Tag Archives: How Children Succeed

How Children Succeed

How Children Succeed

How Children Succeed

It seems that I have a stack of books that stretch forever high – forever.  And I never seem to get through them.  Worse, I start a book, get part way through and start another.  This habit results in me having 2-3-4 books in flight at all times.

That has to end, so maybe blogging my reading will enhance my completion rate as well as get me to finish the book I’m on before picking up a new one.

We’ll see.

Anyway, the first book to hit the blog is How Children Succeed.

I came across the book through a recommendation by Dr. Steve Green over at Fully Myelinated.  Steve mentioned that it was one of his favorite books on how kids achieve.  Further, Steve posts from a liberal perspective, so in the spirit of bi-partisanship, I felt that I owed it a college try.

All in all, not a bad read, though it did drag at points.

Anyway, here it is:

How Children Succeed – Introduction

The book is a look at how school children achieve in school.  I’ve been interested in this topic for quite awhile now.  I’m mostly interested in how we can increase reading, graduation and college completion, however, I think it’s important to study the why’s and the how’s.

In full disclosure, I’m highly influenced by the concept of IQ and the heritability of IQ.  While I’m sympathetic to the notion that IQ and IQ tests are, at best, imperfect measurements, the idea that there exists an “intelligence”, described by g, is a powerful one.

Further, I have read and am a firm believer in the research presented in “The Bell Curve”.

The book starts with the author researching a pre-school and identifying the fact that the school was using non-cognitive techniques to engage the kids.  And, as a new father, he was fascinated.  After all, all the rage in the research suggested that kids need to focus on cognitive techniques in order to maximize achievement later in life.

However, there may be a different way.  And at the center of that movement is Dr. James Heckman, an economist from the University of Chicago.  And the good doctor had studied the children of The Perry Preschool Project.  This is the project that demonstrated a preschool has  a positive impact on achievement but that benefit faded after only a few years.

However, when Dr. Heckman went deeper into the data he found that the benefits of that preschool manifest later in life:

At age 27 follow-up

  • Completed an average of almost 1 full year more of schooling (11.9 years vs. 11 years)
  • Spent an average of 1.3 fewer years in special education services — e.g., for mental, emotional, speech, or learning impairment (3.9 years vs. 5.2 years)
  • 44 percent higher high school graduation rate (66% vs. 45%)

Pregnancy outcomes for preschool group (versus control group):

At age 27 follow-up

  • Much lower proportion of out-of-wedlock births (57% vs. 83%)
  • Fewer teen pregnancies on average (0.6 pregnancies/woman vs. 1.2 pregnancies/woman)

Lifetime criminal activity for preschool group (versus control group):

At age 40 follow-up

  • 46 percent less likely to have served time in jail or prison (28% vs. 52%)
  • 33 percent lower arrest rate for violent crimes (32% vs. 48%)

Economic outcomes for preschool group (versus control group):

At age 40 follow-up

  • 42 percent higher median monthly income ($1,856 vs. $1,308)

  • 26 percent less likely to have received government assistance (e.g. welfare, food stamps) in the past ten years (59% vs. 80%)

Heckman discovered that while the preschool didn’t enhance IQ it DID manifest change in those kids.  And that change occurred in what Heckman would call non-cognitive skills:

  • Curiosity
  • Self-control
  • Social Fluidity
  • Many  others

This book is about those skills and how they help contribute to student achievement.


Teaching Our Teachers – Teacher Prep Programs Fail


An interesting consequence of the workplace opening up to women more and more – those places where women COULD find satisfying careers suffer.

Consider, when women were largely limited to teaching careers, the best and brightest of the women became teachers.  Now, with every corporate door open to women, with women earning degrees at ever increasing rates, the best and brightest of the women are finding that they are able to enjoy the challenges and wealth that comes with careers outside the classroom.

Perhaps that contributes to the problems that were experiencing in educating our future teachers:

Teacher education in the nation’s universities is “an industry of mediocrity,” says a new report that rates hundreds of programs and gives less than 10 percent a favorable grade.

The “Teacher Prep Review” from the National Council on Teacher Quality prompted widespread attention in the education world and scorn from universities who were the target of the ranking. The report looked at data from 1,100 universities and assigned star ratings to 608 of them, concluding that most are failing.

The review gave only four programs in the United States its highest ranking of four stars. Only 20 elementary programs and 84 secondary programs made the report’s “honor roll” of at least three stars.

Is it any surprise that the kids were sending to our schools are struggling?

This is telling:

These days, brilliant women become surgeons and investment bankers — and 47 percent of America’s kindergarten through 12th-grade teachers come from the bottom one-third of their college classes (as measured by SAT scores). The figure is from a study by McKinsey & Company, “Closing the Talent Gap.”

Not only are we allowing those who graduate in the lower third of their class into our school, we’re filling our classrooms with those students.  And look, I went through the program to become a licensed teacher in the state of Minnesota – one of the strongest teacher education states in the country – the program is not difficult, it’s not even rigorous.

I’ve read and discussed “The Bell Curve” here and I buy into the fact that intelligence, measured by the imperfect method of IQ, is heritable.  And not just kinda heritable, very Very heritable.  However, I’ve taken the other side and am reading a book called “How Children Succeed”.  A very different take than the “Bell Curve” -though to be fair, the authors of “The Bell Curve” did stipulate that while intelligence is incredibly heritable there is room for policy discussions that speak to the remaining portion of intelligence that doesn’t come from mom and dad – and the book is telling.

For one, the difference between a strong teacher and a weak teacher can be 1 full academic year.  For example, a strong teacher can go through an entire extra half of an academic year in her classroom while a weak teacher may struggle to make it only half way.

If we want to increase our performance in educating our youth, we have to have real powerful conversation surrounding the quality of our teachers, how to attract more of it, remove the worst performing one and how to reward the best ones.