This blog is the second in a series of junior Forum for Youth Investment staff and interns sharing their perspectives and engaging with the Forum’s Changing the Odds concepts.
Getting into college is a goal for most young people. Recently, Frank W. Ballou High School, a public school in a low-income community in Washington, D.C. made national headlines due to its 2017 graduating class accomplishing a 100% college acceptance rate. This news shocked many, given reports concerning staff turnover and low test scores in the months prior.
Lots of people are talking about the importance of ensuring that students have social and emotional skills needed to be college and career ready. Too often, however, the focus is on what it takes to teach young people these skills. These skills, however, are often learned in the context of doing other things – playing, studying, socializing, working, even getting out of bad situations. We often don’t know what we’ve learned until the skill is named or know that it is important. This is especially true of students who are black, brown or poor.
Imagine this scenario. A smiling five-year-old is brought into a bare room with a table. On the table is a plate with a single marshmallow. The researcher who brought them in says she will back in 15 minutes, and gives them a choice: they can eat the one marshmallow while she’s gone or wait until she returns and have two. This simple test turned out to be an effective measure of willpower or self-control and a strong predictor of future success. Children who displayed early ability to defer gratification, on average, had higher SAT scores, lower body mass index and a host of other desi
I don’t want to go to any more celebrations in which young people are given “beat the odds” awards to acknowledge the individual commitment they have made to overcome obstacles. This is not because these young people don’t deserve our attention and awe. They absolutely do. It’s because we should not in any way settle for individual successes when there is so much more we could have done to ameliorate mass struggles.