No grit, no glory

Only 9 percent of low-income students complete a bachelor’s degree by age 24. American RadioWorks reporter Emily Hanford looks at the importance of Grit, Luck and Money in determining who persists to a degree.

Houston’s YES Prep, a high-performing charter school for low-income minority students, is trying to help first-generation college students cope with challenges and persist to a degree. Even academically strong students have trouble in college, reports Hanford.

. . . at YES, where most of the students are from poor families, close to 70 percent of students score as well on the SAT as students from middle-income families, and they score significantly better than other minority students in America.

Perhaps the most telling statistic is this: Less than 10 percent of YES Prep alumni take remedial classes when they get to college. Nationally, as many as 60 percent of incoming college students have to take some sort of remedial class.

. . .  Based on academic preparation alone, one could reasonably expect that 80 or 90 percent of the students would graduate from college.

But that didn’t happen.

Nearly all YES Prep graduates go to college, usually to four-year institutions. But only 40 percent of students in the class of ’01 completed a college degree in six years, 28 percent dropped out and the rest are still trying to finish.

YES Prep gives students a lot of support to get them ready for college — maybe too much. In college, the support system is gone. Often their parents can’t help.

The school has hired two counselors to work with alumni and created partnerships with several private colleges that can provide counseling and support to first-generation college students.

Grit is as important as intelligence in determining success, believes Angela Lee Duckworth, a middle and high school teacher turned psychology professor.

She defines grit as “sticking with things over the very long term until you master them.” In a paper, she writes that “the gritty individual approaches achievement as a marathon; his or her advantage is stamina.”

Grit can be learned, Duckworth believes.

In honor of Paul Tough’s How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character, I’m making today Grit Day on the blog. Here’s New York Times columnist Joe Nocera on Reading, Math and Grit, a response to Tough’s book. And here’s Tough’s chapter on Duckworth’s research.

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  1. Florida resident says:

    Dear Joanne Jacobs !
    You wrote
    “Grit is as important as intelligence in determining success,
    believes Angela Lee Duckworth”.

    I tried to read the reference to Angela Lee Duckworth provided by you.
    I saw there _no_ research that would confirm her belief in
    “Grit is _as_ important _as_ intelligence”.

    I am not to deny the importance of grit. But “as important as” ?
    What is the quantitaqtive measure of this “as … as” ?

    How indepednent is the quality of having “grit”
    from the general abilitiy properly ?
    Does one expect that grit appears at all and helps
    in situation of those sportsmen,
    who do not have physical ability for the given kind of sport ?

    You may look at

    From there:
    ” […] Charles Murray is right. Ability varies, and not much can be done to change it. By no effort of will, applied from no matter how young an age, could I [ i.e. John Derbyshire] come to play the violin like Yehudi Menuhin, or golf like Tiger Woods. […] ”

    With respectful greetings,
    your F.r.

  2. In the linked article, one of the YES Prep grads currently in college said that she did not know how to study or how/where to get academic help. The former definitely should have been addressed in HS, if not before. Schools today are spoon-feeding kids too much, in the quest for “success” (deserved or not). Learning how to outline, take notes, summarize, identify key material/concepts etc. was an integral part of my small-town schooling (50s-60s); explicitly taught in 7th-8th and practiced through HS. To be ready for college, kids need these skills.

    Where and how to get academic help should also have been addressed at YES, during the college application process. Even 40+ years ago, before colleges had academic help services, they had (student-run) tutoring centers, so there’s no excuse for not addressing this issue prior to kids’ arrival on campus.

    The issue of family pressure to leave college (or not start) and return to the community “nest” is also not new. It was a significant issue in my DH’s city, which had many new immigrant families (mostly Eastern European/Italian) where the kids were the first to go to/graduate from HS. Many of these families felt that kids going to college meant that they were “getting above themselves” – probably with an associated fear that they would leave their families/community behind. It might help the current kids to know that they are not the first or only generation to be in this situation.