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Success through Grit and Character

A short few columns in the January 19-25 issue of The Economist brings good news about school reform that could help improve the education and lives of poor (and other) students. The article states that such traits as curiosity, optimism, conscientiousness and determination are indicators of success. Intelligence and learning alone don’t bring about academic achievement. And, so it seems, parents and educators can nurture certain habits and self-discipline, which means that, as the articles states, “character can be taught.”

Take the example given in the article of educator Elizabeth Spiegel. Spiegel teaches chess at Intermediate School 318 in Brooklyn, New York, an inner city junior high school comprised of a majority of students who live below the federal poverty level. Her students have become national chess champions, reportedly by making them aware that they can improve themselves and change their own fate by, for instance, obtaining more information or applying themselves more. The pupils learn how to solve problems and gain valuable knowledge and experience from failure.

OneGoal in Chicago is another program that demonstrates the power of teaching character. According to its website, OneGoal “identifies and trains highly effective teachers to lead students attending non-selective high schools in low-income communities to enroll in and graduate from college.” Its model emphasizes the connection between hard work and future success.

Yet another effort at school reform mentioned is the Knowledge Is Power Program (KIPP). In its own words, KIPP “is a national network of free, open-enrollment, college-preparatory public charter schools with a track record of preparing students in underserved communities for success in college and in life. … By providing outstanding educators, more time in school learning, and a strong culture of achievement, KIPP is helping all students climb the mountain to and through college.” The article in The Economist states that the KIPP network has introduced “character report cards” in its schools. The program’s accomplishment so far: “Nationally, more than 90 percent of KIPP middle school students have graduated high school, and more than 80 percent of KIPP alumni have gone on to college.”

All this is good news that, in a nutshell, shows that demographics need not define destiny.

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