothers would bring a child into a room, and then leave and then return. The children who greeted their mothers warmly and enthusiastically were “securely attached”. Those children who reacted with tears or anger were “anxiously attached.”
  • Ainsworth: Reactions were directly related to degree of responsiveness in first year of life.
  • “Early attachment created psychological effects that could last a lifetime.”




  • Waters and Sroufe – set up a Child Development Institute with Egeland
  • Studied 267 pregnant poor women (all first-time moms, 80% white, ⅔ unmarried, 50% teens)
  • Tracked them for 30 years
  • The Development of the Person – book is fullest evaluation of long-lasting effects of parental involvement on child’s development (2005)
  • Found: attachment theory was not absolute – sometimes anxious babies could overcome, BUT it is highly predictive of outcomes later in life
  • Anxiously attached children are more often labeled mean, antisocial and immature


  1. Parenting Interventions


Lieberman (Child Trauma Research Program at UCSF)

Believes two important ideas missing from Sroufe and Egeland study:

  1. Plainly difficult for some mothers to provide secure attachments in overwhelming life circumstances (poverty, violence, mother’s own childhood history)
  2. Parents can overcome their own histories of trauma and can change their approach but most will need help.

Lieberman’s work focuses on strengthening bond between parent and child

  • Dante Cicchetti used Lieberman’s work and took 137 families with histories of child maltreatment. Half were given a year of parent-child psychotherapy the other half given the standard community services. When children were 2, 61% of the children in psychotherapy formed secure attachment.
  • His study proves that attachment-promoting therapies work.
  • Dozier, of ABC, shows that even if just the parent receives the therapy, children benefit


  1. Visiting Makayla


Makayla – a study in focusing on mother/child attachment.


  1. Steve Gates


“There is a very direct correlation between family issues and what the kids present in school.” The focus on creating family attachments where there are none (in Roseland, for example), have many setbacks, but inspirations form and lead to success.


  1. Keitha Jones


Father was a “player” and mother addicted to cocaine.

Sexually molested in sixth grade – didn’t tell mom, afraid mom would blame her

Got angrier and angrier and took it out at school – caused fights

Got a mentor in Lanita Reed, a hair salon owner

Developed a “big sister” bond with Keitha – teaching her about manicures, pedicures, hair…

“My whole outlook on life changed” Keitha said

Instead of fighting, asked Reed what to do about girls picking on her at school

They arranged a talk and it worked – everything was resolved.

Sexual molester started touching Keitha’s sister and Keitha felt guilt – did not want her sister to be removed from home.

Reed arranged to have the man removed from the home.

Mother was not supportive (lost $300 in rent)

Keitha: “I’m not going to let my past affect my future.”

Determined to graduate, she took night classes five days a week

June 2011, she graduated and attended Truman College, a community college

“Five years from now, I picture myself in my own apartment with my own money…and my little sisters, they can live with me.”




Dear Ms.K., Thank You for Giving My Daughter Detention


Dear Ms. K.,

I want to thank you for giving my daughter detention today. Per our previous email, you informed me that she has been late to your class every day for several days. This baffled me, as I drop her off an hour early and you are her first class of the day. After several warnings, you emailed me to let me know that should she be late again, she would get detention. I assured you she would not repeat that mistake.

But of course, I cannot guarantee the actions of anyone besides myself.

After confronting her, she hurriedly assured me she learned her lesson. She explained that she gets hungry and her friend meets her to bring her food. Her friend is not always so quick.

Oh, are we blaming our friend?

No, no. It’s not her fault. Mom, it won’t happen again!

I try to give my daughter freedom within strict guidelines. A  “C” in a class at any time means her cell phone gets confiscated until the grade goes up. How she operates within her hours and activities is up to her.

When I remind her to make time for breakfast in the mornings and to pack a snack, I am met with heavy sighs. She is too busy styling her hair and applying makeup to worry about breakfast.

So it happened again today. She didn’t eat breakfast. She got hungry and met her friend. She was late to your class. And, as you promised, she will now have to serve detention – one hour after school tomorrow.

In the car, she was shaken. She’s never had this kind of consequence from a teacher before.

“It’s my fault. I got hungry. I didn’t pack any snacks or eat breakfast. It’s my responsibility. I will pack food the night before.”

I wanted to lecture  her and reinforce the lesson. I wanted to voice my dismay and disappointment. Instead, I said, “I am very proud of you for taking responsibility for this and not blaming anyone.”

Thank you, Ms. K., for doing the right thing. You are helping my daughter develop character and responsibility.