Nobel Prize winning economist, James Heckman, has been urging people to consider the importance of what are sometimes called “non-cognitive” attributes, like self-control, persistence, delayed-gratification, etc… As it turns out, these qualities seem to be at least as important as traditional measures of academic achievement in predicting success in life and are things that schools can teach.
Now Heckman and fellow University of Chicago economist, Tim Kautz, have a literature review on NBER about how these important aspects of character might be measured and altered.
Here’s a taste from the abstract:
The literature establishes that achievement tests do not adequately capture character skills–personality
traits, goals, motivations, and preferences–that are valued in the labor market, in school, and in many
other domains. Their predictive power rivals that of cognitive skills. Reliable measures of character
have been developed….
Character is shaped by families, schools, and social environments….
High-quality early childhood and elementary school programs improve character skills in a lasting
and cost-effective way. Many of them beneficially affect later-life outcomes without improving cognition.
There are fewer long-term evaluations of adolescent interventions, but workplace-based programs
that teach character skills are promising. The common feature of successful interventions across all
stages of the life cycle through adulthood is that they promote attachment and provide a secure base
for exploration and learning for the child. Successful interventions emulate the mentoring environments
offered by successful families.
The more that the education field narrows its focus to standardized achievement test scores, the more it detracts from these other essential aims of education.