What happens when I'm not there to hold their hands?

Super math teacher Paul F asked me what is perhaps the most fundamental question for no excuses schools.

Many of our kids, when they leave our middle school and attend various high schools, struggle with work ethic.

And in other charters, which go through high school, graduates struggle with work ethic in college.

At issue:

Lots of young and/or new teachers + ridiculously high expectations --> teachers take on a lot of responsibility for the kids' learning (staying late to tutor, test prep). I think this may be "taking too much responsibility."

When our kids graduate from our school, they often don't / can't take responsibility for their own academics when we aren't there to hold their hands and push.

Do I keep tutoring (so they learn and I look good)? Or do I let them flop (to give them incentive to learn how to learn more independently)? In the former, perhaps I'm feeding their addiction to help. In the latter, at the very least I look crappy in the short term, and there's no guarantee the "flop" will generate new habits.

* * *

Great question. We know very little about the choice here.

ie, if you had 100 total kids, and to 50 you introduce "controlled failure," and to another 50 you provide "max help," which kids are more likely to succeed in long run?

if the normal college grad rate for poor kids is 9%, and the kipp rate is 35% (and rising), and the YES prep rate is 40% (and rising), let's take that as the "max help" rate. That's a 3x or 4x multiple over the 9% regular public school "uncontrolled failure" rate.

But nobody knows what a "controlled fail" rate would be like, or even the exact processes involved. It's unclear, beyond anecdote, how often failure leads to the sort of behavior change we seek.

"The burned hand learns best," says Gandalf. "After that advice about fire goes to the heart."

This is after Pippin steals the all-seeing crystal globe and almost reveals the whole melt-the-ring plan to the Dark Lord. Does the burned hand teach best? Does a kid who was allowed to slack off, and then fail the course, do better next time?

Even if this were true, it's not even clear that controlled failure is a practical strategy. In many charters, kids who repeat the year are tempted to leave -- because they're typically offered automatic promotion at the nearby traditional school, effectively overruling the teachers at the charter school. This "automatic promotion elsewhere" option puts enormous pressure on the charter school staff, because one way charters are held accountable is by departure rates. Therefore there is always pressure to "max out" extra help provided to each kid.


a. at the very least, a teacher might want to hammer home / activate the most knowledge possible for the years you've got the good relationships with kids and the ability to more directly influence them....because even if they regress in work habits after departure, they'll know more stuff....


b. it MAY be the best way to increase future independent effort IS actually to get kids to learn via coerced effort. ie, Paul is seeing the slippage rate in many kids. But it may be a glass half full / half empty situation. It's entirely possible that "letting kids fail" rarely changes future habits. Nobody knows.

Thought experiment:

Take 100 folks who don't exercise much.

a. Fifty people get:

1 hour/day of personal training during Month 1.

2 hours/week of personal training during Month 2. (weaning).

2 hours/month of personal training during Month 3. (more weaning).

Then that's it.

b. The other 50 people get:

1 hour/day of personal training during for 3 full months.

Then that's it. No weaning.


So, a full year later, which 50 people exercise more?

The group who got a little help (and weaning)? Or the group that more training, reached a higher level of actual fitness, but then had no weaning?