"A child's learning is the function more of the characteristics of his classmates than those of the teacher." James Coleman, 1972

Monday, March 28, 2016

Duckworth Urges No Grading for Her Failed Character Interventions

When the world found out that psychologist, Dr. Martin Seligman, had met with CIA and Pentagon reps following 9-11 to provide information on how learned helplessness might boost interrogation results, he was quick to deny that he had any inkling that his methods would ever be used for torture.  As Jane Mayer has written,
Professor Seligman says he has no idea why he was called in from his academic position in Pennsylvania, to suddenly appear at this CIA event. He just showed up and talked for three hours about how dogs, when exposed to horrible treatment, give up all hope, and become compliant. Why the CIA wanted to know about this at this point, he says he never asked.    
And even though he sought to assure everyone that his relationship with the CIA had been fleeting, we have since found out that at least Kirk Hubbard, the CIA's Chief of the Operational Assessments Division, felt differently.  In fact, as I record in Work Hard, Be Hard..., Hubbard complained in an internal email about his bosses refusing to reimburse him the money to buy the Seligman children CIA t-shirts and hats: "My office director would not even reimburse me for . . . for CIA logo t­shirts and ball caps for Marty Seligman's five kids! He's helped out alot over the past four years so I thought that was the least I could do. But no, has to come out of my own pocket! And people wonder why I am so cynical!”

Yesterday in the New York Times, Seligman protege, Angela Duckworth, tried the same Seligman strategy of squirming away from responsibility for her part in the neo-eugenic character scrubbing techniques that she and Seligman have been responsible for pushing into schools, via the No Excuses KIPP Model schools.  According to Duckworth, it all came to pass this way:
A decade ago, in my final year of graduate school, I met two educators, Dave Levin, of the KIPP charter school network, and Dominic Randolph, of Riverdale Country School. Though they served students at opposite ends of the socioeconomic spectrum, both understood the importance of character development. They came to me because they wanted to provide feedback to kids on character strengths. Feedback is fundamental, they reasoned, because it’s hard to improve what you can’t measure.
What Duckworth does not say it that it was the fascination with the work of Seligman that brought Levin to her, just as it had been Seligman's work that had influenced her to seek out a graduate program at UPenn to begin with.  As I write in my book,
Duckworth, herself, grew up the daughter of privileged Chinese immigrants in the middle class town of Cherry Hill, New Jersey, and she studied neuroscience as an undergraduate at Harvard (Hartnett, 2012).  After a Masters at Oxford and then a year at McKinsey and Co., Duckworth became the CEO of the online public school rating company, Great Schools, before she altered course to become a charter school teacher on both the West and East Coasts. 
After a late night email exchange with Martin Seligman in 2002 and a face-to-face meeting the next day, Seligman cleared the way for Duckworth to be considered for the doctoral program at the University of Pennsylvania, even after the normal admissions process was closed.  Duckworth became Seligman’s protégé, and she earned a PhD in psychology in 2006.  The next year Duckworth was hired as Assistant Professor of Psychology at UPenn.  
The purpose of Duckworth's article from the Times yesterday is twofold.  First, Duckworth seeks to take charge of the character business that her mentor spawned, while further distancing the tainted Seligman from the ghastly regimen of dehumanizing discipline that has become standard operating procedure in KIPP Model schools.

Second, Duckworth seeks to distance her own work from any effort to "grade" the behavior sterilization process known as "performance character improvement" that Levin and other charter industry CEOs have used to subdue children and to turn them into dependable test score producing automatons.  To accept any kind of "character" grading scheme would entail some accountability for KIPP Model schools and the folks who devised their character scrubbing techniquesWhat KIPP research (paid for by KIPP supporters) has found, however, is that the KIPP Model's brutal "character" regimen does nothing to improve character, even as measured within the narrow ranges that Seligman and Duckworth devised for KIPP.  

As Steinberg summarized one part of the Mathematica study,
They [KIPP students] weren’t more effortful or persistent.  They didn’t have more favorable academic self-conceptions or stronger school engagement.  They didn’t score higher than the comparison group in self-control.  In fact, they were more likely to engage in ‘undesirable behavior,’ including losing their temper, lying to and arguing with their parents, and giving teachers a hard time.  They were more likely to get into trouble at school.   Despite the program’s emphasis on character development, the KIPP students were no less likely to smoke, drink, get high, or break the law.  Nor were their hopes for their educational futures any higher or their plans any more ambitious.  
And then there was this from the final part of the Mathematica study:
Across grade levels, we generally find no impacts of KIPP schools on measures of students’ motivation, engagement, educational aspirations, or behavior. . . 
At all three grade levels, KIPP did not significantly affect measures of motivation and engagement related to student self-control, academic motivation, academic confidence, grit, school engagement, or effort in school, including student reports of the time spent on homework. Student behavior was measured only at the elementary and middle school levels; we find no evidence that KIPP schools affect behavior, including indices of positive behaviors, undesirable behaviors, peer pressure, illegal activities, parental concerns about their child, frequency of school disciplinary actions (according to the parent), and the extent to which the child is well-adjusted (pp. xxii)
Given these findings, it is not surprising, then, that Duckworth would distance herself from any effort to grade character interventions, even though her patrons at KIPP insist that their schools are about 49 percent academics and 51 percent character.


1 comment:

  1. Glad to see this vile monster is re-branding herself. Perhaps she should adopt a slogan. "Angela Duckworth, she's the new Herbert Spencer!" would be apropos.