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

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Angela Duckworth Ducking KIPP and Relay Connections


As a close protege of Dr. Martin Seligman, Angela Duckworth serves as Seligman's point person in moving his brand of paternalistic corporate psychology and character control into schools that teach the children of the poor.  Central to that role, Duckworth works closely with KIPP co-founder, David Levin, to test out and fine tune Seligman's methods with school children who serve as KIPP guinea pigs.

This is from the KIPP website:

KIPP’s innovative approach is grounded in the research of Dr. Martin Seligman and the late Dr. Chris Peterson (the “fathers“ of Positive Psychology). Building off a partnership with KIPP NYC, Dr. Angela Duckworth and the Riverdale Country School, KIPP’s character work focuses on seven highly predictive character strengths that are correlated to leading engaged, happy and successful lives: zest, grit, optimism, self-control, gratitude, social intelligence, and curiosity. 

Duckworth is co-founder and Scientific Director of what she and Levin call the "Character Lab," which has as it creepy eugenics-sounding goal, "to advance the science and practice of character development."  

What is referred to as "character development" is assessed by "performance character" checklists and report cardsIn fact, the Character Lab has developed a "character growth card" for teachers to use to grade each student.  It includes, too, a column for student self assessment for the "character strengths" listed in the quote above from the KIPP website. 

Below is a question and answer from an interview conducted by the Walton Foundation with Angela Duckworth in 2015, which may give you some insights into why the Walton family would be interested in supporting Duckworth's work:

If you had a crystal ball, what would you predict teaching character would look like 10 years from now? 

Angela: My optimistic crystal ball would see that there are developed options that have real scientific research behind them. We will say to teachers from elementary school, if not earlier, all the way through high school, if not later: if you’re helping kids learn self-control, try this, if you feel like gratitude is important for your school community, try this. In addition to thinking about standalone interventions, we need to try to figure out how to get teachers to infuse character into their everyday practice. In the most successful cultures — if you look at high-performing military culture or sports culture — things are integrated.
Duckworth hopes to use her research on reshaping children's culture, er, character to influence, too, the corporate teacher prep enterprise known as Relay Graduate School of Education (see Relay stamp on video below).  In this video below, Duckworth talks about the kind of fine grating required to produce gritty kids who become oblivious to the effects of poverty as they continue to create the test scores needed to expand the KIPP Model networks of charter schools.

Since the recent publication of her book on grit, Duckworth has downplayed the idea and practice of grading grit, and she has tried to distance herself from the KIPP Model chain gang schools.  Even so, teachers, you can still download the "character growth card" from the Character Lab website, in case you want to get into the "non-cognitive" assessment business. 

Duckworth's book is obviously aimed at a much wider audience than just teachers of the "no excuses" hell schools.  How do we know?  Nothing above would indicate that "passion" among school children is required as the counterbalance for grit, but Duckworth's book and her recent book talking plays up this other element:
Grit, as Duckworth has defined it in her research, is a combination of perseverance and passion — it’s just that the former tends to get all the attention, while the latter is overlooked. “I think the misunderstanding — or, at least, one of them — is that it’s only the perseverance part that matters,” Duckworth told Science of Us. “But I think that the passion piece is at least as important. I mean, if you are really, really tenacious and dogged about a goal that’s not meaningful to you, and not interesting to you — then that’s just drudgery. It’s not just determination — it’s having a direction that you care about.”
I wonder how the passion got overlooked in all of Duckworth's previous work on reforming urban culture, er, character left out "passion."  Wonder why there is no mention of Character Lab, KIPP, Relay?  Perhaps Duckworth will write another book that details how she worked with Dave Levin to turn children into reliable test score production machines that can be exploited to expand the KIPP Model charter industry.


  1. Anonymous6:23 PM

    Is there a character growth card for the assessment of teachers? It could easily be added to the rubrics currently in use. I would like the opportunity to assess the character development of my administrators.

    Abigail Shure

  2. Anonymous7:02 PM

    Charlotte Danielson and Angela Duckworth are walking back their remarks. So either they a. see the light, b. are trying to sell a "new and improved" product, or c. are reading the papers and see the rise of populism.

    Through the years my students have all had lots of character and "grit". How insulting to them and their families to imply anything else. I can't wait until we go back to the view that students are human beings who need support, care and attention.

  3. Mchael Fiorillo5:38 AM

    It's simply beyond the beyonds: so-called education reformers have some of the worst character traits to be encountered - opportunism, duplicity, aggression, greed - and are remodeling education in their degenerate likeness, yet teachers are expected to listen to their dogma about character development?

    Wow, just... wow...