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These videos are hysterical. It is amusing to watch an animal who can’t help himself chase the shiny object.  It is less amusing when it is human beings who are chasing something shiny that is not real.

In 2013, to much fanfare, the US The U.S Department of Education’s Office of Educational Technology (OET) posted a report for public comment: Promoting Grit, Tenacity, and Perseverance: Critical Factors for Success in the 21st Century. Here was this shiny moving target telling us we needed to teach and measure other, more important, things in our kids than just academics. We needed to be teaching them important “life skills” like self-control, curiosity, conscientiousness, grit and self-confidence. OET stepped in to take a  look at how technology can help develop the skills of grit, tenacity, and perseverance. By giving kids tasks that were difficult, maybe even beyond their current capability, we could build up their ability to deal with frustration and failure and move into long term success. Or so the report said.

This fad was immediately so fervently embraced that teachers struggling to implement common core ELA standards were being coached to use “frustration level texts,” with students to get them to work through difficult readings.  David Coleman, the lead author of the Common Core State Standards, and Timothy Shanahan, a contributing author and decorated literacy expert, “both maintained that students need to work in frustration level texts.”

struggleIs it coincidence that this meme began appearing at about the time this philosophy was being pushed in school?

Now comes a new study by researchers at King’s College London that says  “‘grit’, defined as perseverance and passion for long-term goals, adds little to the prediction of school success.”

How little, you ask?

This new study, which used a sample of 4,500 16-year-old twins*, found that aspects of personality predict around six per cent of the differences between GCSE results and, after controlling for these characteristics, grit alone only predicted 0.5 per cent of the differences between General Certificate of Secondary Education results.

Those who were following the USDED OET recommendations have gone out and purchased technology to help promote something that only predicts half a percent of K-12 education results.

Previous studies, like those cited in the OET report, suggested that grit may be cultivated and improved, whereas other factors that affect academic achievement, such as socioeconomic status and intelligence, were less malleable. This led to the concerted efforts to add or enhance grit training programs in schools. Unfortunately, as we quickly move the flashy light of science to another part of the floor, we find that DNA explains about a third of a person’s grit level and it is not nearly as malleable as first thought.

The study’s first author, Kaili Rimfeld from the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience (IoPPN) at King’s College London told their reporter, ‘Until now there has been very little evidence about the origins of differences between children in grit and its influence on academic achievement, despite the fact that it plays an important role in UK and US education policies…. Our study suggests that grit adds little to the prediction of academic achievement when other personality factors are taken into account.”

Ooof, did you see those curriculum directors who purchased informational texts based on their frustration level just crash into the side of a barcalounger?

grit monitorThose who went whole hog and got all the fancy monitoring technology to measure the student’s attentiveness and perseverance and collect data, now own a pile of expensive invasive technological junk. From the OET report:

While laboratory experiments have examined behavioral task performance for many years, new technological opportunities offer potential for new methods and approaches. Educational data mining (EDM) and learning analytics within digital learning environments allow for “micro-level” analyses of moment-by-moment learning processes.

Student data collected in online learning systems can be used to develop models about processes associated with grit, which then can be used, for example, to design interventions or adaptations to a learning system to promote desirable behaviors. Dependent behavioral variables associated with a challenge at hand may include responses to failure (e.g., time on task, help-seeking, revisiting a problem, gaming the system, number of attempts to solve a problem, use of hints), robustness of strategy use (e.g., planning, monitoring, tools used, number of solutions tried, use of time), level of challenge of self-selected tasks, or delay of gratification or impulse control in the face of an enticing off-task stimulus. Such data can be examined for discrete tasks or aggregated over many tasks, (pg. 41).

Lots of data collected. Little overall impact. Is anyone asking how much cost?

You have to wonder when the education reform cats will get tired of chasing the shiny light that promises to magically  “bring any child to their fullest potential.”

Anne Gassel

Anne has been writing on MEW since 2012 and has been a citizen lobbyist on Common Core since 2013. Some day she would like to see a national Hippocratic oath for educators “I will remember that there is an art to teaching as well as science, and that warmth, sympathy and understanding are sometimes more important than policy or what the data say. My first priority is to do no harm to the children entrusted to my temporary care.”

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