Grit, Luck and Money: Preparing Kids for College and Getting Them Through

“No excuses” charter schools have shown themselves to be immensely successful at educating low-income and minority students. But how successful have they been at preparing these youngsters for the rigors of college? This American RadioWorks documentary profiles the YES Prep charter network in Houston, which is wrestling with that exact question. YES Prep runs eleven sixth through twelfth grade schools, serving 7,000 students in Space City. The charter network boasts a 100 percent four-year college-acceptance rate—but only a 40 percent college-graduation rate, which has YES Prep staffers confused. Their students all take AP courses—and pass them at rates over double the national average. The school's curricula seems like it should prepare graduates for college. YES Prep staffers are now investigating the role that “grit”—the willingness to work harder and longer than most others would consider rational—may play in determining college success. They found, for example, that those who most struggled in their YES Prep schools fared the best when they got to college, showing that academic perseverance may matter more than innate smarts. Documentarian Emily Hanford also reminds us, however, that these students may have also succeeded because they were able—and knew how—to find and receive help on a college campus. The documentary asks more questions than it answers, about the right balance between knowledge and perseverance and between grit and the willingness to ask for help. But they are important questions indeed.

RELATED ARTICLE: Emily Hanford, Grit Luck and Money Preparing Kids for College and Getting Them Through (St. Paul, MN: American RadioWorks, August 2012).

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