Grit Luck and Money

15 months ago, KIPP did a great thing. It became the first charter organization, to my knowledge, to release its college success data. I blogged about it. Now, via Joanne Jacobs blog, I learned of a similar analysis about YES Prep, our friends in Houston. YES just won the Broad Prize for best network of charter schools in the USA. I'm a big fan of their college director, Donald Kamentz.

A journalist named Emily Hanford did a thoughtful story for America RadioWorks about YES and its college success results. I won't excerpt it, because the whole thing is worth reading.

Again, kudos to YES Prep for sharing their internal data.

The basic set up is roughly 7 to 9 percent of kids from poor families tend to get bachelor's degrees within 6 years of finishing high school, versus about 31% of all Americans.

About 33% of KIPP grads, from their early cohorts, got bachelors degrees. At YES, with their early cohorts, it's about 40%. I predict those numbers will rise over time.

So the number is good if you compare to "all Americans."

The number is bad in that large numbers of our grads are starting college but not finishing.

Then there's the puzzle. It goes like this. Zoom out for a minute.

1. Charles Murray argues many kids have IQ too low to benefit from a liberal arts degree. He writes:

Students at the 80th percentile of academic ability are still smart kids, but the odds that they will respond to a course that assigns Mill or Milton are considerably lower than the odds that a student in the top few percentiles will respond. Virtue has nothing to do it. Maturity has nothing to do with it. Appreciation of the value of a liberal education has nothing to do with it.

2. Paul Tough's new book rejects that aptitude is "the" key limiter for college success. The book is sitting 4 feet away from me at this very moment, next to the stapler. I can't wait to read it. From the book's flap:

The story we usually tell about childhood and success is the one about intelligence: success comes to those who score highest on tests, from preschool admissions to SATs.

But in How Children Succeed, Paul Tough argues that the qualities that matter most have more to do with character: skills like perseverance, curiosity, conscientiousness, optimism, and self-control.

3. Robert Pondiscio responds along these lines: "Grit yes -- but is it enough? Don't forget knowledge." He writes:

Paul Tough has written an outstanding book, and one that will no doubt be deeply influential on parents and educators, and deservedly so.

But I fear the takeaway—through no fault of Tough’s—will be “it’s all about character” or “grit trumps cognitive ability.” Not quite right. As James’ experience shows, grit matters a lot, but it’s not sufficient to compensate for a lack of knowledge if we expect kids to clear the high academic bars we place in front of them.

The suggested takeaway for educators: Kids need grit. But schools need to be very smart and strategic from the very first days of school about the knowledge and skills we ask kids to be gritty about.

So: IQ, grit, knowledge....all drivers of college success, but with differing opinions on to what degree.

And since many of my blog readers toil in charter schools, it's important to note: my friend Robert thinks generally we do a bad job on curriculum, that we often fall for the same fads as district schools, and don't get kids to learn enough Core Knowledge.

4. Then there's money.

College is expensive. Both the sticker price, and the true price. Do you have $240 to buy your books this semester?

5. Then there's "socialization."

You're a poor kid from the inner city: do you feel like you belong at your college? Or like a fraud of some sort? What about your ability to navigate course sign up and stuff?

Josh Angrist studied an intervention in Toronto community colleges, which found neither cash incentives nor peer counseling seemed to increase college grad rate that much.

6. Then there's whether kids have direction, perhaps towards a specific occupation (Thanks Tom).

7. Then there's the Jay Mathews argument -- essentially a grit-knowledge combo platter.

Why enroll many kids in Advanced Placement Courses? Because you develop a certain type of "college going grit" by taking hard courses, which also more generate more knowledge than regular high school courses.

* * *

How to sort it all out? Where do you spend a marginal dollar if you're trying to maximize college success? Improving the K-12 experience? Interventions for alumni in college? And what lever has the highest payoff....grit, knowledge, advice, money, aspiration, etc?

Tough puzzle.