The author of this book, Paul Tough, did NOT graduate from college!
Tough does not fit the demographic of college dropouts: He came from a well-to-do family; and got admitted to (and briefly attended) Columbia University.
However, he was rebellious after high school (where he did very well). Inspired by Jack Kerouac, he wanted to travel and do something uncertain, unsafe…something he felt uncertain if he could succeed at. Believe he would learn more on the road than on the campus.
Steve Jobs’ famous graduation speech at Stanford (2005): Job told graduates that dropping out “had been one of the best decisions I ever made.”
allowed him to take classes he was interested in (calligraphy, typography)
this led to his creative typography in personal computers – distinguished Mac from all other computers
Biggest failure – being fired from Apple – a very public failure
allowed him to reorient himself and his work that led to his greatest successes: buying and transforming Pixar, getting married, returning to Apple rejuvenated
“The heaviness of being successful was replaced by the lightness of being a beginner again, less sure about everything.”
Paul Tough: became a magazine editor and journalist. Twenty-four years after dropping out of Columbia, Tough quit the New York Times and wrote this book.
2. LG Parenting
Remember the high and low level Licking and Grooming experiment with rats?
Paul Tough thinks about that often now that he has become a new father.
Realizes that the most reliable way to produce and adult who is brave and curious and kind and prudent is to ensure that when he is an infant, his hypo-pituitary-adrenal his functions well. How?
Protect him from serious trauma and chronic stress;
provide him with secure, nurturing relationship with at least one parent, ideally, two.
provide lots of comforting, hugging, talking and reassuring;
also provide discipline, rules, limits, someone to say “no”;
help him to learn how to manage failure;
“More and more graduates from prestigious colleges are going into investment banking and management consulting and far fewer become artists, entrepreneurs and iconoclasts. Why? Because Wall Street decision is easier…they are driven by fear of not being a success than by a concrete desire to do anything in particular.” p. 184
3. A Different Challenge
Liberals and conservatives differ greatly on how the government should aid families in poverty, but just about everyone agrees we need to do something.
“The government should guarantee every citizen enough to eat and a place to sleep.”
In 2012, the child poverty rate was 22%. This means between a fifth and a quarter of American children are growing up in poverty. (From 1966 to 2010, the child poverty rate was 15%.)
Unsurprisingly, children who grow up in poor families in the United States do very poorly in school.
If we can help poor children escape the cycle of poverty, we can help them improve their academic skills and academic outcomes.
Conclusion: We could replicate on a big, national scale the accomplishments of the schools outlined in this book and make a huge dent on poverty’s impact on children’s success.
4. A Different Kind of Reform p. 189
For a long time, educational reform was focused on teacher quality and they way teachers are hired, trained, compensated and fired.
Whatever your stance, research on teachers remains inconclusive in some important ways:
we don’t know how to reliably predict who will be a top-tier teacher in any given year;
variations in teacher quality accounted for less than 10% of the gap between high and low-performing students.
The only official indicator of the economic status of an American public-school student today is his or her eligibility for a school-lunch subsidy.
If you qualify for subsidies, you probably can’t afford adequate shelter, nutritious food, new clothes, books or educational toys. Statistically, you are likely being raised by a poorly educated, never-married single mother.
5. The Politics of Disadvantage
The biggest obstacles to academic success that poor children, especially very poor children, often face: a home and a community that create very high levels of stress, and the absence of a secure relationship with a caregiver that would allow a child to manage that stress.
Character matters: grit, resilience, perseverance and optimism.
Perry Preschool – 128 children in poverty randomly chosen to attend high-quality preschool program. Experts believe that the school gave a return between $7 to $12 for each dollar spent.
The website displays data that starting quality education for the very poor at an early age has lasting effects (through the participants’ 40s)!
Here is my second to last installment of research notes from Paul Tough’s book “How Children Succeed.” It’s lengthy, but the last few pages were especially insightful and inspiring!
Chapter 3: How to Think p. 105
6th grader, played chess and lost a game
Elizabeth Spiegel – his teacher
They discussed each game afterwards, including how long he spent thinking of each move. “Two seconds” receives a “If you make a mistake, that’s okay, but if you do something without even thinking about it, that’s not okay.”
Spiegel was featured in NY Times 2009 because her low-income kids were beating wealthy kids at chess.
The secret? Spiegel sat with them and reviewed every game, emphasized the need to slow down and think.
IQ and Chess
1997 Deep Blue (a chess=playing computer program) beat Garry Kasparov world chess champion since 1985.
In 1997, Jonathan Levitt proposed a mathematical relationshipo between IQ and chess prowess:
Elo~(10 x IQ) + 1000 (Elo is a player’s tournament rating)
Therefore, an IQ of 100 would yield a chess rating of 2000, tops.
Jonathan Rowson, Scottish grandmaster, completely disagrees. “Your ability to recognize and utilize your emotions is every bit as important as the way you think.”
Two of the most important executive functions are cognitive flexibility and cognitive self-control.
Cognitive flexibility = ability to see alternative solutions to problems, to think outside the box
Cognitive self-control = ability to inhibit an instinctive or habitual response and substitute a more effective, less obvious one.
“Teaching chess is really about teaching the habits that go along with thinking.” Spiegel
“It’s like psychotherapy, you go over your mistakes and you try to get to the bottom of why you make them.” Spiegel
Spiegel is top 30 of female chess players in the nation
Chess became an obsession
Spiegel wanted to encourage her students, but her advice was based on “I know you think you did something right here, but you’re wrong.” She felt mean all the time and had anxiety as a teacher.
She told kids they were being lazy and making stupid mistakes. She considered stopping this message but then they showed dramatic progress.
“Perhaps what pushes middle-school students to concentrate and practice as maniacally as Spiegel’s chess players do is the unexpected experience of someone taking them seriously, believing in their abilities and challenging them to improve themselves.” p. 120-21
Challenge students to look deeply at their own mistakes, examine why they had made them, and think hard about what they might have done differently. ——> remarkably effective.
Spiegel taught her students grit, curiosity, self-control and optimism.
She also taught social intelligence: had them think about their actions and consequences when it came to friendships and trust.
Justus and James
Justus – started playing chess in third grade – showed great promise
James – also very serious about chess. Had a brother in prison for murder. James was below in school, but studied chess 6 hours a day.
The Marshall Chess Club – most prestigious in the U.S.
Founded in 1915 by Frank Marshall, chess champion
Offers a few free memberships to Spiegel’s students
Games last 4 hours against far superior players
“Spiegel reminds her students that the best way to improve your chess is to play against the best, even if they take you apart.”
James won a game against a 30-year old international master – surprising everyone
Chess can be an antidote to ADHD
Jonathan Rowson, Scottish grand master: “When it comes to ambition, it is crucial to distinguish between ‘wanting’ something and ‘choosing’ it.” If you want it, you will not get it and you’ll have unpleasant experience of falling short. If you choose it, you will reveal your choice through your behavior and your determination. Every action says, “This is who I am.”
There is philosophical question of whether chess is “productive” when it literally produces nothing. But chess players say it is a beautiful pursuit, “celebrating freedom above utility” – a celebration of existential freedom.
Anders Ericsson’s theory: “In order to truly master any skill, you must have 10,000 hour of practice under your belt.”
Gata Kamsky: born in Soviet Russia in 1974, by a former box father.
Kamsky practice and studied chess 14 hours a day
Never attended school, never watched television, played no sports, had no friends
Father was violent and temperamental during chess matches
At 22, Kamsky quit chess, got married, attended medical school and then law school but could not pass the bar
Returned to chess in 2004. Is now the top-rated chess player in U.S. and tenth in the world.
His 10,000+ hours over rode the 8 year hiatus
Flow p. 135
Is it better to be interested in many things a little bit or be a lot interested in one thing?
“Flow (Csikszentmihalyi) – moments when a person’s body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult or worthwhile.” A feeling of intense well-being and control.
You only experience flow if you’re good at something.
Spiegel believes that people who are not really good at anything are missing out.
Optimism and Pessimism
Psychologists studied chess players
It was not better visual memories or quicker analysis…
Their ability to perform one particular mental task: Falsification
The only way to test a particular theory is to prove it wrong (Sir Karl Popper)
Individuals don’t test theories to look for evidence contrary to their beliefs. Instead, they look for data to prove themselves right = confirmation bias
Confirmation bias is a big problem for chess players.
Better chess players are pessimistic.
At the same time, it’s best if the player is optimistic about herself.
Sunday p. 141
James was extremely nervous. Coach told him to think about the game: “play slowly, take your time, be confident.”
“For more than a year, James studied, solved tactics, played, analyzed his games, confronted his own mistakes and misunderstandings, and he did not give up. In the last year he has played 65 tournaments and three hundred and one rated games. He plays in tournaments until eleven o’clock at night, and then gets up early every morning to do thirty minutes of tactics before school. He has worked so hard, so patiently, for so long.” (Spiegel)
Believed James could ace the specialized-school exam, based on his dedication and success in chess.
They both got discouraged during study sessions. James represented for Speigel, a challenging puzzle. He clearly possessed keen intelligence. He worked hard and tirelessly. Yes, he was below average in standard academic prectors. She was angry for him for how little non-chess information he had been taught.
The test is difficult to cram for. It reflects the knowledge and skills that a student has accrued over the years, through school, family and culture.
James did not get into Stuyvestant, but still had four years of high school ahead of him.
How To Succeed
Mid-1990s: American college graduation rate was highest in the world
But now, U.S. has fallen to 12th in percentage of 25 – 34 year olds who graduate from a 4 year college. (We trail behind UK, Australia, Poland, Norway and South Korea).
The data suggests a class divide: wealthy students are increasing in graduation rates, the the most disadvantaged Americans are DROPPING in graduation rates.
1945 – 65, thanks to the GI Bill, soldiers went through college
Even children of factory workers attended college
College was an instrument of upward mobility – every generation reached a level of education that greatly exceeded the generation before….until recently
The problem is not ACCESS, but COMPLETION
According to a study of 34 member countries, the U.S. leads the world in producing college dropouts.
Puzzling: at the same time this is happening, a college graduate with a BA degree makes 83% more than one with a high school diploma.
Why are so many Americans dropping out?
The Finish Line (p. 150)
Best answer comes from a book titled “Crossing the Finish Line: Completing College at America’s Public Universities
Authors were able to gain access of data through 68 public universities, ACT board and College Board
For a long time, conservatives believed that “we push students to attend college when (some) are not smart enough to be there (low-income, low-IQ).
But in fact, this is NOT the case. Low-income, uneducated students went to colleges well BELOW their ability. Undermatching led to dropping out.
ACT scores were not the indicator of college success. High school GPA was/is.
A 3.5 GPA from a rural high school vs. an urban one did not make much difference.
Duckworth found: standardized test scores predicted pure IQ tests and GPA predicted self-control.
THUS, a predictor of college completion is NOT how smart the student is, but motivation, perseverance, study habits and time management skills do.
When Nelson was teaching sixth grade, he told his low-income African-American students they could graduate if they just worked hard. And then he read the paper: Fewer than 1 in 30 black male high-school freshmen in Chicago would graduation from a four-year college by the time they were 25.
Nelson decided that teaching was not his true calling (despite being especially great at it)
Teach for America offered him an executive director’s role (national) at 24. He turned it down. Fell into a deep depression. His former students’ parents felt that they were losing all that they had gained with him. They asked what to do. He didn’t know how to help.
He prayed. He went into therapy. He wrote pages and pages of poetry. He was trying to find his mission.
January 2007, Nelson received a call from Eddie Lou, a venture capitalist.
Lou had set up a non-profit with others called “Urban Students Empowered Foundation”
Afterschool program for juniors and seniors – tutored them to increase GPA and ACT scores
It was producing impressive results – all who entered the program made it into college
Nelson was offered him a job as executive director. He accepted.
Urban Students Empowered become OneGoal.
Nelson believes underperforming high-school students can transform themselves into high successful college students, but they need a highly effective teacher.
The second piece: A clear path to college
OneGoal helps students not just with their applications, but the entire college-admission strategy: choosing match schools (not undermatch), decide close or far away schools; write appealing application essays; finding scholarships.
Nelson realized they also needed help in staying in college.
He identified 5 skills necessary to offset any academic weaknesses for college success:
OneGoal introduced their new methods at ACE Tech, a rundown school in a slum area of Chicago
Some students were not convinced they would be successful and their families encouraged them to stay close to home and not shoot high.
Test Scores p. 166
Kewauna – no one in her family ever went to college – she was poor and struggling, but dreamed of going to college and having a job where she carried a briefcase.
Finished her junior year an almost-straight A student (A few A-s, but not a single B)
But she could not score higher than 15 on the ACT.
Nelson believes the ACT score reflects quality of education, NOT intelligence
Kewauna’s Ambitions p. 168
During her senior year, she got turned down by scholarships she had applied for
She felt depressed and discouraged, pessimistic
She recalled her two years in remedial school where she didn’t learn anything. “I could have been learning all this stuff that I needed for my ACT!”
At last, she got accepted by Western Illinois.
Closing the Gap
1961, full-time college students spend 24 hour/week studying
1981, it fell to 20 hours/week
2003, it fell to 14 hours/week – with 12 hours hanging out with friends, 14 hours consuming entertainment and 11 hours computer fun and 6 exercising
For many affluent students, college is an opportunity to pledge for a fraternity or drink heavily or write for the student newspaper
Nelson sees it as an opportunity for his students to close the gap Kewauna – introduced herself to each teacher, took notes in every lecture – wrote and starrred words she didn’t know and asked professors to explain – went to office hours frequently. Sat in the front (noticed other African-Americans sitting in the back and was disappointed); made sure she exchanged contact info witha couple people in each class in case she couldn’t get a hold of the professor.
When money on her meal card ran out, she didn’t eat for two days.
Cognitive Behavior Therapy (or CBT) involves using the conscious mind to recognize negative or self-destructive thoughts or interpretations and to (sometimes literally), talk yourself into a better perspective.
CBT is just one example under the big umbrella of “Metacognition.” Talking about character, evaluating character are metacognitive strategies.
However, just knowing about strategies is not enough.
Gabrielle Oettingen (NYU Psychologist) says people tend to use one of three strategies when setting goals and only one is very effective:
Envisioning achieving the goal – this feels so good when you do it. It feels motivating and it can trigger a dopamine surge. But studies show that just doing this is NOT sufficient.
Pessimists dwell on obstacles to their goals and of course, this is ineffective.
Mental Contrasting is effective – it’s kind of a combination of both: focus on the positive outcome but at the same time, acknowledge the obstacles. The necessary next step is to create a series of implementation intentions:
If/then statements – “If I get distracted from my work, then I will…”
This is setting rules for yourself.
Rules overcome drawbacks of willpower which redirects our attention from the obstacle or challenge and helps us become automatic in practicing positive behavior.
According to Duckworth: “Habits are character.”
Group identity (stereotypes) can have both positive and negative effects on achievement.
Before a challenging math test, female college students need only be reminded that they are female for them to do WORSE on the test than female students who do not receive that identity cue. (p. 96)
Telling students that intelligence is malleable has led to better academic performance.
A study of low-income 7th grade students in Texas were divided into two groups:
heard a growth mindset message
heard an anti-drug message
The first group performed significantly better – girls who used to lag behind boys in math closed the gap completely.
16. Report Cards
Dual-purpose instruction – when teachers deliberately work explicit talk about character strengths into every lesson.
Optimism, self-control, social intelligence are a few examples
“Character strengths can become character weaknesses.” For example, someone with too much grit might then be weak in empathy towards others. There is a balance that needs to be reached.
17. Climbing the Mountain p. 101
KIPP School – tracking students in college
“…it’s the character piece that has held some back (procrastination). Depression is also an issue.”
The impact of poverty catches up even with children who are resilient.
Character can function as a substitute for social net that the middle and upper class kids enjoy.
To succeed, they need more grit, social intelligence and more self-control than wealthier kids.
But KIPP students who graduate do not have just a diploma. They have the knowledge that they climbed a mountain to get it.
ACE Score (Adverse Childhood Experiences) – A risk factor assessment for identifying childhood traumatic incidences. This score provides a probability factor for academic success/failure (as well as life success). You can take the quiz here.
There is evidence that scoring high on ACE can prove detrimental for life, even if the “victim” does not engage in any self-destructive behavior.
One shocking statistic: “ACE scores of 6 were 30x more likely to attempt suicide than ACE scores of 0.”
Funneling hundreds of thousands of dollars and replacing teaching and administrative staff are not successful strategies for improving schools. Take Fenger High School in Chicago, for example. They tried every possible strategy from replacing staff to creating a technology program. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation even financed them with a $21 million grant. Two years later, little to no results.
What works? Well, stay tuned. I will post summaries of my research every Sunday afternoon.