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

Thursday, July 05, 2018

Dweck's Brainology = School Budget Drainology

Largely in response to the demands of paternalist school reformers fixated on training the poor and children of the poor to be immune to their own poverty, non-cognitive behavioral interventions aimed at "character building" have proliferated within the education industry.  "Grit" and "resilience" hucksters like Martin Seligman, David Levin, and Angela Duckworth, along with "growth mindset" marketeers like Carol Dweck, essentially hijacked the term "social-emotional learning" (SEL) as a way to add respectability for what amounts to neurological tampering and behavioral neutering of poor black and brown children.

With bogus promises that "character growth scores" will lead to increased academic test scores, charter chain gangs and unwary public school systems have invested millions of public dollars in unproven classroom practices aimed to neurologically rewire children.

Now researchers at Case Western Reserve cast new new doubts on the claims made by Carol Dweck and her salesmen for Brainology:
Our findings suggest that at least some of the claims about growth mindsets – such as how they supposedly have profound effects on academic achievementbenefit both high- and low-achieving students, or are especially important for students facing situational challenges– are not warranted. In fact, in more than two-thirds of the studies the effects were not statistically significantly different from zero, meaning most of the time, the interventions were ineffective.

Below is an excerpt from Work Hard, Be Hard. . . that provides some context for the current fascination with SEL:

           Growing interest among corporate foundations and their think tanks (Center on Children and Families at Brookings, 2014) for “character” building through social-emotional learning (SEL) interventions suggests the KIPP Model is likely to be repackaged for another generation of No Excuses schools. Once again, psychologists of the developmental variety are coming to dominate this social and emotional learning (SEL) niche (Steinberg, 2014; Farrington et al, 2012), and they are joined by new paternalists who are fixated, as they always have been, on self-regulation and self-control.  
As a solution to their character deficiencies among the disenfranchised, SEL will likely have a dominant role in the next phase of the crusade to fix the poor.  In a recent research review (Dweck, Walton, & Cohen, 2014) sponsored by the Gates Foundation, the authors examine studies that support the Duckworth thesis that non-cognitive, or motivational, factors like “academic tenacity” can have more effect than “cognitive factors” on “core academic outcomes such as GPA and test scores” (p. 2):
At its most basic level, academic tenacity is about working hard, and working smart, for a long time. More specifically, academic tenacity is about the mindsets and skills that allow students to . . . look beyond short-term concerns to longer-term or higher-order goals, and withstand challenges and setbacks to persevere toward these goals (p. 4).
                   The philanthrocapitalists and their think tank scholars quote liberally from the work of Walter Mischel (1989, 2014), whose experiments with delayed gratification among preschoolers provide the dominant metaphor for another generation of paternalist endeavors.  In Mischel’s experiments, children were offered a single marshmallow immediately or two marshmallows later if they could delay their reward.  The test, which came to be labeled “The Marshmallow Test,” represents the potential to delay gratification in order to gain a larger reward later on. 
                   At many of the KIPP, Aspire, Achievement First, and Yes Prep schools, children wear t-shirts emblazoned with “Don’t Eat the Marshmallow.” Mischel’s (2014) latest work, The marshmallow test: Mastering self-control acknowledges KIPP’s prominent role and places it within the context of recent research on improving self-control.  David Levin has made Mischel’s book a central component in his Coursera massive open online course (MOOC), Teaching character and creating positive classrooms, which was first offered with co-instructor, Angela Duckworth, in 2014. 
                   Levin and Duckworth are two of the co-founders of Character Lab, which uses Duckworth’s experimental work at the Upper Darby School District near the University of Pennsylvania to fine tune the character performance interventions that Levin initiated at KIPP schools in the early 2000s. Interestingly, much of the research that is used to justify the use of the Seligman-Duckworth resiliency improvement methodology is the same data offered to justify the Seligman deal that cost the U. S. Army $145 million (see Chapter 1) for interventions that brought no benefit to GIs suffering from the stresses of war.  We may wonder how much these alleged remedies for children might cost federal and state education departments, whose bankrolls are much smaller than those at the Pentagon.
            A related character approach that operates under the trade name, Brainology, claims that 1,000 schools are now using its “growth mindset” based on Carol Dweck’s book, Mindset (2006).   Dweck’s work is included on the suggested reading list used by Levin and Duckworth for their online course mentioned above.  Brainology cites unpublished research that shows teaching the growth mindset “boosts motivation and achievement” and narrows both the gender and racial achievement gaps (Mindset Works, Inc., 2008-2012) A license for 300 students is available for $5,250, or the program may be purchased for $79 per student.  A separate site license for professional development is sold for $1,500.
The Brainology website has links to a handout that summarizes finding for a short list of preliminary studies showing Brainology’s effectiveness in increasing motivation, although none of the findings has appeared in refereed journals.  Even so, the enthusiasm among reformers is strong and growing stronger as the debilitating stresses from poverty rise, and the spread of educational austerity measures calls for the ramping up of strategies that might mollify those affected children whose promised rewards become even less certain.

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous4:58 PM

    Is there a study on how to ameliorate the character deficiencies of the wealthy? We are in dire need of a quick fix.

    Abigail Shure