Second, Time On Task Yields Academic Achievement

There is an achievement gap between the poor and the wealthy and, in measure, it persists.  You can know this by reading the many studies that show it.  I know it first-hand.

I grew up in Great Brook Valley, a highly rent-subsidized public housing project.  Everyone was poor.  Academic achievement was scarce.  And, by my own observation, there is a generational repeater pattern.  

 Let’s forget why for now and instead talk about the exceptions.

KIPP schools target poor kids and get dramatically higher achievement than comparable schools in the same area serving a similar population. 

Jay Matthews, author of Work Hard, Be Nice, a book about KIPP schools describes their success in this Washington Post article. (The article is about some challenges KIPP faces at two of its schools, but still the point is clear.)

In terms of academic achievement, both of these schools are exceptional. At the end of 2007, 80 percent of KIPP Fresno’s seventh-graders scored proficient or advanced in algebra, compared to only 17 percent of students in regular Fresno public schools. In English Language Arts, 81 percent of KIPP seventh-graders scored proficient or advanced while the regular students were at 29 percent.

At KIPP AMP at the end of 2007, 97 percent of KIPP sixth-graders met or exceeded standards in math and 77 percent met or exceeded standards in English Language Arts, compared to 46 percent and 40 percent, respectively, for regular public school students in that Bronx district.

These kind of results are prevalent at all KIPP schools.  How do they do it?

KIPP describes its approach as “warm but strict.”  Its practices include nine-hour school days, summer school, some Saturday school, heavy drilling and repetition, mnemonic chants, rote memorization, and focus on values.  This sounds an awful lot like the Asian Tiger mom. 

From a City Journal article titled Why KIPP Schools Work

they discovered the merits of extended class time and a rigorous, content-rich curriculum that holds low-income and minority students to high academic standards. . .

In his book Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell notes that KIPP students, like children in Asia, spend about 60 percent more “time on task” than students in traditional American public schools.

But it’s more than just memorization.  It’s the values and traits of civilization.

New York Times columnist David Brooks has written extensively about how KIPP transmits to low-income minority students the “cultural capital”—how to speak effectively, how to look attentive, how to fill out a college application—that middle-class suburban kids take for granted. . .

KIPP doesn’t simply teach facts and figures but unapologetically seeks to instill values, build strength of character, and forge good habits of mind and behavior.

Still some say these techniques can’t work in public schools.

Others are schools that provide programming far in excess of that which might be contemplated in any public school serving a traditional school population in any city in America.

The Asian Tiger Mom argument is that Asian kids are successful because of long, deliberate practice and rigorous standards.  KIPP schools are getting substantially higher academic achievement from poor kids by essentially using the same methods – and instilling cultural capital.

It strikes me that KIPP school performance, and its critics, reinforce Dr. Chua’s argument that western parents in general aren’t willing to put in the time.  That we are guilty of low expectations.

In my view, we have established that academic achievement is a function of time on task and a focus on core skills.  There is a clear production function leading to academic success – rigor.  It may not be the only function, but it is proven. 

So where are we in this discussion?  Parenting in today’s world, where does the answer lie?  I think we are creeping in.  What do you think?

Among the remaining unexplored areas is resultant happiness.   What produces happiness?  Does academic success correlate to happiness?  That’s a blog post for another day.  In the meantime, let me know what you think?

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5 Responses to Second, Time On Task Yields Academic Achievement

  1. Mark Jordan says:

    Interestingly, this article surfaced indicating that self-control is even a better indicator of future success than intelligence or social status. There is a tie-in to the Tiger Mom story, too. Read more at the link CHILDREN’S SELF-CONTROL PREDICTS HEALTH, WEALTH

    • Sean O'Brien says:

      That’s pretty good. I have read elsewhere about the significant advantage conveyed to those with self-discipline. It seems intuitive. To a parent, what are techniques for instilling these behaviors?

      • Paul says:

        Based on my observations over the past couple of years, I can say my wife sets a good example of self control. I have followed her lead with success. This trickles down to the kids’ behavior whether during homework, piano, or simply playing games for extended periods of time. In addition, the teachers who also display self control help set an example of good behavior and that it is expected from the students. On the other hand, our girls are less plugged into the world via TV and computer than I was at their age. Correction: just TV, as there were no home computers when I was a kid. So, I’d say modeling self restraint is a worthy technique. There may be others.

      • Mark says:

        I’d say the best techniques are consistently modeling self-restraint for your children and being aware of those “teachable moments” when your child demonstrates self-restraint in new ways or new situations. Praise their behavior and help them see the benefits to them selves, to their family and to others in general. And of course, we need to patiently, firmly yet lovingly help them see that there is nothing benign in “losing it” over trivial matters (as is so common in today’s culture); it is neither amusing or acceptable.

        Of course, my insight comes from hindsight 🙂 An old Navy adage states “Good judgement comes from experience. Experience comes from poor judgement.” So I can admit that I have a LOT of experience in this area…

  2. Aaron Gallagher says:

    The results coming out of these KIPP schools seem encouraging but reading the articles you linked to in your post, it also sounds like they’re having some of the same problems that private schools have been going through for decades with parents being happy with the results but not entirely keen about the way the schools are getting their results. I’m all for extended school days, school years and curriculum that instills values kids can build character from as long as its getting results.

    I went to a private Catholic School from the time I was in Kindergarten until I left to go to a public high school for 9th grade. Looking back on it Catholic School was hard and they expected a lot from us there in terms of workload and the rules were very strict and consequences for breaking the rules were harsh (public humiliation, a trip to the principal’s office where the nun with superhuman powers would scare the bejezus out of you by telling you God was watching and I would never go to heaven if I broke the rules again). At the time we all hated it and I often pleaded with my parents to send me to public school, to no avail. I’m glad they stuck to their guns though because there isn’t a doubt in my mind that spending nine years there made me a better student. You did your homework and memorized what you had to memorize because the alternative wasn’t an option. Failing meant bad things not only in the eyes of your teacher and administrators but in the eyes of a much higher power which when you’re 8 years old is a scary thought. Looking back on it I’m glad I had those people pushing me to do better BUT there isn’t a chance in hell I’d put my kids through that. Mainly because of my aversion to all things religious these days and the fact that I think learning should be something kids WANT to do and enjoy doing not something they are SCARED into doing like I was. It wasn’t until college that I really understood how fun and interesting learning was supposed to be. So I’m of the belief that the answer here is somewhere in the middle between Asian Tiger Mom and the status quo and I think these KIPP schools are probably the beginnings of a good model going forward.

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