Outliers: The Story of Success | Study Guide

Malcolm Gladwell

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Outliers: The Story of Success | Part 2, Chapter 9 : Legacy (Marita's Bargain) | Summary

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Key Takeaways

  • KIPP Academy in the South Bronx, New York City, isn't like other urban public schools. Its hours are longer, its holidays are shorter, and it has higher expectations for its students, who are selected by lottery before their fifth-grade year. By the time they complete eighth grade, 84 percent of students perform at or above their grade level in math compared to 16 percent of students in the rest of the school district.
  • KIPP students aren't any smarter or wealthier than their peers who go to traditional neighborhood schools. The luck of a lottery gives them the opportunity to learn from teachers and administrations who focus on the power of cultural legacies and how to overcome them.
  • The American school system was created in the early 19th century as a way of ensuring all children received a comprehensive education that taught them to read, write, and do math. Yet reformers also worried about children getting "too much" schooling, citing concerns about studying-induced insanity and the "blunting [of] natural abilities through too much schoolwork." That's why today's American students have a five-day school week, a shorter school day, and lengthy vacations.
  • Western agriculture also impacted the structure of American schools. Fields are empty in the winter, and every few years corn and wheat fields are left fallow, or unplanted, to replenish the soil's nutrients. The busy fall and spring seasons are offset by the slower winters and summers. Gladwell says, "We formulate new ideas by analogy, working from what we know toward what we don't know." Education reformers knew about agricultural cycles, which they then transposed onto the human capacity to learn.
  • Summer vacation is an unspoken problem in American schools. It is the root of the "achievement gap," or disparity between the academic performance of upper-income and lower-income students. Both learn a lot during the school year, but the lower-income students don't retain as much of that knowledge over long summer breaks. This lack of retention happens because poorer students don't have as many opportunities at home for education, such as reading with an adult or taking recreational classes. Many poor children don't even have access to books. Upper-income students do have access to books, activities, and opportunities that help them retain what they learned during the school year. As students move from grade to grade, the gap only increases.
  • Researchers theorize that upper-income and lower-income students would perform at the same academic level if schools were in session year-round. This schedule is the case in Asian countries, where summer vacation doesn't exist.
  • The more than 50 KIPP schools around the country are designed to solve the "summer vacation problem." Their school days are longer, which allows teachers to spend more time on each subject. The school week is longer, with classes each Saturday from 9:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. KIPP's school year is three weeks longer than most other schools. All of this time adds up to a greater understanding of the material learned and greater retention.
  • Gladwell describes the typical day of Marita, a 12-year-old KIPP student. She gets up at 5:45 a.m., takes the bus to school, comes home at 5:30 p.m., and then does her homework until bedtime at 11 p.m. There's little time for friends or family, and those outside of KIPP don't understand why she's pushing herself so hard. However, Marita understands KIPP is her "chance to get out." Most KIPP graduates get scholarships to private or religious high schools, which give them a better chance of getting into college. KIPP isn't necessarily a better school or staffed by better teachers, but it offers its students better opportunities for breaking free from their cultural legacies.
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