I loved Gladwell’s first book, The Tipping Point, but I actually like Outliers: The Story of Success even better.
I received Outliers from my parents as a gift and finished it in two sittings. I found myself saying “wow” and “no way” aloud many times as I was reading the book, something that a book rarely does for me.
Gladwell makes the compelling argument that people who succeed benefit from a multitude of other factors, other than just their own hard work and smarts.
He explains why star hockey players are most likely to be born in the first few months of the year, why Asians are good at math, the importance of growing up in certain cultures or being born in a certain time period.
The part that I want to focus on here is Gladwell’s section of the book about Education in the USA. He referenced a study about Baltimore school children starting in 1st grade and running until 5th grade. The researchers compared standardized test scores of low, middle and upper income children and found what most people would expect: poor kids did worse than middle class or rich kids.
What was amazing to me is that when the researchers compared these same test scores from the beginning of the school year to the end of the school year to quantify how much kids learned during the school year, they found that poor and middle class kids actually outlearned rich kids during their schooling. This is astounding to me and has broad implications for advocates for schools who have focused most of their attention on improving facilities, teacher pay, class size and increasing school funding.
What is even more amazing was what the researchers found when they compared tests from the end of the year to tests taken right after summer vacation. After 1st grade, poor kids and middle class kids lost over 3 points on their score, whereas rich kids gained over 15 points. Over the course of four summers, upper class kids gained over 52 points on standardized test over summer and low and middle income kids barely gained any. This research shows that most students learn about the same during school, but there is a huge gap between summer learning for poor and upper class kids.
If most of the achievement gap can be explained by what goes on when kids are not in school, there is an easy solution: more schooling and shorter summer vacation. This solution is exactly what the Bronx KIPP Academy does. They select their students by holding a lottery for any student living in the Bronx who wants to attend. This means that the kids are mostly from single parent households and are either Black or Hispanic. The extra work that the kids put in allow 90% of them to earn scholarships to private high schools, 84% to score above grade level on the standardized tests and 80% go to college.
The KIPP program has already expanded to over 50 other cities in the USA, but I would love to see even more cities try to use this approach to help students succeed from the poorest neighborhoods. It would be well worth the effort and could make the USA a much better place!
I agree with Fabrice: Outliers is Fantastic!