In my last post about How Children Succeed, by Paul Tough, I covered how a student’s GPA is more a measure of self-discipline than IQ. The education system is set up to reward students with self-discipline and high GPAs with admission into college. In How Children Succeed, success of disadvantaged students was measured by whether or not they went on to graduate from college. In spite of this, Tough, surprisingly, concludes that the ability to perform well in the ways that school measures aren’t a good predictor of success, even though here success is measured by going on to college.
Specifically, good grades and lots of homework aren’t good predictors of success, and in fact can lead to stress that actually inhibits success.
Grades aren’t a good predictor of future success.
One of the schools on which Tough focuses is KIPP Academy in the South Bronx, which I also read about in the book Outliers. KIPP is an all African American and Hispanic, almost all low income, middle school special academy with the aim of turning kids into college students. They do this through a combination of long days, lots of homework, year-round school, and attitude adjustment. They have had impressive test score results, starting with their very first graduating 8th grade class.
Unfortunately, when the first students got to college, the success didn’t hold. A discouragingly small percentage of the students finished a degree. (It’s worth noting that the student Tough profiled as an example of a KIPP failure might not have finished college, but he was working, he liked his job, and was happy. While Tough and KIPP considered that student a failure, given where the student may have started, that could also been seen as a success.)
What was really surprising was that the ones who did manage to finish college weren’t necessarily the ones with the best grades while they were at KIPP.
Lots of homework doesn’t lead to success.
This follows from the findings that KIPP’s heavy homework loads ultimately didn’t lead to success for the majority of their students. In addition, the principal at the one elite high school Tough profiled in How Children Succeed, Dominic Randolph, did away with AP classes and encourages his teachers to assign minimal homework. He notes that “the push on tests…is missing out on some serious parts of what it means to be a successful human.”
Furthermore, when you think about the long hours of homework that rigorous schools and AP classes require, the late nights and the stress, well…
Long periods of stress affect brain development and lead to health and mental problems.
Tough points to lots of research based on disadvantage children that show how the physical reactions in the body to stress lead to health and mental problems, some of which might not even show up until later in life, such as high blood pressure and depression.
However, I’ve also done a lot of additional reading on stress and anxiety. Stress is stress. The human body doesn’t distinguish between different types, or causes, of stress. My conclusion is that it seems likely that it would apply to the affects of stressful academic schedules as well. In fact, while KIPP blamed the effects of poverty for stress effects seen on their students in college, many of their students also went on to elite high schools before the next step of college. They may have encountered additional stress there as well.
Also, Tough covers that there is increasing concern that the workloads and expectations of affluent schools are leading to increases in psychological problems (and delinquent behaviors such as drug use) and cites the book, The Price of Privilege: How Parent Pressure and Material Advantage Are Creating a Generation of Disconnected and Unhappy Kids, by Madeline Levine. (This is another book that I’ve found to have interesting information about the current educational system and environment.)
So if good grades and lots of homework aren’t important to success, and in fact quite possibly lead to stress that causes mental problems that prevent success, what factors did turn out to be important to success? In my next post, I’ll look at some of these factors that successful students share.
What do you think about the findings that the students at KIPP with good grades weren’t the ones who went on to graduate from college? Were you surprised?
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