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  • Why parents, students and teachers in developing countries choose low-cost affordable schools

    by Janine Matho

    A boy playing with cubes

    We recently set out on a journey to talk to parents, students and teachers in Ghana, the Philippines and South Africa to hear directly from them why they choose low-cost affordable schools.

    These parents made it clear to us that they are investing in the hopes and dreams they have for their children. They seek a safe school, a warm school culture, and evidence that their child is learning. And they, like many of us, feel empowered when they can make a choice about where to send their child to school.

    "A friend of mine told me about SPARK. I booked the tour, went to see the school and I found that the first thing that attracted me was the culture at SPARK. The values that they endorse as well as the blended learning." - Olga Masingi, Spark parent

    Enrollment in low-fee private schools in developing countries has increased over the last 20 years. Upwards of 40% of children living in poverty are enrolled in low-cost private schools in the Indian Subcontinent and large parts of Africa. In larger cities such as Delhi, Karachi, Accra or Lagos this figure rises to 70%. Tuition in such schools can range from $0.50 - $5 per day, for example. We launched the Pearson Affordable Learning Fund (PALF) in 2012 in response to the families who had already opted into such schools.

    "Working with the very best local entrepreneurs is what makes PALF possible—education leaders who understand the unique needs of their students and their markets. We’re proud that half of our capital is invested with female founders, in a world where many startups in both the developed and developing worlds are still overwhelmingly male." - Katelyn Donnelly, Managing Director, Pearson Affordable Learning Fund

    In addition to our efforts to partner with governments around the world to improve education systems, the Pearson Affordable Learning Fund represents Pearson’s broader commitment to tackle the educational needs of the world’s poorest regions. Pearson has elected to invest in such opportunities, and to hold itself accountable for the results achieved by children enrolled in PALF portfolio schools; it is one of the ways we will contribute to achieving our commitment to the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

    We invite you to hear directly from the parents, students and teachers at three schools in which we have invested—APEC Schools in Manila, Philippines; Omega Schools in Ghana; and SPARK Schools in South Africa—and learn why these parents, teachers and students have chosen a low-cost private school.

     

    Learn more about the Pearson Affordable Learning Fund.

    read more
  • Securing the future of A level foreign language qualifications

    by Rod Bristow

    Girls looking at stone carvings

    As our A level and GCSE qualifications undergo significant change, there has understandably been much public attention on the future of those foreign language qualifications studied by smaller numbers of students.

    While these qualifications have a relatively small number of registrations, they are often the home language of many UK communities and, in an era of globalisation, are important.

    As well as Spanish, German and French, which are studied widely across England, Pearson currently offers GCSEs and A levels in Arabic, Modern Greek, Japanese and Urdu, all of which historically have smaller cohort numbers.  We have previously confirmed that we will continue to offer GCSEs in these subjects under the new system, from September 2017.

    We believe in the importance of these qualifications but, in the context of significant change in qualifications, there are difficult issues to work through and debates to be had. As we designed new specifications for A levels in these four languages, we had concerns that the small entry numbers, combined with the new content and assessment requirements for modern languages as set out by the Department for Education, would make it difficult to continue to create valid and reliable assessments. However, both Pearson and the DfE are committed to securing the future of these A level subject in two years’ time, so we have been working together on a new set of content requirements to mitigate this risk and allow us to feel confident in their quality and credibility.

    Not all of our competitors have taken the same view, and as a result of some other important languages being 'dropped', we're going to work with the DfE to secure the future of A level and GCSE qualifications in Gujarati, Portuguese, Turkish and GCSE Biblical Hebrew.  Why would a commercial education company do that?  The answer is that as well as helping individuals make progress in their lives, education has the potential to foster inclusion and diversity, helping to make society more cohesive.  All parties - the government, the regulator and the exam boards - should work together in the interests of students, but also the communities in which we all live.

    read more
  • The future of assessment

    by Dominic

    Student and teacher experiencing learning

    Think of assessment in education, and you probably think of end of term tests, where kids sit in rows of desks, with a set time to answer identical questions. But in world that increasingly values what you can do and not just what you know, does this way of testing fit the bill anymore? Are they doing the job that ultimately education exists for - to prepare people for the world.

    Increasingly educators think not, and so a new era of assessment is being ushered in; enabled by technology, personalised to the student, and providing teachers with insights in real-time. We've taken a look at the opportunities and challenges that await.

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  • How do we give Americans better access to opportunity?

    John Fallon

    by John Fallon

    Two men looking at a sun dial

    As I travel the world talking to students and educators, the most urgent questions I hear are variations on the same themes: How do I create a better life for myself and my children? What is the social compact that gets us all there, and who is responsible for creating it? Those are questions fundamental to achieving the American dream—a dream that resonates worldwide.

    These critical questions are also at the core of many Americans’ concerns that economic progress is out of reach and that the dream is fleeting now more than ever. These concerns have surfaced more urgently within the context of the Presidential campaign, and have been foundational to candidates’ views on both sides of the aisle.

    To understand the dynamics that underlie these concerns, Pearson conducted a poll with Atlantic Media as part of their “Next America” series, seeking to examine Americans’ views on these issues. The results were revealing: More people than ever believe they don’t have a reasonable shot at creating opportunity in this country. Shockingly, and in contrast to the basic tenets core to the United States, fewer than half of all Americans—just 44%—believe that anyone who works hard has a fair chance to succeed.

    Next America Poll - San Antonio (15)

    When you start to break this down along demographic lines, faith in the promise of American opportunity becomes even more strained. Fewer than 40% of African Americans believe that someone who works hard has a fair chance to succeed. The research shows that Asian and Hispanic Americans are still hanging on to the American dream, but are only marginally more confident that they have a real shot at success.

    Next America Poll - San Antonio (16)

    While this data is discouraging, there is hope. The poll results evidenced a shared view in the promise of education and the belief that if people have access to education designed specifically to improve their skills, their views of the opportunity would improve. Almost three-quarters of Americans—72%—believe they would be able to get a better job or a higher paying job with more education or training.

    Two-thirds of Americans believe the economy would improve by increasing the number of well-trained workers and people see investment in education as the best way to improve the economy.

    It’s clear that people of all backgrounds see education as the gateway to a better life.

    While educators, policymakers and employers are key in helping people prepare for the workforce, companies who are focused on education, like Pearson, have an important role to play. Building the tools to lead people to better jobs and a better life is fundamental to Pearson’s mission. We’re especially focused on closing the skills gap to give people more access to jobs and better opportunity. At schools like Texas Southmost College in the Rio Grande Valley, we are providing digital curriculum that prepares graduates for high tech and health care jobs in their local communities. Across the nation, we are working with colleges and universities to move degree programs online, often putting up the capital to get these programs off the ground. And, we are supporting adult learners with the GED and our professional testing services.

    There are urgent educational and economic needs across this country. That is never more evident than when people feel opportunity is out of reach, and the American Dream is out of sight. Together we can meet these challenges and make sure that everyone has the opportunity to create a better life for themselves.

    ***

    Here are some other highlights from the full poll results, which you can read in full here.

    Atlantic1

     

    Next America Poll - San Antonio (7)

     

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  • The small gift with big impact

    by Hanne Brown

    A happy looking boy

    Nearly 3,000 books distributed to children in Sri Lanka; 6,000 to children in Swaziland; and nearly 40,000 books now benefitting homeless and low-income children in Philadelphia, Boston, and Chicago. At Pearson we are proud of the number of free books we distributed last year all around the world… but equally saddened. That well into the 21st century the joy and power of reading remains out of reach for millions of children. That while many kids come home from schools with their bags packed with books, as we stroll past libraries stuffed with the beauty of words, as our bookshelves at home already house more stories than we could possibly read in our lifetime… that while many of us take books for granted, millions more can only dream of them.

    We should never devalue the exercise of simply reading for the love of it; and neither should we discount the enormous consequences of not being able to. To summarise hundreds of thousands of pages of heavy-duty research into reading - books make brains bigger, and with that knowledge comes opportunities for a better life.

    Since 2002, we have been donating some of our unsold books in the United States to children all over the world. For many, it will be the first book they have ever owned. And though their new books won’t be the answer to the challenges they face in life, they might just be the small start they need into a better future.

    Last year, with the help of our non-profit partners across the world, we donated nearly one million books from our US warehouses alone. They have found their way into the hands of millions of children living at or below the poverty line - in communities where there may be as few as one book per 300 children. It is a small gift from us that, we hope, will have a large and lasting impact.

    And it’s an impact that ultimately reaches beyond the lives of the proud young owners of their new books; beyond education, to help the environment that we all depend on. No longer do unsold books produce the pollution from pulping or add to the deluge of landfill sites. By putting these books to the use they were created for, we are helping our planet to flourish, as well as the lives of our youngest generations.

    ***

    (photo credit: Jesus Hernandez)

     

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John Fallon

  • Educate the lost generation before it's too late

    John Fallon

    by John Fallon

    A girl being creative

    One of the less visible victims of the Syrian conflict has been education. The war has left almost three million Syrian children out of school - those that have stayed and the refugees who have fled. As the crisis continues to worsen, we need to focus on how to educate these children before they become a "lost generation". I attended a discussion this morning in London as part of the Supporting Syria event led by the governments of the UK, Germany, Kuwait, Norway, and the United Nations. Education was, rightly, high on the agenda.

    It is not enough to sit around and say that something must be done. It is not enough to leave it to governments, to hope the private sector will invest, or to rely on NGOs to bring assistance and order. It is not even enough for those of us with the ​power and responsibility to ‘act’. We have to act together to make the biggest impact we can​.

    For Pearson, that means sharing our expertise in delivering educational products and services at scale. We have the know-how - every year our products help many millions of teachers and students, of all ages, all over the world. But we have little experience of operating in conflict zones or refugee camps or dealing with the trauma of those who have been affected by war.

    That’s why we launched “Every Child Learning” nearly a year ago - a three year partnership with Save the Children that’s increasing educational opportunities for Syrian refugees and their host communities. The partnership has already provided two education centres in Amman, Jordan which are educating 1,400 Syrian five to 13 year olds. We’ve also committed £1m to research, to understand the sort of learning experiences that are needed and will work on the ground.

    If our partnership can have a positive impact for Syrian child refugees, we'll move on and see how we can help teach children affected by wars and emergencies in other parts of the world too.

    Education in emergencies and conflicts remains the most underfunded of all humanitarian areas. According to UNESCO only 2% of global humanitarian aid was allocated to education in 2014. Yet improving the provision of quality education in these settings will often be the catalyst to peace and stability. The challenge may be great, but the prize is much greater.

    All of us involved in education have a responsibility to ensure that there's no lost generation in Syria, or anywhere else in the world. At Pearson we’ll continue to work with others on all sorts of challenges - our allies in the Global Business Coalition for Education, our partners in Project Literacy, our business colleagues at the Pearson Affordable Learning Fund - anyone who believes like us that the best way to help people make progress in their lives is through access to quality education. It’s a responsibility that eclipses sectors or politics or ideologies. It is, very simply, a battle for the basic human right to learn.

     ***

    Read more about 'Every Child Learning'.

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  • The Pearson Affordable Learning Fund: delivering access and progress

    John Fallon

    by John Fallon

    hero img

    In Kenya, many children who attend Bridge International Academies are getting results in the top 5% nationally. In India, what began as a single classroom helping children in slums to learn English has grown into 800 schools serving 200,000 students who outperform ‘traditional’ classrooms by between 20-60%. And over 3,000 children in the Philippines are benefitting from being at schools where teachers received a 100% pass rate on their licensure tests.

    These are just some of the extraordinary outcomes being achieved by a new generation of education entrepreneurs around the world – entrepreneurs that Pearson has been helping to guide.

    In recent years the debate around how to fix global education has shifted. It is no longer enough just to talk about getting every child into school (though alas not because that has been solved.) Just as important is what happens when they’re there. When the world pats itself on the back that 43 million more children now go to school than five years ago, someone needs to keep asking, “what next?”. In other words, is the increase in access leading to improvements in progress?

    Through the Pearson Affordable Learning Fund (PALF) we are helping local entrepreneurs across Asia, Africa and Latin America to go further and faster in improving education in their local communities. From Ghana to India, our team has found brave innovators, exploring how new teaching and learning approaches can serve their communities. As my colleague Katelyn Donnelly, who heads up PALF, says: “It was clear everywhere we went—from Pakistan to Ghana to the Philippines—parents, students, and heads of state saw education and skill development as a critical gateway to a more prosperous life and a stronger economy. What was lacking was organization, knowledge and capital.”

    Where governments are sometimes unable to take on risks, entrepreneurs and startups can focus on the most difficult challenges in education—job readiness, early childhood education or teacher training—and make a big difference in a short space of time, from which the public sector can eventually benefit.

    Launched in May 2012 with an investment in Omega Schools in Ghana, PALF has now invested $15m in 10 education companies in five countries. With our partners we have helped educate 350,000 people, many of whom would not have had an education, let alone a good one. And importantly, they are all solutions that are based on sound business plans, so are sustainable, scalable and replicable.

    By getting behind local entrepreneurs, with our money and our know-how, we’re also helping to stimulate thriving communities - not just business people, but teachers and parents and anyone who relishes the opportunity to take on the trickiest problems in education.

    The late Professor C.K. Prahalad, a Pearson author and board member, said: “The big challenge for humanity is to get everybody, not just the elite, to participate in globalisation and avail its benefits.” The work of PALF is heavily influenced by that belief in inclusion, and in allowing everyone, not just those at the top of the pyramid, to have a chance.

    My colleagues in PALF have just published their first report into the impact of the investments they have made. It is well worth a read.

     

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  • Reflecting on Pearson's last day as owner of the Financial Times

    John Fallon

    by John Fallon

    hero img

    Tomorrow will be the first time since 1957 that the Financial Times will not be published as part of Pearson.

    As we complete the sale of the FT to new proprietors, Nikkei, it’s a good day to take stock of what Pearson and the FT have achieved together in those 58 years.

    As Andrew Edgecliffe-Johnson pointed out in his eloquent analysis of the sale, when Pearson first bought the Pink ‘Un, the deal was described as “a sound, conservative investment”.

    It went on to be so much more than that. The City of London’s house paper has become the indispensable guide to global finance, economics, politics and the business of technology for people with an interest in any of those fields. FT.com has continually redefined digital journalism – and has proven that people will pay for high quality content.

    The FT’s principled approach to reporting “without fear or favour”, the breadth and depth of its coverage, and its unstinting high standards are all qualities to we have admired and sought to uphold throughout our ownership.

    The FT’s commitment to finding and breeding the next generation of journalistic talent is also one from which many businesses could learn. Some of the most respected names in global journalism and public life are FT alumni – including current leaders at the BBC and Dow Jones. (It’s not every newspaper whose journalists go on to become government ministers, from Westminster to Ottawa, either).

    So, why did we sell?

    There is no doubt we’ve reached an inflection point in global media, involving new models for paid content and changing relationships between journalists, publications and their readers. The world of education, where Pearson is now putting 100% of our focus, is changing rapidly, too. I wrote about these phenomena after our sale was announced.

    And in the face of these changes, Pearson could not divide attention between two such crucial efforts. Education was already 90% of our business, and the FT deserved to be at the heart of a business totally focused on the future of global media.

    The FT will continue to define my morning agenda, whether that means reading Ed Luce and Janan Ganesh on US and UK politics, Andrew Hill on management, Martin Wolf on global economics, John Gapper and Gillian Tett on the intersection of business, politics and technology, or the many other journalists, editors and columnists whose expertise and way with words make the FT what it is.

    We wish colleagues, at the FT and Nikkei, very well as they define the future together.

    They will continue to make what Lionel Barber describes as “news for the new world”, and we will continue to cheer them on.

    Meanwhile Pearson is now totally focused on our biggest opportunity – making global education more accessible and more effective, and meeting the needs of millions of students all over the world who seek a better life. It’s a long term opportunity, and a complex one too – but it’s an inspiring goal, and one which we are better equipped to fulfil than anyone else.

    After years of enjoying a free subscription to the FT, I spent the weekend sorting out my own paid subscription. So, having sold the FT, I can now say with pride, that I buy it every day.

    read more
  • Why parents, students and teachers in developing countries choose low-cost affordable schools

    by Janine Matho

    A boy playing with cubes

    We recently set out on a journey to talk to parents, students and teachers in Ghana, the Philippines and South Africa to hear directly from them why they choose low-cost affordable schools.

    These parents made it clear to us that they are investing in the hopes and dreams they have for their children. They seek a safe school, a warm school culture, and evidence that their child is learning. And they, like many of us, feel empowered when they can make a choice about where to send their child to school.

    "A friend of mine told me about SPARK. I booked the tour, went to see the school and I found that the first thing that attracted me was the culture at SPARK. The values that they endorse as well as the blended learning." - Olga Masingi, Spark parent

    Enrollment in low-fee private schools in developing countries has increased over the last 20 years. Upwards of 40% of children living in poverty are enrolled in low-cost private schools in the Indian Subcontinent and large parts of Africa. In larger cities such as Delhi, Karachi, Accra or Lagos this figure rises to 70%. Tuition in such schools can range from $0.50 - $5 per day, for example. We launched the Pearson Affordable Learning Fund (PALF) in 2012 in response to the families who had already opted into such schools.

    "Working with the very best local entrepreneurs is what makes PALF possible—education leaders who understand the unique needs of their students and their markets. We’re proud that half of our capital is invested with female founders, in a world where many startups in both the developed and developing worlds are still overwhelmingly male." - Katelyn Donnelly, Managing Director, Pearson Affordable Learning Fund

    In addition to our efforts to partner with governments around the world to improve education systems, the Pearson Affordable Learning Fund represents Pearson’s broader commitment to tackle the educational needs of the world’s poorest regions. Pearson has elected to invest in such opportunities, and to hold itself accountable for the results achieved by children enrolled in PALF portfolio schools; it is one of the ways we will contribute to achieving our commitment to the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

    We invite you to hear directly from the parents, students and teachers at three schools in which we have invested—APEC Schools in Manila, Philippines; Omega Schools in Ghana; and SPARK Schools in South Africa—and learn why these parents, teachers and students have chosen a low-cost private school.

     

    Learn more about the Pearson Affordable Learning Fund.

    read more
  • Securing the future of A level foreign language qualifications

    by Rod Bristow

    Girls looking at stone carvings

    As our A level and GCSE qualifications undergo significant change, there has understandably been much public attention on the future of those foreign language qualifications studied by smaller numbers of students.

    While these qualifications have a relatively small number of registrations, they are often the home language of many UK communities and, in an era of globalisation, are important.

    As well as Spanish, German and French, which are studied widely across England, Pearson currently offers GCSEs and A levels in Arabic, Modern Greek, Japanese and Urdu, all of which historically have smaller cohort numbers.  We have previously confirmed that we will continue to offer GCSEs in these subjects under the new system, from September 2017.

    We believe in the importance of these qualifications but, in the context of significant change in qualifications, there are difficult issues to work through and debates to be had. As we designed new specifications for A levels in these four languages, we had concerns that the small entry numbers, combined with the new content and assessment requirements for modern languages as set out by the Department for Education, would make it difficult to continue to create valid and reliable assessments. However, both Pearson and the DfE are committed to securing the future of these A level subject in two years’ time, so we have been working together on a new set of content requirements to mitigate this risk and allow us to feel confident in their quality and credibility.

    Not all of our competitors have taken the same view, and as a result of some other important languages being 'dropped', we're going to work with the DfE to secure the future of A level and GCSE qualifications in Gujarati, Portuguese, Turkish and GCSE Biblical Hebrew.  Why would a commercial education company do that?  The answer is that as well as helping individuals make progress in their lives, education has the potential to foster inclusion and diversity, helping to make society more cohesive.  All parties - the government, the regulator and the exam boards - should work together in the interests of students, but also the communities in which we all live.

    read more
  • What does Proficient mean?

    by Katie McClarty

    Man and girl playing chess

    The end of the school year is a time for field trips, class parties, and final report cards. The iconic report card lets parents know how their student did that year and typically reflects attendance, participation, and performance in class. Parents generally understand how to interpret report card grades: A (great), C (average), or F (failing).

    The end of the year also is the time when many parents receive their child’s standardized test scores. These results, however, are not as easy to interpret. For example, in Massachusetts, a student who earns a score of 250 on the state test is considered proficient. In Washington, it takes a score of 400. Each state has its own assessments, and each defines proficiency differently.

    Now, however, nearly all the states have agreed to adopt the Common Core State Standards as an outline of what students should be taught in mathematics and English language arts. Educators will use instructional materials appropriate for teaching students the knowledge, skills, and practices laid out in these documents. That should produce less variability in instruction state to state and district to district.

    In order to monitor how well students are learning this material, most of the states also have agreed to use one of two Common Core assessments that are being developed. That will make it possible for states to report results on a common scale: a 400 in English in Tennessee, for example, would be the same as a 400 in Florida. But the question remains: is 400 good enough?

    To answer that question, states set performance standards. Typically, this is done by educators and other experts who get together and look at assessments and agree on which questions or tasks a proficient (or advanced or in need of improvement) student should be expected to answer or complete. That information is then translated into a specific score. The same process can be used to analyze the quality of examples of student work.

    More recently, it’s become possible to answer the question of what is good enough more precisely, based not just on expert judgment but also on data. If by proficiency we mean that a student has learned enough in one grade to be ready to do well in the next one, we can test that definition by tracking how students actually perform. We can look at how well a group of students performs on a 5th grade math test and then look back at how those same kids had done on the 4th grade math test. Using statistics, we can then more accurately define what it means to be proficient in the 4th grade.

    This process is called Evidence Based Standard Setting, and because scores can be linked to future performance, it can give parents confidence that if their child is proficient, he or she has not only mastered an important set of knowledge and skills, but also is likely to be successful in the next grade. It can even give students and their parents a sense of whether they’re on track to do well after high school in college or in demanding career training programs. The scores can also help identify students who need extra help before it becomes too late, and parents, using this information, can advocate on their children’s behalf to make sure they receive that help.

    The familiar report card is but one source of information about how well students are doing in school. Test results linked to important future outcomes can provide another critical piece of information to teachers, parents, and students.

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  • Rigor and Readiness: Measuring the Impact of Algebra II

    by Katie McClarty

    Students in a lecture

    There has been a lot of discussion lately about the role of advanced high-school mathematics courses — in particular, Algebra II — in promoting college and career readiness. On one side of the debate, the champions of Algebra II cite research demonstrating that completing the course leads to success in higher education and to higher earnings (Adelman, 2006; Carnevale & Desrochers, 2003). Achieve has been one of the leading advocates for including advanced mathematics in required high school curricula, suggesting there are not only practical advantages (e.g., prerequisites for future study), but also benefits to students’ general academic development. Skills acquired through Algebra II (including but not limited to logical thinking, cognitive capacity, and complex problem solving) can support success in areas far beyond a day-to-day work environment.

    This isn’t to say the debate is settled. A recent report from the National Center for Education and the Economy (NCEE) found that the skills most important for succeeding in community college math courses were those introduced in middle school. By analyzing textbooks, assignments, and tests at seven community colleges, the researchers concluded that few students need to master advanced algebra to be successful. The NCEE report comes at a time when several states (e.g., Florida, Texas) are changing graduation requirements to make Algebra II optional, provide more flexible pathways toward high school graduation, and create space in students’ schedules for more vocational training.

    Isolating the causal effect of taking Algebra II on future outcomes is a serious challenge, thanks to selection bias. It is likely that students who choose to take Algebra II in high school are higher performing and more motivated than many of their peers and thus more likely to attend and do well in college. In other words, it’s something about the type of students that take Algebra II, rather than completing the course itself, that leads to better student outcomes.

    In a recent research study, my co-authors and I set about tackling this thorny issue — separating selection effects from Algebra II’s true causal effects. We will be presenting our work next week at the Association for Institutional Research Annual Forum in Long Beach, CA. We used national datasets spanning multiple decades and sophisticated econometric techniques to isolate cause-and-effect relationships between completing Algebra II in high school and subsequent college and career outcomes.

    The verdict? Algebra II seems to matter more for college outcomes (including community colleges, technical colleges, and four-year institutions) than for career outcomes. Compared to their counterparts who didn’t finish Algebra II, those who did were more likely to be admitted to selective colleges, maintain higher college GPAs, stay in school, and graduate. Conversely, for students who did not apply to college after high school, completing Algebra II was not related to finding a job immediately after high school, initial occupational prestige, earnings, or career advancement.

    This research indicates that students not planning to attend any college (two-year or four-year) may not benefit substantially from finishing Algebra II. That said, it’s important to highlight one caveat: Algebra II does not seem to negatively impact any career outcomes. In that respect, completing the course will keep doors open to college for the many students who do not solidify their postsecondary plans before enrolling in high school courses or starting their mathematics sequence. Some of our other interesting findings from this study will be the topic of future blog posts.

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  • Grit, Tenacity, and Perseverance

    by Katie McClarty

    In my last blog, I discussed the importance of metacognitive learning skills—attitudes, behaviors, and beliefs about learning. These skills continue to garner attention from educational researchers and policy-makers. The Office of Education and Technology (OET) at the U.S. Department of Education recently released a report, Promoting Grit, Tenacity, and Perseverance—Critical Factors for Success in the 21st Century, which takes a closer look at defining, measuring, and developing these skills. Grit was defined as “perseverance to accomplish long-term or higher-order goals in the face of challenges and setbacks, engaging the student’s psychological resources, such as their academic mindsets, effortful control, and strategies and tactics” (p. 15).

    The task of defining and measuring grit is not simply an academic exercise; this is a trait associated with important student outcomes, including success in college. Angela Duckworth’s research shows that people with a college degree (Associate’s or higher) tend to be grittier than people without a degree. Moreover, and perhaps not surprisingly, grit seems to be associated with success in particularly challenging postsecondary environments. It is associated with retention at West Point, and research by Terrell Strayhorn has shown grit is a significant predictor of college grades for black males attending predominantly while institutions.

    Because grit may play a key role in overcoming adversity, it is encouraging that grit, tenacity, and perseverance are skills that can be developed with the right supports. For example, the OET report recommends designing learning environments that provide students opportunities to take on long-term, higher-order goals aligned with their interests. These goals are optimally challenging and intrinsically motivating. Meeting them takes perseverance. By developing such skills early, students may be more likely to persevere through challenges that are bound arise along their college and career paths.

    The central tenets of personalized learning echo these themes. First, we must identify where each student is on a learning trajectory. We use that information to provide each student with a challenging, but attainable next step. Technology and digital learning environments can facilitate the personalization process. With these tools we can collect information about students’ strengths, weaknesses, and behaviors, and then adapt learning systems to set reasonable goals for every student. By creating personalized learning solutions, we can do more than just deliver the appropriate academic content. We can set students on a path to increase their grit.

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