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SRC looks at non-academic skills that students need to succeed

This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.

The School Reform Commission’s discussion of teaching and learning on Tuesday evening was a departure from the last decade’s single-minded focus on improving students’ math and literacy skills. For a change, the focus was on how to support the non-academic skills like self-control and tolerance of frustration that researchers say are crucial to academic success.

The SRC’s monthly, in-the-round strategy session took off from a presentation called “Self-Control in Children" by David Meketon, a longtime District teacher who is now a research coordinator at the University of Pennsylvania’s Positive Psychology Center.

The session was chaired by Commissioner Wendell Pritchett, who focused the discussion on "how to ensure that students come to school ready to succeed."

Four panelists responded to the presentation: Erika Almiron, executive director of JUNTOS; Leslie Tyler of the Meredith Home and School Association; Deion Jordan, a student at Constitution High; and Science Leadership Academy teacher Matthew VanKouwenberg.

Meketon described self-control as an ability to pursue a global goal rather than responding to more immediate temptations. He pointed out that girls as a group show greater self-control than boys, and this correlates with greater academic success among girls.

In response, SRC Chair Pedro Ramos asked, "Do we need to change boys or change teachers?" and suggested that "something about the teaching" needs to change to address the gender gap.

Meketon ageed: "Educators need to rethink how we educate boys or we’ll have hell to pay for it."

Decrying a trend of "overmedicating our young people so that they can behave in the classroom," Almiron, who has a background in youth organizing, added, "We often put more value on a child who can sit still than on a child who is actually trying to learn something."

VanKouwenberg, whose school has a project-based emphasis, said that through projects, "students can demonstrate their knowledge in many different ways" and that multiple-choice tests don’t fully measure student understanding.

Meketon repeatedly pointed to the importance of valuing student effort and hard work, and said he thought it was a mistake that the District stopped including measures of work habits and behavior on report cards.

In response to a question, Superintendent William Hite said he agreed that report cards should incorporate more information about behavior and noncognitive measures.

Inquirer education reporter Kristen Graham provided a running account of the meeting on Twitter.