How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity and the Hidden Power of Character. By Paul Tough. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; 256 pages; $27. Random House; £12.99. Buy from Amazon.com, Amazon.co.uk
THE young teenagers who graduated from a special South Bronx middle school in 1999 became nationally famous. All black and Hispanic and largely from low-income families, the students had been recruited four years earlier to participate in an experimental programme called KIPP (ie, the Knowledge Is Power Program), designed to close the achievement gap between privileged and poor students. The experience seemed to pay off: in a citywide test, these students earned the highest scores of any school in the Bronx, and the fifth-highest in all of New York City. Most won admission to top high schools, often with full scholarships. They all seemed destined for college, and for successful, precedent-bucking, demographic-defying lives.
But six years after their high-school graduation, only about a fifth of KIPP’s first class had completed a four-year college degree. Most ended up dropping out, reaffirming America’s growing class divide on college campuses. KIPP’s founders were distraught, particularly because a college degree has never been more valuable, enabling Americans to earn some 80% more than people with only a high-school diploma. So how had KIPP failed to prepare these students for college? What did they do wrong?