IQ fades, but grit remains

High-quality preschool can teach non-cognitive skills that persist into adulthood, writes Jonah Lehrer on Wired, citing a paper by economists Flavio Cunha and James Heckman.

Among their examples is the Perry Preschool Experiment, which involved low-income, low-IQ black children in Ypsilanti, Michigan. The preschool group and the control group have been tracked through age 40.

Adults assigned to the preschool program were 20 percent more likely to have graduated from high school and 19 percent less likely to have been arrested more than five times. They got much better grades, were more likely to remain married and were less dependent on welfare programs.

Preschool pushed up IQ for a few years, but gains faded by second grade.  However, improvements in non-cognitive areas, such as “self-control, persistence and grit,” persisted.  These skills can be more important than IQ, the researchers say.

 . . . dependability is the trait most valued by employers, while “perseverance, dependability and consistency are the most important predictors of grades in school.”

Investing in high-quality early childhood education  for high-risk children is very cost effective, Cunha and Heckman write, estimating a return of $8 to $9 for every dollar invested.

Via Early Stories.

All this reminds me of the $320,000 kindergarten teacher, another argument that vvery good early education can teach behavioral and emotional skills that benefit children as they grow up, even if they don’t do better on cognitive measures.

With the preschool example, it’s important to remember that the Perry Preschool — and Abcedarian, which the study also cites — represent very high-quality programs that did far more than most preschools. Perry included home visits.  Some mothers were trained and hired as preschool aides; their children did the best. Abcedarian provided full-time child care from shortly after birth.

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  1. tim-10-ber says:

    I should prbably know this but how much of one’s IQ is tied to the environment in which on lives and the basic education they have or have not been afforded at home or school?

  2. Richard Aubrey says:

    IOW, character counts and this program strengthened or subsituted for traditional results of strong family and strong community.
    A number of people, Charles Murray among them, have said we need a place for those not quite up to standard to live and be (and feel) productive and be respected. Presumably the old “hired man” of the family farm was one, no longer available.
    If you can’t give somebody higher IQ, other factors such as can be categorized as “grit” will be a useful substitute, and there are still jobs for those with grit.

  3. “Investing in high-quality early childhood education for high-risk children is very cost effective, Cunha and Heckman write, estimating a return of $8 to $9 for every dollar invested.”

    Advocates for early schooling improperly generalize. Early institutionalization of children harms most children. The condition: “for high-risk children” makes a critical difference. By analogy, take 200 adults off the streets in downtown New York City, assign them at random to two groups (T = treatment and C = control), transport these two groups to two identical locations in the middle of the Sahara. Now, give to members of group T unlimited access to polluted water, spoiled vegetables, and rotten meat, and give to group C nothing at all. Return in one month and assess the impact on longevity of polluted water, spoiled vegetables, and rotten meat. Wonder of wonders, these foodstuffs enhance longevity!


  4. (Marvin Minsky, __Communications of the Association for Computing Machinery__ 1994-July): “Robert Lawler just showed me a paper by Harold Macurdy on the child pattern of genius. Macurdy reviews the early education of many eminent people from the last couple of centuries and concludes (1) that most of them had an enormous amount of attention paid to them by one or both parents and (2) that generally they were relatively isolated from other children. This is very different from what most people today consider an ideal school. It seems to me that much of what we call education is really socialization. Consider what we do to our kids. Is it really a good idea to send your 6-year-old into a room full of 6-year-olds, and then, the next year, to put your 7-year-old in with 7-year-olds, and so on? A simple recursive argument suggests this exposes them to a real danger of all growing up with the minds of 6-year-olds. And, so far as I can see, that’s exactly what happens.
    Our present culture may be largely shaped by this strange idea of isolating children’s thought from adult thought. Perhaps the way our culture educates its children better explains why most of us come out as dumb as they do, than it explains how some of us come out as smart as they do.”

    (San Francisco Chronicle 2005-Nov.-01): “The UC Berkeley-Stanford study found that all children who attended preschool at least 15 hours a week displayed more negative social behaviors such as trouble cooperating or acting up, when compared with their peers. The discrepancies were most pronounced among children from higher-income families.”
    “Children from lower-income families lagged behind their peers who didn’t attend preschool an average of 7 percentage points on the measure of social behavioral growth. But children from higher-income families lagged 9 percentage points behind their peers. These wealthier children did even worse when they attended preschool for 30 hours or more: They trailed their peers by 15 percentage points.”
    ” ‘It’s not clear why children from higher-income families exhibit more negative behaviors than their stay-at-home peers. Fuller speculated their peers might be in enriching home environments that include things like trips to the library as well as dance and music lessons. Other studies have found childcare centers negatively affect children’s social development’, said Jay Belsky, director of the Institute for the Study of Children, Families and Social Issues at Birkbeck University of London, in an e-mail interview.”
    ” ‘It is time to come to grips with what all too many have denied for all too long, namely, that all disconcerting news about adverse effects cannot be attributed to low-quality care, which has been more or less the mantra of the field of child development and the child-care advocacy community for decades,’ Belsky said.”

    Search “Daycares Don’t Care”.

  5. Erin Johnson says:

    So why don’t elementary/middle/high schools teach grit (e.g. character)?

  6. “I should prbably know this but how much of one’s IQ is tied to the environment in which on lives and the basic education they have or have not been afforded at home or school?”

    Matt Ridley discusses this at length in __Genome__. Heritability of any trait depends on the variability of the environment. If the environment is uniform, all differences must be hereditary. If genetics is uniform (clones, monozygotic twins), all differences must be environmental.

  7. If programs are going to monitor kids from birth, why not just eliminate the family all together, if the family’s not doing the job?

  8. Erin:

    I’m hired to teach “math”, not “grit”. I wouldn’t know how to teach “grit” if you wanted me to, although someone, I’m sure, will have a handy curriculum for districts to buy, complete with a “technology component”.

  9. I suppose that “19 percent less likely to have been arrested more than five times” is truly a benefit to society, but it sure changes my thinking on what an education should accomplish. The term “dumbing down” does come to mind.

  10. Stacy in NJ says:

    I wonder what percent less likely to have been arrested more than FOUR times.

  11. Stacy in NJ says:

    Erin, We have these things called “parents”. Perhaps we should leave them something to do. Even if parents do it poorly, they’ll at least have done it equally as well as your average public school.

  12. Erin Johnson says:

    Darren, Hillarious. But if it is so critical to teach “grit” then we should incorporate it into our current 13 years of schooling, despite the fact that that is not what teachers have been trained to teach.

    Stacy in NJ, Yes, but then if we had parents completely take care of this we wouldn’t need an expansion of schooling into the pre-school years, justifying ever more extraordinary expenditures by the feds/states.

  13. Rigorous teaching of *any* subject…whether algebra or Greek or phys ed…tends to develop “grit.” A mushy approach to teaching tends to inhibit the development of grit, and it’s doubtful that this effect could be overcome by special grit-focused courses.

  14. Stacy in NJ says:

    Erin, Who said we need public preschool? Certainly not me.

  15. I’m with David Foster on this one.


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