College & Workforce Readiness Letter to the Editor

From Grit to Graduate: Character Education in the News

January 15, 2013 2 min read

To the Editor:

In recent months, terms like “grit” and “character education” have been making their way out of the ivory tower and onto newsstands. A New York Times book review of How Children Succeed by Paul Tough cites his argument that “noncognitive skills ... are more crucial than sheer brainpower to achieving success.” NBC’s Education Nation forum featured a session on “True Grit,” and “This American Life” on NPR offered a piece on “Grit, Luck, and Money” that showcased students who beat the odds.

Though the terms can vary (“efficacy,” “grit,” “character,” “noncognitive skills”), the message is clear. These mainstream pieces linking a “can do” attitude with real results are rooted in research. Across the disciplines, there is a powerful link between self-efficacy and outcomes.

In education, longitudinal studies have shown that self-efficacy beliefs are linked to academic achievement, for teachers and students alike.

A landmark 2011 report by the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning, or CASEL, cited an analysis showing that students who were taught social- and emotional-learning instruction skills improved their performance on standardized tests by 11 points, on average.

In the recently released 2012 National Survey of School Counselors from the College Board’s Advocacy and Policy Center, we learned that counselors who believe that they can be more effective in improving college-application rates actually tend to work at schools that have higher rates of college attendance.

With one in four students failing to graduate from high school with their peers, and even fewer completing college, we need to do everything we can to support America’s students. This matters to them—and it matters to our nation. In the next decade, more than half of all new American jobs will require some postsecondary education, but we are expected to fall far short of fulfilling that need.

To accelerate educational outcomes, we need to believe not just in the powerful role of education and educators, but also in our school counselors. We must also believe in every student’s success—and help them to believe in theirs.

Mary Bruce

Senior Education Adviser

Civic Enterprises

Washington, D.C.

Ms. Bruce is a co-author of the 2012 “Building a Grad Nation: Annual Update on the High School Dropout Epidemic” report, as well as 2011 and 2012 reports on the National Survey of School Counselors, both of which were released by the College Board’s Advocacy and Policy Center.

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A version of this article appeared in the January 16, 2013 edition of Education Week as From Grit to Graduate: Character Education in the News


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