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We show that grit, a skill that has been shown to be highly predictive of achievement, is malleable in childhood and can be fostered in the classroom environment. We evaluate a randomized educational intervention implemented in two independent elementary school samples. Outcomes are measured via a novel incentivized real effort task and performance in standardized tests. We find that treated students are more likely to exert effort to accumulate task-specific ability, and hence, more likely to succeed. In a follow up 2.5 years after the intervention, we estimate an effect of about 0.2 standard deviations on a standardized math test.
We study the effect of elementary school teachers’ beliefs about gender roles on student achievement. We exploit a natural experiment where teachers are prevented from self-selecting into schools, and conditional on school, students are allocated to teachers randomly. We show that girls who are taught for longer than a year by teachers with traditional gender views have lower performance in objective math and verbal tests, and this effect is amplified with longer exposure to the same teacher. We find no effect on boys. We show that the effect is partly mediated by teachers transmitting traditional beliefs to girls.
We evaluate the impact on competitiveness of a randomized educational intervention that aims to foster grit, a skill that is highly predictive of achievement. The intervention is implemented in elementary schools, and we measure its impact using a dynamic competition task with interim performance feedback. We find that when children are exposed to a worldview that emphasizes the role of effort in achievement and encourages perseverance, the gender gap in the willingness to compete disappears. We show that the elimination of this gap implies significant efficiency gains. We also provide suggestive evidence on a plausible causal mechanism that runs through the positive impact of enhanced grit on girls’ optimism about their future performance.
While the importance of social-emotional learning for student success is well established, educators and researchers have less knowledge and agreement about which social-emotional skills are most important for students and how these skills distribute across student subgroups. Using a rich longitudinal dataset of 221,840 fourth through seventh grade students in California districts, this paper describes growth mindset gaps across student groups, and confirms, at a large scale, the predictive power of growth mindset for achievement gains, even with unusually rich controls for students’ background, previous achievement, and measures of other social-emotional skills. Average annual growth in English language arts and math corresponding to differences between students with fixed and growth mindset in a same school and grade level is 0.07 and 0.05 standard deviations respectively, after adjusting for students’ characteristics and previous achievement. This estimate is equivalent to 48 and 35 additional days of learning.
Children routinely benefit from being assigned a teacher who shares an identity with them, such as gender or ethnicity. We study how student beliefs impact teacher-student gender match effects, and how this varies across subjects with different societal beliefs about differential ability by gender. A simple model of belief formation predicts that match effects will be larger for students who believe they are of low ability, and be greater in subjects with more salient societal beliefs. We test these using data from Chinese middle schools, exploiting random assignment of students to teachers. In China, many people believe boys are innately better than girls at math. We find that being assigned a female math teacher helps low-perceived-ability girls and slightly harms low-perceived-ability boys, with no effects for other children. In English and Chinese – subjects with less salient societal beliefs – these patterns persist but diminish. This yields policy implications for the assignment of teachers to students.
The My Brother’s Keeper (MBK) Challenge developed by President Obama supports communities that promote civic initiatives designed to improve the educational and economic opportunities specifically for young men of color. In Oakland, California, the MBK educational initiative features the African American Male Achievement (AAMA) program. The AAMA focuses on regularly scheduled classes exclusively for Black, male students and taught by Black, male teachers who focus on social-emotional training, African-American history, culturally relevant pedagogy, and academic supports. In this study, we present quasi-experimental evidence on the dropout effects of the AAMA by leveraging its staggered scale-up across high schools in the Oakland Unified School District (OUSD). We find that AAMA availability led to a significant reduction in the number of Black males who dropped out as well as smaller reductions among Black females, particularly in 9th grade.
Despite substantial evidence that resources and outcomes are transmitted across generations, there has been limited inquiry into the extent to which anti-poverty programs actually disrupt the cycle of bad outcomes. We explore how the effects of the United States’ largest early childhood program, Head Start, transfer across generations. We leverage the rollout of this federally funded, means-tested preschool program to estimate the effect of early childhood exposure among mothers on their children’s long-term outcomes. We find evidence of intergenerational transmission of effects in the form of increased educational attainment, reduced teen pregnancy, and reduced criminal engagement in the second generation.
Existing research on self-management skills shows that measures of self-management predict student success. However, these conclusions are based on small samples or narrowly defined self-management measures. Using a rich longitudinal dataset of 221,840 fourth through seventh grade students, this paper describes self-management gaps across student groups, and confirms, at a large scale, the predictive power of self-management for achievement gains, even with unusually rich controls for students’ background, previous achievement, and measures of other social-emotional skills. Self-management is a better predictor of student learning than are other measures of socioemotional skills. Average growth in English language arts due to changing from a low to a high level of self-management is between 0.091 and 0.112 standard deviations, equivalent to almost 80 days of learning.
Students’ level of academic skills at school entry are a strong predictor of later academic success, and focusing on improving these skills during the preschool years has been a priority during the past ten years. Evidence from two prior nationally representative studies indicated that incoming kindergarteners’ math and literacy skills were higher in 2010 than 1998, but no national studies have examined trends since 2010. This study examines academic skills at kindergarten entry from 2010 and 2017 using data from over 2 million kindergarten students. Results indicated kindergarteners in 2017 have slightly lower math and reading skills than in 2010, but that inequalities at school entry by race/ethnicity and school poverty level have decreased during this period.