Given current trends, it's hardly surprising that the newly passed Elementary and Secondary Education Act has broadened the definition of school success to include "non-academic" factors such as social-emotional learning and grit. Specifically, according to a recent article in Edweek, the ESEA
requires states to use at least one "indicator of school quality or student success" that "allows for meaningful differentiation in school performance" and "is valid, reliable, comparable, and statewide," alongside academic data in their accountability systems. Schools must also be able to disaggregate data related to that indicator to show how it affects students in different subpopulations: those from all racial and ethnic groups, students with disabilities, children from low-income families, and English-language learners.Among the horrors this will unleash are:
-even more class time devoted to untested, time-wasting "social emotional learning" curricula
-calls for the edutechnological industrial complex to develop technology to teach socio-emotional skills via yet more screen time plus wearable devices that track emotional states
-a new round of high-stakes tests that will hold schools accountable for their students' overall socio-emotional skills, joy levels, and grit rates
So it's nice to see one of grit's biggest promoters, psychologist Angela Duckworth, express some concerns about this last development in this past weekend's New York Times. What concerns Duckworth are:
-that we don't yet have reliable measures of grit
-that high-stakes grit testing might result in cheating.
One thing that doesn't concern Duckworth here is the prospect of holding schools accountable for something that we don't know how to teach. As Duckworth herself has stated (in her Ted Talk on grit):
Every day, parents and teachers ask me, "How do I build grit in kids? What do I do to teach kids a solid work ethic? How do I keep them motivated for the long run?" The honest answer is, I don't know.Surely, that should be one of the biggest concerns of all about any high-stakes testing of grit. There are plenty of factors key to college and career success for which we shouldn't hold schools accountable for just this reason: imagine if we did so with IQ scores, for example.
Tellingly, in this most recent piece, Duckworth sounds a tad less uncertain about the teachability of grit:
Does character matter, and can character be developed? Science and experience unequivocally say yes.Stating that X and Y support A and B is a bit vague, of course--especially when you put things in passive voice ("be developed"). Character, of course, does develop over time, but science tells us that much of this is genetically based. Environmentally, the biggest influences on character appear to be something over which most schools have little control: specific peer environments and peer-on-peer influences, both inside and outside of school. Most schools can't control which students attend and who hangs out with whom.
The exception, of course, are schools with admissions standards. These schools can interview applicants and turn down those with certain personality traits. Which brings us to yet another way in which well-to-do parents who have real school choice (whether or not they support school choice in general) also have more control over their children's achievement that everyone else does.