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May 10, 2016 7 min read
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| NEWS | Rules for Engagement

MacArthur ‘Genius’ Winner: ‘Grit May Matter More Than Talent’

Get ready to hear a whole lot more about grit.

Angela Duckworth, the University of Pennsylvania psychology professor and 2013 MacArthur “genius” grant winner, released a book last week that explores and explains her research on grit, which she defines as the ability to develop and sustain passion and commitment to achieving long-term goals.

Duckworth has captured much attention from educators and policymakers in recent years for her findings that high levels of grit correlate with success in many areas of life, from college completion to making it to the final rounds at the National Spelling Bee.

In her new book, Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance, Duckworth explains her idea by exploring the life stories and philosophies of people she calls “paragons of grit,” including the Seattle Seahawks, West Point cadets, and successful business leaders.

Duckworth’s book delves into her personal story. When she was a child, her father would remind her: “You know, you’re no genius!” If she could go back in time, the Harvard graduate writes, she would tell her father that raw talent and intelligence aren’t the sole drivers of success:

“I would say, ‘Dad, you claim I’m no genius. I won’t argue with that. ... But let me tell you something. I’m going to grow up to love my work as much as you love yours. ... I’ll challenge myself every day. When I get knocked down, I’ll get back up. I may not be the smartest person in the room, but I’ll strive to be the grittiest.’

“And if he was still listening: ‘In the long run, Dad, grit may matter more than talent.’ ”

That notion won’t be unfamiliar to many educators, who’ve embraced the grit concept in recent years along with a wave of research and policy centered on a variety of noncognitive traits and social-emotional skills.

Perhaps most interesting for educators, the book asserts that grit can be developed both by individuals within themselves and by outside forces who help them feel challenged and supported. For schools, that means giving students opportunities for deliberate practice so they can learn what it’s like to face a challenge and persist through it, developing the skill like a muscle, Duckworth says.

–Evie Blad

| NEWS | Curriculum Matters

Arizona Student Creates App for U.S. Citizenship Test

An Arizona teenager has created an app to help his peers study for the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Test, which is now a graduation requirement for high schoolers in the state.

The Arizona Republic reports that Riley Danler, who attends an online school, created the app after taking a programming course. It’s available for now on, the website of the Arizona Bar Association’s charitable foundation. (The foundation’s director is his grandmother.)

Do you suspect that answering questions about the U.S. Constitution might not sound as enticing as the new Kardashian app to Grand Canyon State youths?

To address that concern and make the test more attractive to students, Riley has gained a corporate sponsor. McDonald’s is offering students Egg McMuffins in exchange for using the app and for passing the citizenship test. The initiative’s name: “Be an Egg-Xemplary Citizen.”

Arizona was one of the first states to introduce the citizenship test as a graduation requirement, starting with the class of 2017.

Riley is not the first student to use technology as a way to help his peers learn about citizenship. A group of Nebraska teenagers created a civics game late last year.

The simple apps play into some critics’ arguments against requiring students to take or pass the citizenship test: Some have claimed that simply memorizing the answers to the test does not guarantee that students have gained important knowledge about civics and government.

But advocates for the test cite studies showing that dismally few Americans can answer basic questions about citizenship, such as identifying the branches of government.

–Jaclyn Zubrzycki

| NEWS | The School Law Blog

High Court Gives More Protection to Teachers, Other Public Workers

The U.S. Supreme Court has given greater protection to teachers, police officers, and other public employees from adverse job actions taken on the basis of their superiors’ perceptions of the workers’ First Amendment activities.

The court ruled 6-2 that a New Jersey police officer who was demoted because of his bosses’ misimpression that he was backing a political rival to the incumbent mayor may challenge the demotion as a violation of his rights of free speech and association.

“When an employer demotes an employee out of a desire to prevent the employee from engaging in political activity that the First Amendment protects, the employee is entitled to challenge that unlawful action ... even if, as here, the employer makes a factual mistake about the employee’s behavior,” Justice Stephen G. Breyer wrote for the majority in Heffernan v. City of Paterson, N.J. (Case No. 14-1280).

His April 26 opinion was joined by Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and Justices Anthony M. Kennedy, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor, and Elena Kagan. Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel A. Alito Jr. dissented.

–Mark Walsh

| NEWS | Politics K-12

Coming Congressional Elections Could Affect Ed. Panels’ Makeup

The race for the White House isn’t the only political contest in town—congressional elections are underway this year as well, and some of them could have a notable impact on the two committees that deal with K-12 policy.

• Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee:

Eight senators on the committee are seeking re-election this year: Sens. Michael Bennet, D-Colo.; Richard Burr, R-N.C.; Johnny Isakson, R-Ga.; Mark Kirk, R-Ill.; Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska; Patty Murray, D-Wash.; Rand Paul, R-Ky.; and Tim Scott, R-S.C. Murray is the ranking member of the committee. Another member is retiring: Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md.

Probably the most-endangered member of the committee is Kirk, who is facing a general election fight against another member of the Illinois congressional delegation, Democratic Rep. Tammy Duckworth. The University of Virginia’s Center for Politics currently says the Duckworth-Kirk race “leans Democratic.” However, the Cook Political Report says the race is a tossup. Kirk is a fan of charter schools, although he wasn’t particularly active publicly in debates about the Every Student Succeeds Act before it passed Congress.

Bennet’s seat is rated “likely” to stay Democratic, although a number of Republicans are interested in getting their party’s nomination to oppose him.

All the other seats held by HELP members are rated safe bets to stay with the party that currently holds them, according to the center. That includes the seat being vacated by Mikulski.

• House Committee on Education and the Workforce:

Committee Chairman Rep. John Kline, R-Minn., is retiring this year. The Republican most often mentioned as his successor to lead the committee, assuming that the GOP continues its control of the House, is Rep. Virginia Foxx of North Carolina.

However, Kline’s seat in Minnesota’s 2nd U.S. Congressional District is rated as a tossup by the Center for Politics, as are the seats now held by committee members Rep. Carlos Curbelo, R-Fla., and Rep. Joseph Heck, R-Nev. (Heck is running to replace Democratic Nevada Sen. Harry Reid, who’s retiring.)

In slightly safer territory for the GOP, the seat held by Rep. Tim Walberg, R-Minn., is rated as “leans” Republican.

Meanwhile, the seats now held by committee members Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-N.Y., and Rep. Mike Bishop, R-Mich., are rated “likely” to remain Republican. The Cook Report puts identical ratings on the six seats held by Bishop, Curbelo, Heck, Kline, Stefanik, and Walberg.

In addition, Rep. Ruben Hinojosa, D-Texas, is retiring from Congress.

–Andrew Ujifusa

| NEWS | Charters & Choice

House Approves Reauthorization of D.C. Tuition-Voucher Program

The U.S. House of Representatives has approved a bill reauthorizing a private-school-tuition voucher program in the District of Columbia.

House members voted to approve H.R. 4901, the Scholarships for Opportunity and Results (SOAR) Reauthorization Act, by a vote of 224-181 on April 29. Earlier that month, the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee approved the bill, which is sponsored by Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, and sent it to the full House floor. The Opportunity Scholarships Program currently provides scholarships to about 1,250 low-income students in the district to attend private schools. It’s been around since the 2004-05 school year.

District of Columbia Mayor Muriel Bowser, a Democrat, and eight D.C. Council members had sent a letter to Congress supporting SOAR reauthorization because of the funding structure the program provides for the District’s regular public schools and charter schools, as well as the Opportunity Scholarships Program. However, President Barack Obama’s administration, which has consistently questioned whether the program leads to better academic results for students, has opposed Chaffetz’s bill.

Since its beginning, the voucher program has provided scholarships to about 6,400 students.

–Andrew Ujifusa

A version of this article appeared in the May 11, 2016 edition of Education Week as Best of the Blogs


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