(Updated, Oct. 16 to include more details on L.A. Unified’s grant)
Los Angeles Unified and Long Beach Unified are among the three urban school districts and a charter organization awarded a combined $2 million in a federal competition to create models for encouraging confidence, perseverance and other traits that make up students’ learning mindsets.
Both districts have been systematically developing learning or “growth” mindsets, which are the skills that teach students how to think and learn. They are also called non-cognitive or social and emotional learning. The two districts are part of CORE, the California Office to Reform Education – six California districts with nearly 1 million students that have a waiver from the No Child Left Behind Law. They are developing a new School Quality Improvement Index as a condition of the waiver. A piece of the index measures learning mindsets and other elements of school climate.
Learning mindsets “are not a silver bullet but can change the trajectory in meaningful ways” to put students on the path to college and their career choices, said John King, who’ll become acting secretary of the U.S. Department of Education when Arne Duncan steps down in December. He made his comments Wednesday in announcing the new Skills for Success grants. Chicago Public Schools and KIPP Houston Public Schools will also get money. There were more than 100 applicants, the department said.
Long Beach will use its $512,000 grant to create the next stage of Long Beach Scholars, a career exploration program in STEM – science, technology, engineering and math – for middle school students. The district will refine its project-based curriculum in STEM to include activities focused on non-cognitive skills and behaviors. The project will be part of the district’s effort to “help build a middle school culture in Long Beach that promotes high expectations for all students,” a summary of its application said. The district will work with the national nonprofit Jobs for the Future and with SRI International, an education research and evaluation company, with the goal of creating a model that other districts in California can adopt.
Los Angeles Unified’s $584,000 “Mindset for All” project uses certified trainers to work with teachers and parents in fostering growth mindsets for middle school students in four schools with high-poverty, immigrant families. The grant will fund the partnership and continued work of two organizations, Families in Schools, and GEAR UP 4 LA. The schools are part of the L.A. Promise Neighborhood, a public-private effort funded through President Obama’s Promise Zones Initiative, providing extensive health and social services complementing intensive programs within schools. “Student identity and self-efficacy issues perpetuate a cycle in which students from low-income and immigrant families struggle to access higher education, making the non-cognitive skills development of critical importance,” read a summary of the project.
King also announced that a Stanford University laboratory known as PERTS (Project for Education Research That Scales), which has done landmark research in learning mindsets, will be a key partner in the launch of a second project, Mentoring Mindsets Initiative. PERTS is tailoring its Growth Mindset Toolkit, a collection of strategies and exercises (see a sample lesson plan) for teachers and parents, to accommodate volunteer mentors who work in nonprofts nationwide. PERTS will work initially with City Year, a national program affiliated with AmeriCorps, which sends young adults to work in high-needs schools, and then expand through MENTOR, a nonprofit that coordinates mentoring nationwide.
King, who credited the personal relationships he developed with his New York City public school teachers with “literally saving my life” after his own parents died, said that mentors and teachers provide students with the “powerful connections between what they are doing in school with what they want to do in life.”