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November 10, 2013
by Larry Ferlazzo

Highlights Of A Reddit Chat With Angela Duckworth & Roland Fryer


Reddit hosted a chat this week with MacArthur genius awardees Angela Duckworth & Roland Fryer.

As regular readers of this blog know, I’m no fan of Fryer’s work, and nothing he said in the chat made me elevate that opinion.

Angela Duckworth, though, is a different story, and I’ve been very impressed with her research on grit (see The Best Resources For Learning About The Importance Of “Grit”). And I think she share some important and useful info on Reddit.

I think the most important piece of research she shared, though she made it clear that it’s not solid and it’s an “informal” finding, was this:

I do think there are things we can do to improve grit and self-control. Most of my ideas (things I think) haven’t been tested, but in this informal setting, I will say that I think (but don’t know yet for sure) that just being around a lot of people of exemplify these qualities should help.

Even though, to a certain extent, this is common sense, this particular comment is going to be very helpful to me. Coincidentally, I’m doing my lesson on grit right now in class, and being able to share this quote (students have been reading about her research and watching her videos) can, I think, apply a little peer pressure — “if I show grit, then I’m helping my classmates and, if don’t show it, I’m hurting them.”

Here are some other things she shared that she believes could help people develop grit:

Another idea with some empirical evidence behind it is that certain beliefs should help with both self-control. Believing that self-control is a limited resource and should therefore be conserved tends not to encourage people to use self-control. Believing that self-control doesn’t run out after use has the opposite (and in this case, a positive, adaptive) effect. Our lab thinks that believing that effort and practice play a huge, not minor, role in success encourages grit. Also, believing that failure is part of learning and part of life should encourage grit. We are working on strategies and beliefs now…

I’m not convinced about her perspective on self-control — believing that it’s a limited resource doesn’t mean it has to be conserved. It means that you have to be strategic to make sure it gets replenished (see The Best Posts About Helping Students Develop Their Capacity For Self-Control). I don’t believe most research supports Prof. Duckworth’s position on self-control (which she shares with another person whom I admire, Carol Dweck) and have written about it specifically at Our Students Are Not Supermen & Superwomen.

I was struck by her response to a question that, though not specifically, seemed to be touching on the 10,000 hour rule:

My view is that achievement = talent x effort. In particular, I think some people learn/improve faster than others, and we can call that talent. And some people work longer and harder than others, and we can call that effort. The real superstars, the outliers, are almost without exception high in talent and effort.

She also referred to a good “This I Believe” piece by Martha Graham.

Finally, there was this interchange:

Angela, You’re at UPenn, in Philadelphia, where it seems like schools are closing left and right and the whole system is in extreme turmoil. How can low-income kids be expected to show continued grit and fortitude in those kinds of settings, in the face of closings, mergers and such instability?

(Angela Duckworth) You bring up an important point. The situations in which people find themselves has a huge effect on outcomes. And, I don’t want attention to grit and other aspects of character to imply that we don’t need to work on improving the situations of kids – their neighborhoods, schools, opportunities, etc. But, it’s also true, that for kids in the schools (and by the way, my two kids are in the Philadelphia schools as of this year, since we moved from the ‘burbs), they have little choice other than to ask “How can I, without changing the whole system” do as well as I can? What can I do?” In other words, kids are not to blame for their situations, and situations are important, but kids also need to develop a sense of responsibility and agency about their lives. The road may be bumpy, and that’s not necessarily their fault, but they need to think of themselves as in the driver’s seat, not the passenger seat.

I do wish she had made a stronger point about how grit and SEL not being enough, especially since “school reformers” are using her research as part of the “No Excuses” mantra.

At the same time, I do agree that helping our students develop grit is one thing we can do in dealing with the world “as it is” instead of just operating in the world “as we’d like it to be.”

If you get a chance, read the Reddit transcript and let me know your thoughts on what you see.

June 11, 2013
by Larry Ferlazzo

Won’t Researcher Roland Fryer Ever Give Up On Trying To Prove Extrinsic Motivation Works Better Than The Intrinsic Kind?

Harvard researcher Roland Fryer seems to just not want to give up on proving the effectiveness of extrinsic motivation among students, even though all the money he’s spent has proven to be unsuccessful.

His latest failure was bribing kids with free cellphones in exchange for receiving daily “inspirational” messages that they would be quizzed about. Result — zero academic improvement.

As I wrote in The Washington Post after another of failed schemes (see Bribing students: Another ‘magical solution’ that doesn’t work):

When I see studies like Fryer’s, I wonder what kinds of academic gains would be realized if, instead of spending $166 per student on cash payouts, those funds were provided to teachers and schools to do more of what my colleagues often spend their own time and money doing (and what our administrators work overtime trying to squeeze school funds to pay for). Like:

* Having reluctant readers choose books of their own which we then purchase for them.

* Buying multiple copies of books students want to use in a student-led independent discussion group.

* Supplying all classrooms with a collection of high-interest books.

* Having a well-stocked school library and flexible librarian.

* Training teachers in effective, engaging literacy strategies, including free voluntary reading.

* Having counselors spend enormous amounts of time tracking down ways students can get needed eyeglasses, medical check-ups, and dental work done.

* Providing computers and home internet access to immigrant families to use for language development.

* Going on field trips to neighborhood libraries and other enriching destinations.

None of these kinds of efforts come with the baggage of extrinsic motivation programs.

The word “incentives” comes from incendere, which means “to kindle.” The dictionary says that “to kindle” means “to start a fire burning.” We need to imagine that it is the student, not the teacher, who starts that fire.

You can read about his other similar research attempts at:

“If you only have a hammer, you tend to see every problem as a nail” — Economists Go After Schools Again

Krashen On Bribing Students To Read

August 22, 2016
by Larry Ferlazzo
1 Comment

Researchers Find – Once Again – That Extrinsic Motivation Doesn’t Work


A new study has found that a “rewards for attendance” scheme initially improved school attendance, but after it was removed both attendance and motivation was reduced among the original target population.


How many times do researchers need to find the same conclusion before they stop studying it? Just about every study on motivation has found the same thing already – see Study Finds That Rewards For School Attendance Make Things Worse, The Best Posts & Articles On “Motivating” Students and Won’t Researcher Roland Fryer Ever Give Up On Trying To Prove Extrinsic Motivation Works Better Than The Intrinsic Kind?

Here’s an excerpt from the study’s abstract:



I’m adding the info to The Best Resources On Student Absenteeism.

Thanks to Paul Tough for the tip.

May 18, 2016
by Larry Ferlazzo

The Incentive Follies

I’ve written a lot about the importance of intrinsic motivation (see The Best Posts & Articles On “Motivating” Students plus my three books on the subject).

I’ve also regularly posted about Roland Fryer’s failed attempts to show that extrinsic motivation should be a major tool that teachers use with students and districts use with teachers (see How Many Studies Must A Man Do Before He Gives Up On Trying To Prove Extrinsic Motivation Works?).

Paul Tough also writes about Fyer’s efforts, both in his new book and the excerpt appearing in this month’s Atlantic (see How Kids Learn Resilience). You’ll also be able to see an interview I did with Paul for my Education Week Teacher column, which will be appearing next Tuesday.

Here’s an excerpt from today’s…excerpt:


April 10, 2015
by Larry Ferlazzo

This Week’s “Round-Up” Of Useful Posts & Articles On Ed Policy Issues

Here are some recent useful posts and articles on educational policy issues (You might also be interested in The Best Articles, Posts & Videos On Education Policy In 2014 – Part Two):

Teachers Must Look In The Mirror is a horrible op-ed piece by Thomas Kane, the guru behind the Gates Foundation MET initiative. I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say it’s a bit mind-boggling, especially in light of his last published piece, a plea for more evidence-based education research, which I thought was pretty good. In his most recent piece, he advocates for practices that don’t meet that standard. He’s beginning to remind me of Roland Fryer, who won’t give up trying to show that extrinsic rewards will cure all in education. As John Thompson has written, Gates Scholar, Tom Kane, Continues the Fight to Prove He Is Right.

Schools in New Hampshire are creating alternatives to national standardized tests. I’m adding it to The Best Articles Describing Alternatives To High-Stakes Testing — Help Me Find More.

News Corp.’s $1 Billion Plan to Overhaul Education Is Riddled With Failures is from Bloomberg News.

On 50th Anniversary of ESEA, How Do We Fulfill the Law’s Original Promise? (Infographic) is from The NEA. I’m adding it to The Best Resources On The No Child Left Behind Reauthorization Process.

Senate Plan to Revise No Child Left Behind Law Would Not Measure Teachers by Test Scores is from The New York Times. I’m adding it to the same list.

Is America Nearing the End of the No Child Left Behind Era? is from The Atlantic. I’m adding it to the same list.

How Education Policy Went Astray is from The Atlantic. Yup, it goes on that list, too.

New York City charters leave thousands of seats unfilled despite exploding demand, study finds is from The Washington Post. I’m adding it to The Best Posts & Articles Analyzing Charter Schools.

A Smarter Charter is from The Washington Post. I’m adding it to the same list.

Teachers sue to join union without paying for political activities is an unfortunate development here in my state.

America is criminalizing Black teachers: Atlanta’s cheating scandal and the racist underbelly of education reform is from Salon.

Atlanta Injustice Demands a Response is by David B. Cohen in Ed Week.

I’m adding both to The Best Commentaries On The Atlanta Test-Cheating Verdict.

This sounds insane if accurate: Philly school district projects 22 percent graduation rate in 2017

September 30, 2013
by Larry Ferlazzo

U.S. Dept. Of Ed Announces Not One, Not Two, But Three Studies Show NY Performance Pay Generally Makes Things Worse

'200th Strikeout!' photo (c) 2007, Eric Kilby - license:

Three strikes, yer out!

The Institute Of Education Sciences has announced that out of three approved studies of a New York performance pay program, one showed across the board negative effects on student achievement; another showed negative effects in some areas and no effect in others; and a third one showed no effect at all (thanks to Morgan Polikoff).

The first study was conducted by Roland Fryer, who has turned into Captain Ahab going after the Moby Dick of using pay to increase student achievement.

I’m adding this info to The Best Resources For Learning Why Teacher Merit Pay Is A Bad Idea.

September 25, 2013
by Larry Ferlazzo

New Study On Cash Rewards For Students Tries Really, Really, Really Hard To Make It Look Good

'Forex Money for Exchange in Currency Bank' photo (c) 2013, epSos .de - license:

Researcher Roland Fryer has been trying to prove for years — unsuccessfully — that cash incentives will result in higher student academic achievement. You can see my previous blog posts all his failures to show that this kind of strategy works. You might also want to read my Washington Post column Bribing students: Another ‘magical solution’ that doesn’t work.

Now, one of his and New York City Mayor Bloomberg’s pet projects, a cash rewards program in New York City, has issued a final evaluation that tries really, really — I mean really — hard to put lipstick on a pig. The Wall Street Journal has an article on it, and you read the entire report here.

Here’s my short summary of the mind-numbingly lengthy study:

After giving an extremely lengthy list of what giving cash clearly did not affect (including just about everything for elementary and middle school students, and almost everything for high school students), they claim that high school students who entered the program as academically “proficient” in ninth grade had an 8% higher graduation rate than the control group (those who entered ninth-grade as not academically proficient did not have a higher graduation rate). And though they really try hard to dodge it, it’s also pretty clear that positive impact only applied to girls.

In a number of academic areas, cash incentives were removed (it appears the program was redesigned at some point) and in at least some of those areas performance from the students in the program dipped even below those in the control group — surprise, surprise, that when extrinsic incentives were removed, motivation plummets. However, inexplicably, the researchers say they can’t say for sure that this is the reason for the dip. That’s pretty interesting, because in other parts of the report, they jump to conclusions that clearly have no evidence. For example, in one part of the report they attribute increased Internet use by students at home to computers purchased by families with incentive money students had earned, though they clearly don’t have a single shred of evidence that this is how families used the money.

When are these guys going to give up beating a dead horse?

August 12, 2013
by Larry Ferlazzo

This Week’s “Round-Up” Of Good Posts & Articles On Education Policy


photo credit: Milosh Kosanovich via photopin cc

Here are several relatively recent good posts and articles on educational policy issues:

California Districts Get NCLB Waiver Despite Union Objections is a great post by my colleague Alice Mercer. I’m adding it to The Best Posts & Articles On The NCLB Waiver Given To Eight California School Districts (Including Ours).

Teacher Turnover Negatively Impacts Student Achievement in Math and English is from The Journal. I’m adding it to The Best Posts & Articles About The Importance Of Teacher (& Student) Working Conditions.

Gary Rubinstein: Dramatic Collapse of Charter School Test Scores is at Diane Ravitch’s blog. It’s about the recent New York City testing fiasco.

Aaron Pallas has more commentary on what happened in New York.

Roland Fryer’s “No Excuses” Excuses is by Dr. John Thompson. This isn’t the first time that issues about Fryer’s research have appeared in this blog.

The MOOC ‘Revolution’ May Not Be as Disruptive as Some Had Imagined is from The Chronicle of Higher Education. I’m adding it to The Best Posts & Articles On MOOC’s — Help Me Find More.

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