Pro loves football, math


Baltimore Ravens lineman John Urschel, who’s working on his PhD in math at MIT, taught a lesson to summer-school students at a Maryland high school.

It’s not unusual for star athletes to try to motivate students, but John Urschel, an offensive lineman for the Baltimore Ravens, is different. The Penn State graduate is working on a doctorate in math at MIT. He loves math.

At a Maryland high school, Urschel told summer school students that he uses quantitative thinking to guard against pass rushes, reports the Baltimore Sun.

He asked incoming ninth graders to figure out the best angle for a kicker to launch a field goal try. When they struggled with the problem, he told them to keep at it.

He recalled revising four different mistakes on the same proof — in his junior year of college, on his master’s thesis and twice in writing it for publication — before he corrected it and published it as the Urschel-Zikatanov bisection.

“People mess up,” Urschel told the class. “People get things wrong. It doesn’t mean you’re stupid. It’s just a learning process. That’s how it goes.”

When he retires from the NFL, Urschel hopes to be a math professor, teaching students and solving “really cool” puzzles.

Less talk about grit, more action

Instead of trying to teach “grit,” schools should embed the development of grit by moving to competency-based learning, argues Michael Horn on EdSurge.

Persistence isn’t rewarded in traditional classrooms, he argues. Whether a student works hard to achieve mastery, squeaks past the test or never really gets the concept, everyone moves on when it’s time.

In a competency system, students must show mastery in order to move ahead — or dig deeper into the topic.

With the help of digital learning, it may be possible to measure students’ persistence by analyzing how they spend their time, writes Horn.

Can data from edtech tools provide insights into what students do when they fail? . . . Do students pick themselves up, dust themselves off, and attack the work again and exhibit real resilience? Do they need time and space — and can they create that time and space intentionally — before diving back in? Or do they just struggle to re-engage?

Poor kids with a “growth mindset” — the belief they can improve through hard work — do as well on tests as affluent students with a “fixed mindset,” concludes a large-scale study of 10th graders in Chile, reports Evie Blad in Education Week.

Compared to higher-income students, students from low-income families were much more likely to believe that intelligence and academic performance is fixed, the Stanford study found. But those who did have a growth mindset had much higher test scores.

Stanford Professor Carol Dweck and co-researchers used other questions to control for the possibility that academic performance comes before the growth mindset, writes Blad. “Our effect is not because of the fact that students who see themselves as doing well simply observe their academic growth and come to the conclusion that intelligence can be developed,” they concluded.

Forget ‘passion’ and find your purpose

Colleges want applicants to declare their “passion,” but what they really need is persistence and purpose, writes B.K. Marcus, editor of The Freeman, for the Foundation for Economic Education.

“The good news for stressed-out college-bound teens is that passion is easier to fake,” writes Marcus. However, the rush to find an easily marketable passion by the age of 17 can be damaging.

Thomas Edison said genius is "1% inspiration and 99% perspiration."

Thomas Edison said genius is “1% inspiration and 99% perspiration.”

Well-rounded students are out of luck, writes Steve Cohen, co-author of The Zinch Guide to College Admissions, in Top 10 Myths of College Admissions“Colleges want a kid who is devoted to — and excels at — something. The word they most often use is passion.”

Harvard’s Turning the Tide proposal calls for admitting students based on passion — “passionate involvement in social causes” is stressed — rather than test scores and grades, Marcus writes.

Passion “burns hot, and it can burn out,” writes Marcus. For long-term success, young people need purpose and persistence.

In “Our Push for ‘Passion,’ and Why It Harms Kids,” parenting author Lisa Heffernan writes, “By the time a child rounds the corner into high school … the conventional wisdom is that he needs to have a passion that is deep, easy to articulate, well documented and makes him stand out from the crowd.”

Kids feel compelled to “grab onto an interest, label it a passion and buy the requisite instrument or equipment.” The problem, she warns, is that “Fake passions crowd out real ones.”

Also being a big phony is debilitating.

Study: Charter high grads earn more as adults

Florida students who attended charter high schools earn significantly more as 23- to 25-year-olds than those who went to traditional public high schools, concludes a large-scale study by Vanderbilt and Georgia State researchers. Charter high school students are more likely to complete high school, go to college and stay in college, concluded the study, which was published in the Journal of Policy Analysis and Management.

Former charter students earned $2,300 more per year, on average, in their early to mid-20s, said Ron Zimmer, one of the researchers.

Test scores weren’t higher at the charters, but these schools may do better at “promoting life skills like grit, persistence, self-control and conscientiousness,” he said.

To create a control group of students from education-minded, school-choosing families, researchers compared charter eighth graders who went on to traditional public schools with charter eighth graders who enrolled in charter high schools. They crunched the numbers five different ways to show their results were “robust.”

It’s not news that charter schools boost “attainment” — years of schooling — for disadvantaged students, even when test scores are no higher. Going farther in school and college pays off.

Zeeconomics has more on the long-term effects of charter school attendance in Boston, Chicago and Florida.

You gotta know when to fold ’em

Kenny Rogers’ Gambler was right, concludes a new study in the Journal of Research in Personality. You’ve got to know when to hold ’em, but you also have to know when to fold ’em.

Grittier people — those who strongly agreed to statements such as “setbacks don’t discourage me” and “I finish whatever I begin” — proved to be more persistent in the face of an impossible task.

But, sometimes, quitting would have been the best strategy, writes Olga Khazan.

For the final test, the researchers gave the subjects a math game, which was also rigged so that some of the participants felt like they were fighting an uphill battle. They also gave the participants an offer: When things got tough, they could either drop out of the experiment and get $1 for their troubles, or they could press on and get $2 if they won, but nothing if they lost. Grittier people didn’t solve any more math problems than their lazier counterparts, even though they felt more optimistic about the test than the others. They were, however, more likely to continue the game when they were losing, even though they risked walking away with nothing.

Grit predicts what researchers call “costly persistence.”

It’s important to know when to quit and reevaluate rather than blindly push through,” said Gale Lucas, a researcher with the USC Institute for Creative Technologies.

Or, as W.C. Fields put it: “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. Then quit. No use being a damn fool about it.”

Progressives say ‘grit’ is racist

The Knowledge is Power Program – better known as KIPP – has reason to celebrate. In 20 years KIPP has ...
At KIPP charter schools, students are encouraged to develop “grit.” 

“Grit” is racist, according to some progressive educators, reports Ed WeekEduCon 2.7, a conference for “progressive” educators interested in digital learning, included a discussion titled “Grit, Galton, Eugenics, Racism, Calvinism.”

“We keep [hearing] this narrative that the only way children in poverty are going to succeed is by working harder than their peers who are middle class,” said Pamela Moran, the superintendent of the 13,000-student Albemarle County public schools, in Virginia.

To avoid the “terribly racist” consequences of “the grit narrative,” schools and districts should create abundant supports for disadvantaged students, said Ira Socol, Moran’s assistant director for educational technology and innovation, who co-led the discussion.

For example, Albemarle County schools provide a computer for each student with apps and digital tools such as “text-to-speech and voice-dictation software to help struggling students with reading and writing assignments,” reports Ed Week.

Instead of “no excuses,” students are given “flexibility and forgiveness. . . . when it comes to things like homework and class attendance.”

“The attitude is that if a child feels [he or she] can’t be in class, it’s probably for a reason, and we can help them, rather than say, ‘The kid has to be miserable and get through it,'” Socol said. “Wealthy people take ‘mental-health days’ all the time.”

Enabling disadvantaged students to get through school without learning reading, writing or a work ethic strikes me as pretty darned racist. There’s a phrase for that: “the soft bigotry of low expectations.”

Angela Duckworth’s research shows that certain traits — persistence in pursuit of goals, resilience in the face of obstacles — raise students’ odds of school and college success. Grit may be more important for kids who face more obstacles, but Duckworth never suggested it’s only for the poor– or that it’s the only thing they need.

The idea that “grit” is “racist” is “the dumbest thing I’ve ever seen,” writes Harry Wong in comments. “Hard work” works, he writes. It always has.

Immigrant families who come to America, from Haiti, Bosnia, and Ethiopia . . .  come steeped in the importance of family, respect for others, and the value of hard work. Their accomplishments make our schools look good. They understand that there are no short cuts to success. They come from cultures that stretch back for centuries that value ambition, dedication, diligence, commitment, integrity, determination, fortitude, constancy, responsibility, steadfastness, drive, and perseverance.

I think he’s the Harry Wong.

Poverty casts a long shadow

Poor kids usually grow up to be poor adults, concludes The Long Shadow. Johns Hopkins researchers followed 790 Baltimore first-graders until their late twenties. Nearly half had the same income status as their parents; only a third of the poorest moved out of poverty.

Four percent of those from low-income families had a college degree at 28, compared to 45 percent of their higher-income peers.

Baltimore’s low-income blacks do worse than low-income whites, writes Michelle Gininger.

Forty percent of blacks who dropped out of high school were now working, compared to 89 percent of white high school dropouts, the study found.

Black and white women both earned less than their male counterparts, but white women tended to be better off financially with the benefit of marriage or a live-in partner. Black women earned less than white women and were less likely to be in stable relationships.

Growing up poor affects adults’ sense of control, concludes a new study. Even those who’ve reached the middle class may be more likely to make impulsive decisions and “quickly give up on challenging tasks in uncertain situations,” according to lead author Chiraag Mittal, MS, a doctoral student at the University of Minnesota.

Showing participants a photo or news story about economic uncertainty decreased persistence for those who’d grown up poor. So did asking them to recall feeling uncertain about their own finances.

Participants were more likely to persist — even if they’d grown up poor –when asked to recall a time when they were in control of a situation.

“Persistence is directly tied to myriad important outcomes, including self-control, academic achievement, substance abuse, criminal behavior, healthy eating and overspending,” said study co-author Vladas Griskevicius, PhD, also of the University of Minnesota.

However, persistence at an impossible task isn’t necessarily a good thing, the researchers concede. “Time and energy are limited resources, and sometimes it is adaptive to stop expending effort on an endeavor one cannot control in order to pursue more promising opportunities.”

More students quit college

College persistence rates — the percentage of students who enroll for a second year — are declining.

Anxious Tunisians, math-mellow Dutch

Tunisian 15-year-olds are the most math-phobic, writes  Matt Phillips in The AtlanticArgentina, Brazil and Thailand are next on the “math anxiety” list compiled by the OECD as part of the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) tests.

U.S. students are less anxious than the OECD average, though not as math-mellow as the Danes and the Dutch.

In the high-scoring Asian countries, there’s no particular pattern. Japanese kids are anxious, Singapore is moderately anxious, Shanghai is a hair above the median.

Math anxiety correlates with poor performance, writes Phillips. “Some believe this is because the mind is so occupied with worrying about math that it has less bandwidth” to solve problems.

“Combining a manageable amount of worry” with perseverance and a strong work ethic seems to work the best, according to an OECD analysis.

Maine: No tuition for sophomores?

Sophomore year would be free at University of Maine campuses under a plan proposed by a Democratic candidate for governor. One third of first-year students don’t make it to their second year.